Pilgrimage to Canterbury

Pilgrimage to Canterbury

Soon after the death of Thomas Becket, Pope Alexander canonised him and the murdered priest was elevated to sainthood. Becket's shrine at Canterbury now became the most important place in the country for pilgrims to visit.

When Becket was killed, local people apparently managed to obtain pieces of cloth soaked in his blood. Rumours soon spread that, when touched by this cloth, people were cured of blindness, epilepsy and leprosy. It was not long before the monks at Canterbury Priory were selling small glass bottles of Becket's blood to visitors. The keeper of the shrine would also give the pilgrim a metal badge that had been stamped with the symbol of the shrine.

The monks were afraid that Becket's body might be stolen. To prevent this from happening, Becket's marble coffin was placed in the crypt of the cathedral. The monks also built a stone wall in front of the tomb. There were two gaps in the wall where pilgrims could insert their heads and kiss the tomb.

In 1220, Becket's bones were moved to a new gold-plated and bejewelled shrine behind the high altar. The shrine was placed on a raised platform supported by pillars. Canterbury, because of its religious history, had always seen a large number of pilgrims. However, after the death of Thomas Becket, the number of pilgrims visiting the town grew rapidly.

A piece of Our Lord's Cross... Pieces of the Lord's tomb... A piece of the Lord's cradle... Some of the hairs of St. Mary. A piece of her robe... Part of St Thomas of Canterbury's tunic. Part of his chair. Shavings from the top of his head. Part of the blanket that covered him, and part of his woollen shirt... part of his hair shirt. Some of his blood.

Some of the blood was carefully and cleanly collected and poured into a dean vessel and kept in the church.

(Henry II) returned to England (1174)... he set out with a sad heart to the tomb of St. Thomas at Canterbury... he walked barefoot and clad in a woollen smock all the way to the martyr's tomb. There he lay and of his free will was whipped by all the bishops and abbots there present and each individual monk of the church of Canterbury.

Pilgrims' Way

The Pilgrims' Way (also Pilgrim's Way or Pilgrims Way) [a] is the historical route supposedly taken by pilgrims from Winchester in Hampshire, England, to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury in Kent. This name, of comparatively recent coinage, is applied to a pre-existing ancient trackway dated by archaeological finds to 600–450 BC, but probably in existence since the Stone Age. [1] [2] The prehistoric route followed the "natural causeway" east to west on the southern slopes of the North Downs. [3]

The course was dictated by the natural geography: it took advantage of the contours, avoided the sticky clay of the land below but also the thinner, overlying "clay with flints" of the summits. [4] In places a coexisting ridgeway and terrace way can be identified the route followed would have varied with the season, but it would not drop below the upper line of cultivation. [5] [6] The trackway ran the entire length of the North Downs, leading to and from Folkestone: the pilgrims would have had to turn away from it, north along the valley of the Great Stour near Chilham, to reach Canterbury.

A Historian’s Pilgrimage to Canterbury

Canterbury and its cathedral has withstood centuries of religious change but has remained England’s center of Christianity for over a thousand years. I had the privilege of visiting the cathedral during a trip to England in 2007, and it was a memorable experience. As the train chugged through the outskirts of Canterbury toward the station, I glimpsed to the right and saw the magnificent cathedral’s spires rising high above the ground. After leaving the train station I walked next to West Gate Garden, a lovely little park that sits on the River Stour, with its bright, colorful flower beds, and through what is literally the stone gate that leads into the west side of the city – West Gate Tower. The medieval streets were bustling with activity, and as I strolled past the Old Weaver’s House, dated from the early 16th century, I heard the lilting notes of Wang Shun Xin as he played his Chinese flute under the shade of a nearby tree.

The great cathedral, towering over the city, beckoned to me. As I walked closer, my heart stirred as I anticipated walking among a place that holds such a strong significance in England’s amazing history. There are two events connected to the cathedral, events that tell a story that’s both rich and bittersweet. Though this story, and Christianity in England, begins in the late sixth century, Britain’s history goes back even further.

During the Iron Age (approx. 750BC – 150AD), Britain experienced the migrations of the Celtic peoples from Eastern Europe. These people would establish many tribes throughout the island, bringing with them highly developed craft skills and artistic achievements. Overlapping these events was the rapid expansion of the Roman Empire in Europe (approx. 150BC – 50AD). Despite this expansion, Britain was not attacked by the Romans until 55BC and 54BC by Julius Caesar. Caesar was pushed back both times, and it wasn’t for another century, in 43AD, under the reign of Emperor Claudius, that the Romans would launch another attack. Landing at Richborough, Kent, they attacked the local tribe (Cantii) and settled. Over the next 4 centuries Roman culture would spread and influence many aspects of early British society.

On the continent Christianity was a minority religion, struggling to find a voice among the ancient traditions of Roman society. This voice was often silenced by gruesome violence, but in the year 324AD Constantine the Great made Christianity the legal religion in his empire. Under Constantine, Christianity in the Roman Empire would gain prominence and become fairly established and organized.

In Britain, with the coming of the Romans, trade routes to and from the continent were opened, and merchants brought their business to Britain. These merchants also brought Christianity with them, but as there wasn’t a strong guiding hand to maintain cohesiveness it was quite disorganized and scattered throughout southern England. Also during this time the Anglo-Saxons were settling the island and establishing kingdoms indeed each kingdom had its own king, but the Anglo-Saxons were a pagan people, and paganism was thus the majority religion. This would change with Gregory the Great.

Gregory was born into a noble Roman family in 540AD. After a successful secular career as a Roman official, he became a monk and would later found six monasteries in Sicily. He became Pope Gregory I in 590AD, becoming the first monk elected pope. He was also the first pope to sponsor missions work.

In 595AD Pope Gregory began contemplating missionary activity in Britain. According to the Venerable Bede (Ecclesiastical History of the English People), Gregory saw some attractive fair-skinned boys for sale in a slave market in Rome, and inquired as to who they were. He was told they were Angli (Angles) from Britain, and pagans Gregory replied that they were not Angli, but Angeli (not Angles, but Angels) and deserved to be fellow heirs with the angels of heaven – they and their people ought to be converted to Christianity. A year later the pope commissioned Augustine, the prior in charge of his papal monastery in Rome, to cross the channel to the distant island with 40 other monks and work among the Anglo-Saxon peoples.

Augustine and the monks arrived in Canterbury, the seat of Ethelberht, the Anglo-Saxon king of Kent, around Easter 597AD. The missionaries were given a polite but cautious welcome. King Ethelberht, despite his suspicion, was impressed by the monks’ sincerity and allowed them to preach. The king and his people would eventually be won over to the Christian faith, and over the next couple of years Ethelberht would see the conversion of his people. Christianity would continue to grow in the area and Augustine would become the first Archbishop of Canterbury there have been 104 ever since. And he would also establish the Abbey of St. Peter and Paul outside the city walls, the ruins of which are still visible today (www.english-heritage.org.uk).

The cathedral saw much reconstruction and redesign over the next several centuries, but it was the story of Thomas á Becket that put the building on the historical, and literary, map. Becket was born in London in 1118 AD. He was well-educated, training as a knight before becoming a clerk to Theobold, Archbishop of Canterbury at the time. Becket was also a close and personal friend of King Henry II, who would appoint him Lord Chancellor. Archbishop Theobold died in 1162 AD, and Henry appointed Becket to take his place. With this appointment Henry thought he would have an ally in England’s highest ecclesiastical office. The king was wrong, however, and there were two issues that proved to be the archbishop’s undoing.

Across the channel in Europe, the Church was struggling with reform issues. Clergy unworthy of their offices were breaking many canon laws – adultery, carrying weapons, inability to perform Mass – and archbishop Becket, wishing to uphold the rights of the church, felt that the erroneous clerics should only be tried in the church courts and be defrocked Henry felt these clerics should be tried through the royal courts and receive due punishment. As a result of this friction the king established the Constitutions of Clarendon, a very pro-royal list of customs regarding church-state relations. At first Becket agreed with the provisions set forth in the document but later reneged, and as a result of this refusal to acknowledge the royal document he fled to France. This was the first issue that would put a wedge between the archbishop and King Henry.

