Canterbury Cathedral Guided Tour

Jan Leeming

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Jan's Blog

Computers and the internet are amazing things. One of my concerns with putting together this site was that it could remain current, yet with all my travelling I've often much to say, but little time to say it. Years ago when reading the news it would take me days on end to reply to the kind letters people sent. Now, with the magic of the modern age, I can keep you up to date with what I'm doing and other events in my life.


Date: 2nd March 2011


Went for my second guided tour of the Cathedral and had an excellent guide – Ann, wife of our first excellent tutor on architecture, Robin Westbrook. was a superb guide, full of information and also anecdotes. I regard little anecdotes as a valuable aid to learning and when they are either historical or funny they do form a bookmark in the mind. For instance, yesterday in the Cloisters Ann mentioned the ‘argument’ over which sides of the cloister Becket would have walked down into the Cathedral on the night of his murder (29th December 1170). Documentation mentioned that he ‘washed his hands’ and the washing trough is on the right hand side as you look out from the entrance to the Cathedral so this would appear to be the route he took! Maybe not but it made me remember the hand washing and the trough.

I’ve now completed the Audio Guide twice (that never alters) and the Guided Tour twice. I shall make the tour again because each guide is different and obviously they have their favourite parts of the Cathedral. If I ever make it to Guide, my strength will be history – a subject in which I’ve been interested ever since my school days.

I’ve taken some photos which I will put in the Gallery to share with you. Unfortunately we are not allowed to take photos in the Crypt but there are some excellent hyperlinks on the Internet which will enable you to take a virtual tour visually through the Cathedral.

The Internet and hyperlinks are the reason why I’m spending hours per day finding out about the Cathedral. Because my notes are sketchy, I tend to check my information on line and one thing leads to another and suddenly hours have sped past. If only I had a photographic memory and could re-call all that I read – but it’s great fun.

The East End of the Cathedral has now been cleaned and the scaffolding taken down and the colour of the Caen Stone is absolutely lovely – warm and inviting unlike so many Cathedrals made of material cold and forbidding.

Sadly there’s still a great deal of scaffolding around the Cathedral and probably will be for years to come – the maintenance and repair is a never ending job. Many times, I’ve visited Notre Dame in Paris and can’t remember ever seeing it without scaffolding.

CHARGING. I know many people get hot under the collar about being charged to go into a House of God but when people were asked to make voluntary donations, the average per visitor was around 28p. Running costs for the Cathedral are thousands per week and millions per year.
(For the cost of a good pizza you can enjoy thousands of years of history, fantastic architecture, stained glass to mention but a few of the attributes of this wonderful Cathedral) And have you visited any Cathedrals and Churches in Europe where you haven’t had to pay – very very few.
I won’t give you a shopping list of the millions it is costing to restore the fabric of the Cathedral but suffice to say there are 17 permanent stone masons as well as many glaziers who restore and preserve the wonderful stained glass windows.

Just a small aside. Last night I watched for the umpteenth time, the film ‘Becket’ starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole. Of course it was Hollywood-ised but a great deal of the story was true to actuality. Becket was Henry 11’s great friend, he kept a better house and table than that of the King, he was a very secular man until Henry forced the Archbishopric upon him thinking that as both his Chancellor and the senior cleric in the land, he could manipulate the Clergy. One of the main stumbling blocks was Henry’s desire to make the Clergy accountable to a Lay Court. Becket took his role as Archbishop very seriously and stood up for the maintaining of a Clerical Court to try errant priests and that became the sticking point. A man in holy orders was found guilty of murder and Henry wanted him tried in a Lay Court. The priest was murdered and Becket excommunicated the Perpetrator (a terrible punishment in those days). Becket fled the country and was in France for six years. He eventually came back but still refused to give in to Henry’s demands and that is when the fateful words were uttered ‘Will no one rid me of this (meddlesome) (low born) turbulent priest’ and taking him at his word, four of his knights did kill Becket in his own Cathedral.

The film is very good but either they constructed a Cathedral or used one other than Canterbury and knowing Canterbury Cathedral and the Place of the Martyrdom, the ending of the film doesn’t ring true nor does the way in which the knights killed him – but I’m nit-picking. It’s still a remarkably good film based on Jean Anouilh’s Play ‘Becket or the Honour of God’ and was made in 1964.

(I also take issue with the way they portrayed Eleanor of Aquitaine who was not the simpering female as depicted in the film. And from the books I’ve read about Eleanor, initially she and Henry were very much in love at the time they were producing their children. The estrangement came later)

I made a special visit to Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon in France because I wanted to see where Eleanor had been an nun in her later years and where she'd died.  Monasteries were destroyed at the time of the French Revolution but Fontevraud was used as a prison until a few decades ago so it is still in a very good state of repair.

"Fontevraud  was originally the site of the graves of King Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, their son King Richard I of England, their daughter Joan, their grandson Raymond VII of Toulouse, and Isabella of Angoulême, wife of their son King John. However, there is no remaining corporal presence of Henry, Eleanor, Richard or the others on the site. Their remains were possibly destroyed during the French Revolution. It is generally believed that the location of their remains within the abbey is known, but the French government will not grant permission to excavate, because finding that the remains are not where they are thought to be may result in a decrease of tourism."

 I strongly doubt the latter - was just happy to see the effigies and know this was where Eleanor had lived and died.

Really must get on and do some other work. Canterbury Cathedral is beginning to consume my attention to the detriment of much else.

Till next time - Jan

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