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Escorted Rail Tours to Canterbury

A centuries-old centre of English Christianity

Boasting a rich history, a beautifully preserved centre and a clutch of UNESCO World Heritage sites, Canterbury is one of England's best-loved cities. Originally settled by the Romans, the city's destiny changed forever in 597 AD, when St Augustine founded the famous cathedral. As Christianity took hold in England, Canterbury became a major centre of wealth and trade.

Following the death of Thomas Beckett in 1170, the number of pilgrimages soared; these inspired Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales', as well as works from the celebrated playwright Christopher Marlowe. By the 14th century, the city was one of England's largest and richest. Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 15th century hit the city hard. Whilst the cathedral was unharmed, many of the religious buildings were either badly damaged or completely levelled in this time.

Yet the city rose from the ashes of these turbulent times to become a world-famous tourist attraction; today this delightful walled city has much to recommend it, including the charming weaver's cottages and a number of timber-framed houses lining narrow, cobbled streets.

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Canterbury Tales Exhibition

Recreating the sights (and smells) of 14th century England, this fascinating exhibition tells some of Geoffrey Chaucer's best-loved stories - some of the earliest works in English fiction - through a range of audio and visual displays.

Westgate Tower Museum

The largest surviving city gate in England, the Westgate Tower tells the story of its time as a city fortification and later as a prison. It also offers wonderful views over the cathedral and the city.

Canterbury Cathedral

The extraordinary cathedral in Canterbury is not only the centrepiece of the city's UNESCO World Heritage site, but also the magnificent mother church of the Church of England - with a rich history spanning more than 1400 years. The cathedral was founded in 597 by St Augustine, when Christianity was still a new and relatively unknown concept amongst the Anglo-Saxons. It was in the cathedral that Christianity got its first real foothold in England, and before long even kings of the realm attended services here.

Successive leaders and groups altered and extended the building, and there are now many impressive features along with a few of the original remaining ones. Of course, the Canterbury Cathedral boasts many wonderful relics and monuments relating to its religious history, but it is also famous for one particular violent incident. On 29th December 1170, the Archbishop of Canterbury - and King Henry II's former favourite - Thomas Beckett was murdered in the cathedral by some of the king's knights. Beckett was rapidly canonised, becoming a saint in 1173.

This, along with tales of miracles and cures occurring, catapulted Canterbury Cathedral to the forefront of pilgrimage destinations. Even today, more than 800 years after the murder, there is still a single flickering candle marking the spot. As the seat of the Archbishop, also known as the principal leader of the Church of England and the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, its importance in England's social and historical as well as spiritual development cannot be overestimated. The cathedral also has an immense wealth of stained glass windows - most of which date back to the 12th and 13th century. With such an important history and so many fascinating objects to be seen, Canterbury Cathedral continues to attract pilgrims and tourists alike from all over the world.

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