The second problem involved the king’s eldest son, also named Henry. In 1170 AD the king wished his son, also named Henry, formally crowned as king so the boy would succeed him as the next king of England when the elder Henry died. Normally the Archbishop of Canterbury presided over the ceremony, but as Becket was in France the next most powerful cleric in England, the Archbishop of York, presided in his stead. Becket of course was opposed to this and came back to England to excommunicate all the bishops that had taken part in the coronation. Becket also threatened to put England under interdict – a censure that forbids participation in most sacraments. King Henry, exasperated, had had enough.

“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”

Was Henry speaking literally or was he just expressing his frustration? Although we will never know the king’s true intentions, four of his knights took his words to heart and murdered the archbishop in the cathedral on December 29, 1170. Becket was canonized shortly after and a shrine was erected in his honor. The shrine became a pilgrimage site for thousands of Christians and became the inspiration of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the fourteenth century. The shrine was destroyed by Henry VIII during the religious turmoil of the English Reformation in the sixteenth century, and the only surviving evidence of the shrine is a burning candle marking the place where it stood.

Today, Canterbury remains a vibrant place of worship, holding close to 2,000 services a year. Though the city, cathedral, and indeed the Church of England has witnessed a long and complicated history, it has stood the test of time, a testimony to the hardiness and durability of the English people, and is one of the most visited and well-loved places in England.

If You Go:

Canterbury is well served by the Motorway network with both the M20 and M2 providing links to the rest of England. There are several car parks in the centre of Canterbury and a park and ride scheme operates with buses running at 7-8 minute intervals from designated areas on the outskirts of the city right into the city centre.

South Eastern run regular train services from London Victoria and London Charing Cross to both Canterbury East station and Canterbury West station. Upon arrival at either Canterbury station the cathedral is a short walk into the city.

For more information on times of trains etc from London to Canterbury please telephone the National Rail enquiries centre on 08457 484950 or +44 (0) 345 484590 (outside UK).

South Eastern Trains offer an all-in great value Canterbury train ticket, which includes train travel as well as entrance to Canterbury Cathedral, The Canterbury Tales Visitor Attraction, St Augustine’s Abbey and one of Canterbury’s museums.

For visitors travelling by Eurostar to Ashford there is a frequent train service running between Ashford and Canterbury West.

Canterbury is served by Stagecoach East Kent buses from Canterbury bus station – a 5 minute walk from the Cathedral Precincts. For timetable enquiries please telephone 08702 433711.

National Express run regular coaches from London Victoria Coach Station (telephone 08705 808080 for more information on timetables).


The Roman settlement of Durovernum Cantiacorum ("Kentish Durovernum") occupied the location of an earlier British town whose ancient British name has been reconstructed as *Durou̯ernon ("stronghold by the alder grove"), [6] although the name is sometimes supposed to have derived from various British names for the Stour. [7] (Medieval variants of the Roman name include Dorobernia and Dorovernia.) [7] In Sub-Roman Britain, it was known in Old Welsh as Cair Ceint ("stronghold of Kent"). [8] [9] Occupied by the Jutes, it became known in Old English as Cantwareburh ("stronghold of the Kentish men"), [10] which developed into the present name.

Early history Edit

The Canterbury area has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Lower Paleolithic axes, and Neolithic and Bronze Age pots have been found in the area. [11] Canterbury was first recorded as the main settlement of the Celtic tribe of the Cantiaci, which inhabited most of modern-day Kent. In the 1st century AD, the Romans captured the settlement and named it Durovernum Cantiacorum. [6] The Romans rebuilt the city, with new streets in a grid pattern, a theatre, a temple, a forum, and public baths. [12] Although they did not maintain a major military garrison, its position on Watling Street relative to the major Kentish ports of Rutupiae (Richborough), Dubrae (Dover), and Lemanae (Lymne) gave it considerable strategic importance. [13] In the late 3rd century, to defend against attack from barbarians, the Romans built an earth bank around the city and a wall with seven gates, which enclosed an area of 130 acres (53 ha). [12]

Despite being counted as one of the 28 cities of Sub-Roman Britain, [8] [9] it seems that after the Romans left Britain in 410 Durovernum Cantiacorum was abandoned for around 100 years, except by a few farmers and gradually decayed. [14] Over the next 100 years, an Anglo-Saxon community formed within the city walls, as Jutish refugees arrived, possibly intermarrying with the locals. [15] In 597, Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine to convert its King Æthelberht to Christianity. After the conversion, Canterbury, being a Roman town, was chosen by Augustine as the centre for his episcopal see in Kent, and an abbey and cathedral were built. Augustine thus became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. [16] The town's new importance led to its revival, and trades developed in pottery, textiles, and leather. By 630, gold coins were being struck at the Canterbury mint. [17] In 672, the Synod of Hertford gave the see of Canterbury authority over the entire English Church. [10]

In 842 and 851, Canterbury suffered great loss of life during Danish raids. In 978, Archbishop Dunstan refounded the abbey built by Augustine, and named it St Augustine's Abbey. [18] The siege of Canterbury saw a large Viking army besiege Canterbury in 1011, culminating in the city being pillaged and the eventual murder of Archbishop Alphege in 19 April 1012. [19] Remembering the destruction caused by the Danes, the inhabitants of Canterbury did not resist William the Conqueror's invasion in 1066. [10] William immediately ordered a wooden motte-and-bailey castle to be built by the Roman city wall. In the early 12th century, the castle was rebuilt with stone. [20]

After the murder of the Archbishop Thomas Becket at the cathedral in 1170, Canterbury became one of the most notable towns in Europe, as pilgrims from all parts of Christendom came to visit his shrine. [21] This pilgrimage provided the framework for Geoffrey Chaucer's 14th-century collection of stories, The Canterbury Tales. [22] Canterbury Castle was captured by the French Prince Louis during his 1215 invasion of England, before the death of John caused his English supporters to desert his cause and support the young Henry III. [13]

Canterbury is associated with several saints from this period who lived in Canterbury:

  • Saint Augustine of Canterbury
  • Saint Anselm of Canterbury
  • Saint Thomas Becket
  • Saint Mellitus
  • Saint Theodore of Tarsus
  • Saint Dunstan
  • Saint Adrian of Canterbury
  • Saint Alphege
  • Saint Æthelberht of Kent

14th–17th centuries Edit

The Black Death hit Canterbury in 1348. At 10,000, Canterbury had the 10th largest population in England by the early 16th century, the population had fallen to 3,000. In 1363, during the Hundred Years' War, a Commission of Inquiry found that disrepair, stone-robbing and ditch-filling had led to the Roman wall becoming eroded. Between 1378 and 1402, the wall was virtually rebuilt, and new wall towers were added. [23] In 1381, during Wat Tyler's Peasants' Revolt, the castle and Archbishop's Palace were sacked, and Archbishop Sudbury was beheaded in London. Sudbury is still remembered annually by the Christmas mayoral procession to his tomb at Canterbury Cathedral. In 1413 Henry IV became the only sovereign to be buried at the cathedral. In 1448 Canterbury was granted a City Charter, which gave it a mayor and a high sheriff the city still has a Lord Mayor and Sheriff. [24] In 1504 the cathedral's main tower, the Bell Harry Tower, was completed, ending 400 years of building.

Cardinal Wolsey visited in June 1518 and was given a present of fruit, nuts, and marchpane. In 1519 a public cage for talkative women and other wrongdoers was set up next to the town's pillory at the Bullstake, now the Buttermarket. In 1522 a stone cross with gilt lead stars was erected at the same place, and painted with bice and gilded by Florence the painter. [25] During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the city's priory, nunnery and three friaries were closed. St Augustine's Abbey, the 14th richest in England at the time, was surrendered to the Crown, and its church and cloister were levelled. The rest of the abbey was dismantled over the next 15 years, although part of the site was converted to a palace. [26] Thomas Becket's shrine in the cathedral was demolished and all the gold, silver and jewels were removed to the Tower of London, and Becket's images, name and feasts were obliterated throughout the kingdom, ending the pilgrimages.

