Great Cloister

Western Nave

Fire Watchers Memorial
Great West Window

North Choir Aisle

Chichele Tomb
Bible Windows
Northeast Transept


Altar of the Sword's Point
Deans' Chapel
Stairs to Crypt

Eastern Nave

Compass Rose

Western Crypt (North Aisle)

Ch. of Holy Innocents
St Nicholas Ch.
St Mary Magdalene Ch.

Eastern Crypt

Watching Chamber
Jesus Chapel

Western Crypt (South Aisle)

Huguenot Chapel
Our Lady Undercroft
St Gabriel Chapel

Pulpitum Steps

Royal Window
Bell Harry
Great South Window

Trinity Chapel North

Opus Alexandrinum
Miracle Windows
Henry IV Tomb
Becket Shrine


Parclose Screen
Archbishop's Throne St Augustine's Chair

Trinity Chapel South

Corona Chapel
Black Prince Miracle Windows

South Choir Aisle

St Anselm's Chapel
Bossanyi Windows Southeast Transept

Southwest Transept

Stairs from Crypt
Pilgrims' Tunnel
South Door exit

Great Cloister

Heraldic shields
South, East, North & West panes Cloister Garth

Chapter House

Wagon Vault
Archbishop's Throne Historical Stained Glass

MapThe Great Cloister (rebuilt 1394-1414) was the hub of the medieval Priory. The monks would have passed through the cloister from their dormitory or refectory on their way to meet at the Chapter House or to pray in the Cathedral. The side of a cloister is called a walk, alley or pane. The four walks are made up of 8 bays on each side with a bay at each corner, making 36 in total. The area in the centre is known as the garth.

Though the priory was dissolved in 1540, evidence of the cloister’s place in the monastic life remains today. Look out for the door to the warming house (calefactorium), and the Romanesque dormitory windows above, in the east walk, the door to the refectory in the north walk, and the circular hatch (or ‘turn’) into the cellarer’s store (cellarium) in the west walk.

 For identification purposes, individual bays are numbered clockwise, from 1-36, starting with the corner bay outside the door to the Martyrdom (see map).

A brief history of the Great Cloister

Archbishop Lanfranc’s original Norman cloister, built c.1077, was a lean-to structure with a timber roof. It lasted (with renovations in the 1160s) for around 300 years. By the late 1300s the Cloister, as well as the Nave and other parts of the Norman cathedral were in “an advanced and deplorable state of decay”.

The Nave – and the south walk of the Cloister, to which it was attached – was demolished completely in 1377 though reconstruction was delayed through lack of funds and the need for emergency repairs to other parts of the Cathedral after the Dover Straits earthquake of 31 May 1382. The Nave was not completed until 1405 and the south walk of the Cloister was eventually finished in 1408-9, thanks to a bequest of £200 by Archbishop Courtenay (d.1397).

The design of the new cloister – in Perpendicular Gothic style with a stone lierne vaulted roof – is attributed to master mason Henry Yevele (d.1400) and was completed by his successor Stephen Lote (d.1418).

The reconstruction of the cloister’s other 3 walks was delayed by priorities elsewhere and the perennial lack of funds. An energetic fund-raising effort began in 1405 under Courtenay’s successor, Thomas Arundel (d.1414) and the work was eventually completed in 1414. The colourful ceiling bosses that can be seen around the cloister contain a profusion of 800 or so heraldic shields, heads, mythical beasts, green men and other devices. The coats of arms that predominate in the west, north and east walks is evidence of the generosity of the many benefactors who financed the reconstruction.

In 1935, The Friends of Canterbury Cathedral launched an appeal to cover the cost of re-colouring and identifying all the coats of arms in the cloister in their proper tinctures and the work was completed in 1938. This was a difficult task, given that the arms have been repainted several times over the centuries and even whitewashed at one point. Most recently, research published in 2020 and carried out over fifteen years by Dr Paul A Fox has suggested that many of the shields have been wrongly re-coloured. Dr Fox has also suggested a significantly later date for the completion of the south walk than the customary 1396/7, and his date is adopted here.
 Ref. Great Cloister: a Lost Canterbury Taleby Dr Paul A. Fox FSA.

 In most cathedrals, the cloister is sited on the sunnier south side of the cathedral. It was not possible here in Canterbury, so the cloister is on the north side. It can be chilly, even in summer. We should pause and spare a thought for the monks who lived and worked here through those dark and cold winter months!

What’s here?

Orientation. Enter the south walk, either from the Nave at the northwest door or from the Martyrdom. Going clockwise from here our route takes us around the west, north and east walks, as far as the Chapter House.

Accessible Itinerary. Enter the east walk via the passageway from the north door entrance.

The South Walk (1408-9)

The south side of the cloister formed the passageway between the old Archbishop’s Palace and the door into the cathedral at the Northwest (Martyrdom) Transept. It was through this doorway that Archbishop Thomas Becket and the four knights of Henry II passed on that fateful night of 29th December 1170. The south walk was also a workplace, used by the monks for study, writing and illustrating – though it wasn’t a particularly private or comfortable place of work until c.1470, when it was glazed and divided into cubicles (called carrels).

