Jealous monks set fire to Canterbury Cathedral in 12th Century


Blackleaf
#1
In medieval times thousands of people flocked to Britain's cathedrals to celebrate saints. The majestic buildings competed for the largest audience. The rivalry between two of Britain's most beautiful cathedrals became ugly, a historian has found - and even led to arson.

Dr Emma Wells has been exploring the gothic sweep of cathedrals across Britain in the 12th century, and found that Canterbury Cathedral's stunning Eastern crypt, storing the body of St Thomas Beckett, was built after a fire ripped through parts of the building shortly after his assassination.

Dr Wells, a history professor at the University of York, said her research has led her to believe that monks at Canterbury Cathedral set the fire to enable them to build the crypt and compete with Durham Cathedral's architecture.


Canterbury Cathedral fire in 12th century was arson committed by monks 'jealous' of Durham's beautiful architecture, historian claims in new book


A fire which caused the cathedral to have to build a beautiful facade was probably set by jealous monks, a historian has claimed

Helena Horton
The Telegraph
30 December 2018

In medieval times thousands of people flocked to Britain's cathedrals to celebrate saints. The majestic buildings competed for the largest audience. The rivalry between two of Britain's most beautiful cathedrals became ugly, a historian has found - and even led to arson.

Dr Emma Wells has been exploring the gothic sweep of cathedrals across Britain in the 12th century, and found that Canterbury Cathedral's stunning Eastern crypt, storing the body of St Thomas Beckett, was built after a fire ripped through parts of the building shortly after his assassination.

Dr Wells, a history professor at the University of York, said her research has led her to believe that monks at Canterbury Cathedral set the fire to enable them to build the crypt and compete with Durham Cathedral's architecture.

In the 12th century, saints were a huge tourist draw to the cities of England, and the cathedral with the most popular saint and most attractive interiors drew the most pilgrims, who came to pray for cures to illnesses and other miracles. While they were there, they often bought trinkets in the cathedral shop, and gave offerings.


Dr Emma Wells at the University of York CREDIT: CHARLOTTE GRAHAM


Dr Wells explained: “They built up these sort of theme park type tourist attractions for the medieval era.”

Durham and Canterbury were the two most popular for pilgrims at the time, as Durham had St Cuthbert as their saint, who was one of the most famous of the day. However, when St Thomas Beckett was murdered inside Canterbury Cathedral, pilgrims swarmed to touch the floor where his blood was spilled after he was canonised three years later.

This caused the monks at Durham Cathedral to develop their building as a result, starting a “beauty race” between the two cities.


Dr Emma Wells reveals all in her new book Heaven on Earth CREDIT: CHARLOTTE GRAHAM


Dr Wells said: “The closer you were to a saint or his relics, particularly where he died, the more likely it would be there would be an answer to your prayers. Therefore a rivalry started, as Canterbury had the best saint, the best martyrdom as their saint actually died within their walls. Durham decided to develop their cathedral as a result.

"For the next good few hundred years, when Canterbury added to their building, Durham expanded again.”

On the afternoon of Thursday 5 September 1174, a fire ripped through Archbishop Anselm’s ‘Glorious Choir’ at Canterbury Cathedral, making room for a huge and beautiful crypt for Thomas Beckett to be built, which pilgrims could visit and admire.


The Murder of Thomas Becket, Canterbury Cathedral, Kent, 1170 CREDIT: HISTORICA GRAPHICA COLLECTION/HERITAGE IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES


The historian said that it appears too lucky to be a coincidence, given the timing of the fire and how it started - and said it was probably set by monks who were trying to make their cathedral more beautiful than Durham’s. She has discovered accounts of the fire in writings from monks at the time.

She said: "What's very interesting is the timing. Beckett died in 1170 and was canonised in 1173, the fire took place in 1174 - not even a year following the fact that he becomes a saint. Once someone becomes a saint you want pilgrims through the doors.

"The way the fire starts is very interesting - a monk within the cathedral tells us that the fire started in some timber framed houses around the cathedral and the flames blew over. It's just a little bit too perfect timing because as a result they build this magnificent new shrine for St Thomas Beckett,, these beautiful windows depicting St Thomas Beckett during his life. So it's a little bit too perfect, the fact they can build this magnificent new structure after he was canonised, - so was it arson or a coincidence? I believe it could be arson.”


Durham Cathedral

The beauty race | Durham and Canterbury's rivalry

The cathedrals of Durham and Canterbury are good examples of two key medieval sites that competed with each other to keep pilgrims – and their money – flowing through their doors.

Prior to 1170, St Cuthbert, whose shrine can be found at Durham Cathedral, was England’s most popular saint. But Becket’s death and canonisation saw a huge increase in pilgrimages to Canterbury, so much so that Durham felt compelled to find new ways of enticing pilgrims back, adding the Galilee Chapel at its west end between 1170 and 1175. This addition was required possibly for the use of female pilgrims as they were banned from visiting St Cuthbert’s shrine.

Partly in response to Durham’s redevelopment, and following a fire in 1174 that destroyed much of its east end, Canterbury built its magnificent circular Corona Chapel to house the cathedral’s most precious relic: the crown of Becket’s skull.

And what did Durham do in return? In around 1280, they set about enlarging their own east end into what is now known as the Chapel of Nine Altars — close to Cuthbert’s shrine — to increase the amount of space inside the cathedral: essentially, they provided the cathedral with a fancy new waiting area for pilgrims visiting Cuthbert’s shrine.


https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/201...mmitted-monks/
Last edited by Blackleaf; Jan 1st, 2019 at 02:15 PM..
 
Cliffy
#2
Ah, religion... subterfuge, jealousy, intrigue, rivalry, murder and mayhem. What a wonderful thing.
 
petros
#3
Sounds like an eco-movement.
 
MHz
#4
Quote: Originally Posted by Cliffy View Post

Ah, religion... subterfuge, jealousy, intrigue, rivalry, murder and mayhem. What a wonderful thing.

You forgot, 'scapegoat for acts of aggression based on greed for treasures'
 
Blackleaf
#5
Quote: Originally Posted by Cliffy View Post

Ah, religion... subterfuge, jealousy, intrigue, rivalry, murder and mayhem. What a wonderful thing.

Christianity has brought a lot of good to the world.