By the 17th century, Canterbury's population was 5,000 of whom 2,000 were French-speaking Protestant Huguenots, who had begun fleeing persecution and war in the Spanish Netherlands in the mid-16th century. The Huguenots introduced silk weaving into the city, which by 1676 had outstripped wool weaving. [27]

In 1620 Robert Cushman negotiated the lease of the Mayflower at 59 Palace Street for the purpose of transporting the Pilgrims to America. Charles I and Henrietta Maria came in 1625 and musicians played while the couple entered the town under a velvet canopy held by six men holding poles. [28]

In 1647, during the English Civil War, riots broke out when Canterbury's puritan mayor banned church services on Christmas Day. The rioters' trial the following year led to a Kent revolt against the Parliamentarian forces, contributing to the start of the second phase of the war. However, Canterbury surrendered peacefully to the Parliamentarians after their victory at the Battle of Maidstone. [29]

18th century–present Edit

The city's first newspaper, the Kentish Post, was founded in 1717. [30] It merged with the newly founded Kentish Gazette in 1768. [31]

By 1770, the castle had fallen into disrepair, and many parts of it were demolished during the late 18th century and early 19th century. [32] In 1787 all the gates in the city wall, except for Westgate—the city jail—were demolished as a result of a commission that found them impeding to new coach travel. [33] Canterbury Prison was opened in 1808 just outside the city boundary. [34] By 1820 the city's silk industry had been killed by imported Indian muslins [27] its trade was thereafter mostly limited to hops and wheat. [13] The Canterbury & Whitstable Railway (The Crab and Winkle Way), the world's first passenger railway, [35] was opened in 1830 [36] bankrupt by 1844, it was purchased by the South Eastern Railway, which connected the town to its larger network in 1846. [37] The London, Chatham, and Dover arrived in 1860 [38] the competition and cost-cutting between the lines was resolved by merging them as the South Eastern and Chatham in 1899. [39] In 1848, St Augustine's Abbey was refurbished for use as a missionary college for the Church of England's representatives in the British colonies. [13] Between 1830 and 1900, the city's population grew from 15,000 to 24,000. [35]

During the First World War, a number of barracks and voluntary hospitals were set up around the city, and in 1917 a German bomber crash-landed near Broad Oak Road. [40]

During the Second World War, 10,445 bombs dropped during 135 separate raids destroyed 731 homes and 296 other buildings in the city, including the missionary college and Simon Langton Girls' Grammar Schools. [41] 119 civilian lives were lost through enemy action in the borough. [42] The most devastating raid was on 1 June 1942 during the Baedeker Blitz. [40] On that day alone, 43 people were killed and nearly 100 sustained wounds. Some 800 buildings were destroyed with 1,000 seriously damaged. Although its library was destroyed, [43] the cathedral did not sustain extensive bomb damage and the local Fire Wardens doused any flames on the wooden roof. [44] On 31 October 1942, the Luftwaffe made a further raid on Canterbury when thirty Focke-Wulf fighter-bombers, supported by sixty fighter escorts, launched a low-level raid on Canterbury. Civilians were strafed and bombed throughout the city resulting in twenty-eight bombs dropped and 30 people killed. Three German planes were shot down by the RAF.

Before the end of the war, architect Charles Holden drew up plans to redevelop the city centre, but locals were so opposed that the Citizens' Defence Association was formed and swept to power in the 1945 municipal elections. Rebuilding of the city centre eventually began 10 years after the war. [45] A ring road was constructed in stages outside the city walls some time afterwards to alleviate growing traffic problems in the city centre, which was later pedestrianised. The biggest expansion of the city occurred in the 1960s, with the arrival of the University of Kent at Canterbury and Christ Church College. [45]

The 1980s saw visits from Pope John Paul II and Queen Elizabeth II, and the beginning of the annual Canterbury Festival. [46] Canterbury received its own radio station in CTFM, now KMFM Canterbury, in 1997. Between 1999 and 2005, the Whitefriars Shopping Centre underwent major redevelopment. In 2000, during the redevelopment, a major archaeological project was undertaken by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, known as the Big Dig, [47] which was supported by Channel Four's Time Team. [48]

Another famous visitor was Mahatma Gandhi, who came to the city [49] in October 1931 he met [50] Hewlett Johnson, the pro-communist then Dean of Canterbury.

The extensive restoration of the cathedral that was underway in mid 2018 was part of a 2016-2021 schedule that includes replacement of the nave roof, improved landscaping and accessibility, new visitor facilities and a general external restoration. [51] The so-called Canterbury Journey project was expected to cost nearly £25 million. [52]

The Member of Parliament for the Canterbury constituency, which includes Whitstable, is Rosie Duffield of the Labour Party.

The city became a county corporate in 1461, and later a county borough under the Local Government Act 1888. In 1974 it lost its status as the smallest county borough in England, after the Local Government Act 1972, and came under the control of Kent County Council. Canterbury, along with Whitstable and Herne Bay, is now in the City of Canterbury local government district. The city's urban area consists of the six electoral wards of Barton, Blean Forest, Northgate, St Stephens, Westgate, and Wincheap. These wards have eleven of the fifty seats on the Canterbury City Council. Six of these seats are held by the Liberal Democrats, four by the Conservatives and one by Labour. Canterbury City Council's meeting place is the former Church of the Holy Cross. After it was declared redundant and de-consecrated in 1972, it was acquired by the city council and converted for municipal use: it was officially re-opened by the Prince of Wales as the new Canterbury Guildhall and meeting place of the city council on 9 November 1978. [53]

Canterbury is in east Kent, about 55 miles (89 km) east-southeast of London. The coastal towns of Herne Bay and Whitstable are 6 miles (10 km) to the north, and Faversham is 8 miles (13 km) to the northwest. Nearby villages include Chartham, Rough Common, Sturry and Tyler Hill. The civil parish of Thanington Without is to the southwest the rest of the city is unparished. St Dunstan's, St Stephen's, Longport, Stuppington, Wincheap and Hales Place are suburbs of the city.

The city is on the River Stour or Great Stour, flowing from its source at Lenham north-east through Ashford to the English Channel at Sandwich. As it flows north-east, the river divides west of the city, one branch flowing through the city centre, and the other around the position of the former walls. The two branches create several river islands before finally recombining around the town of Fordwich on the edge of the marshland north east of the city. [54] The Stour is navigable on the tidal section to Fordwich, although above this point canoes and other small craft can be used. Punts and rowed river boats are available for hire in Canterbury. [55] The geology of the area consists mainly of brickearth overlying chalk. Tertiary sands overlain by London clay form St. Thomas's Hill and St. Stephen's Hill about a mile northwest of the city centre. [56]

Canterbury experiences an oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification Cfb), similar to almost all of the United Kingdom. Canterbury enjoys mild temperatures all year round, being between 1.8 °C (35.2 °F) and 22.8 °C (73 °F). There is relatively little rainfall throughout the year.

Climate data for Canterbury
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 7.6
Daily mean °C (°F) 4.3
Average low °C (°F) 2.1
Average precipitation mm (inches) 62.2
Mean monthly sunshine hours 60.9 80.7 116.5 174.2 206.0 206.4 221.8 214.9 155.2 125.0 73.3 48.6 1,683.3
Source 1: [57]
Source 2: [58]
Canterbury compared
2001 UK Census Canterbury city Canterbury district England
Total population 43,432 135,278 49,138,831
Foreign born 11.6% 5.1% 9.2%
White 95% 97% 91%
Asian 1.8% 1.6% 4.6%
Black 0.7% 0.5% 2.3%
Christian 68% 73% 72%
Muslim 1.1% 0.6% 3.1%
Hindu 0.8% 0.4% 1.1%
No religion 20% 17% 15%
Unemployed 3.0% 2.7% 3.3%

At the 2001 UK census, [59] [60] [61] [62] [63] [64] the total population of the city itself was 43,432, and 135,278 within the Canterbury district. In 2011, the total district population was counted as 151,200, with an 11.7% increase from 2001. [65]

By 2011, the population of the city had grown to over 55,000. [66]

In both cases, the city concentrates about one third of the district population.

By 2001, residents of the city had an average age of 37.1 years, younger than the 40.2 average of the district and the 38.6 average for England. Of the 17,536 households, 35% were one-person households, 39% were couples, 10% were lone parents, and 15% other. Of those aged 16–74 in the city, 27% had a higher education qualification, higher than the 20% national average.

