Today and throughout the 1,400 years since St Augustine founded the Christian community in Canterbury, those who run it live on site. As well as a place of worship, it is a place of hospitality – a world class destination for a million modern pilgrims every year, with an international reputation to uphold.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is a regular visitor who will feature in the series. Viewers will also get an insight into the workings of the cathedral, with access to the Dean and Chapter together with the wider community of choristers, including the new all-girl choir, the stained glass conservationists, stonemasons, apprentices and the many pilgrims. Discover Canterbury Cathedral’s rhythms, history, fabric, rituals, music and treasures, and some of its international visitors.
Canterbury Cathedral holds a unique place, both in the British imagination and throughout the world, and the series will open the door to the majesty of its story and its people, through the eyes of some of its 300 staff and 800 volunteers.
As the cathedral gears up for Christmas, from Advent Sunday onwards, viewers are taken behind the scenes to meet the vergers and clergy and to follow the famous choir as they prepare for a schedule of over 50 rehearsals, services and events in just four weeks.
The ancient rhythms of worship, first established in Canterbury by St Augustine in the year 597, are always maintained but Canterbury has always been at the forefront of change. Breaking 1,400 years of tradition, the New Year sees the inaugural evensong of the cathedral’s first girls’ choir. Follow the girls through their auditions and rehearsals before that first, historic service in a packed cathedral. The boys’ choir, on the other hand, take their talents all the way to sub-arctic Norway to visit one of the most far-flung shrines to Canterbury’s most famous martyr – Saint Thomas Becket.
Renewal is happening within the fabric of the building too. The Great South Window is having to be completely dismantled and rebuilt, with every stone being carved by hand in the cathedral’s workshops. Whilst the work is taking place on the stone frame, the priceless stained glass travels outside the cathedral precincts for the first time in its 800-year existence, to be exhibited in a city only half the age of the glass itself… New York.
The Archbishop prepares for his first Christmas in Canterbury. He enjoys the colourful St Nicholas’ Festival and Dean Robert Willis shows him Canterbury’s most precious document – The Winchester Accord – signed by William the Conqueror to establish Canterbury’s authority over York.
Canterbury Cathedral, BBC2, Friday, 9pm