Monday, 13 September 2010

St Augustine's Abbey - Canterbury

There is a story retold by the Venerable Bede about Pope Gregory. He saw some pale skinned boys being sold on the slave block at Rome and enquired from which people they came. On being told that they were Angles he replied "Non Angli, sed angeli" (not Angles but Angels). In 597AD he sent St Augustine to Kent to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity.

The King of Kent was Aethelberht whose queen, Bertha, was a Frankish pricess, and hence Christian. Aethelbehrt allowed St Augustine to build an Abbey outside the city walls of his capital, Canterbury (Canterbury was the tribal centre of the Cantiaci, a Belgic tribe who lived in Kent before the Roman conquest). The intention was that it should be a Royal cemetary (it was forbidden under Roman law to bury bodies within city walls).

The Abbey was started in 598 and was the focus of the Christain revival amongst the English. Canterbury remains the spiritual centre of the Church of England. Its only rival being the archbishopric of York, the old Roman military capital in Northern England (where the legions could keep an eye on the Scotti).

After the Norman conquest, the Normans pulled down and rebuilt most of the Saxon religious building, including St Augustine's. The Abbey expanded throughout the Medieval period and by 1500 had a library of a staggering 2,000 books.

It all ended with Henry VIII who pulled down the Abbey but the Palace and formal gardens were used until they were flattened by the great storm of 1703. It was used as a fairground until being turned into a park in modern times. It is now a World Heritage Site.

The above picture shows part of the ruins with Canterbury Cathedral in the background. The crane marks where the Marlow Theatre is being rebuilt.

There are more photos below of the park and ruins. I took these a few weeks ago on a hot August summer day. You are looking northeast towards the Mouth of the Thames. Seventy years ago the battle of Britain was fought in that sky.


  1. A lot of history there. I'd like to visit it all one day. Well, it may take more than one day.

  2. Very interesting history and photos, and the first few paragraphs of your post reminded me of reading Gregory of Tours. : ) Thanks, John!

  3. Dear Geek
    Kent is a layer cake of history. Every time you build a road new stuff is found.

  4. Very impressive - thanks for sharing.