Compared with the rest of England, the city had an above-average proportion of foreign-born residents, at around 12%. Ninety-five percent of residents were recorded as white the largest minority group was recorded as Asian, at 1.8% of the population. Religion was recorded as 68.2% Christian, 1.1% Muslim, 0.5% Buddhist, 0.8% Hindu, 0.2% Jewish, and 0.1% Sikh. The rest either had no religion, an alternative religion, or did not state their religion.

Population growth in Canterbury since 1901
Year 1901 1911 1921 1931 1939 1951 1961 1971 2001
Population 24,899 24,626 23,737 24,446 26,999 27,795 30,415 33,155 43,432
Source: A Vision of Britain through Time

Canterbury district retained approximately 4,761 businesses, up to 60,000 full and part-time employees and was worth £1.3 billion in 2001. [67] This made the district the second largest economy in Kent. [67] Today, the three primary sectors are tourism, higher education and retail. [68]

In 2015, the value of tourism to the city of Canterbury was over £450 million 7.2 million people visited that year. A full 9,378 jobs were supported by tourism, an increase of 6% over the previous year. [69] The two universities provided an even greater benefit. In 2014/2015, the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University were worth £909m to city's economy and accounted for 16% of all jobs. [70]

Unemployment in the city has dropped significantly since 2001 owing to the opening of the Whitefriars shopping complex which introduced thousands of job opportunities. [71] The city's economy benefits mainly from significant economic projects such as the Canterbury Enterprise Hub, Lakesview International Business Park and the Whitefriars retail development. [67]

The registered unemployment rate as of September 2011 stood at 5.7%. By May 2018, the rate had dropped to 1.8% in fact, Kent in general had a moderate unemployment rate of 2%. This data considers only people claiming either Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit principally for the reason of being unemployed. It does not include those without access to such benefits. [72] At the time, the national rate was 4.2%. [73]

Landmarks Edit

Canterbury Cathedral is the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Founded in 597 AD by Augustine, it forms a World Heritage Site, along with the Saxon St. Martin's Church and the ruins of St Augustine's Abbey. With one million visitors per year, it is one of the most visited places in the country. Services are held at the cathedral three or more times a day. [74] [75]

The Roman Museum houses an in situ mosaic pavement dating from around 300 AD. [76] Surviving structures from the Roman times include Queningate, a blocked gate in the city wall, and the Dane John Mound, once part of a Roman cemetery. [77] The Dane John Gardens were built beside the mound in the 18th century, and a memorial was placed on the mound's summit. [78] A windmill was on the mound between 1731 and 1839.

The Westgate is now a museum relating to its history as a jail. The medieval church of St Alphege became redundant in 1982 but had a new lease of life as the Canterbury Urban Studies Centre, later renamed the Canterbury Environment Centre the building is used by the King's School. The Old Synagogue, now the King's School Music Room, is one of only two Egyptian Revival synagogues still standing. The city centre contains many timber-framed 16th and 17th century houses, however there are far fewer than there were before the Second World War, as many were damaged during the Baedeker Blitz. Many are still standing, including the "Old Weaver's House" used by the Huguenots. [79] St Martin's Mill is the only surviving mill out of the six known to have stood in Canterbury. It was built in 1817 and worked until 1890 it is now a house conversion. [80] St Thomas of Canterbury Church is the only Roman Catholic church in the city and contains relics of Thomas Becket. [81]

Canterbury Heritage Museum housed many exhibits, including the Rupert Bear Museum. The museum has now closed despite a campaign for it to remain open. [82] The Canterbury Tales visitor attraction, an interactive tour through Chaucer's tales using costumed characters and waxworks, announced its permanent closure in April 2020. [83] The ruins of the Norman Canterbury Castle have remained closed to the public since 2017 due to falling masonry, with plans for the site to reopen in 2021. [84]

Herne Bay Times has reported that the Heritage at Risk Register includes 19 listed buildings in Canterbury which need urgent repair but for which the council has insufficient funds. [85]

Theatres Edit

The city's theatre and concert hall is the Marlowe Theatre named after Christopher Marlowe, who was born in the city in Elizabethan times. He was baptised in the city's St George's Church, which was destroyed during the Second World War. [86] The old Marlowe Theatre was located in St Margaret's Street and housed a repertory theatre. The Gulbenkian Theatre, at the University of Kent, also serves the city, housing also a cinema and café. [87] The Marlowe Theatre was completely rebuilt and reopened in October 2011.

Besides the two theatres, theatrical performances take place at several areas of the city, for instance the cathedral and St Augustine's Abbey. The premiere of Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot took place at Canterbury Cathedral. [88]

The oldest surviving Tudor theatre in Canterbury is now the Shakespeare, [89] formerly known as Casey's. There are several theatre groups based in Canterbury, including the University of Kent Students' Union's T24 Drama Society, The Canterbury Players [90] and Kent Youth Theatre.

Marlowe Theatre Edit

The redeveloped Marlowe Theatre is (at the time of writing) the largest theatre in the region, offering touring productions and concerts. The programme includes musicals, drama, ballet, contemporary dance, classical orchestras, opera, children's shows, pantomime, stand-up comedy and concerts. There is also a second performance space called the Marlowe Studio, dedicated to creative activity and the programming of new work. The Marlowe Theatre can be seen from many points throughout the city centre, considering it is the only modern and tall structure.

Music Edit

The cathedral Edit

Medieval Edit

Polyphonic music written for the monks of Christ Church Priory (the cathedral) survives from the 13th century. The cathedral may have had an organ as early as the 12th century, [91] though the names of organists are only recorded from the early 15th century. [92] One of the earliest named composers associated with Canterbury Cathedral was Leonel Power, who was appointed master of the new Lady Chapel choir formed in 1438.

Post-Reformation Edit

The Reformation brought a period of decline in the cathedral's music which was revived under Dean Thomas Neville in the early 17th century. Neville introduced instrumentalists into the cathedral's music who played cornett and sackbut, probably members of the city's band of waits. The cathedral acquired sets of recorders, lutes and viols for the use of the choir boys and lay-clerks. [91]

The city Edit

Early modern Edit

As was common in English cities in the Middle Ages, Canterbury employed a town band known as the Waits. There are records of payments to the Waits starting from 1402, though they probably existed earlier than this. The Waits were disbanded by the city authorities in 1641 for 'misdemeanors' but were reinstated in 1660 when they played for the visit of King Charles II on his return from exile. [93] Waits were eventually abolished nationally by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. A modern early music group called The Canterbury Waits has revived the name. [94]

The Canterbury Catch Club was a musical and social club which met in the city between 1779 and 1865. The club (male only) met weekly in the winter. It employed an orchestra to assist in performances in the first half of the evening. After the interval, the members sang catches and glees from the club's extensive music library (now deposited at the Cathedral Archives in Canterbury). [95]

Contemporary Edit

The city gave its name to a musical genre known as the Canterbury Sound or Canterbury Scene, a group of progressive rock, avant-garde and jazz musicians established within the city during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some very notable Canterbury bands were Soft Machine, Caravan, Matching Mole, Egg, Hatfield and the North, National Health, Gilgamesh, Soft Heap, Khan and In Cahoots. Over the years, with band membership changes and new bands evolving, the term has been used to describe a musical style or subgenre, rather than a regional group of musicians. [96] During the 1970-80s the Canterbury 'Odeon' now the site of the 'New Marlow' played host to many of the Punk and new wave bands of the era including, The Clash, The Ramones, Blondie, Sham69, Magazine, XTC, Dr Feelgood, Elvis Costello and The Attractions, and The Stranglers.

The University of Kent has hosted concerts by bands including Led Zeppelin [97] and The Who. [98] Ian Dury, front man of the 70s rock band Ian Dury and the Blockheads, taught Fine Art at UCA Canterbury [99] and also performed in the city in the early incarnation of his band Kilburn and the High Roads. During the late seventies and early eighties the Canterbury Odeon hosted a number of major acts, including The Cure [100] and Joy Division. [101] The Marlowe Theatre is also used for many musical performances, such as Don McLean in 2007, [102] and Fairport Convention in 2008. [103] A regular music and dance venue is the Westgate Hall.

