Police officers carrying semi-automatic weapons are now guarding one of the most sacred Christian sites in Britain following the martyrdom of a Catholic priest at the hands of jihadists in France two months ago.
Armed police have been spotted at Canterbury Cathedral, the “mother church” of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which attracts nearly a million visitors a year.
The Mail reports the heavily-armed officers have been seen holding Heckler and Koch G36 assault rifles, Glock 17 semi-auto 9mm pistols and Tasers, and have been patrolling for the past week.
A spokesman for the Cathedral said: “Having grown used to armed police patrols in our rail stations, airports and in the capital cities we should not be surprised that Kent Police has judged the same provision for the security of people needs to be made at significant sites in their own area.
“It is a sadness to us all that such a response is necessary but the police has made this decision with the safety of the public in mind. [sic]”
Kent Deputy Chief Constable Paul Brandon said: “We continue to regularly review the threat levels in the county in consultation with the Home Office to ensure we provide the most appropriate protection for the people of Kent.
“While we are not expecting a direct threat to the county, we do want to make sure that should circumstances change quickly, we are adequately prepared.”
The heightened security comes two months after French priest Fr Jacques Hamel was killed in his church by two Islamist extremists who slit his throat.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis declared Fr Hamel to be a “martyr”, a qualification that automatically makes him a saint according to Catholic theology, and said his soul was in heaven.
Speaking at the Vatican during a Mass in honour of the slain priest, the Pope added that there are “more Christian martyrs” in this age than during the early days of Christianity.
“Today there are Christians murdered, tortured, imprisoned, slaughtered because they do not deny Jesus Christ,” the Pope said.