CANTERBURY – KENT
Ever since the murder of Thomas Becket made Canterbury a place of pilgrimage, this city has been thronged with visitors…
All visitors know that the cathedral is a must – but also worth seeing is the ancient church of St Martin’s, outside the medieval city, which is probably the oldest surviving working church in England. Beautiful in its simplicity, it was considered an antiquity when Bede was writing in the eighth century…
On the edge of the city is Harbledown, the last village passed by pilgrims at the end of their journey, and mentioned by Chaucer.
Henry II, on his way to seek forgiveness for Becket’s death, made a gift of 20 marks a year to the village’s leper house; and the village almshouses still receive payments from the Crown. Amongst the relics here is the alms box provided for pilgrims.
A modern gift nearby is Golden Hill, two and a half acres given to the National Trust to be kept as a children’s playground for all time.
CANTERBURY PILGRIMAGES – Pilgrims came to Canterbury from all over Britain, travelling in bands for protection along the highways, where they could find lodging at inns and monasteries, and where the wealthier could hire horses.
Like every popular shrine – whether that of Frideswide at Oxford, Thomas Cantilupe at Hereford or William at Norwich – the shrine of St Thomas of Canterbury could also expect a large number of more local visitors, from its circle of ‘pilgrim villages’, which would send a few members to represent the community.
Motives for pilgrimage varied: some pilgrims hoped for cures, some for remission of sins, some for handouts from monasteries en route, many simply to escape the boredom of their villages. It was a holiday, and back home they would show their ‘souvenirs’: a phial of ‘Canterbury water’, or a leaden pilgrim badge stamped with the symbol of the shrine.
Best known of these badges is the cockleshell worn by pilgrims to the shrine at Santiago de Compostela.
[Source: “Secret Britain” – ‘South East England – Canterbury’ – pages 64-65 – published by The Automobile Association 1986]