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THE CITY

    This little essay on a great subject is neither a guidebook nor a history, though it may, for many, be enough, for their purpose, of both. With its illustrations of ancient and famous scenes it is, let us say, a keepsake or memorial for some of the hundred thousand pilgrims who still annually visit Canterbury, and fall under the spell of its enchantments. It may recall to them in distant homes, some of them overseas, the thrill with which they first beheld the mother-city of English Christianity, the great church, inwoven with so much of English history, which in the Middle Ages contained one of the most venerated and far-sought shrines in Europe. There are certainly not more than one or two cities in the kingdom which rival Canterbury in interest, or bring back to us more vividly "the days that are no more". Here is the work of pre-historic man in the Dane John (variant of Donjon or stronghold) and long earthen rampart which guarded the ford of the Stour. Here are the bastions and parapet of the city wall, with which the soldiers of the Middle Ages faced and fortified the British earthwork. Here is Saxon building with Roman materials, as in the churches of St. Pancras and St. Martin, where Roman bricks abound, and Roman columns, perhaps of some forgotten heathen temple, are not wanting. In the Roman cemeteries outside the walls have been found bracelets, pins, mirrors, horse-bits, coins, even rouge-pots. Hither converged the Roman roads from the military ports of Richborough, Dover, and Lympne (now high and dry). Along these roads for some four hundred years tramped the Roman legionaries under their centurions, entering and leaving the city respectively by the streets now known as Burgate, Wafting Street, and Wincheap. Here dwelt, in the sixth century, Queen Bertha, foster-mother of English Christianity, with her heathen husband Ethelbert, King of Kent; and here, in the new era which dated from the arrival of Augustine's monkish procession with its silver cross and painted Christ (as told once for all by Dean Stanley), these three laboured at that "building without hands" of which the Cathedral is an outward type and embodiment. Hither converged in mediæval times the Pilgrims' Ways, still partly traceable on the ordnance map, from London, as in Chaucer's Tales, from Southampton, and from Sandwich.

     On July 7, the feast of the Translation of Becket's bones from the Crypt to the Trinity Chapel, and especially at the Great Pardons or Jubilees of the Feast every fifty years, from 1220 to 1520, these ways were crowded with pilgrims, English or foreign, on foot or on horseback, sick or whole, sad or merry, intent on paying homage and receiving a blessing, above all of winning the promised plenary indulgence at the miracle-working shrine. From the offerings of these pilgrims came in great measure the huge sums of money which enabled the monks to extend and exalt their church to its present magnificence. In 1220, the first of the Great Pardons, it has been estimated that 100,000 pilgrims offered £20,000 of our money; and this did not include the stream of worshippers and gifts that flowed on other days of the year. If we add to these "devotions of the people" the splendid generosity of the monks and clergy, we begin to understand how the Cathedral was paid for. Lanfranc gave the whole revenues of the manor of East Peckham, bestowed on him by William the Conqueror; and he was but the first of a series of munificent archbishops.

    It is one of the curiosities of history, though by no means without parallel, that these lavish gifts and this energy of costly building continued up to the very edge of doom. The great central tower, the Angel Steeple or Bell Harry, was not finished till 1490; Christ Church Gatehouse not till 1517; Henry VIII himself made offerings at the shrine in 1520. In 1538 he gave orders to plunder the shrine and burn Becket's bones, and in 1539 the monastery was dissolved.

    It may be as well here to give some idea of the value of the spoil. "The official return of the actual gold of the shrine was 4994 ¾ oz., the gilt plate weighed 4425 oz., the parcel gilt 840 oz., and the plain silver 5286 oz." But Erasmus, who visited Canterbury in 1513, writes: "The least valuable portion was gold; every part glistened, shone, and sparkled with rare and very large jewels, some of them exceeding the size of a goose's egg .... The principal of them were offerings sent by sovereign princes." As, for instance, the golden cup presented by Louis VII of France in 1179, and the Royal Jewel of France, an immense ruby or carbuncle, given by the same Prince, which afterwards figured in a great ring On Henry's portentous thumb, and (we are rather surprised to learn) in the necklace of his Roman Catholic daughter Mary. There were crucifixes, statuettes, and ornaments of precious metal; there were innumerable gems, so that the last visitor at the shrine, in the very year of its destruction, declared "that if she had not seen it, all the men in the world could never a' made her to believe it".

