Western Crypt (North Aisle)

Western Crypt, Undercroft looking east. The north ailse is on left of photo. ©2021 Guides Guide

Western Nave

<q>Fire Watchers Memorial</q><br><q>Great West Window</q>

Eastern Nave

<q>Pulpit </q><br><q>Altar</q><br><q>Compass Rose</q>

Western Crypt (South Aisle)

<q>Huguenot Chapel</q><br><q>Our Lady Undercroft</q><br><q>St Gabriel Chapel</q>

Eastern Crypt

<q>Watching Chamber</q><br><q>"Transport"</q><br><q>Jesus Chapel</q>

Western Crypt (North Aisle)

<q>Ch. of Holy Innocents</q><br><q>St Nicholas Ch.</q><br><q>St Mary Magdalene Ch.</q>


<q>Altar of the Sword Point</q><br><q>The Deans' Chapel</q>

Pulpitum Steps

<q>Royal Window</q><br><q>Bell Harry</q><br><q>Great South Window</q>


<q>Parclose Screen</q><br><q>Archbishop's Throne</q><br><q>St Augustine's Chair</q>

North Choir Aisle

<q>Chichele Tomb</q><br><q>Bible Windows</q><br><q>Northeast Transept</q>

Trinity Chapel North

<q>Opus Alexandrinum</q><br><q>Miracle Windows</q><br><q>Henry IV Tomb</q><br><q>Becket Shrine</q>

Trinity Chapel South

<q>Corona Chapel</q><br><q>Black Prince</q><br><q>Miracle Windows</q>

South Choir Aisle

<q>St Anselm's Chapel</q><br><q>Bossanyi Windows</q><br><q>Southeast Transept</q>

Southwest Transept

<q>Stairs to the Crypt</q><br><q>Level access to Martyrdom</q><br><q>Exit</q>


<q>Heraldic shields</q><br><q>South, East, North & West panes</q><br><q>Cloister Garth</q>

Great Cloister

<q>Heraldic shields</q><br><q>South, East, North & West panes</q><br><q>Cloister Garth</q>

Chapter House

<q>Wagon Vault</q><br><q>Victorian stained glass</q>

 Hint. View the map ‘landscape’ on small screens.

MapRe-entering the Western Crypt, at the north aisle, you come first to the Chapel of the Holy Innocents with its remarkable carved columns and capitals and then, in the north crypt transept, the two small Chapels of St Nicholas and St Mary Magdalene. Access via North Door 

The Eastern Crypt

  • Constructed 1096-1100
  • Length: 58m 100 ft
    • Crypt overall length: 88 m  290 ft
  • Height: 4.5 m 14.5 ft
  • Width: 26m 66 ft
  • Width at Transepts: 48 m 158 ft

What's here?

This chapel is the “twin” of the Chapel of St Gabriel on the south side of the crypt.

The carvings on the capitals of the columns are some of the most elaborate and along with those in the St Gabriel chapel are considered to be among the finest Romanesque sculpture in existence. The pillars in the Western Crypt and in these two side chapels were once as richly decorated as those that can still be seem on the walls and ceiling of the St Gabriel chapel. Originally, the pillars were just as colourful as the wall-paintings and there are still slight traces of colour if you look closely.

The first of the two columns in the Holy Innocents features dragons on two sides and floral designs on the other two. In the 15th century, the apse of this chapel was replaced with a square perpendicular window.

The North Transept contains the small Chapels of St Mary Magdalene (to the left as you face them) and St Nicholas (to the right). They have been used regularly for the morning celebration of Holy Communion (prior to Covid-19 measures) when it was held in a different chapel in the Cathedral every day of the week.

The 13th century French stained glass in the windows of these chapels is part of the William Randolph Hearst collection, acquired by the Cathedral in 1956 from St Donat’s Castle, Glamorgan, South Wales.

