The Great Cloister and Chapter House of Canterbury Cathedral – Canterbury, England - Atlas Obscura
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Canterbury, England

The Great Cloister and Chapter House of Canterbury Cathedral

One of England's most famous churches hides a pair of little known architectural treasures.  

Towering over everything that surrounds it, Canterbury Cathedral’s grand presence has been drawing tourists and pilgrims for centuries. As one of the most famous Christian structures in England, you may think that this is just your typical, run-of-the-mill cathedral attraction. But the wealth of Canterbury Cathedral is not on the outside — the most interesting attractions are those hidden in plain sight on the inside. 

Directly behind a place called “The Martyrdom” (the spot where Archbishop Thomas á Becket was murdered in 1170 CE by knights of King Henry II), is a door that many think is off limits. Go through it, and you’ll experience the Great Cloister, which boasts many stone carvings of animals (real and mythical), coats of arms lining the arched ceilings, and medieval heads. It also served to connect different parts of the monastery when the Cathedral housed monks. Spend some time wandering around the different corridors. You’ll be walking in the footsteps of the famous clergy and royalty that have traveled this same path while enjoying a view of the Cathedral that one can’t see from the outside.

The Great Cloister is also the only way to access the Chapter House (a place where the resident monks would have assembled to discuss the Cathedral’s business and read from their Benedictine rule). It is the largest of its kind in all of England.

The huge stained glass masterpiece is hard to miss when entering. The various scenes depict Canterbury history from the time of King Ethelbert until the days of Queen Victoria.

Know Before You Go

There is a high speed train from Kings Cross Station in London that will get you into Canterbury in about 55 minutes. It's not a huge place, so it is easy to get around and find the main attractions off the High Street.