     We are scarcely surprised, therefore, to hear of the two large chests with which seven or eight men staggered out of the church, or of the twenty-six cartloads of vestments, plate, and other Cathedral property which were dispatched to London. The total value of Henry's confiscations from this church and priory is thought to have been not less than three million pounds of our money. For more than three hundred years there had been, outside Rome, no more famous place of pilgrimage, no more wonderful treasury of gifts and relics. One can guess the thoughts of the "sovereign princes" and other devout donors, when their costly offerings and those of their ancestors were poured pell-mell into the gaping coffers of the English king. It is less easy to guess the thoughts of the Canterbury citizens and other English folk who looked on with scarcely a protest. Some probably were cowed, and some sympathetic. Perhaps a dim consciousness was waking in the minds of the people, that monasticism and relic-worship had outlived their day of service, and that a new age was at hand. Even under Queen Mary no attempt was made to replace the shrine or renew the pilgrimages.

     Let us, however, be as pilgrims ourselves – Chaucer's if you will – and enter the city along their ancient well-trodden way from the Tabard Inn at Southwark. Only we will start a short mile and a half from Canterbury at the Leper Hospital of Harbledown. It is now a group of modern almshouses, but still has its prior and sub-prior, as in the days when the lepers lived under the shadow of Lanfranc's Church of St. Nicholas, which they were forbidden to enter, This church and the square-timbered entrance by the porter's lodge are shown in our illustration.

     An aged bedesman, on the steps to this garden porch, would greet the travellers in the road with a shower of sprinkled holy water, and hold out to be kissed by them a crystal set in the upper leather of the martyred Becket's shoe. The upper leather is gone, perhaps kissed away, but the crystal is still shown in the hospital, set in an old bowl of maple-wood. Erasmus and Colet came here in 1513, and were invited to do as others. They were scholars and thinkers, full of the new learning, and therefore scornful of the sanctity of slippers and bones. They declined  –  Colet rather crossly; Erasmus (tolerant soul) with a humorous twinkle and a kindly coin for the bedesman's box which is still to be seen within.

     A few steps onward up the steep little Harbledown Hill and we have a view of Canterbury Cathedral across the River Stour – a view which has delighted the eye and heart of many pilgrims, whether ancient or modern. Nearly a mile downhill and we come to St. Dunstan's Church in the environs of Canterbury. Here in a vault is the head of a nobler martyr than Becket  –  of a man with all Becket's constancy and faith, with more than Becket's intellect, and without his haughty spirit and violent temper. All the world knows how the head of Sir Thomas More, one of the best and wisest of Englishmen, was set on London Bridge as the head of a traitor, and how, after fourteen days of this ignominy, it secretly passed into the possession of his daughter, Margaret Roper. It is less generally known that she finally placed it in the Roper vault in St. Dunstan's.

     On the opposite side of the road, a little nearer the town, is the old brick archway which was once the approach to Margaret Roper's house, and beneath which father and daughter, who loved each other dearly, must often have passed together.

     We have all been with David Copperfield and his aunt to Mr. Wickfield's house in Canterbury  –  "A very old house bulging out over the road; a house with long, low lattice windows bulging out still farther, and beams with carved heads on the ends bulging out too; so that I fancied that the whole house was leaning forward, trying to see who was passing on the pavement below".

     Nowhere in the country will you find so many of these old houses; some of them in part dating back to the fourteenth century; and Dickens felt the charm of them. Many are now hidden behind ugly modern fronts, but many are yet unspoiled. Doubtless some of these in St. Dunstan's Street took in belated pilgrims who arrived after curfew and the shutting of the city gate.

