I have always been fascinated by medieval period and although I know that my love for the Dark Ages has definitely been highly romanticized, I enjoy immersing myself in the atmosphere of old castles, churches and cathedrals. Canterbury is a historic English Cathedral town, which has been a very popular Pilgrims destination for centuries. It is also the home of the world’s oldest school, the King’s school which was established in 597.
I have visited Canterbury only for a day and although we have had plans to see as much as possible, we got completely enchanted by the Cathedral. We wanted to get there as early as possible on Sunday to avoid the crowds of tourists. Getting up before dawn paid off. We were one of the first visitors to the Cathedral and the experience was beautiful. I do recommend it to everyone who visits the town, get up early and have a walk around the Cathedral grounds before it gets busy.
The stillness and serenity of that place is truly magical, it provokes contemplation and makes you want to stay there for longer, to enjoy the silence, the coolness of the thick stone walls or walk around the herb garden (pic below). I think it was the silence I have enjoyed most. It was a pretty chilly morning, you could feel the cold on your skin, but the slight discomfort was actually welcomed and seemed just right in these surroundings. I thought about a Swedish band called Apocalypse Orchestra. Their music is lodged between medieval times and modern metal, they would sound very powerful among these walls. The pictures above show the Cathedral Cloister, which was the center of the monastic life. If you look up you will see beautiful carvings of faces, animals and heraldic shields.
Inside the Cathedral we stopped for a prayer in a small chapel, just by the spot where on of the most famous Archbishops – St Thomas Beckett was assassinated, it is now called The Martyrdom. The place of Beckett’s execution is marked by a big Cross with two swords. After a long dispute with the King Henry II, the Saint was killed in 1170 by 4 knights, and although the sculpture only has 2 swords representing 2 of the knights, it casts a shadow on the wall, this way all 4 of them are symbolized. It is a very simple but at the same time sharp and poignant memento.
The place is full of history which I am not going to elaborate on in this post. The Crypt where you can find the oldest Christian murals in the UK is worth visiting. There are many beautifully carved tombs placed around the Cathedral, The Black Prince tomb being the most famous of them. The tomb of St Thomas Beckett is no longer there, it has been destroyed on the orders of King Henry the VIII, the place where St Thomas was buried is now symbolized by a sole candle, which is actually way more powerful than any ornate tomb could be.
As we haven’t seen all the sites we wanted to, I will definitely be back there. If you want to know more about he Cathedral, speak to one of the volunteer Cathedral guides, they know a lot of anecdotes and stories, which will make you appreciate this special place even more.
For the next visit the plan is:
Canterbury Roman Museum, The Eastbridge Hospital (The Hospital of St Thomas The Martyr) founded in the 12th century, the Franciscan Gardens that are just at the back of the Hospital and of course Canterbury Tales.
It is worth just to wander around the town, take a stroll along the canal and visit one of the little tea houses for tea and scones.
If you want to fully emerge into the experience and follow the footsteps of many pilgrims, who traveled on foot to the Cathedral, you can look up Pilgrim Challenge, an ultra-endurance run (66 miles in total) which takes you down the historical trail en route to Canterbury.
Canterbury visit resulted in 3 and 1/2 new recipes – links below. All I knew about medieval food was that it was seasonal, basic, ingredients home grown. After looking up some literature and trying out different combinations, I came to the same conclusion as always – simple tastes the best. Here are 2 very easy meals that doesn’t take much time to prepare. I have added a recipe for the Strong Powder which is a spice blend, commonly used in Medieval times, it gives the food a very distinct taste. I also had attach vegan scones recipe. Scones remind me of the little charming tea shops in Canterbury, where we stopped for tea.
Cabbage Pottage and Funges HERE
Strong Powder (spice blend, commonly used in the Medieval times) HERE
Vegan Scones with blueberry “ice cream” HERE