Western Crypt (South Aisle)

Wall paintings in St. Gabriel’s Chapel. ©2020 guides-guide.org

Western Nave

Fire Watchers Memorial
Great West Window

Eastern Nave

Compass Rose


Altar of the Sword Point
The Deans' Chapel

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


Parclose Screen
Archbishop's Throne
St Augustine's Chair

North Choir Aisle

Chichele Tomb
Bible Windows
Northeast Transept

Trinity Chapel North

Opus Alexandrinum
Miracle Windows
Henry IV Tomb
Becket Shrine

Trinity Chapel South

Corona Chapel
Black Prince
Miracle Windows

South Choir Aisle

St Anselm's Chapel
Bossanyi Windows
Southeast Transept

Southwest Transept

Stairs to the Crypt
Level access to Martyrdom

Great Cloister

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

Chapter House

Wagon Vault
Victorian stained glass

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

What's here?

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 tells 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 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 medieval 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

The stained glass of St Gabriel’s Chapel

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 overall theme of the stunning new crypt exhibition space (on the site of the former Silver Treasury) is “Making History”. All the objects on display are connected to the vital, and sometimes troubled, relationship between Church and State.

Because of the delicate condition of many of the exhibits, they are rotated from time to time in order to minimise their exposure to light and humidity. The objects on display at the time of writing (March 2022), include fragments of carved rose marble (c.1220), thought to be from the base of Thomas Becket’s shrine (destroyed 1538), part of the Black Prince’s Achievement (c.1350-70), including his shield and jupon (an embroidered padded coat),  and a first edition of the Great Bible of 1539, in English, that was placed in every church, by order of Henry VIII.

Where next?

Next Stop Exit the crypt via the stairs up to the Southwest Transept. The X Pulpitum Steps are immediately to your right, just beyond the Pilgrims’ tunnel.  

Accessible Itinerary. Leave the crypt via the North Door. For level access to the X Great Cloister and X Chapter House, turn immediately left. To visit the upper level of the Cathedral, take the lift for access to the X Northeast Transept and Choir.