Pilgrims to Canterbury

Within days of the murder of Archbishop Thomas on Tuesday, 29 December 1170, miracles began to be reported at the martyr's tomb in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral.  Becket's fame as a miracle worker spread, and people began coming to his tomb to make requests of the saint, even before his official canonization by Pope Alexander III in 1173.  Nor were the pilgrims confined to the lower, poorer classes - King Henry II himself made a pilgrimage in 1174 to ask for Becket's forgiveness for any part he may have played in Becket's murder, and as penance he allowed the monks of Canterbury to scourge him; Henry was facing a rebellion by his sons, who were backed by King Louis VII of France, and the king of Scotland had also invaded England from the north.  When the king of Scotland was captured by Henry's troops on the very day that Henry abased himself at Becket's tomb, everyone took it as a sign that Becket had forgiven the king.  Some years later, King Louis VII also visited Becket's tomb to pray the saint's aid in curing his only son and heir Philip, who was seriously ill.  Philip recovered and in gratitude Louis lavished gifts upon the monks at Canterbury.

As Becket's reputation spread throughout England and Europe, the trickle of pilgrims to his shrine swelled to a flood, and Canterbury came to rival the other great Christian pilgrimage sites - Santiago Compostela in Spain, Rome, and even The Holy Land.  The pilgrims brought great revenues to Canterbury which the monks used to rebuild the cathedral and increase its size, in order to accommodate the pilgrim traffic and to glorify the saint.

And of course the popularity of Canterbury as a destination for pilgrims inspired Geoffrey Chaucer to compose one of the greatest works of English literature:  the Canterbury Tales.

I have assembled some photographs of Canterbury Cathedral to give you an idea of what a late-medieval pilgrim to Canterbury might have found there.  The tour is designed for browsers set to a resolution of 800 x 600 or higher and requires frames.  This site is intended for non-profit, educational use.  The information contained herein may be used freely for non-commercial purposes only.  Permission is granted to photocopy printed versions of these pages for classroom use or private study.  Permission is not granted to mount any of the content herein on any other server or WWW site, either in its present form or in any altered form, without the express prior permission of Scott McLetchie.

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