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THE MONASTIC BUILDINGS
It must be remembered that Canterbury Cathedral was originally the church or chapel of the monastery. The people were admitted to the nave, but only monks and clergy took any official part in the services, or entered the choir, which was the sanctuary of the Brotherhood. Indeed the entire Precincts belonged to them; and though they allowed the ground near the Christ Church Gate to be used as a general churchyard, or "exterior cemetery", entrance to the inner Precincts was only by permission or invitation. The present boundary of this monkish domain on the south and east is the old fortified wall of the city, but formerly the monastery had an interior wall of its own, running parallel to it, and leaving a space or lane about 14 feet wide, for the carrying of munitions and provisions to the defenders of the outer wall, and of materials for its repair.
The unique remnant of this lane is known as Quenengate or Queeningate Lane, and if we can borrow a canon's key and pass through the Norman archway of the Bowling Green, near the east end of the Cathedral, we may see not only Queeningate Lane but also the postern door in the outer wall through which Queen Bertha, in the sixth century, went to her daily prayer at St. Martin's. Nay, as we open that door we are face to face with the turreted fourteenth-century gateway of St. Augustine's, founded by and named after the great man, and once ranking second only to Subiaco among the Benedictine monasteries of Europe. Time was when St. Augustine's looked down upon Christ Church, as upon a little brother who should not presume. When, at the invitation of Edward I, Archbishop Peckham went to the Abbey to dine, he was refused admission, unless he would lower his cross or crozier on entering. He declined this indignity, and was absent from the royal dinner-party. Ethelbert's Tower, a splendid remnant of the Norman abbey church, stood till 1822, when it was battered down by the Philistines to provide cheap building material and make room for a tea-garden. In Bede's time this church had a tomb inscribed: "Here resteth the Lord Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury A.D. 605". To share the sanctity of a spot so consecrated, saints, nobles, and kings were brought hither on their last journey. Cuthbert turned the tide when he so cunningly gained the right of sepulture for Christ Church, and eventually, as we know, Becket's shrine quite eclipsed St. Augustine's. After the dissolution the abbey became for a time a royal lodge, and Queen Elizabeth and the First and Second Charles have occupied the guest-chamber over the gateway.
Returning to the Precincts, we are again reminded that the makers of Canterbury were the pilgrims and the monks. Of the three houses on our right, the first is .Master Homor's, the guest-house for pilgrims where Odet de Coligny was murdered; the second incorporates part of the infirmary; the third was a Black Death hospital; while the long arcade of ruins, still reddened with the fire of 700 years ago, and stretching along the north side of the choir to the Dark Entry, was the monks' infirmary.
So vast an infirmary as this, with its chapel at one end and cloister at the other, for a community of 100 to 150 monks, seems at first unaccountable. This and some other things we shall understand better when we have walked through the infirmary cloister, and along Lanfranc's vaulted passage to the great or main Cloister of the convent. This was the centre of the whole monastic life, in which the monks spent the greater part of the day, and from which doors gave access to every part of the building, dining hall or frater, dormitories, cellarer's stores and lodging, deportum or recreation room, chapter house for business and discipline, Cathedral choir for worship, infirmary for the sick or weary. Here they read and wrote, here they learned and taught, here were chronicles completed, missals illuminated, and various tasks of hand or head performed under the direction of the superiors.
Yet with all its splendour of traceried arch it is a comfortless place. Not until a few years before the fall of the monastery was it glazed even on one side. In the long summers and hot sunshine of Italy, where the Benedictine order took its rise, it was natural enough to build for coolness and air; hence not only the open alleys of the cloister, but also its situation on the north side of the church. It is possible that at Canterbury there was some difficulty about space on the south side; certainly in a chilly climate open cloisters hidden from the sun by a mountain of masonry must have inflicted much hardship on the monks, and added to the austerities of their ascetic life. They were a delicate and short-lived race, usually failing to attain forty years of age, and compelled by statute to spend three days of each month in the infirmary, independently of occasional recourse thither for ailments and for being bled, which was regarded as periodically necessary. Ordericus Vitalis, a monkish historian living in Normandy, says several times in his chronicle: "The winter has now come, and my fingers are so numbed by the cold that I can write no more till the spring". Visiting members of other convents were not asked to share the full discipline, but were hospitably lodged in the infirmary as the most comfortable quarters. Moreover, epidemics occurred, as in I348, the year of the Black Death, when Archbishop Bradwardine died of the Plague within a few weeks of his installation, and half the nation perished. So the infirmary was probably not too large after all. It must not be forgotten that silence was strictly enjoined in the Cloister, so that to the agonies of cold hands and feet was added the privation, with which we cannot fail to sympathize, of being unable to talk about the inclemency of the weather.
In the cloister garth are two graves perhaps as well worth visiting as ever Becket's was, though no miracles have yet occurred at them. They are those of Archbishop Temple and Dean Farrar.
If we retrace our way along Lanfranc's gloomy passage to the infirmary cloister, where guests and invalid brethren took the air, and turn to the left along the Dark Entry, by the ruins of the Lord Prior's Lodging and Chequer House or Office, we emerge into the Green Court. Here servants had their quarters, and at the great gate of the convent received guests and pilgrims. Those of distinction they conducted to Master Homor's, those of middle rank to Chillenden Chambers or the vanished New Lodging; the common wayfarers ascended that lovely and unique Norman staircase to the Great North Hall. These had to bring their own bedding and cooking utensils, like the steerage passengers in an emigrant ship; and their hall was kitchen, parlour, and bedroom in one, so that its superb approach was no measure of the quality of its accommodation. The cowl or habit of a monk would rarely be seen in the Green Court. It belonged too much to the outside world and the secular life.
Before we ourselves return to that outside world let us turn southwards for a moment for a view that we shall not easily forget. Below the immense mass and broken outlines of the church, and flanked by ruins of cloister and dormitory, we see across a little breadth of lawn the picturesque octagonal tower called the Baptistery. It was really a monks' lavatory, and the centre of the water supply. For, strange as it may be to our conceited modern ears, the monks had from the twelfth century an elaborate system of waterworks, and probably owed to this their comparatively small mortality during the visitations of plague. There still exists a twelfth-century plan showing the various pipes, tanks, and basins, for drinking, washing, or cooking. So the little octagonal tower, as so often happens, was useful as well as beautiful. And if the chart which indicates the path of every pipe and runnel, and the place of every laver for personal ablution, fails to indicate any laundry for the washing of clothes why, the monks wore all-wool garments, and did not think fastidiousness a virtue. Let us hope for the best.
So we pass the Convent Gate and cross the Mintyard. This is now a "quad" of the King's School, but archbishops till Cranmer exercised here their right of coinage. From the Mintyard we step back into a rather squalid street of a modern world. But the house just opposite is old enough to have housed pilgrims, and two or three hundred yards along Northgate Street, to our right, is the fifteenth-century timbered archway of St. John's Hospital, shown in our illustration. St. John's was founded before the days of the pilgrims as a nook of safety and peace for the aged poor, and this it still remains. How many wearied souls have bidden here their long farewell to Canterbury! We, too, will bid our farewell, less solemn, and not without hope of return, but still with regret. If these pages and pictures enable you, reader, to revisit in spirit the place of your pilgrimage, they will have accomplished their end.