St. Augustine of Canterbury, a Benedictine monk, was living in Rome when Pope Gregory the Great chose him to travel to the land of the Anglo-Saxons and preach Christianity to them. He arrived in Canterbury, where the king was living, in 597 and began building a cathedral and working zealously for the propagation of the faith. The king converted to Christianity and allowed the missionaries to preach freely. Eventually, Augustine was consecrated as the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Over time, Canterbury became the most important Catholic site in England.
During the 12th century, one of the most famous and beloved saints of the Catholic Church became Archbishop of Canterbury - St. Thomas Becket. On December 29, 1170, Becket was murdered in the Canterbury Cathedral by four men sent by King Henry II. Before his martyrdom, Thomas had been a faithful servant and good friend of the king and for many years had served the king well as Chancellor of England. Soon after Thomas's appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, the king became angry with Thomas, who as Archbishop began devoting his energy to the interests of the Church and began protecting it from the encroachments of the state. His deteriorating relationship with King Henry II eventually forced Thomas to take a self-imposed exile in France. After several years Thomas returned to England, temporarily reconciled with the king. However, before long tensions arose between the two and the king spoke his famous words, "Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?" That night four men rode into town and murdered the Archbishop in the cathedral. Immediately after his death, the site of Thomas's martyrdom became a major place of pilgrimage. Many miracles were reported by those who visited his shrine. Less than three years after his death, he was canonized by the Catholic Church.
Canterbury is also well-known because of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, a 14th century collection of stories about pilgrims making their way to Canterbury Cathedral. It is concerned a classic of English literature.
Pilgrimages lasted until the 16th century, when King Henry VIII destroyed the shrine and his relics. Today the cathedral serves as headquarters of the Anglican Church.
Accommodations: Canterbury Cathedral Lodge is located immediately next to the Cathedral. It is also easy to make a day trip to Canterbury while staying in London.
Transportation: Canterbury is approximately 60 miles from London and can be reached via the M20 and M2 providing links to the rest of England. There are several car parks in the center of Canterbury and a bus system runs at 7-8 minute intervals from designated areas on the outskirts of the city into the city center. Canterbury is served by Stagecoach East Kent buses from Canterbury bus station, a 5 minute walk from the Cathedral Precincts. National Express run regular coaches from London Victoria Coach Station. Southeastern Trains offers a High Speed rail service with a journey time of under an hour from London St Pancras to Canterbury West station. Southeastern also runs regular train services from London Victoria and London Charing Cross to both Canterbury East station and Canterbury West station.