Fire Watchers Memorial
Great West Window
Western Crypt (South Aisle)
Our Lady Undercroft
St Gabriel Chapel
Western Crypt (North Aisle)
Ch. of Holy Innocents
St Nicholas Ch.
St Mary Magdalene Ch.
Altar of the Sword Point
The Deans' Chapel
Great South Window
St Augustine's Chair
North Choir Aisle
Trinity Chapel North
Henry IV Tomb
Trinity Chapel South
South Choir Aisle
St Anselm's Chapel
Stairs to the Crypt
Level access to Martyrdom
South, East, North & West panes
South, East, North & West panes
Victorian stained glass
Hint. View the map ‘landscape’ on small screens.
MapThe fine 12th century wall paintings in the apse of St Gabriel’s Chapel were rediscovered only in 1950, and owe their survival to the fact that the apse was walled up in c.1200 in an attempt to underpin the unstable St Anselm tower above it.
The Black Prince’s Chantry, now the Huguenot Chapel, was built within the Romanesque south transept in 1363 and is the earliest example of the Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the Cathedral. The Huguenot connection with the Cathedral dates from 1575, when Queen Elizabeth I gave the use of the Western Crypt to protestant Huguenot refugees fleeing persecution in France. Services in French are still held here today.
The Crypt Exhibition (under construction) is intended to tell the story of the often tumultuous relationship between Church and State through selected objects from the Cathedral’s historic collection of manuscripts, printed texts, clothing and textiles, badges and metal artefacts, ceramics and stone carvings.
Orientation. Returning from the Eastern Crypt into the south aisle of the Western Crypt, we come first to St Gabriel’s Chapel, on the left. Also on the left, further along this aisle is the Huguenot Chapel, formerly the Black Prince’s Chantry. The Crypt Exhibition (under construction) occupies the central space at the western end of the crypt, between the stairs up to the level above.
This chapel with its sanctuary and fine examples of mediaeval wall paintings was constructed during the time of Archbishop Anselm (1093-1109). The wall paintings date from c.1160 and owe their survival (from the attention of Puritan iconoclasts in the 1640s) to the fact that the sanctuary, and that of St Anselm’s chapel above it, was walled up c.1200 in an attempt to stabilise the tower above. Although the tower was eventually dismantled in 1335 the wall remained in place until 1950, when the paintings were revealed for the first time in 700 years.
The columns in the chapel, with elaborate carved capitals depicting weird and wonderful figures of no religious significance, are largely the creations of the stonemason’s imagination. All are carved by adze (axe), rather than chisel. These columns and capitals represent a very impressive example of Romanesque art of the late 11th century. Each of the four sides of the central capital has carvings of fantastic beasts playing antique musical instruments or dancing with gay abandon.
The East end of the Chapel was squared off with an apse, matching the Chapel of Holy Innocents on the north side of the crypt but without a window. Roman foundations have been discovered under this Chapel. The site may, possibly, have contained an early Roman Christian church prior to AD 410.
The wall paintings of St Gabriel’s Chapel
On the North wall, the Archangel Gabriel appears to Zacharias, aged 80, the father of St John the Baptist, to inform him that he is about to have a son, who is to be called John. Zacharias points to his tongue to indicate that he is dumb (he was struck dumb on the appearance of Gabriel). The infant is, nevertheless, named John, at his father’s insistence, after which Zacharias recovers his speech. Opposite, the Angel appears to Mary to announce the forthcoming birth of Jesus. Mary visits Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Jesus is born in a stable in Bethlehem and the angels announce this to the shepherds in the fields.
On either side of the entrance to the sanctuary are painted the angel guardians. Two figures of six-winged seraphim with “full eyes” stand on wheels. There are other paintings but not in such good condition. It is likely that all these paintings were executed in the times of Prior Wibert (1153/1167) and/or Abp. Thomas Becket (1162/1170), but certainly in the 12th century. The commemoration in the paintings of the birth of John the Baptist explains why this chapel is sometimes referred to as “St John’s Chapel”.
The stained glass of St Gabriel’s Chapel
The window to the West was a gift by Susan Minet in 1944. The main panel, inscribed Archiepic Dunstanus, shows St Dunstan writing a book. The head, hands and book have been the subject of modern restoration.
(Ref. David Bell – A Guide’s Guide to Canterbury Cathedral §4.22)
This Chantry Chapel was endowed by Edward of Woodstock, The Black Prince, eldest son of Edward III, in 1363 in return for the Papal dispensation given to the Prince to marry his cousin Joan, “the Fair Maid of Kent”.
The chapel was constructed within the south transept of the crypt, with two altars, as a place where priests were to pray for the souls of the Black Prince and his wife. In creating the chapel, the piers of the Norman south transept (c.1100) were clothed with stone in the new Perpendicular Gothic style. The clustered shafts and lierne vaults were a foretaste of what was to come in the Nave and Cloister. The bosses in the roof vault include the coats of arms of the Prince and his Father, Edward III, a portrait of his wife Joan, and Samson slaying 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass – symbolising the Prince’s victories over the French at Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356). In two places in the southern apse, the Gothic skin has been removed to reveal the Romanesque capitals.
In 1880 the chapel was adopted by the descendants of 16th and 17th century Huguenot refugees as the French Protestant Church of Canterbury and is still used for this purpose today.
Note. The chapel is not open to visitors during weekdays. Services in French are held in the Chapel at 15:00 every Sunday and are open to all, subject to any ongoing access restrictions. Visitors are strongly advised to check times before visiting, to avoid disappointment.
The Western Crypt has been associated with the Huguenot community since the sixteenth century when around 2,000 Huguenot protestants fled to England, escaping persecution in Catholic France and French-speaking Flanders.
In France alone, up to three million Huguenots perished during the Wars of Religion between 1562 and 1598. In 1575 Elizabeth I granted the Huguenots the use of the Western Crypt for assembly, work and worship. Weaving looms were set up, and the Chapel of Our Lady in the Undercroft was designated as their place of worship.
Another wave of persecution started under Louis XIV between 1661-1698 and caused thousands more to flee France. However, by 1880, after 300 years, the Huguenot population had dwindled to the point where it could move out of the Western Crypt, and thereafter the Black Prince’s Chantry was adopted as its church.
The plain and supposedly ‘temporary’ tomb of leading Huguenot Cardinal Odet de Coligny can be found upstairs in the X Trinity Chapel. The story of Cardinal Coligny and how he came to be buried in Canterbury is covered in that part of the tour.
This new exhibition space on the site of the former Silver Treasury at the western end of the crypt is currently under construction.
Next Stop. Exit the crypt via the steps up to the X Southwest Transept.
Accessible Itinerary. Leave the crypt via the North Door. To visit the upper level of the Cathedral, take the lift and go through to the X Northeast Transept and Choir. For level access to the X Great Cloister and X Chapter House, turn left at the North Door.