Since the arrival of Augustine in Kent in 597, Canterbury has been the very heart of the Church in England. The Saxon cathedral, much enlarged over the years, burnt down in 1067. Its replacement suffered a similar fate in 1174, to be rebuilt again. As a result, the modern visitor is presented with a confusing historical patchwork which needs some explanation. Eadmer the singer was an eyewitness to the demolition of the Anglo-Saxon cathedral and the construction of the new one by Archbishop Lanfranc.
He also describes the building of Conrad’s ‘glorious choir’ at the time of Archbishop Anselm. Gervase of Canterbury likewise describes the destruction of Lanfranc’s church by fire in 1174 and the rebuilding by William of Sens and English William. Professor Willis connects these and other sources, such as William of Malmesbury and Matthew Paris, to his own acute observations, creating a vivid impression of the Saxon, Norman and later cathedral. The text is interspersed with many superb wood engravings which, in many cases, offer a clarity which is hard to achieve with photography. Robert Willis (1800-1875) was Jacksonian Professor of natural and experimental philosophy at the University of Cambridge and lecturer in applied mechanics at the Metropolitan School of Science, Jermyn Street, London. He brought a new scientific rigour (but also an artistic eye) to the fields of archiology and architectural history.