Canterbury: cradle of English Christianity

Brandi Maly
Contributing writer

***image1***“It’s that you each, to shorten the long journey,
Shall tell two tales en route to Canterbury,
And, coming homeward, another two,
Stories of things that happened long ago.
Whoever best acquits himself, and tells
The most amusing and instructive tale,
Shall have a dinner, paid by us all,
Here in this roof, and under this roof-tree,
When we come back again from Canterbury.”
-Geoffrey Chaucer
Canterbury Tales

The first tale of my journey involves the seemingly never-ending, bone-crunching, patience-testing bus ride from the continent of Europe to the island of England, under water by way of the Chunnel. Don’t go this way unless you are an insomniac, have an infinite amount of patience and are under 5’5”; or you’re in for some Cirque du Soleil-like maneuvering to keep your appendages from falling asleep.

Fly to London, my friends. The flight is about an hour and a half.  Then you can take the train from Victoria Station out to Canterbury for the day (which is another hour and a half).

***image2***My second tale is one of description. Once in Canterbury, no matter which way you enter the city, the cathedral dominates the skyline. The formal title of the Canterbury Cathedral is the “Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury,” and parts of it form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is more than 557 feet tall, and it is hard to miss – no matter how much cider you’ve had. 

Be sure to take a guided tour: not only are the guides extremely knowledgeable but they are entertaining and committed to preserving the cathedral’s rich history. Ours came in on her day off. 

The cathedral has undergone a multitude of repairs and additions over the centuries. The oldest part of the cathedral is the Romanesque Crypt, which was built in 1100.  The Gothic Quire was rebuilt in 1200 and the Nave was built in the 14th and 15th centuries, according to historians.

The cathedral’s first Archbishop was St. Augustine, who arrived in 597 on orders from Pope Gregory the Great after having previously served as the abbot of St. Andrew’s Benedictine Abbey in Rome.

The town of Canterbury is less than one mile in diameter which makes all visitor attractions easily accessible. It has great shopping, some delicious food and lively pubs.  And if you happen to stay until after dark, you will see the cathedral is just as beautiful at night.

***image3***Did you know?

Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?

According to the Web site, the best known event in the cathedral’s history was the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. When Becket was made Archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry II in 1162, he changed his total allegiance from the King to the Pope and the Church. Henry had expected his full support, and there were many conflicts between them, the final one being Becket’s excommunication of the Archbishop of York and the Bishops of London and Salisbury for supporting Henry’s attacks on the rights of Becket as archbishop.

***image4***Four knights, Richard Brito, Hugh de Moreville, Reginald FitzUrse, and William de Tracy, overheard the King’s rage and took seriously his shout of “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” On Dec. 29, 1170, vespers in the Cathedral were in progress when the knights burst in and found Thomas kneeling at the altar. According to Edward Grim, a monk who watched the murder, Thomas refused to absolve the Bishops and told the Knights that, “for the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.”

It was not long before he did so. The knights wielded their weapons and administered three mighty blows, the last one breaking off the tip of a sword.
In 1173, Becket was canonized by Pope Alexander III. Pilgrims began to flock to Thomas’ shrine in the Cathedral. A year later Henry, in sackcloth, walking barefoot, was among them.