Canterbury, England (#21)
by Debra Conley
An original Roman wall greets visitors to Canterbury as you arrive by train from London. To get to the famous Cathedral, the top of the wall serves as your footpath. The crest of the wall gives each pedestrian a good view of the Cathedral spires as well as the town below. Once in the town, it’s a four block walk to the entrance of Canterbury Cathedral, one of my favorites in England. Started in the 600’s by England’s first Archbishop, St. Augustine, the Cathedral’s massive beauty is breath taking and it is still the official seat of the Archbishop. Regular services include organ and choir recitals; CD’s of the recitals are available.
History of the Canterbury Cathedral always includes one of its darkest moments, that of the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. The murder by knights of Henry II took place inside the Cathedral as Becket was preparing for Vespers, which made the act even more heinous. Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous Canterbury Tales are structured on the Pilgrimage from Southwark Cathedral in London to Canterbury to honor the slain Becket. Having taught this great literary work for many years, it was especially gratifying for me to have been to both the Southwark Cathedral beginning of the journey and then to the destination at Canterbury.
A series of Bible windows, done in exquisite stained glass, tell of the great saints, of Jesus and His miracles, and were installed for the benefit of the illiterate who were encouraged to sit where they could view the windows and learn visually. The great bell tower contains 14 bells, all of which still ring regularly.
As part of the tour of the Cathedral, the East and West Crypts on the lower level are extensive; visitors are asked to remain quiet and solemn while walking through the graves. Becket’s tomb was in the East Crypt, but later moved to the Cathedral’s larger main area to accommodate the number of visitors who want to see the tomb. Several exclusive private schools surround the Cathedral area and students from these schools provide concerts, dramas, and other contributions to the Canterbury experience. The town itself is another of the quaint English towns so often affixed in our tourist images. Street vendors offer wares next to smart shops nestled behind historic facades. Town folk gather on benches at the shade trees for daily conversation and life is leisurely.