Canterbury in Pictures
Last week, I ventured to England with my seminary class for a pilgrimage to Canterbury.
Canterbury Cathedral has been a religious site since the 6th century, encompassing 1,400 years of Christian history.
In 1170, Archbishop Thomas Becket was brutally murdered within the cathedral by knights working on the king’s behalf. Almost immediately after his death, townspeople began reporting miraculous healings, which – in the tradition of the time – they attributed to Becket’s death.
Soon after, the cathedral became a major destination for pilgrimage. Since the 12th century, millions of pilgrims have journeyed to Canterbury for healing, prayer, and discernment.
While the cathedral was associated with Roman Catholicism prior to the Reformation, now it is the seat of the Church of England and held up as an important site for the global Anglican Church. This is why a group of American Episcopalians made the journey to Canterbury.
Canterbury in Pictures and Words: The Cathedral
During our visit, we went on three cathedral tours. We went up into the scaffolding with a stone mason who still designs and cuts the cathedral stone by hand.
We also met with the lead stained glass glazier, who showed us some of the “miracle glass” that depicts the pilgrims’ miraculous healings.
Finally, we went on a special “Platinum Jubilee” tour that focused on the kings and queens associated with the cathedral (this was my least favorite).
We also had the opportunity to attend morning Eucharist and daily Evensong services, in addition to a Wednesday night “Sacred Space” service that incorporated movement and chant.
St. Martin’s Church
On Thursday, we walked to St. Martin’s Church. Built before 597 CE, it is the oldest continually-used church in England and the oldest church in the English-speaking world. You can touch the red Roman bricks in the wall, which are more than 1,400 years old.
St. Augustine’s Abbey
On Friday, we journeyed over to St. Augustine’s Abbey. Now mostly in ruins, the abbey was a Benedictine monastery until it was mostly destroyed during the Reformation.
In addition to touring religious sites, we did a lot of walking and shopping. There are over a dozen charity shops in Canterbury, but the ones I visited weren’t very impressive.
Still, we had fun walking the cobblestone streets, navigating the trail along the old city wall, and stopping in for a pint at local breweries and pubs. We also had tea in the retired dean’s garden and said hi to his pet pigs.
We had beautiful, sunny weather and I’m sad to have left.
Reflection: The Firewatchers
I reflected on one meaningful aspect of my visit in a letter I wrote earlier today:
While I still have a lot of further reflection I’d like to do, one thing that stuck with me was the story of the firewatchers. The firewatchers camped on the roof of the cathedral during the air raids in WWII. If an incendiary bomb fell on the cathedral, they would quickly brush it off to protect the building. Though much of the town of Canterbury was destroyed, the cathedral was preserved.
I thought about what it meant for people to risk their lives and their homes to protect their place of worship. And that, despite centuries of upheaval, abuse, and uncomfortable alliances with political power, this cathedral still stood as a place of refuge for them. Yes, they were protecting the building, but they were also protecting a symbol of God’s endurance and the legacy of millions of faithful pilgrims.
To say that the church is imperfect is an understatement. But the faithful keep showing up. God keeps showing up. I am taking that with me as I continue in my ministry.
I loved almost every minute of my time in Canterbury and can’t wait to take Daniel back with me someday.