There are fewer coats of arms and other heraldic devices in the roof bosses of the south walk – its construction was started first and it was mostly funded through Archbishop Courtenay’s bequest – but there are plenty of heads, green men and other mythical beasts, look out for the Melusina or two-tailed mermaid in bay 7.

The West Walk (1410-11)

The west walk runs along the outer wall of the former cellarium (pantry, store room) an important building, where the priory’s supplies of food, ales and wines were stored. The circular hatch or ‘turn’ next to the door in the northwest corner was probably used to establish the identity of anyone wanting to enter the cellarer’s quarters – and not a serving hatch for jugs of ale as is sometimes suggested!

Stained glass in the West Walk

The west walk includes two tracery windows designed by Hugh Easton, who is best known for his Battle of Britain window in Westminster Abbey.

The Musicians window (1934), the first of the Easton windows, depicts four English musicians: Henry Purcell (1659-95), Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85), John Merbecke (c.1510-85) and Cardinal Archbishop Stephen Langton (c.1140-1228). Langton’s tomb can be found in the Buffs’ (Holland) Chapel and, amongst his many accomplishments, he is believed to have written the hymn, Veni, Sancte Spiritus (“Come, thou Holy Spirit”).

In the next bay along is another Easton window, the Dick Sheppard window, installed in 1939 in memory of Dick Sheppard (d.1937), Dean of Canterbury Cathedral from 1929-31. Sheppard was a popular preacher who delivered the first ever sermon broadcast by the BBC and was a passionate pacifist, following the trauma he witnessed and suffered as a military chaplain during the Great War. The two scenes at the top of the window depict the Adoration of the Shepherds, including the Dean himself, with St Martin and St Francis below, on either side. The central image is that of a pelican wounding itself. In ancient times it was commonly (though wrongly) believed that, when there was no food, the pelican would feed its chicks with its own blood, and the pelican was therefore adopted as a symbol of self-sacrifice and charity by the early Christian church.

The North Walk (1412-14)

Pause a moment before rounding the corner into the North walk to appreciate the view diagonally across the cloister towards the Northwest Transept, part of which dates back to Archbishop Lanfranc (c.1077-85) with its stairway pinnacles (restored 2016) and Bell Harry Tower (c.1498) beyond. Looking straight across towards the east walk we see the original monastic walls of the calefactorium (warming house) and the monks’ dormitories above (c.1100), which now form part the reconstructed west wall of the Cathedral archives building. The archives building was rebuilt in 1954, after the previous building was destroyed during the so-called Baedeker air raid in 1942.

Moving along the north walk, on the left, dating from c.1155 is the early Gothic Refectory door, now the Archdeacon’s door. The Refectory itself (rebuilt c.1221/1239) and the kitchens stood on the site of what is now the garden of Chillenden Chambers, to the north of the Cloister. Immediately opposite the Refectory door we can see evidence of the lavatorium wash basins which were installed in the arches of two bays (22 & 23), so that the monks could wash before meals.

In the tracery above the first lavatorium bay (22) is the first of two fine examples of modern stained glass in the North walk, both produced in the Cathedral’s stained glass studio. The Ripening Wheat window, installed in 2014, was designed by Emma Lindsay and is dedicated to the Garfield Weston Foundation in recognition of its generous support of restoration projects in the Cathedral.

The second modern window, further along the North walk (bay 25) is the Damson Tree window (2018), designed by Hughie O’Donoghue and dedicated to Richard Oldfield, in recognition of his contribution as a trustee of Canterbury Cathedral Trust and his role as Cathedral Seneschal – an ancient office that today provides financial and secular advice to the Dean and Chapter.

The East Walk (1410-13)

Entering the East walk from the north, we first come across a Romanesque door on our left. This door led to the calefactorium, a chamber where a fire burned in winter so that the monks working outside in the bitterly cold winter weather could come in and warm themselves. The calefactorium was the only place in the priory, apart from the infirmary, that was heated. The monks’ life was a hard one!

The stained glass in the tracery opposite the passage that leads to and from the north side of the Cathedral (“the Dark Entry”) is a tribute to the late Allan Willett, Lord Lieutenant of Kent 2002-2011, and former Chairman of the Canterbury Cathedral Trust. Allan Willett initiated the “Save the Cathedral” appeal in 2006. The glass was designed and made by Alison Eaton at the Cathedral’s stained glass studio and installed in 2014.

The stained glass in the tracery of the bay in front of the Chapter House door, made by Geoffrey Webb in 1934, celebrates Gregory the Great (590-604), the pope who sent St. Augustine to Canterbury in 597, and the first four Archbishops of Canterbury: Top row – Archbishop St. Augustine (597-604), Archbishop Laurentius (604-19). Bottom row – Archbishop Mellitus (619-24), Pope Gregory The Great, Archbishop Justus (624-7).

There is a great profusion of coats of arms, heads and other devices on the roof bosses of all the cloister bays in the vicinity of the Chapter House door. In the bay just to the south of the door, look out for the likeness of Henry Yevele (d.1400), the master mason credited with the design of the cloister. It is likely that it was placed here by his successor Stephen Lote (d.1418) as a memorial to his distinguished master.

Where next?

Next Stop  – the X Chapter House. Enter through the door on the east side of the Cloister.