Noilly Prattle: a Canterbury tale

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

a Canterbury tale

Canterbury Cathedral
    Canterbury Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage since the 12th Century when an infamous murder took place in that holy place. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, a fellow by the name of Thomas Becket, had a little disagreement with the then King of England, Henry II, about, what else, power and money--the usual kind of dispute in high places. It isn't entirely clear whether the King intended to murder Becket but it seems that four of his hit men (knights in less than shining armor) interpreted or misinterpreted an apparently off hand remark of the King's about getting rid of pesky priests and took it upon themselves to confront Becket in his seat of power, Canterbury Cathedral; when he refused to bend to the King's demands they, according to an eyewitness, chopped him up right there in the now sacred spot not too far from the high altar. Seems they sliced open his skull and scattered brain matter and blood all over the floor. Gory, what!

site of Becket's murder
       Becket's murder was soon transformed into a martyrdom issue and canonization and sainthood were conferred with what could be thought of as unseemly haste by Pope Alexander III. Even Henry II had to humble himself publicly and bend knee to Becket's tomb since Becket had become a cause célèbre. Pilgrims soon began to flock to Canterbury so that by the end of the 14th Century the flocking had turned into a flooding when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales  about a group of pilgrims traveling to the shrine of the now Saint Thomas à Becket and entertaining each other by telling their stories. 

skyscraper adjacent to London Bridge Sta.
 - not just perspective, it is pyramidal
       Since we found ourselves in London for a few days we decided to take advantage of a rare beautiful sunny day and make our own little pilgrimage to Canterbury by train from London Bridge Station, a short walk from our rental flat in The City of London. 

London Bridge and the battleship museum in the Thames

pretty as a picture
West Gate, and a church on the left
     The town (city) of Canterbury lies east southeast of London not far from the white cliffs of Dover. I say "town" because the main street leading through the old city gate towards the cathedral feels like a town rather than a city. It is well kept with low houses and shops that seem to have popped out of a glossy travel brochure, with an idyllic bucolic stream right out of the world of Beatrix Potter and loaded with tourists lured, like us, to the place as much by the beautiful weather as the celebrity of Canterbury and its cathedral. 

main street of shops 
wood frame contrasted with red brick
    Our train arrived at Canterbury West Station. From there it is a short 400m. walk to the old West Gate of what was, I presume, a walled town in the Middle Ages (the cathedral dates from the time of St. Augustine in the 6th Century). From the West Gate it is another 400m. along a street of restaurants, pubs and souvenir shops to Guildhall Street; a left turn on Guildhall and another 100m. and through the gate brings you to the SW corner of the cathedral, presenting you with the view in the above photo. You have to buy a ticket [£9.50] to enter the precincts as well as the building unless you are attending services (Canterbury Cathedral is an active house of worship). 

detail of stonework on a church, to the left of West Gate
 in the above photo -- stones have been split
 to show the beauty of the inner rock as in a geode

the only time I had
Fish 'n Chips in England

Fish 'n Chips restaurant

Guildhall St. and the cathedral gate

cloister - the cathedral was once a monastery

high altar at eastern of the cathedral

Gothic arches in the cloister and vault decoration
ruins at the northeast end of the cathedral

centuries of wear and tear on stone steps

"transi" tomb of Henry Chichele
15th Century Archbishop of Canterbury
- the top part of the tomb is his effigy,
the bottom is his rotting corpse

icon of Madonna and Child

tomb of Henry IV, the only English monarch
buried in Canterbury Cathedral

silver candlesticks

cross with inset amethyst stones

and a pub after a busy day -
posed not passed out on the table

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