Canterbury Cathedral, 
Saint Augustine's Abbey and St Martin's Church (1988)
Great Britain

Back to index

Great Britain 1969. World Cultural Heritage. Canterbury Cathedral.

For three hundred years the seat of the spiritual leader of the Church of England, Canterbury, in Kent, houses the modest church of Saint Martin, the oldest in England, the ruins of the abbey of Saint Augustine, a reminder of the evangelising role of the saint in the Heptarchie from 597, and the superb Christ Church Cathedral, a breathtaking mixture of Romanesque and Gothic perpendicular styles. 

The Archbishop Thomas Becket was assassinated here in 1170. 

Great Britain 1971. World Cultural Heritage. Stamp #1 of three. Stained Glass Windows, Canterbury Cathedral. Great Britain 1971. World Cultural Heritage. Stamp #2 of three. Stained Glass Windows, Canterbury Cathedral. Great Britain 1971. World Cultural Heritage. Stamp #3 of three. Stained Glass Windows, Canterbury Cathedral.

Canterbury Cathedral in Kent is one of the most splendid and earliest examples of Gothic architecture in England.  It is also the administrative center of the Church of England, and its archbishop holds the title of Primate of All England. During the Middle Ages it was an important place of pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket, chancellor of England and archbishop of Canterbury, who in 1170 was murdered in the cathedral on the orders of Henry II, King of England. The shrine was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII, but the spot where Saint Thomas Becket was killed is marked by a plaque.

Canterbury Cathedral has been the seat of an archbishopric since it was founded in 597, the year that Saint Augustine, sent from Rome to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, landed at Thanet, in Kent, England. Saint Augustine was its first archbishop. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1067 and rebuilt in Romanesque style. The present Gothic appearance of the interior is largely the work of William of Sens, from France, who designed the choir and apse in 1174 (as well as the typically gothic flying buttresses on the exterior), and Henry Yevele, a British architect and mason who designed the nave in 1374. The large central tower, known as the Bell Harry Tower, was built by English mason John Wastell in the late 15th century. A chapel in the crypt was used in the 16th century by a group of Huguenots (French protestants) who had fled Catholic persecution.

The tomb of Edward, the Black Prince, is located in Trinity Chapel, on the cathedral's south side; that of Henry IV and his queen, Joan of Navarre, is found on the north side. To the north of the cathedral are cloisters, a chapter house, a baptistery, a library, and the King's School, founded in 598. 

Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), is one of the greatest English poets, whose masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, was one of the most important influences on the development of English literature. His life is known primarily through records pertaining to his career as a courtier and civil servant under the English kings Edward III and Richard II.  

The son of a prosperous London wine merchant, Chaucer may have attended the Latin grammar school of Saint Paul's Cathedral and may have studied law at the Inns of Court. 

Great Britain 1976. World Cultural Heritage. 500th Anniversary of the British Printing of "Prologuw" from the Canterbury Tales.

In 1357 he was page to the countess of Ulster, Elizabeth, the wife of Prince Lionel, third son of Edward III; there, he would have learned the ways of the court and the use of arms. By 1367 Chaucer was an esquire to Edward. 

About 1366 he married Philippa Roet, a lady-in-waiting to the queen and afterward in the service of John of Gaunt, who was duke of Lancaster and Edward's fourth son. 

Chaucer served as controller of customs for London from 1374 to 1386 and clerk of the king's works from 1389 to 1391, in which post he was responsible for maintenance of royal buildings and parks. About 1386 Chaucer moved from London to a country residence (probably Greenwich), where in 1386 he was justice of the peace and representative to Parliament. 

  • Great Britain 1976.  500th Anniversary of British Printing. "Prologue" of The Canterbury Tales". 

He traveled on several diplomatic missions to France, one to Spain in 1366, and two to Italy from 1372 to 1373 and in 1378. In the last year of his life, Chaucer leased a house within the precincts of Westminster Abbey. After his death, he was buried in the Abbey (an honor for a commoner), in what has since become the Poets' Corner. 

Sources and links: 

Other World Heritage Sites in Great Britain (on this site). Inactive links are not described on postage stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, United Kingdom Section, for further information about the individual properties. 

Back to index

Revised 19 jul 2006  
Copyright 1999 Heindorffhus 
All Rights Reserved