After the failed trip around London I decided to bite the bullet and leave the capital in search of fresh shores. The most obvious place to go would be Canterbury Cathedral-where I’d been briefly- as it’s the epicentre of the English church and, on a morbid note a the scene of a historic murder.
I should perhaps explain why I’d only briefly gone to Canterbury Cathedral, a brief trip seems a little odd but the day itself had been more than a little odd. A few months earlier I’d decided to revisit an old childhood favourite: Rochester Castle, a Norman fortress in Kent. Half decaying but still climbable, the castle is the epitome of the creepy Scooby doo-esque castle you see in terrible horror films with cramped dark cellars and spiral staircases. As a child I’d loved it and, in my old age (22) I’d decided to go and see if it was as interesting as I’d remembered. The castle itself was as interesting as I’d remembered, so there was no room for upset. Now I had a wider understanding of medieval history beyond that of a 7 year old I could appreciate it more. However, Rochester town through the eyes of a 21 year old was far less exciting than I’d remembered, that may or may not be because I had no family member to buy me Kentish fudge I’m not 100% sure.
Keen not to waste the day I tried to think of anywhere close by that my friend and I could drive to, scouring my brain I tried to think of everything that was in Kent. My father’s family lived in a not-so-nice part of Kent and on the many long drives to said place we often passed various signs for much more interesting places; Leeds Castle, Dover Catstle-it’s castle central- and Canterbury. After much procrastination we drove to Canterbury only to get there and realise we’d missed the last entry for the cathedral. My friend suggested we walk around and have a look at the outer part of the building which is unmistakably beautiful, but I’m slightly more impulsive (or ridiculous whichever one you prefer) and was a ‘fire escape’ that was wide open. I’m not religious so clearly I had very little qualms about sneaking into one of the holiest buildings in the world. Success! By some divine miracle-I am aware of how ironic that is-we got inside the cathedral narrowly escaping the watchful eye of a vicar. For any moralists out there I didn’t get to see much as about ten minutes later they kicked everyone out, so crime doesn’t pay in the long run. This was the start of my long, drawn out and still ongoing feud with the late, not-so-great Saint Thomas Becket, I’d like to point out that a feud with a guy who’s been dead for sometime should be seen as an achievement! I’ve been on the receiving end of a few ghostly pranks and even thought I’m a little sceptical my friends are spooked by the various scrapes I’ve got myself into e.g. getting stuck in Tommy’s crypt TWICE.
Now onto the actual trip to Canterbury, I promise this one was completely legal and no fire escapes were used on the day. Canterbury Cathedral looms above the picturesque houses of Canterbury even from afar it’s a breathtaking sight. Once you get there it is well worth taking a wander round the town itself to soak up some of the general atmosphere of the place, which has served as a pilgrimage spot for hundreds of years. The Cathedral itself is ancient, but part of the tower was rebuilt by Henry II in the 1170s after a fire in the Cathedral. This fire of Canterbury Cathedral was just many of the disasters in Henry’s life people would attribute to karma for his part in Tommy Becket’s murder. Becket was murdered in the crypt at Canterbury after several years of fighting with his former BFF Hen II, slain by four drunken knights who believed they were acting upon Hen’s orders-I’ll debunk this myth at a later date! To my surprise Hen’s statue on the exterior of the Abbey is in pretty good wear considering his reputation and the fact it’s pretty old! Inside there is plenty to see, like Westminster Abbey it pays homage to Norman Architecture, high beamed ceilings and gothic arches are a common feature. However, unlike Westminster, there is a lot more of Canterbury to explore and there is a little something for every history geek. For the Yorkists/White Queen fans out there, there is a rather lovely stain glass window of Eddie IV, Elizabeth Woodville and their ill-fated children. Medievalists can visit the tomb of the Black Prince and Henry IV and to any ghost hunters, I really recommend going down the crypts and into the martyrdom crypt where Tommy B was murdered. I feel the need to also mention that after the ‘martyrdom’ Henry paid penance by staying the crypt, praying to God and Thomas for mercy, and allowing every priest in the cathedral to whip him…hardcore right? Tommy B is pretty much omnipresent in the cathedral, I know he’s Saint Thomas of Canterbury so it’s a given, but he is forever popping up in stain glass windows, shrines (I’m very much on team Henry here) and even on shot glasses! But let’s not get distracted from actual history here, nothing quite beats wandering around a cathedral in your own little world-believe me I know-and Canterbury did not disappoint. It was amazing to walk halls that Henry would have walked and to stand in the very spot that almost ended everything for him, I really freaked out some American tourists by putting my palms on the floor to feel what the stone would have felt like…I’m writing from the first person it’ll be useful one day! The space is very calming, it’s a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of crazy London life, and on a summer’s day the stain glass illuminates the entire building in an ethereal glow. The best part is just being able to sit and soak up the atmosphere, to lose yourself in a world that is so much bigger than the microcosm we create for ourselves.
Remember my feud with Tommy B? Yeah I made it a whole heap worse by lighting a candle in martyrdom crypt in Henry’s memory, even my friend thought it was a little out of order.
Sensible friend: That’s a little out of order, he did die here
Stupid/impulsive Saskia: Nah it’s fine!
About five minutes later I managed to get stuck in the crypt-I didn’t know there was another exit and they closed the gate-I don’t believe in ghosts so thought very little of it, my friend made it worse by claiming that the air had been ‘very cold’. I also found little things like a shortened version of my name ‘Sas’ engraved on the wall RIGHT BEHIND ME spooky right?. With hindsight it’s a silly coincidence, at the time I was in more ridiculous mood than usual, as I’ve watched way too many horror films…then again I probably shouldn’t have joked about blowing the candle at his ‘shrine’ out. Tommy B used to have a rather ornate shrine but another King Henry, Henry Ate (VIII) had it destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries, so now a single candle in the middle of the floor acts as a moving and simple tribute to the martyred archbishop.
The journey home was definitely a little odd; there was an abandoned car, a pile up, the motorway we needed was jammed, the sat-nav took us down a one way country lane and then forced us to drive through grid locked East London traffic AND, worst of all: One Direction kept on playing on the radio. Yep, that sounds like Tommy B retaliating against my HARMLESS slander, Becket style. Seriously I’ve read his letters, the guy holds a grudge like no other. So I may or may not be being trolled by a long dead archbishop…but hey, it beats being trolled on twitter!
The current shrine of St Thomas Becket