Great fire of 1174 ‘sparked by bit­ter Cathe­dral ri­valry’

His­to­rian sug­gests blaze was an ar­son at­tack

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - NEW YEAR’S EVE ASSAULT - By Joe Wright [email protected]­m­ @joe_wright98

A dev­as­tat­ing fire which ripped through Can­ter­bury Cathe­dral in 1174 was started de­lib­er­ately by en­vi­ous monks, a me­dieval his­to­rian has claimed.

Dr Emma Wells be­lieves a bit­ter ri­valry be­tween two of Eng­land’s grand­est cathe­drals, Can­ter­bury and Durham, turned ugly as they both sought to be­come the coun­try’s most pop­u­lar place of wor­ship.

In her new book Heaven on Earth, the his­to­rian stresses her be­lief that monks based at Can­ter­bury pur­posely set fire to their own cathe­dral so they could then build an elab­o­rate crypt which would draw in vis­i­tors, and more im­por­tantly, com­pete with Durham.

Be­fore the great blaze, Durham had the up­per hand in terms of pop­u­lar­ity.

Its ex­trav­a­gant ar­chi­tec­ture, and the fact the well-liked St Cuth­bert was its saint, meant it was Eng­land’s busiest pil­grim­age des­ti­na­tion.

But fol­low­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion on Thomas Becket in 1170, Can­ter­bury be­came a bustling hotspot for pil­grims as they came to prayer within the walls of where Becket’s blood was spilt.

Still not over­joyed de­spite the in­flux of pil­grims head­ing to Kent, Dr Wells sug­gests monks wanted to give Can­ter­bury a fur­ther boost - by un­leash­ing a fire which would open up new pos­si­bil­i­ties. Speak­ing to The Tele­graph, the Uni­ver­sity of York pro­fes­sor said: “What’s very in­ter­est­ing is the tim­ing.

“Becket died in 1170 and was canon­ised in 1173, the fire took place in 1174 - not even a year fol­low­ing the fact that he be­comes a saint.

“Once some­one be­comes a saint you want pil­grims through the doors.

“The way the fire starts is very in­ter­est­ing - a monk within the cathe­dral tells us that the fire started in some tim­ber framed houses around the cathe­dral and the flames blew over.

“It’s just a lit­tle bit too per­fect tim­ing be­cause as a re­sult they build this mag­nif­i­cent new shrine for St Thomas Becket, these beau­ti­ful win­dows de­pict­ing St Thomas Becket dur­ing his life.

“So it’s a lit­tle bit too per­fect, the fact they can build this mag­nif­i­cent new struc­ture after he was canon­ised, - so was it ar­son or a co­in­ci­dence?

“I be­lieve it could be ar­son.”

Can­ter­bury Cathe­dral

Thomas Becket im­mor­talised in a stained glass win­dow

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