The Canterbury Choral Society gives regular concerts in Canterbury Cathedral, specialising in the large-scale choral works of the classical repertory. [104] The Canterbury Orchestra, founded in 1953, is a thriving group of enthusiastic players who regularly tackle major works from the symphonic repertoire. [105] Other musical groups include the Canterbury Singers (also founded in 1953), Cantemus, and the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir. [106] The University of Kent has a Symphony Orchestra, a University Choir, a Chamber Choir, and a University Concert Band and Big Band. [107]

The Canterbury Festival takes place over two weeks in October each year in Canterbury and the surrounding towns. It includes a wide range of musical events ranging from opera and symphony concerts to world music, jazz, folk, etc., with a Festival Club, a Fringe and Umbrella events. [108] Canterbury also hosts the annual Lounge On The Farm festival in July, which mainly sees performances from rock, indie and dance artists.

Composers Edit

Composers with an association with Canterbury include

    (c. 1505–1585), became a lay clerk (singing man) at Canterbury Cathedral c. 1540 and was subsequently appointed a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1543. [91] (1571–1638), born in Canterbury, a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, composed madrigals, works for viol consort, services, and anthems. (1583–1625), organist, composer and Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, who died in Canterbury and was buried in the cathedral. (1709–1798), born in Canterbury, a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, was an organist, viola player and composer. (1752–1828), lawyer, amateur composer and concert organiser, wrote two symphonies for the Canterbury Orchestra before moving to Chichester in 1784. (1775–1859), shoemaker and organist at the Methodist church in Canterbury, composer of 'West Gallery' hymns and psalm tunes. [109]
  • Sir George Job Elvey (1816–1893), organist and composer, was born in Canterbury and trained as a chorister at the cathedral. (1934–1996) educator and broadcaster, composer of church, orchestral and chamber music.
  • Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016) was appointed an Honorary Fellow of Canterbury Christ Church University at a ceremony in Canterbury Cathedral.
  • Many Canterbury Cathedral organists composed services, anthems, hymns, etc.

Sport Edit

St Lawrence Ground is notable as one of the two grounds used regularly for first-class cricket that have a tree within the boundary (the other is the City Oval in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa). It is the home ground of Kent County Cricket Club and has hosted several One Day Internationals, including one England match during the 1999 Cricket World Cup. [110]

Canterbury City F.C. reformed in 2007 as a community interest company and currently compete in the Southern Counties East Football League. The previous incarnation of the club folded in 2001. [111] Canterbury RFC were founded in 1926 and became the first East Kent club to achieve National League status and currently play in the fourth tier, National League 2 South. [112]

The Tour de France has visited the city twice. In 1994 the tour passed through, and in 2007 it held the finish for Stage 1. [113]

Canterbury Hockey Club is one of the largest clubs in the country and enter teams in both the Men's and Women's England Hockey Leagues. [114] Former Olympic gold medal winner Sean Kerly also a member of the club. [115]

Sporting activities for the public are provided at the Kingsmead Leisure Centre, which has a 33-metre (108 ft) swimming pool and a sports hall for football, basketball, and badminton. [116]

Railway Edit

Canterbury was the terminus of the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway (known locally as the Crab and Winkle line), which was a pioneer line, opening on 3 May 1830 and closing in 1953. The Canterbury & Whitstable was the first regular passenger steam railway in the world. [117] The first station in Canterbury was at North Lane.

Canterbury has two railway stations, called Canterbury West and Canterbury East (despite both stations being west of the city centre, Canterbury West is to the northwest and Canterbury East is to the southwest). Both stations are operated by Southeastern. Canterbury West station, on the South Eastern Railway from Ashford, was opened on 6 February 1846, and on 13 April the line to Ramsgate was completed. Canterbury West is served by High Speed 1 trains to London St Pancras, slower stopping services to London Charing Cross and London Victoria as well as by trains to Ramsgate and Margate. Canterbury East, the more central of the two stations, was opened by the London, Chatham & Dover Railway on 9 July 1860. Services from London Victoria stop at Canterbury East and continue to Dover.

Because the two main lines into the city were built by rival companies, there is no direct interchange between Canterbury West and Canterbury East. A proposed Canterbury Parkway railway station would allow this, as well as acting as a further station for commuters avoiding the city centre. [118]

Canterbury used to be served by two other stations. North Lane station was the southern terminus of the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway between 1830 and 1846. Canterbury South was on the Elham Valley Railway. The station opened in 1889 and closed, along with the rest of the railway, in 1947. [119]

Road Edit

Canterbury is by-passed by the A2 London to Dover Road. It is about 45 miles (72 km) from the M25 London orbital motorway, and 61 miles (98 km) from central London by road. One of the other main roads through Canterbury is the A28 from Ashford to Ramsgate and Margate.

The City Council has invested in Park and Ride systems around the city's outskirts, with three sites: at Wincheap, New Dover Road and Sturry Road. There are plans to build direct access sliproads to and from the London directions of the A2 where it meets the congested Wincheap (at present there are only slips from the A28 to and from the direction of Dover) to allow more direct access to Canterbury from the A2, but these are currently subject to local discussion. In 2011 a third junction was constructed, linking the A28 to the northbound A2 this leaves just the A2 southbound exit missing, but since this would cut across the Park & Ride car park and meet the A28 at an already complicated junction, it is not expected to be added in the near term. [120]

The hourly National Express 007 coach service to and from Victoria Coach Station, which leaves from the main bus station, is typically scheduled to take two hours. Eurolines coaches run from the bus station to London and Paris.

Stagecoach in East Kent runs most local bus routes in Canterbury as well as long-distance services. The group runs a special 'Unibus' service, with the buses running on 100% bio fuel from the city centre to the University of Kent. [121]

Cycling and walking Edit

In the city centre, National Cycle Routes 1 and 18 cross and go off towards Whitstable on the Crab and Winkle Way (1), and Chartham via the Great Stour Way (18), providing easy access by bike from the west of the city. There are also multiple cycle routes into the city centre from Nackington Road (Simon Langton Boys School), Hales Place, the University, St Dunstans and Harbledown, Blean, Rough Common and St Stephens. Footpaths scatter the city and give access to beauty spots such as on New House Lane and Stuppington with views of the city and Cathedral. Kent Cycle Hire runs a private hire service to cycle to Whitstable and Herne Bay, and from the University to the high street. Next to buses, cycling is the most popular transport option in Canterbury due to good cycle routes and the flat of the valley in the City centre and immediate suburbs.

Universities and colleges Edit

The city has an estimated 31,000 students (the highest student/permanent resident ratio in the UK). [122] It is home to three universities, together with several other higher education institutions and colleges. [123] at the 2001 census, 22% of the population aged 16–74 were full-time students, compared with 7% throughout England. [ citation needed ]

The University of Kent's main campus is situated over 600 acres (243 ha) on St. Stephen's Hill, a mile north of Canterbury city centre. Formerly called the University of Kent at Canterbury, it was founded in 1965, with a smaller campus opened in 2000 in the town of Chatham. As of 2014 [update] , it had around 20,000 students. [124]

Canterbury Christ Church University was founded as a teacher training college in 1962 by the Church of England. In 1978 its range of courses began to expand into other subjects, and in 1995 it was given the power to become a University college. In 2005 it was granted full university status, and as of 2007 [update] it had around 15,000 students. [125]

As of 2021, the University of Kent and Canterbury Christchurch university will share a medical school. [126]

The University for the Creative Arts is the oldest higher education institution in the city, having been founded in 1882 by Thomas Sidney Cooper as the Sidney Cooper School of Art. Near the University of Kent is the Franciscan International Study Centre, [127] a place of study for the worldwide Franciscan Order. Chaucer College is an independent college for Japanese and other students within the campus of the University of Kent. Canterbury College, formerly Canterbury College of Technology, offers a mixture of vocation, further and higher education courses for school leavers and adults.

Primary and secondary schools Edit

St John's Church of England Primary School was founded as a Board School in 1876. The original neo-Classical school building on St John's Place is now a private house, with the school housed in larger buildings at the end of the street.

Independent secondary schools include Kent College, St Edmund's School and the King's School, the oldest in the United Kingdom. St. Augustine established a school shortly after his arrival in Canterbury in 597, and it is from this that the King's School grew. The documented history of the school only began after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, when the school acquired its present name, referring to Henry VIII. [128] The Kings School in Canterbury is one of the top public schools in the United Kingdom, regularly featuring in the top ten most expensive school fees lists.

