St Dunstan's patron is Dunstan, a former Archbishop of Canterbury and who many consider to be one of England’s greatest saints.
The church isn’t just a beautiful medieval building within the city of Canterbury, it’s also historically important because of two significant historical events. Chronologically, the first event followed the murder in 1170 of Thomas Becket, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, in Canterbury Cathedral by two knights loyal to King Henry II. Henry, realising his overheard cursing of Becket prompted the knights to kill, came to Canterbury in an act of public penance for the Archbishop’s death. The king travelled from London to Canterbury, stopping at St Dunstan’s Church, just short of the ancient city wall. And it was in St Dunstan’s on 12 July 1174 that King Henry II started his public act of penance. He exchanged his regal robes for a sack-cloth shirt and from where, legend has it, he went on his knees to Canterbury Cathedral to undertake further acts of penance.
The second followed the execution of Sir (later Saint) Thomas More, Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to 16 May 1532 in the reign of Henry VIII. More opposed the Protestant Reformation and Henry’s separation from the Catholic Church. He refused to acknowledge Henry as Supreme Head of the Church of England and the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. After refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, More was convicted of treason and beheaded. His head was placed on a pike on London Bridge. More’s daughter, Margaret Roper, who lived almost opposite St Dunstan's Church, rescued her father’s head from London Bridge and brought it to Canterbury. It was interred in a crypt within the church’s Roper Chapel where it safely resides to this day.
Because of these strong historical connections and today's mission of witness, the Rector and PCC of St Dunstan with Holy Cross consider it a crucial centre for pilgrims and tourists alike.