Gateway to the Classics: Tales from Canterbury Cathedral by Mrs. Frewen Lord
Tales from Canterbury Cathedral by  Mrs. Frewen Lord

The Plan of Canterbury Cathedral

In the last chapter I told you how Canterbury Cathedral came to be built, and there is now only one more thing about it to remember, and this is, that the cathedral we are in to-day is not  the actual church which was built in those far-off days of King Ethelbert. Of that church there were, when William the Conqueror came to the throne, only the ruins to be seen. But Lanfranc, a Norman priest, who was made Archbishop of Canterbury, determined to build, on the ruins of the old, a new and magnificent cathedral, "and in seven years," so it is said by a writer named Edmer, who was at that time a boy at the monastery school, and so saw all that was going on, "in seven years he raised this new church from the very foundations and rendered it nearly perfect."

Lanfranc lived to be an old man of eighty-four, and when he died he was buried in his own cathedral. The next Archbishop was Anselm, and he, too, did much to enlarge and beautify the church, which was now thought to be the most magnificent in the world, and when he at last died he was buried close beside Lanfranc. For twenty-one years more the cathedral was constantly added to and altered, and then at last it was finished, and on the 4th of May, 1130, a great service was held, to which came King Henry I., King David of Scotland, and all the Bishops of England. "So famous a dedication" (service), so it is said by a monk who was there, "has never been heard of on the earth since the dedication of the Temple by Solomon."

More than forty years passed away, and then one autumn night (September 5, 1174) a great fire broke out in the cathedral. The monks from the monastery and the people from the town of Canterbury worked for hours hoping to put it out; but all they could do seemed to be of little use, and they began at last to fear that the whole of their great church, of which they were so fond and so proud, would be burnt to the ground. Fortunately, the fire was at last put out before this happened, but not before so much harm had been done that for the next ten years architects and workmen—some of whom were sent for from France—were busy rebuilding it, and adding at the east end a new chapel, in memory of Thomas Becket, who had been killed in the cathedral two years before.

For the next three hundred years the Cathedral Church of Canterbury was always being added to and altered, and it was not till the reign of Henry VII. that it was at last finished as we see it to-day.

Most of the archbishops, and many of the chief monks (or priors) of the monastery did something to help to beautify or improve the great church. For just as Westminster Abbey is a church which was built almost entirely by kings and princes so Canterbury Cathedral is a church which was built almost entirely by archbishops and priors, and when you go there you will see many tombs and monuments of the archbishops who are buried or commemorated in their own cathedral.

Now if you will look at the plan, or map, of the cathedral on the next page, you will see the graves or monuments of those men about whom you will find stories, marked by the numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. In this way you will, I hope, be able quite easily to find the graves or monuments which you most want to see.

We will suppose we have come in at the great west door, which you see in the picture at the beginning of this book, between the two towers, and which is marked on the plan by the letters W D. The west door is only used now when the archbishop comes to the cathedral, and if we were going there we should enter by the side door, which you also see in the frontispiece. But as soon as we had got inside, we would walk straight down to the west door, and imagine we had just come in that way. We should then be standing in what is called the nave, and right in front of us, and up the stone steps, is the choir. That is where service is held every Sunday and weekday morning and afternoon. As we walk up towards the choir, we see that Canterbury Cathedral is built—as I told you the Abbey and St. Paul's, and indeed most other churches, are—in the shape of a cross laid upon the ground. The nave and choir (which is in front of us, and is where the clergymen and choristers sit) form the stem of the cross; and to our right and to our left are the two arms—the one to our right is called the south transept, and the one to our left the north transept. And now, as we go up the wide stone steps and through the iron gate into the choir, we see that in one way Canterbury Cathedral is different from either Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's. We saw, when we were standing at the foot of the stone steps, the two arms of the cross—the north and the south transepts, as I told you they are called—to our right and to our left. And now, standing in the choir, and looking straight in front of us toward the Communion Table, we see that here again the church stretches away to our right and to our left, and that there are in the choir, as well as in the nave, two transepts, or arms. For Canterbury Cathedral is a church built with double transepts, as it is called; that is to say, that while there is one nave and one choir, which together form the stem of the cross, there are not only the two transepts which we saw while we were still in the nave, and which form the two arms of the cross, but there are in the choir also two transepts—the one to our right being called the south choir transept, and the one to our left the north choir transept. So that Canterbury Cathedral, as you will see if you look at the plan, is like a cross with four arms, two on each side.