    Just outside Westgate is the old Falstaff Inn, with its sign suspended from a remarkable bracket of fifteenth-century ironwork. This reminds us that before the era of coal mining in the north, Kentish men were craftsmen in iron, obtaining unlimited fuel from the forest of the Weald. Doubtless there were Kentish pikes and blades, Kentish helmets and hauberks, at Cressy and Poitiers, at Agincourt, in the Wars of the Roses, and at Flodden. While we are looking at old houses let us pass through Westgate {we will return in a moment) and visit the Canterbury Weavers, shown in our illustration. It rises sheer from the water, and its windows "bulge" over the water, where the river crosses the street near Eastbridge Hospital. It is, in spite of repairs and restorations, a fifteenth-century building, and, as viewed from the bridge, not less picturesque than a nook of Bruges or Ghent.

     Eastbridge Hospital, just opposite, belongs to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but is not a specimen of domestic architecture. It is a charitable foundation which survived Tudor confiscations through the intercession of Cranmer, and still shelters its aged poor. Somewhat farther, on the same side, is No. 37, a French silk-weaver's house, built in the fifteenth century for one of the refugees from religious persecution. It is almost unchanged: the ground floor is the shop, the first floor is for the family and the loom, and the story above has its door for receiving 'the bales of silk hauled up from the street.

     We must not wander farther without turning to look at Westgate, the last remaining of Canterbury's seven city gates and the best thing of its kind in the kingdom. With its round flanking towers and its massive portal, it takes us back in a moment to the fourteenth century, and makes us wonder and sigh that citizens could have had the heart to destroy its fellows. For even as late as the beginning of the-nineteenth century the walls and gates of the ancient town were almost intact, With grim amusement, not unmixed with disgust, we recall the story that in 1850 the Town Council were equally divided on the proposition that it should be pulled down to admit the huge caravans of Wombwell's Wild Beast Show. It was saved only by the casting vote of the Mayor, to whose common sense it occurred to make a way round it. And that Mayor, not the least of Canterbury's worthies, is not even yet commemorated by  – 

            ''Colossal bust
Or column trophied for triumphal show".

     There was once a Norman gateway here with oddly as it seems to us, the Church of the Holy Cross on the top of it. In 1380 Archbishop Simon Sudbury built the present structure and found ground space beside it for the church. And thereby hangs a tale. Sudbury was not only a munificent builder, but a man of vigorous mind, wise before his time. He overtook a company of pilgrims nearing this gate, and spoke to them very plainly on the matter of relics and pilgrimages, declaring that no Pope or plenary indulgence could avail without the contrite heart and the changed life. This was, be it remembered, 150 years before the Reformation, and not even from a bishop could such a doctrine be received. The fury of the crowd found voice in the curse flung then and there upon the preacher by one of the Kentish gentry: "My Lord Bishop, for this act of yours, stirring the people to sedition against St. Thomas, I stake the salvation of my soul that you will close your life by a most terrible death". "From the beginning of the world ", adds the Chronicler, "it never has been heard that anyone ever injured the Cathedral of Canterbury and was not punished by the Lord." Eleven years later, for his share in the hated Poll-tax, the Archbishop was dragged out of the Tower of London by the rebels under Wat Tyler and beheaded. His body was buried in the choir of the Cathedral, and when uncovered accidentally was found to have a leaden ball in the place of the head, Which is still preserved at his native Sudbury.

     From Westgate the main street, under as many aliases as a hardened criminal, starting as St. Peter's Street, continuing as High Street, Parade, and St. George's Street, runs the whole length of the city, with quaint and curious dwellings on either hand. If we were real pilgrims, and had walked or ridden all the way from London, we should make at once for "The Chequers of the Hope" mentioned in the supplementary Canterbury Tale. It is only a few hundred yards away, where Mercery Lane turns off to the left, and has, or had, its dormitory of a hundred beds. Alas! it was burned down in 1865, and we shall recognize it only by a modern carving of the Black Prince's crest – the leopard with protruding tongue – on the stone corner of the house where the two streets meet.

