Monday, September 28, 2015

A Pilgrimage to Canterbury

On my third annual trip to England, it felt proper to finally make it to Canterbury as pilgrims did for hundreds years before I arrived today. Granted, I drove and didn't walk, but a harrowing experince the same to drive by myself on the left along narrow windy country roads and on large motorways. It was a relief to finally arrive and see the Cathedral's tower over the town.  

Canterbury was established as the "Cathedra" or seat, by the first archbishop St. Augustine, who was sent by Pope Gregory in 597 as a missionary to convert the pagan Saxons. He won over the will of King Ethelbert, the Saxon King, who had a French Christian wife. Ethelbert allowed Augustine and his followers to build a church outside of the city walls, at what is now the ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey.

Architecture styles range from Romanesque to Perpendicular to Gothic. The earliest part of the Cathedral is found in the crypt, which is Romanesque from around 1100 and has a small section of preserved wall paintings.The Great Cloister is an excellent example of Decorated Gothic with fan-vaulted colonnades as it was rebuilt in 1300. 

The Cathedral used to be a Benedictine monastery and the cloister is where the monks would study. Unlike in typical monasteries, the Cloister at Canterbury is on the north rather than the south side because of an old burial ground that was where the Cloister should have been. (Even on a sunny and windy September day, it was chilly in the Cloister so I can't imagine what the studying monks endured in the dead of winter!)  Thomas Becket, a onetime close friend of Henry II who appointed him as Archbishop of Canterbury, was chased from the cloister to the northwest transept (now called the Martyrdom) and murdered by four knights on December 29, 1170. The four knights allegedly acted on orders from King Henry II. Thomas Becket was considered a martyr because though he was once close friends with King Henry, sided with the church to protect the church's interest over the king's. 

Thomas Becket's body was first entombed in the crypt for people to view. It was during these viewings that miracles were said to have happened. The miracles were observed by two monks who wrote down the miracles into books that are part of the Cathedral's archives today. It was due to these miracles and healings that Thomas was canonized and Canterbury became a pilgrimage site, drawing thousands to be healed by St. Thomas. His shrine was housed in the Trinity Chapel in the quire until the Reformation in 1538. Henry VIII was trying to unify the church around him and he saw the shrine and pilgrimage to St. Thomas as a roadblock, and a source of wealth as well. All the gold and treasures left by the pilgrims went to the crown and St. Thomas' tomb was shattered and scattered to the unknowns.

St. Thomas' miracles, those written down by the monks, were made into stained glass windows along the quired. There isn't much stained glass left as most of it was destroyed in the Civil War. What survived is some of the oldest stained glass in England, as seen in the West Window. These pieces were removed and preserved from destruction of World War II's bombing. Most of the medieval parts of the was city was also destroyed, though parts of the medieval walls still stand. 

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