The Online Guide to Canterbury - History (1)
The Online Guide to Canterbury
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The History


Canterbury is a city steeped in history and occupation of the area can be traced back to many centuries before Christ. Little was known about its ancestors until after World War II, when bombs laid many parts of Canterbury bare, allowing archaeologists to delve into Canterbury's past. The area in which Canterbury is situated was once a boggy wasteland, but gradually over time, with prehistoric mans' advancement in tools and implements, the area was cultivated and cleared for settlement. Due to threats from the continent, fortified villages such as the fort of Bigbury near Harbledown were built.


The Romans first came to Canterbury under the command of Julius Caesar in 55 and 54 B.C. and the people living there were found to be quite civilised. After taking hostages and money the Romans left for a century. In 43 A.D. a full scale invasion was launched, as Canterbury and surrounding areas posed a threat due to their links with the Gauls. By A.D. a Roman civil settlement existed. Canterbury was an important capital as it connected 3 trading ports to London. Canterbury had all the luxuries of a Roman city such as theaters, baths, temples, forums and intricately mosaiced houses. With the invasion of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes and their rivalry for control of England, Canterbury was abandoned and left in ruins. It was left overgrown for more than a century before new timber buildings were built over the roman village, but most dwellings were outside the Roman walls.


[graphic]
Roman Canterbury, A.D. 300


[graphic]
Anglo Saxon Canterbury, A.D. 750



It was in the reign of King Ethelbert and his French wife Bertha, that Canterbury was converted to Christianity. In 597 A.D. Pope Gregory sent St. Augustine to England to convert people to Christianity. He was welcomed by Bertha who was already Christian. He was given full use of her little parish church of St. Martin's to preach in. After succeeding in many conversions, including the King, the Abbeys of the Saints Peter and Paul were built just outside the city walls. They later became St. Augustine's Abbey where Archbishops of the church were buried with Kentish Royalty. Ethelbert's son began the Christ Church monastery in 602 A.D., which became the present day Cathedral, and so began Canterbury's importance as the mother of British Christianity, a position which it has held for 1400 years.


Viking raids pushed the community of Canterbury back inside the comforting walls of the city. During the Viking raids of 991-1016 A.D. the city was pillaged and the Cathedral destroyed. Canterbury had to pay large sums of money to ward off the attackers and the Archbishop was murdered. The first Danish King showed his submission by ammending his life and repairing the Cathedral.

br> In 1066, after the Battle of Hastings, Canterbury surrendered with no struggle to William the Conquerer. After a fire in 1067, which destroyed the Cathedral, the new Norman archbishop, Lanfranc reconstructed and enlarged it. The work was carried out by the two succeeding Archbishops and was consecrated with many royal, state and religious dignitaries present. The church's composition was changed to have Benedictan monks in key religious positions. St. Augustine's Abbey was also given a Norman abbot and he set about demolishing the Anglo-Saxon parts of the Abbey and replacing them with new shrines to house the bodies of past archbishops. In 1123, the Archbishop Corbeil set up the Augustine Church, of which Thomas Becket was Archdeacon until after he became Archbishop. To ensure that Canterbury was kept as a stronghold, it was fortified with new walls, gates and towers, and a massive stone keep was built, similar to the those at Dover and Rochester.


[graphic]
Norman Canterbury, A.D. 1170



For the next 40 years no great upheavals were made within the church. When Henry II became King, he looked for an ally within the church. He thought this was possible when the archbishop died and the King's companion and Chancellor, Thomas Becket was made the new archbishop. His hopes of getting his own way within the church were soon dashed when Becket rejected his chancellorship and began campaigning for the rights and independence of the church. This began a struggle between the King and Becket that lasted for the next decade, during which Becket was exiled to France for 6 years and excommunicated many of the Kings friends and allies. In 1171 Becket returned to Canterbury and infuriated the King with a provoking sermon. The King, in irritation, uttered the fatal line: "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest". In reponse to the King's utterence four knights: de Moreville, de Tracy, Le Bret and Fitzurse set out to confront Becket. A heated argument ensured in which the Archbishop defiantly defended the rights of the church above the King. The knights were so roused in anger that they tried to drag Becket out of the Cathedral, as vespers had started and it was a sacrilege to harm him in the church. With Becket struggling so much they eventually abandoned their attempts, murdering him within the Cathedral. They slay him and his brains spilt out on the floor.


Written by Lauriel Pearson
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