     As, however, we are but amateur pilgrims, and not very tired, we will loiter about the city. Let us ask Mr. Pierce's permission to trespass in his Franciscan Gardens in Stout Street, near the Post Office. For there we shall find, neglected and decayed, but still beautiful with a sad and ruined beauty, the last monument of the Greyfriars or Franciscans, once the most popular of the monastic orders. It is a little house which occupies no ground, for it is built on arches over a branch of the Stour, and its slender supporting pillars rise from the middle of the river bed. As we consider it, we may remember the story of Elizabeth Barton "The Holy Maid of Kent", the devout, visionary, hysterical girl, promoted from a kitchen to a nunnery, who, amongst other and harmless or edifying revelations, felt bidden to denounce the King's divorce from Katherine, and was taken, or bravely went to Henry to tell him so.

    The poor creature was executed at Tyburn with some six of her teachers, confessors, and abettors, amongst them the warden and one of the brethren of Greyfriars, who must often have gone in and out of this battered ,doorway. Let us add, to the credit of luckless Anne Boleyn, that she alone of all concerned had the grace to intercede with her royal tiger on the girl's behalf. There is a perhaps more attractive memory clinging to the place. In the seventeenth century here, for a time, lived Richard Lovelace, the handsomest man of his time – the Royalist poet who wrote two of the best songs in the language, the gay cavalier who died in want and despair because his lady-love, on his reported death, married another man. He may have written "Going to the Wars" in this very house – 

             "I could not love thee, dear, so much
Loved I not honour more".

But "To Althea" – 

                "Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage",

he wrote while imprisoned by the House of Commons for presenting a Kentish Petition on behalf of King Charles.

     While we are thinking of poets, and their not infrequent tendency (in the past) to a bad end, we may as well walk up High Street. Various epochs and ages look down upon us on either side, though too often through modern windows. Near the top, on the right-hand side, we shall find a very old house with a very new front, and the business label of Achille Serre. This is the birthplace of Christopher Marlowe, one of the nest of Elizabethan singing-birds – 

"With mouth of gold, and morning in his eyes",

who, perhaps, had a hand in Shakespeare's Henry VI. He was born in the same year as Shakespeare, and, in spite of a reckless life and early death, came nearer to him in power than any other dramatist of the day. He was killed in a tavern brawl before he was thirty, but found time to write immortal things, amongst them "The Passionate Pilgrim":

"Come live with me and be my love",

a quite other sort of pilgrim than those who sought Becket's shrine.

     It is said that he was an "atheist", and that the tavern dagger was just in time to save him from imminent risk of stake and faggot. This naturally leads us from his birthplace, along St. George's Terrace, which is really the old earthwork faced with medieval stone, to the spot where atheists, heretics, traitors, and witches used to meet their fate. This is the Dane John already mentioned as a pre-historic mound. Dr. Cox, in his volume on Canterbury in the "Ancient Cities" series, gives the following extract from the city accounts touching the death on the Dane John of one John Stone, an Austin friar, who denied that the Sovereign was Supreme Head of the Church : –

"Paid for half a tonne of tymber to make a payre of Gallaces to hang Fryer Stone.
For a Carpenter for making the same Gallaces and the dray. For a labourer who
digged the holes. To iiij men who holp set up the Gallaces. For drynk to them. For
carriage of tymber from Stablegate to the Dongeon. For ij men that sett the Ketyl
and parboyled hym. To ij men that caryed his quarters to the gate and set them up.
For a halter to hang hym. For two halfpenny halters. For Sandwich cord. For
Strawe. To the woman that scowred the Ketyll. To hym that dyd execucion iiijs viijd."