The city's secondary grammar schools are Barton Court Grammar School, Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys and Simon Langton Girls' Grammar School all of which in 2008 had over 93% of their pupils gain five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths. [129] The non-selective state secondary schools are The Canterbury High School, St Anselm's Catholic School and the Church of England's Archbishop's School all of which in 2008 had more than 30% of their pupils gain five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and maths.

Newspapers Edit

Canterbury's first newspaper was the Kentish Post, founded in 1717. [30] It changed its name to the Kentish Gazette in 1768 [130] and is still being published, claiming to be the country's second oldest surviving newspaper. [131] It is currently produced as a paid-for newspaper produced by the KM Group, based in nearby Whitstable. This newspaper covers the East Kent area and has a circulation of about 25,000. [132]

Three free weekly newspapers provide news on the Canterbury district: yourcanterbury, the Canterbury Times and Canterbury Extra. The Canterbury Times is owned by the Daily Mail and General Trust and has a circulation of about 55,000. [133] [134] The Canterbury Extra is owned by the KM Group and also has a circulation of about 55,000. [135] yourcanterbury is published by KOS Media, which also prints the popular county paper Kent on Sunday. It also runs a website giving daily updated news and events for the city. [136]

Radio and television Edit

Canterbury is served by 2 local radio stations, KMFM Canterbury and CSR 97.4FM.

KMFM Canterbury broadcasts on 106FM. It was formerly known as KMFM106, and before the KM Group took control it was known as CTFM, based on the local postcode being CT. [137] Previously based in the city, the station's studios and presenters were moved to Ashford in 2008. [138]

CSR 97.4FM, an acronym for "Community Student Radio", broadcasts on 97.4FM from studios at both the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University. The station is run by a collaboration of education establishments in the city including the two universities. The transmitter is based at the University of Kent, offering a good coverage of the city. [139] CSR replaced two existing radio stations: C4 Radio, which served Canterbury Christ Church University, and UKC Radio, which served the University of Kent.

There are 2 other stations that cover parts of the city. Canterbury Hospital Radio (CHR) serves the patients of the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, [140] and Simon Langton Boys School has a radio station, SLBSLive, which can only be picked up on the school grounds. [141] The city receives BBC One South East and ITV Meridian from the main transmitter at Dover, and a local relay situated at Chartham.

People born in Canterbury include:

    , restoration playwright and novelist , actor , BBC Radio 6 Music presenter , first-class cricketer and British Army officer , Victorian animal painter [142] , former ITV News journalist, television presenter and BBC Radio 3 presenter (1871–1933) was the first Bishop of Damaraland (Namibia) from 1924 to 1933. , actress and singer , [143] cricketer , 17th/18th-century astronomer, and electricity pioneer was born in Canterbury in 1666. , [144] physician , [145] airline entrepreneur , comic book artist , actor , [146] , [144] writer , [147] boy singer and actor , [148] TV presenter , [149] Harpsichordist, conductor, founder of The English Concert. , [144] film director and former pupil of The King's School, Canterbury. (1846-1917), detective (1874-1948), the creator of Rupert Bear, [150] were both born and lived in the city

In November 2012, Rowan Williams was awarded Freedom of the City for his work as Archbishop of Canterbury between 2003 and 2012. [151]

The grave of author Joseph Conrad, in Canterbury Cemetery at 32 Clifton Gardens, is a Grade II listed building. [152]

Canterbury is twinned with the following cities:

City to city partnership

  • Saint-Omer, France, since 1995
  • Wimereux, France, since 1995
  • Certaldo, Italy, since 1997
  • Vladimir, Russia, since 1997
  • Mölndal, Sweden, since 1997
  • Tournai, Belgium, since 1999

The following people and military units have received the Freedom of the City of Canterbury.

Individuals Edit

Military Units Edit

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The History Blog

The medieval shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral has been recreated and the videos released 800 years to the day since his body was translated to the cathedral on July 7th, 1220. A project three years in the making, researchers teamed up with digital modelling experts to create CGI models of the four main loci of pilgrimage in Canterbury Cathedral as they would have appeared to pilgrims in the early 15th century, a period for which there are numerous sources about the practices and operation of the shrine. What’s unusual about these video models is that the focus not just on the recreated the spaces, but also on how pilgrims of different classes interacted with the shrine, relics and cathedral.

Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was slain by four knights on December 29th, 1170, in the main hall of Canterbury Cathedral. Eyewitness Edward Grim wrote that the top of his skull was cut off and his brains scattered on the floor. The shock of this brutal assassination of a cleric on hallowed ground reverberated throughout Europe, and Becket was quickly considered a martyr. He was canonized a saint two years and two months after his death. In 1174, King Henry II, whose angry exclamation contra Becket had spurred the knights to commit this sacrilege, had to submit to a public act of penance at Becket’s tomb which had already become one of Christendom’s most important sites of pilgrimage.

He was buried under the floor of the eastern crypt covered by a stone slab. Two holes in the stone allowed pilgrims to kiss the tomb. The cult of Becket exploded and pilgrims visited the tomb in huge numbers over the next five decades. On the 50th anniversary of his death, July 7th 1220, Becket’s remains were translated to a new shrine in Trinity Chapel. The crown of his skull was kept in a gold reliquary in the Corona Chapel. The place of his martyrdom in the northwest transept and the original tomb were also sites of pilgrimage.

The shrine and Thomas Becket’s bones were destroyed by order of another Henry, eighth of his name, in 1538. Henry VIII went at Becket extra hard during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, even ordering the obliteration of his name, damnatio memoriae-style.

Using pre-Dissolution sources including first-hand accounts of pilgrims, archaeological materials (pilgrim badges, architectural features) and later scholarship, researchers recreated the physical sites and determined sums received at the four different stations and how well-trafficked they were. The Trinity Chapel shrine was the primary attraction, receiving by far the majority of the offerings. The Corona Chapel received the second highest sums (about 6-17%), the Martyrdom Chapel about 1-7% and the original tomb about .5-11%. The videos include people to convey how pilgrims made their offerings and moved around the sites.

Here is the digital reconstruction of Trinity Chapel, ca. 1408, viewed from the southwest.

Various pilgrim activities are taking place in the movie. A monk stands by the shrine and invites pilgrims to lay their offerings on the altar, including a merchant couple who present their child and give a candle in thanks for his deliverance from sickness, and a sea captain who gives a ring after surviving a storm. To the left of the screen, lower-status pilgrims have the miracle-stories in the windows explained to them by a clerk. Behind the shrine another monk points out the gems and precious objects to a higher-status merchant and his wife, encouraging them to add a gift of their own. In the niches around the marble tomb base other pilgrims pray to St Thomas on their knees.

This is the reconstruction of the Corona Chapel.

The Corona Chapel held a golden head reliquary, containing a piece of St Thomas’s skull that had been hacked off at his martyrdom. This reliquary had been remade in gold and studded with jewels in 1314. The popularity of pilgrim badges showing the head suggest it was a popular attraction within the Cathedral, but its small size and high value meant most pilgrims would only have been able to see it from afar.

The movie below shows the Countess of Kent, who has been invited by the Prior to a private ceremony. He removes the head reliquary from its display case, opens the top to reveal the relic inside, and offers it to the Countess to kiss. Her retinue of ladies-in-waiting look on, and pilgrims may have congregated outside the chapel to catch a glimpse of proceedings.

Third is the Martyrdom Chapel, site of Becket’s murder.

Here there was a small altar that had a reliquary containing the point of the sword which had cut into his head. The flagstones were said to bear the marks of his final footprints, and pilgrims came to kiss them.

The scene shows a mass on the morning of the Feast of the Martyrdom (29th December). On the eve of the feast a handful of hardy pilgrims were allowed to stay overnight in the Cathedral, swapping stories about Becket and eating and drinking around a fire. At dawn they went to the first of three Masses in the Martyrdom.

Last but not least is the original tomb where Thomas Becket’s body was kept for 50 years.

Even after the Translation, the now-empty tomb continued to be venerated as a site which had held the saint’s body – mostly likely by the long-term sick, who could stay without causing disruption to the activities in the cathedral.