The Chapel of St Mary Magdalene

In the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene, there is a small alabaster panel, dating from c.1350, depicting the entombment of Christ, probably the work of the Nottinghamshire School of Carvers. The East window in this chapel is a scene of the Saint anointing the feet of Christ, seated at a table, with a white cloth upon it.

A red sanctuary lamp – traditionally a Martyr’s light – which burns permanently before the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene, was presented by Canon Shirley in 1956, see The Quest for Becket’s Bones, below.

The Chapel of St Nicholas

On the North wall of the Chapel of St Nicholas there is an interesting and attractive 18th century Icon of Russian origin, acquired in Jerusalem. It may have been brought to the Holy Land by a Russian Jew.

The East window of this chapel contains four semi-circular panels, showing scenes from the legend of St Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. At the top, St Nicholas is bathed at his birth, his mother looking on and giving thanks to God. Below, St Nicholas, in full vestments, is blessing a sailor, who is bringing a sack of wheat to Myra, during a famine. The wheat multiplies miraculously.

The North Crypt Transept and its two chapels also have a connection with the enduring mystery of what happened to the bones of Thomas Becket following the destruction in 1538 of the shrine, tomb and all remains and relics of the Saint at the hands of the Commissioners of Henry VIII.

The decree of Henry VIII was, as far as anyone knows, carried out to the letter and Becket’s bones and all mortal remains were destroyed. However, the absence of any actual evidence or witness account of this being carried out (when, for instance, an inventory of the gold, silver and jewellery removed from the Shrine was meticulously compiled) has merely added fuel to the speculation in the intervening 483 years that the bones, if any were destroyed at all, weren’t those of Thomas. The monks, it is said, had plenty of warning of the arrival of the Commissioners, and would have moved them to a place of safety. The author of the Wolf Hall Trilogy, Hilary Mantel, clearly aware of the speculation, has them taken away by Thomas Cromwell to his home at Austin Friars for “safe keeping”!

A coffin containing a skeleton of a tall male discovered in 1888 during an archaeological dig in the X Eastern Crypt, and very close to the site of the original Becket tomb, was widely believed to contain the bones of Becket. Becket was unusually tall for the time – over six feet (1.83m) – and other damage to the skeleton seemed to be consistent with a violent death. The belief that these were indeed Becket’s mortal remains grew over the next sixty years and, by the late 1940s, the Dean and Chapter were even considering creating a new Becket shrine. However, the bones were re-exhumed in 1949 and, after a two-year forensic examination by Professor Alexander Cave at the Anatomy Department of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, they were emphatically shown not to be those of Becket.

Down the years there has also been speculation that the remains of Becket lay elsewhere in the crypt – somewhere less ‘obvious’. There is a slab on the floor of the North Transept adjacent to the Chapels of St Mary Magdalene and St Nicholas, which has a floriated cross carved on it – perhaps containing a tomb, and perhaps that of clerk Edward Grim, eye-witness to the murder. Alongside that, there is an unmarked slab which has been broken and the area of the break crudely made good with cement. This “excavation” is thought to have been carried at the instigation of Canon Frederick Shirley and Canon Julian Bickersteth, in secret, over one night sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s.  What they, and two helpers, found under the slab was not documented and what we do know is hearsay, but the men apparently believed that they had discovered the bones of Thomas Becket – along with a signet ring and fragments of the Archbishop’s vestment. Such was their conviction (or guilt for causing wanton damage!) that, in 1958, the two chapels were refurbished at their own expense. Canon Shirley conducted the first communion in the refurbished Chapel of St Mary Magdalene and, following his death in July 1967, his ashes were interred there.

The red Martyr’s light he presented to the chapel in 1956 still burns here.

 Reference: David Bell: A Guide’s Guide to Canterbury Cathedral § 4.6

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Where next?

 Exit the Crypt North Aisle via the steps up to the X Martyrdom.

Accessible Itinerary. Exit the Crypt via the North Door. To visit the Choir, Trinity Chapel, Corona and Southeast Transept, please use the Lift.
The Martyrdom can be accessed from the Southwest Transept, via the Nave (NW door).