Friday, June 13, 2014

Canterbury Tales

Canterbury Cathedral
Following what has become a tradition during our family travels, no trip would be complete without a visit to the local cathedral. So while we were in Kent, the historic World Heritage UNESCO designated Canterbury Cathedral was an obvious choice. And this grand building was every bit as impressive as I had anticipated. 

The Cathedral as seen
from another angel
The Romanesque and Gothic structure was undergoing exterior renovations during our visit but the scaffolding did nothing to detract from her impressive facade. First the cathedral is old. Very old. It was first built in 597 then completely rebuilt between 1070 and 1077 then expanded upon over the course of the next century. It was originally home to the Catholic Church before becoming the home to the Church of England. While Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral in 1170 after excommunicating and angering other bishops for breaching Canterbury's privilege of coronation. His death made Becket a martyr and resulted in the Cathedral becoming a place of pilgrimage, thus ensuring the Cathedral's expansion and ongoing prosperity. A shrine honoring Becket was constructed in Trinity Chapel and pilgrims visited under the auspices that the tomb was a site of healing. (The waves of pilgrims was portrayed in Chaucer's famous novel Canterbury Tales).

The magnitude of the Cathedral felt from the minute we stepped into the church. Despite the crowds (or pilgrims?), with its soaring ceilings and stone pillars the church had a serene and calming feel. Whereas I have found so many Roman Catholic churches to be ornate with gilded gold, ceiling frescoes, and rich stained glass covering every surface, Canterbury Cathedral felt stark in comparison. And this starkness was what made the church's interior feel so calming and welcoming. The crypt below the Cathedral is the oldest existing part of the church and proved to be the largest crypt I have ever visited. Although it had low ceilings is was cavernous and felt like it went on forever. And because we were visiting the Cathedral during the noon hour we had the opportunity to hear a choir singing in an informal recital. Their voices echoed through the building in a way that is only possible in a church. Sidney was so entranced by the performance that we sat and listened until the performance was over.

But there is so much more to a visit to the Cathedral than the cathedral itself. Unlike so many of the cathedrals we have visited, this one is set amongst lush grounds on the edge of the town. A walk through the manicured gardens was just as impressive as the interior of the church. By this point in the day the clouds had lifted and the sun was shining providing the perfect opportunity for a garden walk. We walked through the manicured grounds looking at the flowers, explored stone niches and peered through iron gates at cats lazing in the warm sunshine. Although the only thing that stood between us and the hustle and bustle of Canterbury's busy streets was a stone wall, if felt like we were miles away. It was peaceful and the perfect capstone for our latest cathedral visit.

One of the many gardens surrounding the Cathedral

A peak through the wall

If you go:

Cathedral House
11 The Precincts
Canterbury, Kent UK
+44 1227 762862

Open: 09.00-17.00

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