A number of particularly ill or disabled pilgrims sit in long vigils around or at the empty tomb, while a clerk looks on to protect the valuables and aid those in need. To the left, a group of lower-class carers have formed a support group to discuss issues in caring for their sick relatives. As at the main shrine, a number of offerings in wax or crutches and other proofs of cure can be seen hanging around the tomb as proof of the saint’s power.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 7th, 2020 at 11:06 PM and is filed under Medieval, Multimedia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

4 Pilgrimage for Justice: 2012

The Canterbury Cathedral holds 2,000 services annually, and regardless of their own religious affiliation, some literature and history scholars and enthusiasts go to Canterbury as a re-creation of Chaucer’s work. In June of 2012, the Pilgrimage for Justice took place, and event participants spent two weeks walking 62 miles from London to Canterbury. Evoking the ancient pilgrimage Christians took to St. Thomas Becket’s shrine, the Pilgrimage for Justice welcomed modern-day pilgrims to march for social change. Inspired by difficult economic times, Occupy Faith, the organization behind the event, sought to draw upon the tradition of people who took pilgrimages at times of crisis.

The Pilgrims’ Way

Visiting sites of importance can connect us with history – and each other – in a way that echoes the power of medieval pilgrimage.

My favourite moment in my favourite film occurs towards the end of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1944 classic A Canterbury Tale. A young American soldier, visiting wartime Canterbury when he would much rather be at home, wanders into the city’s cathedral. He looks around him, up into the soaring space of the great building, and under his breath he reminds himself that his grandfather built the first Baptist church in his hometown in 1887. ‘Well, that was a good job too,’ he says.

It is a reaction of mingled awe and pride: gazing with wonder at the ancient cathedral, he admires it by calling to mind his own home and a humbler but still precious building. In this foreign country, he finds a parallel between the old world and the new, the strange and the familiar and the craftsmanship which built both churches.

That kind of parallel between past and present is at the heart of this film, which reimagines Chaucer’s medieval pilgrims as three modern characters, brought to the Kent countryside and bomb-damaged Canterbury by necessity, not choice: the homesick GI, a cynical soldier who used to dream of being an organist and a Land Girl stoically mourning her lost fiancé.

It must be one of the greatest films ever made about the imaginative power of history, the emotional and spiritual draw of the past. As a response to The Canterbury Tales, it is both playful and sensitive Chaucer’s characters appear briefly, a jolly band of pilgrims laughing as they ride through the countryside. The film’s wonderfully resolute heroine, Alison, shares her name with the Wife of Bath, and her fiancé (with whom she has stayed on the Pilgrims’ Way) is named Geoffrey, a nod to Chaucer himself. The film is fascinated by the idea that Chaucer’s pilgrims are somehow eternally travelling through the English landscape, just out of sight – if you turn your head, you might see them on the road behind you.

But even while it namechecks Chaucer, in some ways this film takes the idea of pilgrimage, and its potential as a metaphor, more seriously than Chaucer himself ever does. In Chaucer’s poem we never really find out why his pilgrims are going to Canterbury or what blessings they hope to receive at St Thomas Becket’s shrine the poem only tells us about a desire for travel inspired by the spring, the spirit of April when ‘longen folk to goon on pilgrimages’.

In the film, though, we are shown what is missing in the lives of the central characters, what they have lost and need to find again. A visit to Canterbury Cathedral brings them these blessings and the film hints that all kinds of experience – visiting the Agricultural Committee, solving a local mystery, even watching a film – can become a kind of unexpected pilgrimage.

It is unusual to find a work of art which engages so thoughtfully with this particular form of medieval devotion. Today the pilgrims who sought holy shrines are regularly dismissed as worldly, superstitious and silly – in part because of the lasting influence of Chaucer’s own satire, which has often been taken too literally by later readers. But this film finds points of connection between medieval pilgrims and the 20th-century travellers, for whom a mystical sense of history acts as a kind of substitute for religious faith.

This imaginative sympathy with people in the past is extended to the present, seen to be especially important in a world being rapidly and violently changed by war. The film presents a collision between an ancient, rural way of life and the modern world, but manages to honour the people of both, repeatedly staging encounters where those on each side recognise a connection with the other and find something to respect. Though in love with history and the old world, it suggests that some changes are for the better, as we see in one sequence (not unlike Chaucer’s panoramic General Prologue) where a succession of efficient women are shown doing all kinds of jobs while the men are at war.

The film enjoys the energy and independence of its young urban characters, while also celebrating the skills, wit and rootedness of the older rural ones, showing what they can learn from each other. There is a rare generosity of spirit in that – as relevant today as in 1944 – and a willingness to search for common ground. That common ground is the Pilgrims’ Way itself, where people from all walks of life may find themselves unexpectedly travelling in fellowship.

Top 10 Historic Pilgrimages

Find spiritual and physical transformation on the world's most sacred journeys.

Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India
The spiritual hub of Buddhism is India's Bodh Gaya, whose famous fig tree was said to have sheltered Siddhartha Guatama as he meditated for seven days during his quest for enlightenment. Today, the tree (a descendant of the original) and the nearby pyramid-shaped Mahabodhi Temple are among Buddhism's holiest sites.

St. Paul Trail, Turkey
This rugged 310-mile (500-kilometer) trail partly follows St. Paul’s journey to spread Christianity. Leading from Perg or Aspendos to Antioch, the route forges past fragrant pine forests and mirage-like lakes.

March for Jobs and Freedom, Washington, D.C.
Photos of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom show a sea of people flooding the National Mall and enjoying the festive mood. More than 250,000 joined the rally between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, some having traveled up from the Deep South. Their reward—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech—is surely one of the most stirring orations ever delivered.

St. Patrick’s Footsteps, Ireland
To retrace St. Patrick's steps, you can either retreat to the island of Lough Derg, or climb—barefoot is the custom—Croagh Patrick. But other associated sites require less effort, such as the Northern Irish town of Downpatrick, which houses the saint's grave and a museum exhibition on his life and legacy.

Moffat Mission, Northern Cape, South Africa
In 1838, missionary Rev. Robert Moffat set up his thatched-roof “Cathedral of the Kalahari,” aiming to convert the locals to Christianity. He arduously translated the Bible into Setswana, printing it on a press still in use at the mission.

Route of Saints, Kraków, Poland
Wawel Hill features a 14th-century cathedral with 19 chapels and an ornate cluster of tombs, including one of Poland's patron, St. Stanislaus. See embroidered scenes from his life on a 500-year-old robe displayed in the cathedral museum.

Mormon Pioneer Trail, United States
In 1846, more than 70,000 Mormons, driven by a wish to find somewhere they could follow their creed in peace, traveled west from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City, Utah. Using wagons and handcarts to cover what is now the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Tral, they crossed 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers) of rough terrain. The lucky ones reached Utah in 1847.

Canterbury Cathedral, Kent, England
A pilgrimage to Canterbury pays homage to a beloved saint, a glorious cathedral, a giant work of literature, and simple human history. Archbishop Thomas Becket’s murder on the altar by four knights of Henry II in 1170 almost immediately secured his fame as a miracle worker. His shrine drew pilgrims seeking cures—or simply a roistering good time—as immortalized in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Walking The Pilgrims’ Way. Six Days From Southwark Cathedral, London, To Canterbury Cathedral

The Pilgrims&rsquo Way has two possible starting points: Southwark Cathedral in London or Winchester Cathedral. The two paths cross at Otford. I chose to walk from London as this is the route of Chaucer&rsquos Canterbury Tales, as well as the way Becket himself traveled between the two cities.

This is the day by day, more practical experience of the journey. You can read/listen to my lessons learned from the way here.

Preparation and resources

I walk regularly so I was well-trained for a multi-day walk although I had never done six days solo before. I did a one-day navigation course to brush up on my map-reading skills, for which I was grateful. Check out my multi-day kit list here.

I used The Cicerone guide, Walking the Pilgrim&rsquos Way by Leigh Hatts, which is excellent. I also carried OS Maps of the entire route. To reduce the amount of paper, I cut out the sections I needed and pulled out the section I needed each day.

As I walked, I followed the guidebook and the map, and in several places, I also used my mobile phone for Google Maps. This was particularly necessary for the more urban areas where the guidebook and OS Maps are not granular enough.

Day 1: Southwark Cathedral, London to Dartford (40.8km)

Some people split this day into two, but I wanted to get the urban section of London out of the way, so I visited Southwark Cathedral the day before and left in the dark to walk the A2, the busy Old Kent Road. It&rsquos not the most romantic or scenic route, but it is authentic as it has been a major transport route since Roman times.

