Canterbury Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral reflect the spiritual, dynastic and political interests of the English state; national monuments to Crown and Church alike.
Patronised by the richest and most powerful figures for over 1,500 years, these mighty edifices embody the finest in architecture, sculpture and art. They are also imbued with the history and politics of the eras in which they were created and in which they flourished: periods in which both royal and religious powers were charged with the sacramental, before, latterly, the very essence of such claims to authority came under attack. Starting in the capital, this tour travels back to the origins of Christianity in England.
Churches of the first order were erected in association with mediaeval England’s primary palaces at Westminster and Windsor. Westminster was a personal project of Henry III, designed to act as a monarchical mausoleum and a shrine to royal saint, Edward the Confessor, and to be a fitting location for coronations. Designed to outdo all other churches, it is at once the apogee of thirteenth-century design and the setting for a remarkable series of fittings and tombs.
London’s other great church, St Paul’s, was rebuilt after the Great Fire in a self-conscious attempt to create a Baroque great church for that very English creation, the Church of England. It is at once London’s cathedral and an embodiment of a new, more measured manifestation of Church and Crown, one both sensible of and shot through with restrained magnificence. St Paul’s shares with Westminster Abbey status as a national monument; venue for important events of state, and repository for the remains and monuments of the great and the good.
The result of the epoch-making conversion to Christianity of the Kings of Kent, led by papal missionary Augustine, Canterbury still bears the traces of its early re-shaping from ad 597. Its great cathedral, the primatial church in England, was founded then. So too was the Abbey of St Augustine, which swiftly became the most important centre of learning in the country. Today St Augustine’s is an evocative ruin, but as the site of some of the most dramatic events in English history the cathedral complex retains the essence of its past to vivid extent.
The tour makes a perfect complement to The Cathedrals of England (18–26 April 2018), giving due time and attention to some of the most significant structures not covered by that itinerary.
Westminster, Windsor. Leave the hotel on foot at 10.00am for a first visit to Westminster Abbey. Founded c. 1040 as monastery, palace and mausoleum by Edward the Confessor, every coronation since 1066 has taken place here. Today we examine the church built largely by Henry III from 1245 and the tombs of mediaeval monarchs. By train to Windsor Castle, which remains a functioning royal palace. St George’s Chapel, built by Edward IV as his burial place, is one of the most beautiful buildings of the 15th century.
Westminster, St Paul’s. Return to the Abbey to study inter alia the Henry VII Chapel, apogee of Perpendicular architecture, and its Tudor tombs. Wren’s masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, is Britain’s greatest Classical monument, albeit with a Baroque inflection, and her most monumental building. Mother church of the Diocese of London, it retains special links with the City Corporation, guilds and institutions, as well as with the Crown.
Canterbury. England’s premier cathedral, Canterbury is the seat of the spiritual head of the Church of England. It retains its magnificent Norman crypt, while the eastern parts form the earliest major Gothic structure in England and the soaring nave and crossing tower are masterpieces of Perpendicular. Tombs of Henry IV and the Black Prince. Now ruined, St Augustine’s Abbey visibly takes us back to the roots of Christianity among the first English kings. Return to central London by 4.30pm.
Writer, lecturer and broadcaster, and specialist in historic religious architecture. He teaches at Bristol University and co-wrote and presented the BBC’s How to Build a Cathedral. He has also travelled extensively in China and has published on the country in the London Review of Books and in his The Secret Language of Sacred Spaces.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £1,040. Single occupancy: £1,260.
hotel accommodation; breakfasts and two dinners with wine, water and coffee; transport by private coach and underground railway; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
St Ermin’s Hotel, London. Situated in central London but tucked into a tree-lined courtyard behind St James’s Park tube station. This 4-star hotel has a contemporary and tasteful décor. Service is excellent. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
Unavoidably there is quite a lot of walking on this tour and it would not be suitable for anyone with difficulties with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Coaches can rarely park near the sites, the buildings visited don’t have lifts. Travel by underground railway within London. Average distance by coach per day: 57 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.