Canterbury’s historic Franciscan Gardens will remain closed for 2024 for repair

by | May 24, 2024 | Faith Spaces, Newsfeed

A popular tourist attraction in the centre of a Kent city will remain closed for the rest of 2024 for repair and renovations.

The management team at the Franciscan Gardens in Canterbury, which date from 1224, said they hope the historic site will be open again in spring or summer 2025.

The gardens were founded 800 years ago by a handful of poor Catholic friars sent to England by St Francis of Assisi. After arriving in Canterbury from Italy in 1224, the Franciscans were gifted a small island of land. Active members of the community, the friars gained respect and popularity by aiding the sick and needy. Over the next 200 years they were bequeathed more land and funds, which transformed their simple settlement into a 20 acre friary.

The original Franciscan garden would have functioned both as a practical place to grow what was needed as well as a place of spiritual contemplation. A key part of a Friar’s training would have been a comprehensive understanding of plants and their different uses: for cooking, medicines, perfumes, dyes and construction. Connecting with the changing seasons and marking the important religious festivals meant plants would have been used symbolically in the gardens and to decorate the altar of the once standing St Francis Chapel.

The Friars’ Mediterranean roots would have been readily seen, with Olive trees, Myrtle and Hyssop. Fragrant Rosemary would have scented the air evoking Assisi, the Italian commune the Franciscans had originated from, and reminded them of the sacred purpose St Francis had set them on. The garden would have been an unexpected paradise in the centre of Canterbury.

Even after the dissolution of the monastery in 1538, the site has continued to be used for garden and horticultural practices. For most of the 20th century, the site was used as a commercial flower nursery to supply the busy Canterbury market, reflected today by the cut flower section of the garden.

A spokesperson said restoration of the river wall along the River Stour was nearly complete, “but a number of other repairs and modifications are necessary in order to ensure the safety of our guests.

“Through the redevelopment of the buildings and grounds, our long-term aim is to illustrate the ways in which the history of the Franciscan Gardens is intertwined with that of Canterbury itself. Our exceptional display of ornamental flowers, medicinal plants, shrubs, and historic apple orchard beside the River Stour will remain the focal point of the gardens and also reflect our long history from medieval to modern times.”

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