Keep an eye out for the surprising mural by Adam Kossowski at the turnoff to Peckham, now the site of the Everlasting Arms church. If I hadn&rsquot been looking out for this, I would have missed it and it&rsquos well worth stopping for. There is a quote from the Canterbury Tales and images of pilgrims.

There are toilets at the big Sainsburys at New Cross Station, or you can stop in cafes on the route. There are lots of interesting modern churches and multi-cultural shops as well as glimpses of ghost signs if you look up and evidence of once-beautiful architecture, but it&rsquos mostly a gritty, urban walk for the first 20km.

The sky opens up as you cross Blackheath near Greenwich. Continue to Shooters Hill and Oxleas Woodlands, where you can leave the road and take a break. Just before the turn-off to the cafe, there are some waymarkers in the churchyard.

The Oxleas Woods Cafe is what&rsquos known as a &lsquogreasy spoon cafe&rsquo in England. Cheap and cheerful, tasty, no-fuss food like eggs and bacon and chips and a mug of builder&rsquos tea (black tea with milk). There are also toilets on site.

Feeling refreshed after my lunch, I set off again!

Walk through the woods away from the cafe, and listen out for the wild parakeets of south London. The original birds escaped years ago and now you can see and hear them across the city. The rest of the day&rsquos walk is mostly on the Green Chain. Keep an eye out for the signs.

The Green Chain path is obvious on the OS Map and it&rsquos easy to navigate by the green shapes and signs. You have to veer off the highlighted route to get to the cafe. Don&rsquot miss it as there&rsquos not much else for a long time.

The ruins of Lesnes Abbey are the next place of interest, with a tea-room and toilets. There&rsquos a view over London through the arches on the hill. It was founded in 1178 by a nobleman who helped Henry II to secure Becket as Archbishop. It was closed in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey.

You finally emerge on the Thames bank at Erith. It&rsquos quite urban and bleak in parts here.

When you walk through the Erith Industrial Estate, you might wonder if you are off track because it&rsquos ugly and not really meant for walkers &mdash but head towards the Erith Yacht Club and you&rsquoll find the path again. I almost got the train here because it was so miserable and urban, but seriously, it&rsquos worth continuing. Some walks are about the beauty of nature. This one is more about human history, which is messy and ugly in many parts.

But although it started badly, this was the most surprisingly beautiful part of the walk for me. After the grittiness of the city, you have this ancient salt marsh scenery on your left as you walk around the Crayford Ness headland and then follow the River Darent toward Dartford. The birdlife is incredibly varied and I walked this at dusk and sunset, so it was bathed in a golden light.

No photo can do justice to how I felt in this part of the walk. It was perhaps the contrast and the fact I was so tired, but I just loved this section. The thin line of the path has the urban, industrial waste park on one side, but it brings into stark focus how beautiful the marshes are.

I stayed at the Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel in the center of Dartford, which was basic but clean with decent food. It&rsquos close to all amenities, shops, restaurants, etc. It&rsquos also most likely to be Dartford&rsquos oldest inn and was probably owned by Dartford Priory.

As I walked the route in October 2020 during the COVID19 pandemic, I wore a mask in all interior public areas and crowded places. This is me leaving the next morning. There are plenty of coffee shops and places to get food around here. There&rsquos a street market on Saturday.

Day 2: Dartford to Kemsing (27.5km)

I was pretty stiff after the big day yesterday so this day felt much more relaxing!

Out of Dartford, you join the Darent Valley Path, which is a pleasant walk by the river for much of the day.

There are some pretty churches on the route. The lychgate of St Peter and St Paul, Shoreham, Kent, has the words, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, written over the arch.

There are lots of roads with &lsquoPilgrim&rsquo in the name as you walk.

This is a pretty rural day with plenty of fields. Here&rsquos me walking through one of them!

Kent is famous for its apples, and there were lots of baskets left outside for people to take some from the gardens.

I stayed at Up the Downs B&B in Kemsing, which was welcoming and comfortable and near an excellent curry house for dinner with some little shops for re-stocking on supplies.

Day 3: Kemsing to Aylesford (34.1km)

It was beautiful walking out of Kemsing as the dawn broke, with horses in the mist and beautiful rolling countryside and hedgerows for much of the day. My mum grew up around here so I thought of her and my grandparents, who died years ago. It&rsquos a relaxing stage of the walk.

This section joins the North Downs Way which you can follow all the way to Canterbury, but the Pilgrims&rsquo Way guidebook veers off in sections to visit other places of interest.

The final stop for the day is The Friars at Aylesford. You get there by walking through a sewage works which I thought was in many ways an apt approach.

Sacred and profane. Physical and spiritual.

Remember to get your pilgrim stamp at the Priory office. There are also toilets and a cafe at the Priory.

During normal times, you can stay at the Aylesford Priory but it was closed to overnight visitors due to COVID19, so I stayed at the nearby Premier Inn, Maidstone Allington. The Premier Inn is my favorite UK budget hotel as they focus on a good night&rsquos sleep and are always reasonably priced. If you think about the pilgrims from the Canterbury Tales, they would have stayed at basic inns and eaten basic food, so I tried to do the same.

If you do have to stay at the Premier Inn, I recommend getting a taxi there and back to the route the next morning as it is near the motorway and busy roads. The reception has a direct line to a taxi service and has a steak house on-site, plus it&rsquos near some shops for supplies and coffee the next morning.

Day 4: Aylesford to Lenham (27.6km)

I got a taxi back to Aylesford before dawn and set off across the fields.

Shortly after passing through an underpass, you pass the White Horse Stone, the remains of a Neolithic long barrow and part of the Medway Megaliths.

The sun was bright as I entered Boxley and explored the beautiful churchyard.

I love gravestones and there were some beautiful ones here.

Walking out of Boxley, the terrain is gently rolling, well marked, and easy to navigate.

You will find lots of stiles on the route. Definitely be careful when it&rsquos wet as they can be slippery.

Kent is famous for its oast houses which have a distinctive conical roof, some with little white caps. Originally, they were designed for drying hops as part of the brewing process, but most in the area have been converted into homes.

The path continues as an easy walking track.

Towards Lenham, you might spot a sleeping lifesized (wooden) pilgrim on a bench with the text, &ldquoPilgrim bound with staff and faith, rest thy bones.&rdquo

I stayed at the Dog & Bear at Lenham which was the best accommodation of my journey. Really lovely room with a Nespresso coffee machine, which is basically what I need in the morning! It also had a heated towel rail, so I was able to dry my socks after washing them the previous day. This felt like luxury!

Day 5: Lenham to Boughton Lees (21.4km)

Much of the day is on country paths and walking through fields on the North Downs Way.

Lovely paths alongside fields. You can definitely walk this route in walking shoes if it&rsquos not wet as the paths are so good, but I&rsquod wear boots if it&rsquos wet as it can get muddy.

Walking through the fields of Kent.

The B&B I had booked in Boughton Lees had just been sold, so I had to find a new place for the night. There are always challenges en route, even if you have booked accommodation!

I stayed at the Champneys Spa in the village which was in beautiful grounds, but I wasn&rsquot able to take advantage of the spa because of the pandemic. It was a much more expensive option, but I didn&rsquot want to walk on further that day.

Day 6: Boughton Lees to Canterbury (31.1km)

I left the hotel in the dark and the pouring rain and wind. Since the weather had been fine up to this point, it was good to test out my wet weather gear. I was grateful for my waterproof socks and the layers of dry bags I had for my gear as it rained pretty much all day.

I was very grateful for The Woolpack pub in the pretty village of Chilham where I stopped for a sausage sandwich and coffee by their open fire. I warmed up and dried off and then headed back out into the rain for the last push on to Canterbury.

Kent is famous for its apples and there were many varied orchards on the way. Some small and local and some huge farms.

I arrived in Canterbury (wind-swept) just in time for Sung Evensong in the Cathedral.

It&rsquos well worth staying at The Canterbury Cathedral Lodge so you have access to the precinct after dark. There are police on the gate who will let you in if you go out to eat.

I stayed for two nights and spent the next day exploring the Cathedral as a tourist. See all my pictures of Canterbury Cathedral here.

Watch the video: England: Tales of Canterbury, Becket and Chaucer.