Local historian and Devonshire magazine history writer Ted Gosling, discusses…
Canterbury is know for its central place in British Christianity, it’s where St Augustine arrived after being sent by Pope Gregory the Great to lead a mission to Christianise Saxon King Aethelberht.
Of course, it was an immense help that the King’s wife, Bertha (the daughter of the King of Paris) was already a Christian, worshiping at St Martin’s Church in Canterbury (the oldest parish church in the entire English-speaking world – featured in a future issue of Devonshire mag). Augustine landed at the Isle of Thanet in 597 and shortly afterwards King Aethelberht was converted and found land outside the city walls for Augustine to establish a monastery. It’s interesting to note that in the 3rd and 4th centuries many Celts had already converted to Christianity, it was the settling pagan tribes (Anglo-Saxons) post Roman evacuation that were the target of these missionaries. Canterbury has been a well-trodden pilgrim destination for centuries, with Becket’s shrine being a major attraction. And of course, who hasn’t heard about Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th century classic, The Canterbury Tales.
Canterbury has served as both the capital of Celtic Cantiaci and also as the capital of the Jute Kingdom of Kent. (Jutes were one of the three most powerful Germanic peoples, the others being the Saxons and the Angles).
Canterbury’s King’s School is worthy of note, being the oldest extant school in the world, founded in 597 (extant – continuously open).
If you enjoy visiting English towns, Canterbury is a pure delight, the shopping areas are pretty, many shops and restaurants situated in historic, half-timbered buildings and there’s no shortage of places to dine, having a continental feel with much street side outdoor seating. It’s very pretty, with the river Stour threading through the town as well as attractive canals (guided boat rides are available), and happily, there’s been not too much encroachment by 20 & 21st century buildings within the centre.
The two busty ladies (above) were found on a building right next to Canterbury Cathedral, I suspect mediaeval England was both extremely trying but also full of robust humour. God protect us from the extreme political correctness we suffer today not forgetting those bile-ridden internet trolls!
Canterbury is full of historical treasures, and if you love our ancient architecture, then ambling round the old city is a delightful experience. In fact, it’s one of the most visited cities in the UK, and with good reason.
If you haven’t visited before and would like to make a weekend of it, I’d advise getting in your car early in the morning whilst the roads are quiet and making haste, as it’s a fair old journey, actually around 230 odd miles from Exeter. Also, if you’re taking a dog along, the Best Western hotel at Canterbury makes a good base from which to explore the city. But be assured, Canterbury is one of those places that you’ll want to revisit again, there’s so much to see and enjoy. Editor