Canterbury Cathedral is one of the oldest Christian structures in England. The Cathedral was built on the site of a monastery that had been built in the 6th century AD. According to legend, St. Augustine himself founded it. The Cathedral itself was built in many stages from about the 12th century all the way up to the 1950s. It is the Cathedral for the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England.
A curious bird's-eye view of Canterbury Cathedral and its annexed conventual buildings, taken about 1165, is preserved in the Great Psalter in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. As elucidated by Professor Willis,1 it exhibits the plan of a great Benedictine monastery in the 12th century, and enables us to compare it with that of the 9th as seen at the abbey of Saint Gall. We see in both the same general principles of arrangement, which indeed belong to all Benedictine monasteries, enabling us to determine with precision the disposition of the various buildings, when little more than fragments of the walls exist. From some local reasons, however, the cloister and monastic buildings are placed on the north, instead, as is far more commonly the case, on the south of the church. There is also a separate chapter-house, which is wanting at St Gall.
The buildings at Canterbury, as at St Gall, form separate groups. The church forms the nucleus. In immediate contact with this, on the north side, lie the cloister and the group of buildings devoted to the monastic life. Outside of these, to the west and east, are the halls and chambers devoted to the exercise of hospitality, with which every monastery was provided, for the purpose of receiving as guests persons who visited it, whether clergy or laity, travellers, pilgrims or paupers.
To the north a large open court divides the monastic from the menial buildings, intentionally placed as remote as possible from the conventual buildings proper, the stables, granaries, barn, bakehouse, brewhouse, laundries, &c., inhabited by the lay servants of the establishment. At the greatest possible distance from the church, beyond the precinct of the convent, is the eleemosynary department. The almonry for the relief of the poor, with a great hall annexed, forms the paupers' hospitium.
The most important group of buildings is naturally that devoted to monastic life. This includes two Cloisters, the great cloister surrounded by the buildings essentially connected with the daily life of the monks,---the church to the south, the refectory or frater-house here as always on the side opposite to the church, and farthest removed from it, that no sound or smell of eating might penetrate its sacred precincts, to the east the dormitory, raised on a vaulted undercroft, and the chapter-house adjacent, and the lodgings of the cellarer to the west. To this officer was committed the provision of the monks' daily food, as well as that of the guests. He was, therefore, appropriately lodged in the immediate vicinity of the refectory and kitchen, and close to the guest-hall. A passage under the dormitory leads eastwards to the smaller or infirmary cloister, appropriated to the sick and infirm monks.
Eastward of this cloister extend the hall and chapel of the infirmary, resembling in form and arrangement the nave and chancel of an aisled church. Beneath the dormitory, looking out into the green court or herbarium, lies the "pisalis" or "calefactory," the common room of the monks. At its north-east corner access was given from the dormitory to the necessarium, a portentous edifice in the form of a Norman hall, 145 ft. long by 25 broad, containing fifty-five seats. It was, in common with all such offices in ancient monasteries, constructed with the most careful regard to cleanliness and health, a stream of water running through it from end to end.
A second smaller dormitory runs from east to west for the accommodation of the conventual officers, who were bound to sleep in the dormitory. Close to the refectory, but outside the cloisters, are the domestic offices connected with it: to the north, the kitchen, 47 ft. square, surmounted by a lofty pyramidal roof, and the kitchen court; to the west, the butteries, pantries, &c. The infirmary had a small kitchen of its own. Opposite the refectory door in the cloister are two lavatories, an invariable adjunct to a monastic dining-hall, at which the monks washed before and after taking food.
The buildings devoted to hospitality were divided into three groups. The prior's group "entered at the south-east angle of the green court, placed near the most sacred part of the cathedral, as befitting the distinguished ecclesiastics or nobility who were assigned to him." The cellarer's buildings were near the west end of the nave, in which ordinary visitors of the middle class were hospitably entertained. The inferior pilgrims and paupers were relegated to the north hall or almonry, just within the gate, as far as possible from the other two.