Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Canterbury Tales

We took the fast train from London to Canterbury—and in under an hour we were walking through a medieval town, with a contemporary sensibility—Christchurch gate has a Starbucks attached to it. We stayed on the grounds of the Cathedral itself, and were treated to an incredible view outside the window, as well as the chance to wander the grounds and take photos at night when the Christchurch gate is closed to visitors.

Evensong was beautiful---I loved the music, I loved the choir, I loved the little boy sopranos all dressed up in the choir robes with the starched, ruffled collars that most of them fiddled with all through the service. We sat where we could see the choir director and it was fun to watch him work the group, and mouth ‘perfect’ to them when they nailed something. It didn’t detract from the prayer---somehow it seemed to seamlessly integrate into the experience, because it was, indeed, perfect.

No separation of Church and State here. God save the Queen.

The University of Kent is graduating this week---6 different times in the Cathedral, so access for visiting was very, very limited. The one thing that we wanted to see was the memorial that commemorates the place where the martyrdom of Thomas Beckett took place in 1170. It was closed to the public because of the graduation ceremonies. Sadness. We did get to view the site of the traditional memorial to St Thomas Beckett, which was destroyed by Henry VIII. It is marked by a simple candle that is always lit---you can see the places in the tile where it is worn down from the pilgrims who came to kneel there. I remember reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales when I was in high school, but now I really understand the context.

The Cathedral itself is beyond massive, in a way that I’ve never experienced in any other Cathedral. It seems to go on forever. It’s sort of a patchwork Cathedral---constructed over hundreds of years with ever-advancing architecture. The beginnings of the Cathedral are Romanesque---the later additions are Gothic. The ceilings, at least those we were able to view, are amazing. At the moment, it’s undergoing some significant restoration, which means that there is scaffolding everywhere.

It’s very much a working Cathedral. The sense of history in the place is tangible, and not just because Thomas Beckett was murdered within its walls. It has an ancient, yet timeless quality about it. It's not quite St. Peter's in Rome, but it is the equivalent of the Vatican---on Anglican terms.

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