1. Sikh Monument.
2. Dr. Parry.
3. Archbishop Sumner.
4. Sikh Monument.
5. Sir James Hales.
6. Sikh Monument.
7. C. C. Taylor.
8. Sir George Gipps.
9. Bishop Broughton.
10. Martyrdom (Thomas Becket).
11. Archbishop Peckham.
12. Archbishop Warham.
13. Dean Boys.
14. Sir George Rooke.
15. Archbishop Stephen Langton.
16. Archbishop Kemp.
17. Archbishop Stratford.
18. Archbishop Sudbury.
19. Archbishop Bouchier.
20. Archbishop Howley.
21. Archbishop Chicheley.
22. Throne of Archbishop.
23. Black Prince.
24. Site of Becket's Shrine.
25. Archbishop Walter.
26. Odo Coligny.
27. Patriarchal Chair.
28. Archbishop Reginald Pole.
29. Henry IV. and Queen.
30. Edward the Confessor's Chapel.
31. Archbishop Tait.
32. Archbishop Benson.
A. Trinity Chapel.
B. Becket's Crown.
C. St. Andrew's Chapel.
D. St. Stephen's Chapel.
E. St. Martin's Chapel.
F. Dean's (or Lady) Chapel.
G. Warrior's Chapel.
H. St. John Evangelist's Chapel.
I. St. Gregory's Chapel.
J. St. Anselm's Chapel.

In the part of the choir behind the Communion Table are two chapels—Trinity Chapel, and the little chapel built in memory of Thomas Becket and called Becket's Crown. In the transepts there are also other and smaller chapels. They are marked on the plan by the letters A, B, C, etc. beginning with A, which is Trinity Chapel.

You may think that you have at last learnt all that there is to learn of the geography, as we may call it, of the cathedral; but there is still one more thing I must tell you. Underneath the nave and transepts there is—just as there is underneath the nave and transepts of St. Paul's—the crypt, or what is like a long low church of exactly the same size as the cathedral above. In the "Tales from St. Paul's Cathedral" I explained to you how the word "crypt" comes from a Greek word meaning that which is hidden.

In the crypt of St. Paul's, service is held every morning, and the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral is also used for many services. The Altar was given as a Thank offering for the long life and the work of Archbishop Davidson. There is one part of special interest. This is walled off from the rest, and here every Sunday a service is held, but it is a French service in French. How this service came to be held in Canterbury Cathedral I shall tell you later on.

At last we have finished all the many explanations, and in the next chapter I will begin the stories we have been so long in coming to—the first being about the officers and men who were killed during one of our wars in India, and whose monument is in the nave, where you see No. 1 on the plan of the cathedral.

Before we start our first story there are however, three things to be noticed. The first is a very curious stone. It is one of the oldest in the cathedral and of the time of Lanfranc, who died on the 24th May, 1089. Ask the Verger to show you which it is, and look well at it, for the markings make a wonderful likeness of Queen Victoria with her veil as we see her on the old pennies. We also pass a very large monument to Dean Lyall who died in 1857 after having been Dean for twelve years. On the other side of him is a tablet everyone notices for there are no less than twenty-three War Medals engraved on it. It was put up in memory of Major General Abadie and his four sons who all fought and died for their country. His wife has thus recorded their services. He had five Orders and Medals. Two sons had three each. The third son had seven. The fourth son had five. Truly Mrs. Abadie in all her sadness must have been a very proud wife and mother.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: The Building of Canterbury Cathedral  |  Next: The Sikh Monument
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.