Title ID 8427Collection ID1193
TitleMessage from Canterbury
CollectionEarly Films
KeywordsAnimals Buildings Children Farming Landscape Local History Clothing Religious Buildings Religious Activities Workers Social Problems
NationalEngland United Kingdom
ProductionGeorge Hoellering, Dr. William Temple
CameraD.P. Cooper, H. Reece
DirectorGeorge Hoellering
EditorGeorge Hoellering
WriterEmmanuel Strickland, Michael Sylvester
MusicHenry Purcell, Orlando Gibbons, Tallis
CastSermon spoken by His Grace Dr. William Temple
ParticipantsCanterbury Cathedral Choir, Reverend Jospeh Poole
FormatBlack & White Sound
Copyright & AccessCopyright restrictions apply, contact Screen Archive South East for details


A topical sermon by His Grace Dr. William Temple is accompanied by scenes of Canterbury Cathedral's interior, exterior and surrounding landscape, directed by George Hoellering during the war years.


The film opens with violin music and titles: "... from every shire's end Of England to Canterbury they wend. For centuries the pilgrims trod the roads which lead to the shrine of England's most famous Saint, where it lies in the heart of the fruit country, a land so rich that it is called "the garden of England." Canterbury - the metropolis of the Church of England, where nearly 100 Primates of all England have been enthroned. Here the camera comes like a pilgrim to see the life of its people and their Cathedral in 1942; to hear the Archbishop as he speaks of yesterday, to-day and to-morrow, and delivers to the world the Message from Canterbury."

Choral music begins, and views of a shepherd with sheep in a field, ploughing, and women harvesting grain. Inside the cathedral, a choir sings. The choir boys stand before the pews in choral gowns holding hymn sheets. With each toll of the bell, the view changes between cathedral, fields, landscape and farm animals. A siren begins. Sounds of planes and bombing accompanies views of a cloudy sky. Inside the cathedral, the noise of bombs and smashing glass is heard. The cathedral is seen from a distance and from beneath in the surrounding streets of Canterbury. Sculptures and paintings from the cathedral are shown. The siren sounds once more as the sun sets over the landscape.

Two men walk along a road wearing jackets, ties and hats to the sound of bell ringing. inside the cathedral, cross, candles, bishop and choir process to the altar. His Grace Dr. William Temple enters church. The congregation are seated. The sermon begins. He tells of the pilgrimage from Rome to England, undertaken by Augustine and the martyrdom of Thomas Beckett. Augustine was welcomed into Pagan Canterbury to establish a Christian community, church and monastery. Views of the abbey at Canterbury follow. Rebuilt after the Norman conquest in the Norman style, the church was once again rebuilt after a fire. Surviving Norman staircase and crypt are seen. "Its walls rise and fall, contract and expand in unison with the spirit of God within the people." Scenes of the high altar, nave, transepts and chapels follow. The cathedral is seen from a distance where "it strikes the beholder". Tracking shots through the streets of Canterbury to the cathedral follow. The narrative told by William Temple is illustrated by images of the events and sculpture portraying significant characters. After the church was vandalised in the 16th century by Henry VIII and again by iconoclastic puritans in the 17th century, bombs now reign down. Views of the vaulting, ceiling embellishment and stained glass windows follow. "By the mercy of god... our cathedral still stands, inspiring us to new works. We shall make this, our metropolitan church, once again the rampart of a missionary zeal." William Temple advocates one principle, that the resources of the earth should be used with due consideration for the needs of the present and future generation. Demanding dignity and decency of housing, equal opportunity for education, that every worker has a voice, every citizen should have sufficient leisure and holiday, liberty, freedom of worship, freedom of speech and freedom of association, to uphold a Christian social order. Appropriate scenes of slums, schools and coal workers accompany the sermon.

The congregation kneels in prayer. An intertitle reads "Remember not, Lord our offenses, nor the offenses of our forefathers, neither take thou vengeance of our sins, but spare us, good lord." A painting of Thomas Beckett is seen. William Temple and the processional party file out into the Chapel behind the high altar. Further footage of the cathedral from a distance and tracking footage of buttressing and windows along the nave's exterior follows. The shepherd features in the opening scenes closes the film.

Contextual information

Hoellering moved from mainland Europe in 1936, after working in Berlin and Hungary. Interned on the Isle of Man after the outbreak of war, he was released to make Ministry of Information films and the documentaries Message from Canterbury (1944), Shapes and Forms (1950) and Murder in the Cathedral (1952), featuring T.S. Elliot.

He became managing director of the Academy Cinema in Oxford Street in 1944, serving at a governor of the BFI from 1967 to 1971. Pioneering directors Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Andrrjez Wajda, Miklos Jansco, and Milos Foreman from Poland, the USSR, Czechoslovakia, France, Japan, Mexico and Sweden were introuced to the British public at the Academy by Hoellering and Ivo Jarosy.