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History of England timeline. Thera many cathedrals in Britain, and it is imposiblke to saya which is the greatest. Nor does it matter. Each is a triumph of architecture, a tribute to the survival of Christian faith.
Without a doubt, however, the best known is Canterbury. Its location brought back Christianity to England in 597 after the dark years paganism. As a seat of learning, it produced Kings School, which is the oldest in the country. The Archgishop of the Canterbury has always been the nation’s senior bishop – aman who aften had to combine spiritual sanctity with political cunning.
Canterbury has been a place to which pilgrims have come. The traffic was never greater than during the three centuries following the murder of Thomas Becket. Becket’s death caused a sensation in Europe. People from all over the known world visited his shrine – not only commoners, but also kings and emperors. Louis VII, for example, the first French Monarch to visit Britain, made such a pilgrimage. He presented the cathedral with a gold cup and a priceless ruby from the French crown jewels.
All the pilgrims contributed something, and their gifs provided funds for rebuilding, for making the cathedral greater than ever. But perhaps the real miracle is the way in which, nowadays, it looks as if it had all been built at once. In fact, the work took place over centuries, and there were several misfortunes. The story is this …..
When Saint Augustine came to Canterbury in 597, the town was the capital of Ethelbert, King of Kent. With the sovereign’s agreement, Augustine built a church and a Benedictine monastery.
Augustine’s work survived for four centuries. But then the Danes arrived. With their harsh pagan faith, they sacked most of the buildings. The few surviving parts were burned to the ground later on by a fire that broke out in 1067. Amazingly, however, the monastery survived both disasters.
William I immediately gave orders for the ruins to be rebuilt. A priest named Lanfranc took charge of the project. The new cathedral, which was double the size of the oroginal church, was consecrated 1130.
In 1174, four years after Thomas Becket had been killed by knights, a nearby house caught fire. Some of the sparks landed on the cathedral roof. They set it ablaze, melted the lead and destroyed the choir.
The task of repairing the damage was given to a French architect named William of Sens. He ordered stones from Caen in Normandy and they were unloaded at Fordwich – a few miles down the River Stour, which flows through Canterbury.
Alas, poor William! One daya when he was up on the scaffolding, he feel off and was killed. Another architect, William the Englishman was appointed. Among other things, he was responsible for the design of the crypt (an underground vault beneath the church), which is the biggest in the world.
During the years that followed, the pilgrims came and went – each making a gift and so helping the cathedral to be made even more impressive. Among the improvements was the construction of the great tower, Bell Harry. Two hundred and thirty-five feet high, it took eight years to complete (betweeen 1495 and 1503). It contains one bell, which is tolled only on the death of a sovereign or an archbishop.
Henry VIII completed the destruction by the Danes and that fire of 1067, when he was responsible (inderectly, at any rate) for the demolition of Saint Auguistine’s monastery. In its day, it had been almost as magnificent as the cathedral itself. Nowadays, only the foundations remain.
Finally, the cathedral had a narrow escape on 1 June 1942, when German aircraft bombed Canterbury. Much of the town was severely damaged, but the greatest of its buildings received only minor injuries.