It’s not only in Canterbury that Thomas Becket, the 40th Archbishop of Canterbury, is remembered.
Becket’s birthplace was just east of St Paul’s in London’s Cheapside – thought by some to be in Ironmonger Lane at the site of the Mercers Hall. It’s appropriate then that a sculpture of Becket has been located at the south eastern section of St Paul’s churchyard. It depicts the moment of his death.
Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot’s play about the death of Thomas Becket, was first performed in Canterbury Cathedral in 1935.
Thomas Becket, who was Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered in the cathedral, in December 1170, by knights who supported King Henry II. A dramatic sculpture with two swords now hangs over the spot where the murder happened.
Since we visited the cathedral another sculpture has been hung above the tomb of Becket. Famed sculptor, Anthony Gormley, has used old iron nails from the roof of the cathedral, to create a 2m high human body.
We made our own “pilgrimage” to the grave of Joseph Conrad, when we were in Canterbury a few years back.
His books are mostly based on his experiences as a seaman in sailing ships and steamships. He visited Australian ports several times and was often in Singapore. A decade ago when we were living in Singapore we went in search of the grave of the real person on whom Conrad based the fictional character of Lord Jim. The grave can no longer be visited though, because the site of the old cemetery is being used for a new housing development.
Canterbury Heritage Museum is housed in a building that dates from around 1200 when it was built as an almshouse for elderly, sick and poor priests. On display are Roman and Anglo Saxon artefacts, and information on mediaeval Canterbury, but what we enjoyed seeing the most was a reconstruction of Joseph Conrad’s study.
The Polish-born author lived for many years in various places in Kent, lastly at Bishopsbourne, a village which is about 6km southeast of Canterbury. On display are books, furniture and personal items from his study there.
Charles Dickens never lived in Canterbury but he did know it well. David Copperfield went to school in Canterbury, and a lots of the action in that novel takes place in the city.
The Sun Inn on Sun Street is believed to be the Little Inn where Mr and Mrs Micawber stayed and where they entertained David Copperfield.
The Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe was born in Canterbury in 1564. Born the same year as his rival, William Shakespeare, Kit Marlowe wrote about seven plays which were acclaimed by audiences at the time. An early death in mysterious circumstances at Deptford led to a conspiracy theory that Marlowe faked his death and then became William Shakespeare.
The Marlowe Memorial Statue in Canterbury has had a chequered history, but now stands outside Canterbury’s new Marlowe Theatre which opened in 2011. The memorial is not actually a statue of Christopher Marlowe, but instead has the Muse of Poetry on top of a plinth which has four characters from Marlowe’s plays around the base.
Thomas Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1533 to 1555, in the turbulent times during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI.
Cranmer was responsible for the first church liturgy in English, known as the Book of Common Prayer. Revised over the centuries, this is still basically the form of worship used in Anglican churches today.
Edward VI was succeeded, in 1553, by the Catholic Queen Mary, and Cranmer was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was charged with treason and heresy and burnt at the stake in Oxford on 21 March 1556.
The statues of important people connected with Canterbury Cathedral, including Thomas Cranmer, were placed in niches on the exterior of the building in the mid-19th century.
On display in Canterbury Cathedral is a copy of the first Bible to be published in the English language. This Bible, printed in 1535, was the work of Miles Coverdale, but based largely on a translation done by William Tyndale.
These great heroes of the Reformation, Coverdale and Tyndale, risked their lives and lived abroad to produce a Bible in the English language. Tyndale died a martyrs death in 1536, but Coverdale went on to become Bishop of Exeter when the political climate changed under Edward VI.
Tyndale was largely responsible for developing the literary English which we can still understand when reading Coverdale’s Bible, even though it was printed more than 450 years ago.
In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer describes the starting point for the pilgrimage to Canterbury as the Tabard Inn in Southwark, London. At the end of the pilgrimage, the last night, before entering the cathedral town the next morning, was spent at Upper Harbledown, 3km northwest of Canterbury.
The hospital of St Nicholas at Upper Harbledown, where the pilgrims stayed, still exists in a modernised form. We walked to the village when we were in Canterbury a few years ago, to visit the Holy Well which is in the grounds of the hospital.
St Nicholas Hospital before it became a hospice for pilgrims and later an almshouse, was originally a leper hospital, built in 1094. The Holy Well is called the Black Prince’s Well, because in 1376 as he travelled to London, Edward, the Black Prince, drank the water to try and get relief from an illness.
Pilgrims had been making their way to the tomb of St Thomas a Becket at Canterbury for more than two centuries, when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales at the end of the 14th century.
Pilgrimages to Canterbury were so popular in the medieval era, that special hospices were built in the city to accommodate the travellers. The Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr of Eastbridge dates from 1176 and visitors can still see the undercroft, refectory and chapel where pilgrims slept, ate and prayed.