     Friar Stone, it is to be feared, is only one of a long procession of tortured ghosts who might meet us where the children play on the Dane John. But it was not always the place of execution, it came to be a coign of vantage from which the orthodox (for the time being) could comfortably view, not without lunch-baskets, what went on in Martyr's Field now marked with an obelisk a little to the south-west of the mound. Here were forty, men, women, and children, "brent" or burnt at the stake in the reign of Queen Mary for asserting what Friar Stone denied. Their names are carved in granite on the spot where they died, and the motto on the monument is: "Lest We Forget".

      From the Dane John we may return along the earthen rampart by the city wall to St. George's Street, and ask our way to St. Martin's, believed by competent enquirers to be the oldest church not only in England, but in Europe. It certainly existed in the sixth century, when Queen Bertha came to its services through the postern still known as Quenengate. Bede, the father of English history and the most learned man of the seventh century, says that there was a Christian church here during the Roman occupation. As the Romans left in 410, this gives a record of fifteen centuries of worship on this site. Here King Ethelbert was baptized by Augustine, and a representation of this event graven on an ancient seal gives a font much resembling the one still in use.

     The walls, of course, have been patched and repaired many times, but are, especially in the chancel, full of Roman bricks and Saxon workmanship. There are indications that some of the courses were actually laid by Roman hands; and, if this be so, imagination may carry us back far earlier than Augustine, to the legend that Joseph of Arimathea brought the Gospel to Britain within a generation of the death of Our Lord.

     On our way back to the town, if we step inside the Infirmary grounds, we shall see the ruins of St. Pancras, built, it is said, by Augustine on the foundations of an "Idol-temple" where Ethelbert worshipped before his conversion. Roman bricks abound, Roman pillars are built into the wall, and there are still the remains of an altar in a tiny chapel where probably Augustine officiated.

      Now we may return to the "Chequers of the Hope ", but not to its dormitory of a hundred beds. There is a fine frankness, far removed from modern municipal ambition, in the names of these old streets. Mercery Lane, Butchery Lane, Wincheap (Wine Market), and Beer-Cart Lane tell their own story. As we look down narrow, crooked Mercery Lane, with its overhanging fronts, struggling to survive "improvements", we not only recognize "the last enchantments of the Middle Age", but we ask what kind of mercery used to stock the stalls under the arcades which once sheltered the sidewalks? Chiefly, no doubt, cheap memorials or "signs" of the accomplished pilgrimage; the little leaden bottles or "ampulles ", containing water from the well near Becket's tomb in the crypt, and the infinitesimal tincture therein of the martyr's blood; also leaden brooches representing his mitred head. "These signs", says Dean Stanley, "they fastened on their hats or caps, or hung from their necks, and thus were henceforth distinguished. As the pilgrims from Compostella brought home the scallop-shells which still lie on the seashores of Gallicia – as the 'Palmers' from Palestine brought the palm-branches still given at the Easter Pilgrimage – as the 'roamers' from Rome brought models of St. Peter's keys, or a 'Vernicle' – that is a pattern of Veronica's handkerchief – sewed on their caps – so the Canterbury Pilgrim had his hat thickset with a 'hundred ampulles' or with leaden brooches. Many of these are said to have been found in the beds of the Stour and the Thames, dropped as the vast concourse departed from Canterbury or reached London."

    What processions, triumphal or funereal, have passed along Mercery Lane and crossed the little open space before the gateway to the Precincts! Two French kings, and nearly every English sovereign till Queen Anne, have been here. Louis VII of France as a pilgrim, John of France as the captive of the Black Prince, Henry II on his bitter pilgrimage of penance in 1174; Richard Coeur de Lion with his captive, William the Lion of Scotland, in 1189; Henry III with the Magna Charta Archbishop Stephen Langton at the Great Pardon of 1220. Here before the Cathedral gate halted for a moment the weeping cavalcade when they buried the Black Prince, in 1376 – 

                       "To the noise of the mourning of a mighty nation,
Mourning when its leaders fall"

    No man bearing weapons was admitted to the precincts after the murder of Becket; therefore the two emblematic riders who had accompanied the bier from Westgate, "one bearing the Prince's arms, of England and France, the other the ostrich feathers  – one to represent the Prince in his splendid suite as he rode in war, the other to represent him in black as he rode to tournaments " – had here to fall out of rank. Here were borne to their grave Henry IV and his Queen Joan of Navarre. Dean Stanley remarks that Henry IV as a child of ten was perhaps present as a mourner at the Black Prince's funeral, unknowing that he should overthrow the Prince's son Richard II and finally rest by the famous warrior's side.

