Western Nave

The Nave, looking east towards the Pulpitum screen by Shitha Valsan. Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0

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.

MapEntering the Cathedral through the Southwest porch, the immediate impression is of the sheer scale and grandeur of this Gothic building. The elegantly proportioned columns in the Nave rise upwards to the lierne vaulted roof, 25 meters (82 feet) overhead, and the view looking east, towards the Pulpitum arch into the Choir and Trinity Chapel beyond, is as awe-inspiring to today’s visitor as it must have been to the fifteenth century pilgrim.  Access via NW Door 

  • Height of the Nave vault:  25 metres (82 feet)
  • Length of the Nave to Pulpitum screen: 66 metres (215 feet)
  • 1071 Archbishop Lanfranc’s Norman/Romanesque Nave construction begins. Completed 1086
  • 1377 Demolition. After 300 years Lanfranc’s Nave is in “a notorious and evident state of ruin”
  • 1382 Dover Straits earthquake causes damage throughout the Cathedral. Nave rebuilding is delayed while repairs are carried out and through lack of funds 
  • 1405 Nave reconstruction is completed in Perpendicular Gothic style.
  • 1648 The Nave as a stable. During the English Civil War 300 military horses are stabled here.
  • 1787  Nave clearance, instigated by Dean Horne

What's here?

There is much of note here, including the many monuments and plaques on the surrounding walls. In the immediate vicinity we find the Great West Window, the Fire Watchers memorial pavement and the seventeenth century font with its connection to the English Civil War.

Orientation. On entering the Cathedral via the Southwest Porch, the small Fire Watchers memorial stone is in the floor in the centre, more or less in front of you. Turning into the Nave, the Font is nearby on the north (left hand) side. The Great West Window is best seen when looking back from a viewpoint further into the Nave.

In the floor of the western Nave, just to the east of the central west door is a memorial paving stone to the Fire Watchers of Canterbury who, during WWII, manned strategic positions in the City including on the Cathedral roof.  

One third of medieval Canterbury was destroyed in German air raids between 1940-44. On 1st June 1942, during the so-called “Baedeker” air raid, said to be a reprisal bombing for the Allied 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne on 29th May 1942, two bombs destroyed the Cathedral library to the north, and several houses to the south. The blast blew out much of the glass in the Southwest Transept. 

The Fire Watchers stationed on the roof dealt with each incendiary device, either by throwing it to the ground below using long handled shovels, or by dousing it with sand or water using a stirrup pump. The fact that the Cathedral did not suffer serious fire damage from the incendiaries that fell on the roof during this and subsequent air raids was very much down to the individual bravery of The Fire Watchers.

The font, a gift from Canon John Warner in 1639, was smashed by the Puritan iconoclasts only three years later in 1642. The broken pieces were collected up by William Somner (registrar to Archbishop William Laud) and hidden in his house. Following the Restoration of Charles II the font was repaired and reinstated in the Nave in 1663.

The restored font remained in the Nave until 1787, when the Dean George Horne‘s notorious Nave Clearance took place. It was returned to its original position in the Nave only in 1896, where it has remained ever since.

The font stands on a marble plinth, with the four figures of the Evangelists (Saint Matthew with an angel, Mark with a lion, Luke with a bull and John with an eagle) around the stem. Above this, there is a shallow, octagonal fluted bowl, on which a two-storey wooden cover rests, adorned with figures of the 12 Apostles, 8 on the lower storey, with the remaining 4 above. The cover rises to a pinnacle, on which stands a figure of Christ blessing little children and is raised by a metal pulley, which hangs from a bracket, bearing the royal arms of Charles II (1660/1685), marking his restoration in 1660. Under the cover, a dove represents the Holy Ghost.

This window is closely associated with Richard II (1377-1399), though he was deposed by his cousin Henry IV before it was completed, it is possible that he commissioned the window directly. The tracery border at the very top of the window contains the coats of arms of Richard and of his two wives, Anne of Bohemia and Isabella of France, whom he married by proxy in 1396 when she was six years old.

Though completed in 1405, the West window contains some much earlier and historically important 12th century portraits in stained glass, the Ancestors of Christ. The portraits – 13 from a series of 86 – were moved here from high up the eastern clerestories of the Choir and Trinity Chapel in 1799 to fill the space left after of much of the Cathedral’s stained glass was destroyed by Parliamentary troops and puritan iconoclasts in 1642-43, at the start of the English Civil War. 

The row of lights at the top of the main window, featuring seven kings, somehow escaped the damage inflicted on the lower two rows and is thought to be part of the window’s original stained glass. The ‘eighth king’ in the middle of the second row is a modern reproduction c.1925. 

 In the centre of the bottom row of the window is the famous depiction of the fallen Adam delving wearing a fleece, dated to around 1178. Until recently this work was generally regarded as the oldest stained glass portrait in England – though art historian Prof Madeline Caviness has suggested, as long ago as 1987, that four of the Ancestors seemed to belong stylistically to an earlier period than those in the rest of the series. Recent spectroscopic examination of the portrait of Nathan (using a handheld “Windolyser”) in the Great South Window has confirmed this hypothesis, and Nathan is now dated to 1130-1160 i.e. before the fire of 1174 that destroyed most of the Choir and Trinity Chapel.

This analysis strongly suggests that the similarly styled portraits of Rehoboam (ROBOAS) and his son Abijah (ABIAS) in the second row from the bottom of this window should also be dated to 1130-60, making them among the oldest surviving stained glass portraits anywhere in the world.

Who’s Who in the Great West Window

The tracery

Main Window

Where next?

 Continue towards the X Eastern Nave

 Alternative itinerary. Our self-guided tour takes us to the Great Cloister and Chapter House later on in the tour. Some tour guides find it convenient to visit them at this point in the tour. To follow this alternative route, exit the Nave at the northwest door (in the corner opposite the main visitor entrance) and turn right into the X Great Cloister, and from there to the X Chapter House, rejoining our route at the X Martyrdom.