The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury is the mother church of East Kent and of the Province of Canterbury. The cathedral has an evidenced history stretching back to Saxon times and the remains of the first building on the site were exposed during work to re-floor the Nave in 1994.
The ministry of the Cathedral is lead by the Dean, currently the Very Rev'd Robert Willis, and Chapter of Canons. Of these four are 'residentiary', eighteen are honorary, five are honorary provincial canons and seven are lay diocesan canons. Two of the residentiary canons are in shared appointments with the diocese.
St. Bede the Venerable (History of the English Church and People) records how the Cathedral was founded by St. Augustine, the first Archbishop. Archaeological investigations have revealed the remains of this first Saxon Cathedral which had been built across a former Roman road by way of foundations. Augustine also directed the foundation of a Benedictine Abbey of Ss. Peter and Paul to be built outside the city walls. This was later rededicated to St. Augustine himself and was for many centuries the burial place of the successive archbishops. The remains are in the care of English Heritage and form part of the World Heritage Site along with the ancient Church of St. Martin, which appears to contain Roman work, although this is disputed.
The main phases of building shown below, personal dates are those of office not life:
S1 Early building perhaps with a Roman core and dedicated to St. Saviour, to be associated with Augustine.
S2 Second building on same axis added by Abp. Cuthbert (740-60) added as a baptistry and dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
S3 Abp. Oda (941-58) renewed the building greatly lengthening the Nave.
S4 Abps. Lyfing (1013-20) and Aethelnoth (1020-1038) added a western apse as an oratory of St. Mary.
N1 Abp. Lanfranc (1070-77),the first Norman archbishop, rebuilt the ruinous Saxon church.
N2 Abp. St. Anselm greatly extended the Quire to the east to give sufficient space for the monks of the greatly revived monastery. The crypt of this church survives as the largest of its kind in England.
N3 Following the disastrous fire of 1174 which destroyed the Eastern end, Guilliaume de Sens rebuilt the Quire and later William the Englishman added the immense Trinity Chapel as a shrine church for the relics of St. Thomas the Martyr, that is Thomas Becket.
N4 Prior Thomas Chillenden (1390-1410) rebuilt the Nave in the Perpendicular style of English Gothic. ca. 1430 the short central tower was demolished and rebuilt at a height of 297 feet.
Critical to the history of the Cathedral's buildings was the murder of Thomas Becket in the Cathedral on Tuesday 29th December 1170, the second of four murdered archbishops (see also Alphege). The income from pilgrims visiting his shrine, which was regarded as a place of healing, largely paid for the subsequent rebuildings of the Cathedral and its associated buildings.
The Cathedral community was reorganised as Benedictine Abbey during the reforms of Abp. St. Dunstan. It ceased to be an abbey during the Dissolution of the Monasteries when all religious houses were suppressed. Canterbury surrendered in March 1539, the last abbey to do so and reverted to its previous status of 'a college of secular canons'.