    The devout but incapable and unfortunate Henry VI was at Canterbury eleven times, and more than once as a pilgrim. As a pilgrim, in humblest guise, he was here after his final defeat at Tewkesbury, his Queen in captivity, his son dead on the field "stabbed by the Yorkist Lords after Edward (the Fourth) had met his cry for mercy with a buffet from his gauntlet". Henry himself went hence to die in the Tower, and so end the hopes of the House of Lancaster.

    The little open space between Mercery Lane and the Precincts gatehouse has seen many strange doings which we cannot record. 'In the thirteenth century Canterbury was requisitioned for a contingent of Edward I's Welsh invasion, and the monks refused to bear their share of the expense. This led to a furious dispute with the citizens, an embittered kind of "Town and Gown". A trench was dug before the gate to prevent ingress and egress of men or victuals, and the brethren appear to have been starved out. In the fifteenth century Edward IV hanged the Mayor and some of his friends here for complicity in treason.

     But these "old, unhappy far-off things" were before the existence of the present beautiful Perpendicular gatehouse, depicted in our illustration. Its Norman predecessor was still standing, lower, plainer, grimmer, like most Norman buildings. Prior Goldston did not finish this one till 1517. In 1520, when its carvings were fresh and the stone bright in the sunshine, and the great statue of Our Lord looked down from over the archway, and the octagonal side-turrets, like those of St. Augustine's, were not within three hundred years of being pulled down that bank-clerks might see the Cathedral clock from the other end of Mercery Lane – then there came to the last of the Great Pardons, with trumpetings and gorgeous retinue, two great kings riding under one canopy. One was Henry VIII and the other the mightiest monarch in Christendom, Charles V the Emperor of Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands, President of the Councils that murdered Hus and tried to murder Luther; but a far better man than Henry, and uncle of Henry's Queen, Katherine. Before them rode Cardinal Wolsey, and there were Spanish Grandees, and English Nobles, and Queen Katherine herself. "The streets ", says Dr. Cox, "were lined with priests and clerks from all the parishes within twenty miles of the city, with censers, crosses, surplices, and copes of the richest sort. At the great west doors of the church (still opened only for royalties and archbishops) they were met by the Archbishop, and after saying their devotions they proceeded to Wareham's Palace. On one evening of that week Wareham gave a great ball in the hall of the Palace, when the Emperor danced with the then Queen of England, and Henry with the Queen of Aragon, the Emperor's mother."

     Henry, as we know, had a taste for cloth of gold, and the affair must have been sufficiently sumptuous. This was perhaps the last of the great pageants.

     Charles I came here with his fifteen-year-old bride; Charles II was gracious at considerable expense to the citizens, and brought as his Archbishop the faithful Juxon, who had been chaplain on the fatal day at Whitehall and had received the mystic word ,Remember"; Elizabeth in her haughty way was "exceeding magnifical" at the charges of Archbishop Parker, whose wife she declined to call Madam, since clergymen had no business with wives. The little square has also humbler associations. It has been a bull-ring, where the poor beasts were baited "to make them man's meat and fit to be eaten". It has had a beautiful covered Butter-market, Which gave place to the doubtful memorial to Marlowe. The massive oaken doors bear Juxon's coat of arms, for he set them up in place of those destroyed by the Puritans. They are open; let us pass to the object of our pilgrimage, the great Cathedral whose builders built better than they knew, and left for all time a history of this land and its faith, written and illuminated in stone.


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