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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Pilgrims in Canterbury

The West Gate

Canterbury is a small, compact, walled city, full of cobbled streets lined with interesting old buildings. The main reason we came was to see Canterbury Cathedral. The cathedral attracts over 2 million visitors a year. We felt rather like modern day pilgrims, as we wandered slowly around the cathedral in the company of hundreds of others, all listening intently to the audio guides held firmly to our ears.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral shall be forever linked to the murder of Thomas Beckett. The immortal line "Who will rid me of this low born priest" brought about the martyr's death of Thomas Beckett by four of King Henry 11's knights. Thomas was declared a saint in 1173.

The place where Thomas Beckett was murdered

But there is more to the cathedral than that. It is a living, working church. Extended to over the centuries, it is a mixture of styles. The Archbishop of Canterbury, who is of course head of the Anglican Church, has his seat (cathedra) here, although his official residence is in London.

After a tasty al fresco fish and chip lunch we took a relaxing boat trip through Canterbury. This started at The Old Weavers House, a wonderful old Tudor style house built in 1500, and home to Huguenots refugees from France and Belgium who settled here bringing their weaving skills to their new city. Our guide slowly rowed us along the River Stour (one of four rivers with the same name in UK, we were told) and explained the origins and stories of the buildings that backed on to the river, as we glided under ancient stone bridges. One building was used as a military forge in Oliver Cromwell's time, to make and replace horseshoes for the soldier's mounts, and to sharpen their weapons. There was a replica "ducking stool", used for punishment for unruly wives and dishonest businessmen. Suspected witches were also strapped in to this stool, if they survived the ducking they were guilty of withchcraft which had terrible consequences, if they died they were innocent. It was a no-win situation for anyone accused of withcraft.

Boat ride on the River Stour through Canterbury

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