Via Francigena – Canterbury Cathedral

Pilgrims outside Canterbury Cathedral Follow Me on Pinterest
Pilgrims outside Canterbury Cathedral

Beginning the Via Francigena: Although still 1900 kilometers from Rome, the legacy of the ancient Romans was not hard to find in Canterbury especially if you visited the Roman Museum in Butchery Lane which encourages visitors to explore the subterranean remains of Roman Canterbury. The Romans had built 6000 miles of roads in Britannia and we would soon walk along some twenty miles of them to reach Dover .


Our first duty as pilgrims was to visit the great Cathedral. A narrow lane off the main street led to the Christchurch Gate, the main entrance to Canterbury Cathedral. Having already obtained our pilgrim’s passports (credenziali del Pellegrino Romeo) from the Association International Via Francigena we displayed them to the man in the ticket office and were allowed free admittance to the Cathedral grounds. Once past the rickety wooden turnstile we marveled at the size of Anglicanism’s principal Cathedral. At the information office we received our first pilgrim’s passport stamp, an “I X” – the ancient Greek letters for Christ.
We were just in time for the Cathedral tour. With a jovial manner and an occasional flourish of his hands, our guide, Mr. Ken told the story of St. Augustine’s arrival in Kent in 597AD. The invitation to send Roman priests had come from Ethelbert, the king of Kent whose Frankish wife, Aelbertha was a Christian. Augustine arrived with forty monks and successfully introduced Christianity and Roman monasticism to Canterbury and the Kingdom of Kent.  Ethelbert was baptized along with large numbers of his subjects. Augustine’s mission imposed a Roman ecclesiastical order upon the country, overwhelming the existing form of Celtic Christianity. Eventually Christian beliefs spread throughout much of the island, subsuming and incorporating the existing pagan traditions.
However, what really made Canterbury famous was the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. When Henry learned of the murder he shut himself away for five weeks. He undertook a barefoot pilgrimage to the scene of the murder which included a whipping by the monks of Canterbury. He renounced the Constitution of Clarendon to appease the Pope, promised to restore the Church’s confiscated wealth, to build monasteries and to send money to the Knights Templar for the defense of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. He also built a shrine in the cathedral to house Becket’s tomb.
Mr Ken showed us the Altar of the Martyrdom and the flagstone which marked the spot where Becket fell, mortally wounded. A single illuminated candle identified the site of Becket’s tomb and shrine, which was demolished in 1538 during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, his final severing of England’s 900 year-old tie with Rome.
It was time to get on with our 2000 km journey.
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