Medieval carved stones
Normans defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Their leader, the Duke of Normandy, was crowned King William I. He is generally known as William the Conqueror. William gave important jobs to his followers: his half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, became Earl of Kent, and the Norman Lanfranc became Archbishop of Canterbury.
Lanfranc arranged for the rebuilding of Canterbury Cathedral in the 1070s using dazzling creamy-white stone imported from Caen in France. A model captures the dramatic moment when architect William of Sens fell from Canterbury Cathedral scaffolding during further work in the twelfth century.
Odo commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. It may have been made at the famous embroidery school of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury. Carved stones on display at the museum have designs similar to animals and other elements of the Bayeux Tapestry. Five creamy-white stones dating from about 1080-1090, intricately carved with dragons and other mythical beasts, were discovered in 1982 by archaeologists excavating in Church Lane. The stones were almost certainly made for Canterbury Cathedral and would have been removed during building work or at the Reformation.
Other carved stones come from St Augustine’s Abbey. The Abbey church was demolished for building materials at the Reformation. Stone was needed to build defences against the French at Deal Castle and the English port of Calais. Carts hauled stone to nearby Fordwich, where barges took it down river to the coast at Sandwich. The Abbey continued to be a source of building materials for years to come. The city of Canterbury even bought 180 loads of stone in 1621 to repair the Poor Priests Hospital – now Canterbury Heritage Museum.
During the early thirteenth century a splendid tomb was built for the relics of St Thomas Becket, with grey and pink marbles and studded with gems. It was destroyed at the Reformation in 1538 and carried away in carts. Carved capitals made of a rare rose-coloured marble, dated to the thirteenth century from the style of their carvings, are thought (with a few smaller fragments at Canterbury Cathedral) to be the only remains of Becket’s tomb. They match marble in the floor where the tomb once stood. The carved capitals were found in the River Stour near Pound Lane in 1983, buried in mud and covered in black tar (later cleaned off by a specialist conservator).
Stone carved with a dog chasing its tail, similar to designs embroidered on the Bayeux Tapestry. © Canterbury Museums and Galleries collection.