Category : England

England

Canterbury Cathedral

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Today the focus is Canterbury Cathedral, England’s oldest  cathedral.  Hopefully, you read the June 20th blog post explaining how in 597 Pope Gregory sent then Prior Augustine, accompanied by several monks, to the Kingdom of Kent to reestablish Christianity in Britain.  Augustine’s goals included founding additional bishoprics throughout the land and Augustine became the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the multiple dioceses.  Eventually, there would be another Archbishop in York, but the Archbishop of Canterbury was considered “superior” and to this day is ceremonial head of the worldwide Anglican Church.
 
King Ethelbert of Kent gave Augustine lands on which to build a cathedral and establish a large and important monastery.  This cathedral building was destroyed several centuries later when the Normans conquered England and replaced it with a Norman structure (the Normans replaced every cathedral in England).  The Norman structure has been remodeled and expanded several times.  Architecturally, one can see examples of Norman and all three phases of Gothic, culminating in the massive nave built in the last Gothic phase of Perpendicular.
 
Canterbury is famous for another event – the 1170 martyrdom of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Henry II.  Thomas and King Henry were friends (as much as one can be friends with a monarch) when Becket served as the Lord Chancellor, one of if not the highest ranking office in the land.  When Archbishop of Canterbury Theobald died, Henry proposed Thomas Becket to take his place.  Becket strongly resisted, advising the king that if he became archbishop, his loyalty would be to the church instead of the king.  Henry did not take Becket’s advice and the anticipated disagreements ended in tragedy.  
 
Among other conflicts, one event was the catalyst for Becket’s martyrdom.  At the time, any English clergy accused of a crime were tried in an ecclesiastical court, rather than a secular court which tended to hand out harsher punishment.  Henry challenged and Becket defended this practice.   Eventually, Becket fled to France (recall that we saw a stained glass window dedicated to Becket in Sens, and Vezelay Abbey where Becket threatened the English with excommunication and an interdict). Upon Becket’s return to England, King Henry reportedly lamented, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”   These were likely not the King’s actual words, but four knights ended up going to Canterbury, probably intending to arrest the Archbishop.  In the end, they murdered Becket while he was in the north transept, cutting off the top of his head.  
 
The news of the Archbishop’s murder in his own cathedral shocked the English citizens and Christian Europe.  Soon, miracles were widely reported resulting in Becket’s canonization in little over two years.  Becket shrine soon became a major pilgrimage destination until it was destroyed by King Henry VIII’s men in 1538.  But, that is another story altogether, to be told in a later time.  For now, the travel blog photo will show a single candle that perpetually burns in the location of the original shrine.

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England

St Martin’s Church

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Today and tomorrow I am in Canterbury, an extremely important city to England’s Christian history.  I’ll talk more about Canterbury Cathedral tomorrow, but today the focus is on St Martin’s Church.

After the Romans left Britain around 410, the Christian religion was largely replaced by the beliefs of the Angles, Saxon, and Jutes over the next couple of centuries.  Christianity (and this is a gross generalization) shifted more to the western parts of the British Isles, especially Wales and Ireland, and its believers became isolated from the Roman Catholic world, evolving into a “Celtic” Christianity.  The fundamental beliefs remained the same, but practices such as when Easter should be celebrated or how a monk should wear his tonsure were different.

Trade and communications with the European continent were ongoing, however, and when it came time for Ethelbert, King of Kent, (one of the most powerful Anglo-Saxon kingdoms) to find a bride, he looked to the daughters of Frankish kings.  Bertha was the lucky girl, and as a Christian, agreed to the marriage only if she could retain her religion and bring her own priest.  Ethelbert and Bertha married in 580 and Queen Bertha worshiped at an old building which is now called St Martin’s Church.  St Martin’s has the distinction of being the oldest church in the English speaking world. 

Before too long, Pope Gregory was looking to expand Rome’s influence and saw an opportunity through Queen Bertha.  He sent Augustine to Kent who in 597 established his headquarters in Canterbury and created England’s first permanent cathedral.  King Ethelbert,  being a smart man, eventually converted.  It is unclear if this conversion was sincere or if he saw the advantages of closer ties with a powerful pope – perhaps it was a bit of both.  In any case, Augustine (eventually a saint) went on to establish bishoprics  in other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms (including York, coming up in a few days) and Roman Catholicism was thus reintroduced to the Britains,  eventually replacing the Germanic religions.  It is interesting to note that the church in Britain was united long before the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms united to become the country of England.

On a personal note, this was the first time I was able to see St Martin’s.  I had studied the church and its history, and seen  photos, but shorter day trips never allowed me the time to walk over there.  What a special treat!

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England

Winchester Cathedral

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I took the train from London to Winchester to see its cathedral, which never fails to impress. It was nice to be back in familiar territory.  The French churches are new friends, whereas Winchester cathedral is an old friend. 

This great church will probably start off a new class for Osher.  Winchester was the capital of Anglo-Saxon England, remaining an important location after the Norman conquest, so the bones of both pre-conquest rulers and Rufus, an early Norman king, are kept within the cathedral.  Only one problem…the bones were all mixed up during the commonwealth period (from 1649  when Cromwell’s forces beheaded Charles I  until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660).  These bones are kept in mortuary chests and continue to receive DNA testing.

During the commonwealth period, soldiers came into the nave and did some target shooting with their muskets, aiming at the stained glass windows.  Local townspeople gathered what glass they could and eventually the west window was recreated with the glass remains.  They were unable to recreate any recognizable images,  so the window images have an abstract quality.  All other windows in the church date from after the Middle Ages.

When visiting an English cathedral, there is often a pause at the top of the hour when the clergy on duty asks those to either listen to a prayer, or to have a moment of silence if one is not a Christian.  I have long loved this practice.  It is respectful of the different beliefs that visitors may have, yet still reminds all present that this is the House of the Lord.

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England

Tower of London – Chapel of St. John

Today was devoted to The Tower of London and specifically to the Chapel of St John.  When the Normans came to conquer England in 1066, much of their military success was due to their introduction of castles.  The lands of France and Normandy were full of castles, but castles…

England

Welcome Message

Today is the first day of a five-week trip to France and England.  There are three parts to this trip – the first is a visit to Burgandy region of France to learn about its medieval church architecture.  Then, two weeks will be spent traveling around England to look…