“Canterbury Cathedral: it’s 1,400 years have coincided with the rise of empires and the fall of kings. But it is forever associated with the horrific events of December 29, 1170.”
So says Tony Robinson in the Canterbury edition of his Channel 5 series Britain’s Greatest Cathedrals.
The actor and pop historian, famous for playing the skivvy Baldrick to the various incarnations of Blackadder, is in no doubt that the killing of Archbishop Thomas Becket in the Cathedral is the most famous – and infamous event – associated with it.
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And those of us who live within sight of the Cathedral might like to think we know a thing or two about it.
But who knew, for example, that in the 10 years after the Archbishop’s murder there were 703 recorded Becket-linked miracles?
Robinson informs viewers that cloths soaked in Becket’s blood were used to cure pilgrims to Canterbury of illnesses such as leprosy, blindness and being possessed by devils.
Many of them are memorialised in the Cathedral’s beautiful stained glass windows.
Historical nuggets like this are spread thickly through the show, which looks at other significant times for the Cathedral such as the reign of Henry VIII and the Second World War.
Robinson’s pleasant and easy presentational style and his obvious passion for the past make this a thoroughly enjoyable watch.
But he also ensures he reminds us of the Cathedral’s gigantic historical significance: “It is a constant present in our ever-changing story. Throughout its entire life Canterbury has been almost without interruption a place of worship.
“It has survived fires, feuds, irate kings, and the ravages of time itself. The people who come here today don’t just do so to admire its beautiful architecture.
“They want to make some kind of connection between Britain today and its extraordinary past.”
The full Channel 5 show is well worth a watch – and you can do so here. The other shows in the series feature cathedrals at Liverpool, Durham, Winchester, Salisbury and York.