fivemack (fivemack) wrote,

An archdiocesan outing

Neither pseudomonas nor I had been to Canterbury before, and it's a fairly easy journey on HS1; so, today, off we went.


The convenient station is Canterbury West and the cathedral is on the east side of town, so you start by walking down the high street and through the west gate. This was built in 1370, along with a substantial city wall, as the town feared invasion by the French; two stocky round towers in solid grey limestone with a cars-width gap between them and plenty of loopholes through which to fire on Frenchmen with newly-invented guns.

The high street has a very odd mix of shops, half Whitby (tourist traps, tattoo places and purveyors of Miscellaneous Gothicana) and half Bath (tea shops and highish-end retail), in a wide assortment of styles from authentic Tudor to spectacularly-mock Stuart.





Lunch at Canteen Fresh, purveyors of tasty assorted wraps, and over to the Cathedral Close. It's £9.50 to get in, but worth it. You enter under a statue of the Great Green Christ, and proceed through a portico adorned with what I assume are Victorian replicas of the original statues, to a nave which soars to infinity.



The suggested route takes you up the north side of the nave, and straight into the heart of the late Victorian era; the wall is covered in plaques commemorating the dead of various actions of Empire. Then you reach the site of the martyrdom of Thomas à Becket, with a modern monument of jagged bloody swords, and descend a few steps into the ancient, unadorned, slightly damp-smelling undercroft. Parts of this are as Low Church as it gets, wooden chairs in a circle around an undecorated altar-table, with a statue of welded nails hung above you.

You go out into the cloisters, to a not particularly exciting herb-garden, and come back in up the Dean's Steps - stone steps, worn away in the middle by myriads of feet over centuries and then recently built back up in contrasting-coloured and rather coarse concrete - to the area where the great shrine to St Thomas à Becket was. Here there is original stained glass all around you.


As you leave the shrine area you get to the south-east transept. As we were there the sun was shining full on the 1959 Bossanyi stained-glass windows, and the splendour of colour was quite singular and completely unphotographable - a spectacular suffusion of scarlet. The line might not be so great - those faces feel as if they owe a lot to Disney - but the impact of the colour is staggering.


Then we wandered around the close again and found the main cloisters. The ceiling is decorated with a coat-of-arms on every boss, and I didn't manage to find any repeats.


Off the cloister is the chapter house, which is another spectacularly big space; this time the roof is in two parts of different slopes, and the ceiling vault is painted with suns and stars


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