Most people know of Canterbury's Cathedral and rightly so. It is regarded as one of Europe's finest examples of Gothic (12th to 16th century) religious architecture. There are plenty of beautiful buildings and pubs and restaurants all set in a medieval centre that has retained much of its original character.
Canterbury has a rich history; from 200 AD it was a Roman town called Durovernum Cantiacorum and later became the capital of the Saxon kingdom of Kent. When the Christian message was carried to England, Canterbury was chosen as the base to do it from and it thrived as a Christian centre. Following the death of Thomas Becket in the cathedral, Canterbury became northern Europe's most important centre of pilgrimage, which in turn led to Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales', an outstanding work of early English literature.
In 1162, king Henry II appointed his good friend Thomas Becket as archbishop thinking that he would be able to impose his will on the religious lobby. Unfortunately, the cleric took the job a little too seriously and wouldn't toe the royal line. Eventually, the king 'suggested' to four knights that Thomas Becket was a little too much to bear and they did away with Thomas on the 29th December 1170.
12 Oct 2008 - Canterbury, EnglandAfter the excitement of the previous day seeing Saxons and Normans in combat on the Battlefield of Hastings, I paid a penance for my glorying in violence and made my second pilgrimage to historic Canterbury.
I had seen many of the major attractions on my last visit which meant that this visit was less of a monument ticking exercise and more of a relaxed and less scripted one though that's not to say that some ticking went on.
The Canterbury Tales visitor was visited again and is an entertaining place as it tries to recreate a medieval environment and the visitor is taken on a 'pilgrimage' where they hear some of Geoffrey Chaucer's tales as told by his fictional pilgrim travellers in the 14th century - and what good tales they are! Some funny, some serious, but all with a worthy message.
Canterbury - Canterbury Cathedral Gate
The gate to one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England, known formally as The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ at Canterbury.
Canterbury - Greyfriars Chapel and garden
Almost in the centre of Canterbury and behind the Eastbridge hospital is a surprisingly serene garden setting where can be found the Greyfriars chapel. The chapel can be seen to the left of the photo and Canterbury Cathedral can be seen rising up behind the trees in the distance.
Canterbury - Canterbury Cathedral from Greyfriars Chapel
In the grounds of Greyfriars Chapel is also the River Stour although this is more like a stream. Still, with the trickle of water and right weather, this tranquil setting, only about 100 meters away from the bustle of the city centre is a good place to relax and get away from the crowds.
Canterbury - Greyfriars Chapel
Greyfriars Chapel is the only building now remaining of the first English Franciscan Friary built in 1267, forty three years after the first Friars settled in Canterbury, during the life time of St Fancis of Assisi. Sitting on the river Stour and set within wonderful gardens, it is one of the prettiest and quietest spots in the city.
Canterbury - Daizy's in the garden
Pretty even when frowning and thinking, 'get that camera off of me'.
Canterbury - The Canterbury Tales, pilgrimage begins
Chaucer's story is tale about a group of medieval pilgrims who set out on a pilgrimage from London to Canterbury to pay their respects to the tomb of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The host of the pilgrimage proposes that they all tell stories to each other along the way and the person who tells the best story will have his way paid by the rest of the group. The tour begins in the morning in an 'inn' as the pilgrims are about to begin their journey.
Canterbury - The Canterbury Tales, the journey
The visitor is taken though a reconstruction of 14th century England with an audio guide telling the story and setting the scene. The 'journey' takes the visitor through medieval streets and locations relevent to the stories which are told. It is an entertaining experience and the kind of place that children would love though I pity the parent who has to explain what 'taking a woman forcefully' means.
29 Sep 2007 - Canterbury, EnglandWith my desire to travel and see new places, it is easy to forget that on my very own doorstep, great treasures from England's long and distinguished past still await discovery. I have always taken an interest in my surroundings but I only started viewing England from a tourist eye last year with visits to Bath and Stonehenge.
Well preserved (blame the Luftwaffe for the missing parts), you can walk along the medieval streets which I compared to the medieval streets in Italy and Spain. A well preserved town allows you feel in the past and being able to compare locations in countries separated by great distances (700 hundred years ago, further than outside of one's own town or village was a great distance) and though there is a difference in architectural style, with the narrow streets, there is much more that is similar than different.
My visit lasted one day and night but a busy and enjoyable day saw crammed into it the 12th century Eastbridge hospital, famous cathedral, Roman museum and the Canterbury Tales visitor centre amongst other attractions.
Canterbury - The Westgate
The gate dates from the 14th century and is the only remaining city gate and only survived road widening because it was used as a prison. It was often the first part of Canterbury that pilgrims would see as they made their journey to the holy city.
Canterbury - The Westgate from the Westgate gardens
The walls used to run along the Great Stour river but now the area around here is a park.
Canterbury - Tudor style houses, the former weavers
Huguenot refugees came to south England from Flanders (now part of Belgium), escaping from persecution by Catholics. Many settled in Canterbury, where they were given the right to trade by Queen Elizabeth I. They brought with them their weaving and other textile skills. The wealth generated by these new industries helped to replace the income which had been generated by visiting pilgrims (a custom which was stopped by King Henry VIII after he took over control of the Church in England).
Canterbury - The Eastbridge Hospital of Saint Thomas
Founded following the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket on 29th December 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral as accommodation for poor pilgrims visiting his tomb.
It was not a hospital in todays sense of the word, but a building giving hospitality. It still provides accommodation for the elderly and is still a focus for modern day pilgrims.
Canterbury - Fresco in Eastbridge Hospital of Saint Thomas
This painting is though to belong to the 12th Century or possibly the early 13th. This building was founded in 1180. The figure of Christ is supported at the four corners by the four evangelists of which only the upper two are discernible, that of St Matthew on the left almost being complete. Christ is holding an orb in his left hand and his right hand is held in a blessing. The painting owes its preservation by being covered by a fireplace.
Canterbury - View leading to the Cathedral
Many of the streets around Canterbury Cathedral are part of the medieval centre and this one leads to the entrance to the cathedral grounds.
Canterbury - Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral, scene of the famous martyrdom of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket in 1170.
Canterbury - Exterior carvings
Some examples of the exquisite carvings on the exterior of the cathedral.
Canterbury - Chimera above the main entrance
A chimera, or a grotesque figure, is a similar type of sculpture to a gargoyle except that it does not work as a waterspout to channel water away from a building and serves only an ornamental or artistic function. These are often incorrectly referred to as gargoyles.
Canterbury - Fine view of the 'Gothic' cathedral's interior
The term 'Gothic', when applied to architecture, has nothing to do with the historical Goths. It was a pejorative term that came to be used as early as the 1530s to describe culture that was considered rude and barbaric.
At this time, Italy had experienced a century of building in the Classical architectural vocabulary revived in the Renaissance and seen as the finite evidence of a new Golden Age of learning and refinement.
Canterbury - Site of Thomas Becket's murder
What follows is the only eye witness account of the event...
The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated to God. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, 'For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.' But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate.
Canterbury - Inside Canterbury Cathedral
Continuing the eye witness account of the murder...
By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, 'Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.'
Canterbury - Tomb of Edward Plantagenet
'The Black Prince', 1330-1376 and the eldest son of King Edward III of England and Philippa of Hainault, and father to King Richard II of England.
Edward, an effective military leader and popular during his life, died one year before his father and so never ruled as king (becoming the first English Prince of Wales to suffer that fate). The throne passed instead to his son Richard, a minor, upon the death of Edward III.