Winchester & Canterbury in Top 100

The cathedrals at the start and end of the long Pilgrims’ Way are included in the new book Europe’s 100 Best Cathedralsby Simon Jenkins.

Winchester and Canterbury are awarded four stars.

We are told that Winchester, begun by William the Conqueror, ‘was to be twice the length of the abbeys of Normandy’. The chantry chapels highlighted include Richard Fox’s which ‘was used by him for hours of daily prayer for ten years before his death in 1528’.

There is a picture of the statue by Anthony Gormley whose work is seen again when you reach Canterbury Cathedral and go down to the crypt.

This ‘is one of joys of Canterbury and the most extensive in England’ observes the author who suggests that upstairs Becket’s shrine should be recreated.

We are also told that the silvery towers beckon pilgrims to its bosom ‘as they have done for centuries’ and on arriving they find a close retaining ‘the ambience of a medieval enclave’.

In the London section there is sadly no room for Winchester’s daughter cathedral Southwark although it is centuries older than the featured St Paul’s .

Other Great Britain entries include such pilgrim cathedrals as St Davids and Salisbury where you find St Osmund. At Lincoln both St Hugh and the Lincoln Imp get a mention, the latter being the 21st century attraction which reaches out to the city and its football team.

The Pilgrims’ Way is just a first leg for those going on to Santiago de Compostela or Rome and both feature strongly.

Visiting the Abbey of Vezelay in France, Simon Jenkins walks up a hill and senses ‘the feet of millions who must have made this climb over the centuries before setting out on the long road to Santiago’.

He adds: ‘The memory is one of heat, sore feet and the beckoning cool of an ancient church.’ At Santiago he recalls an interior ‘as a haze of heat and incense’.

There is also space for Rouen which is today twinned with Southwark and like Southwark is part of the last days of Thomas Becket.

This book could tempt you beyond Canterbury.

Europe’s 100 Best Cathedrals by Simon Jenkins (Penguin Viking; £30).

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