Friday, April 8, 2011

A Pilgrimage of My Own

Busy day today here in Canterbury. After my first introduction to a "Full English Breakfast" including a fried egg (not a fan of fried eggs), bacon (think Canadian bacon with extra meat & fat attached), two large sausages, fried mushrooms and a fried tomato (we passed on the beans), we walked into the old town.

We caught a guided walking tour with a charming older gentleman guide and an older couple and a lady, all from England. Learned good things about the history and architecture of the city with a side dish of leather. The male half of the other couple was a furniture salesman from Scotland who let us all know about the wonders of Swiss cows and their three-layers-of-leather-thick skin.

We then got off our feet with a short river tour in a rowboat on the very slow, very shallow Stour River. Almost more shallow, if that is possible, was the clearance between the boat and the bottoms of the bridges. There was a good deal of ducking involved, even for me - and I'm short.

Have you ever noticed that in old towns the buildings are often wider on the top than they are at the bottom? Apparently that's due to tax. You were taxed on the ground you built on, so go small, then build out like an upside-down wedding cake and you have have your space and pay less for it, too!

After a brief stop at the Roman Museum, Tom and I went in separate directions. He went off to see the small castle and a local park with a mound, along with the city walls, and I went to the Cathedral.

This is what drew me to Canterbury in the first place. I have read Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" and studied about Thomas Becket and felt a strong draw to follow in the footsteps, so to speak of those many souls who made their pilgrimage to the site of Becket's martyrdom.

The cathedral itself is massive, made from stone that was imported from France (seeing as there is no local stone). The nave with it's soaring pillars draws you in, pulling you towards the quire, separated by an ornately carved stone panel.

To the left of the nave, near the base of the quire is a small stairway that drops down towards a chapel. It was there that Thomas Becket was killed by four knights, who answered with actions King Henry II's questions, "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?"

The spot is marked by a flagstone which reads, simply, "Thomas", and a modern sculpture on the wall that looks like a cross made of swords, with the horizontal line pierced with two swords. The light hits it sculpture so that the shadows of the swords are prominent, all together representing the four swords that killed the Archbishop.

Becket was originally buried in the crypt, then later moved upstairs into a shrine at the east end of the cathedral in the year 1220. The shrine was encrusted with gold and jewels, many gifts from royal pilgrims. When King Henry XIII established the Church of England, he took most of the wealth from the catholics, including the shrine of Becket. Currently, the space where the shrine used to be is marked simply by a long candle burning. I found this to be a more moving remembrance than any golden shrine might be.
After exploring the Cathedral, I stayed on to attend an Evensong service. It was lovely music by the 10-man choir and I enjoyed the atmosphere very much.

Having now trod in the steps of the pilgrims, I found Canterbury to be fascinating, educational and eye-opening. I look forward to using what I've learned in a tale of my own.

Tomorrow, on to Bath!

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