Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.
(General Prologue, 1–12, The Canterbury Tales)
Ah yes, Canterbury. While it has been extremely exciting and invigorating to be living in London, I have also enjoyed my little day trips outside the city. For Victor’s birthday, I surprised him with a weekend away to Derby. And in October, we went with some friends to Cambridge. I still wanted to keep exploring England, even though by November it was getting pretty cold in England. And so, this is how Canterbury happened.
Of course Canterbury was not completely random to me. I had read The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer in high school back in the US, and I had always appreciated it especially since I had a deep interest in English literature. I remember classmates of mine despising the Old English, but I really took a liking to it especially some particular tales.
The train from King’s Cross took about an hour, and Victor and I immediately set off to Westgate Gardens. The gardens are just to the side of the Westgate Towers, the city’s 600-year-old gatehouse.
Westgate Gardens was once the splendid home and gardens of a notable Canterbury family. The area can be traced back to the Roman occupation of 2,000 years ago, and beyond. And wow, what a beautiful insight indeed. Walking along the river with all the charming houses and mini-gardens really makes you feel like you’re in England. There’s even a 200-year-old tree!
After walking along the river, we ventured to the Norman Castle, or rather the ruins of the Norman Castle. William the Conquerer built this castle in 1070, so it is one of the most ancient sites in Britain. The greatest part about it is that it’s completely free and all of it is accessible. It’s kind of fun to roam around an ancient castle playground.
The Firste Moevere of the cause above,
Whan he first made the faire cheyne of love,
Greet was th’effect, and heigh was his entente.
For with that faire cheyne of love he bond
The fyr, the eyr, the water, and the lond
In certeyn boundes, that they may nat flee.
(The Knight’s Tale, 2987–2993, The Canterbury Tales)
The town itself is also quite nice. Canterbury has a nice main street full of quaint shops, pubs, and restaurants.
For lunch we went to Marlowe’s, a great British restaurant. I guess you could call it modern British fare, but whatever the case the food was delicious!
After lunch we headed to the main event: the Canterbury Cathedral. This incredible cathedral is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in all of England.
In case you are not familiar with this most holy of holy buildings, the Canterbury Cathedral is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England and symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Who knew that Henry VIII’s actions could lead to the construction of this wondrous, stained-glass beauty?
Founded in 597, the cathedral was completely rebuilt from 1070 to 1077. Despite it being so ancient, the cathedral has gone through some great conservation phases. The stained glass looks incredible, and I know it’s all because of a dedicated group of people devoted to preserving this amazing monument.
A pivotal moment in the history of the cathedral was the murder of the archbishop, Thomas Becket, in the north-west transept 1170, by knights of King Henry II. King Henry II had frequent conflicts with the strong-willed Becket and supposedly exclaimed in frustration, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four knights took it literally and murdered Becket in his own cathedral. So much drama!
A shrine, which has since been removed at the request of Henry VIII, was created in Becket’s honor and was placed in a newly built chapel called The Trinity Chapel. It was placed directly over Becket’s original tomb in the crypt. The Canterbury Tales told of pilgrims visiting Becket’s shrine because it was known as a place of healing.
While the inside of the cathedral is beautiful, the grounds are also amazing. I remember the first time I visited cloisters. I visited The Cloisters in New York City many years ago and it was magical. This magical feeling has stayed with me and I felt the same in cloisters and any kind of courtyard really.
After visiting the gift shop, we didn’t have much of a plan. We weren’t really hungry for dinner, but the weather was starting to get frigid and everything in the town was closing up for the evening. Walking along we found a cute, vegan cafe and enjoyed some spiced turmeric and ginger lattes (cool, right?). The Veg Box Cafe is everything you want in an adorable cafe.
And so, our pilgrimage to Canterbury came to an end. It is really is a great place for a day trip from London. I can’t wait to be back, but perhaps when the weather is a little warmer!
Love wol nat been constreyned by maistrye;
Whan maistrie comth, the God of Love anon
Beteth hise wynges, and farewel, he is gon!
Love is a thyng as any spirit free.
(The Franklin’s Tale, 56-59, The Canterbury Tales)