Western Crypt (South Aisle)

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

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>

Martyrdom

<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>

Choir

<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>

Cloister

<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.

MapFollowing the one way route, we enter the Western Crypt via the steps down from the Southeast transept. This is the oldest part of the Cathedral and the largest and most striking crypt in England. It was constructed between 1096-1100 during the time of the second Norman Archbishop, Anselm.

Note the Norman “Romanesque” style of architecture at this point, characterised by rounded arches and carved columns and ‘capitals’ in a variety of designs.

Accessible Itinerary. Please use the North Door at the rear of the Cathedral.

  • Western Crypt constructed 1096-1100
    • Eastern Crypt 1179-1181 
  • Overall length of Crypt: 88 m  290 ft
    • Western Crypt: 58 m 100 ft
    • Eastern Crypt: 30m 100 ft
  • Height: 4.5 m 14.5 ft
    • Eastern Crypt:  6.7 m 22 ft
  • Width: 26m 66 ft
    • Eastern Crypt:  20 m 66 ft
  • Width at Transepts : 48 m 158 ft

What's here?

Orientation. At the foot of the the steps leading from the SW Transept you are in the south aisle of the Western Crypt, facing east. The chapel of Our Lady Undercroft occupies the major part of the central area ahead and to your left.  Further along this aisle, to your right, are the Huguenot Chapel and St Gabriel’s Chapel.

Just a year after the Norman Conquest, in 1067, the Saxon cathedral at Canterbury was completely destroyed by fire and the first Norman archbishop, Lanfranc (1070-1089) set about rebuilding it between 1071 and 1077. His cathedral consisted of a nave and single transept – consisting of a sanctuary with altar raised on a small crypt – at its Eastern end.

Lanfranc was also responsible for establishing the community of Benedictine monks and the Priory of Christ Church that was attached to the Cathedral. By the time Lanfranc’s successor, St Anselm became Archbishop in 1093, it was clear that that a much larger church was required to serve the growing needs of the Benedictine community.

Work started on the extension of the Cathedral to the east in 1096 under the supervision of Prior Ernulf (1096-1107) and was completed c.1100. A significantly larger crypt was built as the foundations for a new and “glorious” Choir above. Lanfranc’s small crypt was demolished and a substantially larger crypt built, with 22 columns arranged in pairs to underpin the new Choir. This is the structure of the Western Crypt largely as we see it today – with two processional aisles either side of the main crypt leading east to the sanctuary and altar of Our Lady Undercroft.

Note. The only remnants of Lanfranc’s small crypt visible today are a section of the rear (western) wall of the former Silver Treasury, now an exhibition space (currently closed), and the hatched portion of the staircase wall to the left of the northern steps leading up to the Martyrdom. A semi-elliptic groove, cut into the floor of the north aisle, close to the bottom of these steps, marks the eastern extent of the Lanfranc crypt.

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.

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”. 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.

The Huguenots and the Western Crypt

This Chapel occupies the central area of the Western Crypt and is reserved as a quiet place for prayer and contemplation. Notice the carved columns and capitals here – and in the chapels of St Gabriel (south aisle) and Holy Innocents (north aisle). The capitals of many of the columns are carved with mythical beasts and other figures of no particular religious significance, and include a man on horseback, a lion, a juggler with a man on his head and dragons locked in combat.  Much of the carving would have been done ‘in situ’ using an adze – an axe-like hand tool with its blade at right angles to the shaft. These carvings, may have been done on the stonemasons’ own initiative and appear unfinished in places  – possibly because of the pressure by Prior Ernulf to complete the work quickly.

The sanctuary of the chapel itself is surrounded by beautiful perpendicular screens dating from 1363-70. These screens were probably the work of Henry Yevele, master mason to Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales (The Black Prince). It is probable that the cost of the screens was defrayed from the proceeds of the Prince’s gift to the Christ Church Priory, in c.1363, of his manor at Fawkes’ Hall, Vauxhall, which was intended to pay for the construction of the adjacent chantry chapel in the crypt transept – the Black Prince’s Chantry – now the Huguenot Church.

 More

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 & stained glass of St Gabriel's Chapel

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Where next?

 Continue through the archway into the X Eastern Crypt

Access. A ramp is available – please ask a member of staff.