All posts by Leigh Hatts

St Thomas Becket

Canterbury Cathedral seen from Archbishop’s Palace

This year St Thomas Becket Day falls at the weekend.

Saturday 29 December, the fifth day of Christmas, is the anniversary of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s murder in 1170.

At Canterbury Cathedral the day begins at 8am with the Eucharist celebrated at the Altar of the Sword’s Point on the martyrdom site.

Festal Holy Communion for the Martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury is at 12.30pm.

At 3.15 pm Plainsong Choral Evensong includes a procession and dramatic readings from TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

Thomas Becket died during the singing of Vespers and this Saturday Vespers is in the crypt at 8pm.

The Thomas Becket Eucharist on Saturday at Southwark Cathedral is at 9.15am, Winchester Cathedral at 9.30am and Rochester Cathedral at 9am.

And of course there are many other celebrations including those at Mottola in Italy and Layana in Spain where Becket is the patron saint.

Meanwhile, at 2.30pm BBC Radio 4 is broadcasting version of The Canterbury Tales supposedly staged by the inhabitants of Ambridge.

A pub sign on the Pilgrims’ Way copied from a Canterbury Cathedral window


St Thomas Becket’s birthday

St Thomas Becket window at Southwark Cathedral

Friday 21 December is St Thomas Becket’s birthday.

He was was baptised Thomas because his birth was on the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle. The naming after Thomas was always a matter of great importance  to the archbishop. 

The apostle is now remembered on 3 July rather than in Advent.

Thomas Becket was  born in Cheapside on  a site now occupied by Mercers’ Hall.

But what year was he born in?

Some historians claim that it was 1118 which would make today the 900th anniversary of the birth. 

But others suggest that it was 1120 which makes 2020 into an even more significant anniversary year.

2020 will be the 850th anniversary of Thomas Becket’s murder in 1170 and the 800th anniversary of the Translation of Thomas Becket’s body from the Canterbury Cathedral crypt to his shrine at the cathedral’s east end.

So it looks as if the key dates during the 2020 anniversary year will be Tuesday 7 July (Translation); Thursday 10 December (last visit to Southwark Cathedral); Monday 21 December (birthday) and Tuesday 29 December (martyrdom).

Canterbury Cathedral and Southwark Cathedral will be announcing special 2020 events shortly. 

Watts Chapel in November

Watts Chapel

The Pilgrims’ Way just misses the centre of Compton in Surrey although it passes the Watts Gallery’s teashop.

But on arriving at the road, and before turning left for the gallery and teashop, you could turn right and walk for about three minutes to the cemetery.

The round cemetery chapel, known as the Watts Chapel, was designed by Mary Watts in 1896 with its Art Nouveau interior added by her in 1901.

She and her husband GF Watts, the Victorian painter and sculptor, lived nearby at what is now the Watts Gallery.

Higher up on the cemetery hill is a cloister also designed by Mrs Watts as she is often known.

November, the month when the dead, began at Watts Chapel on All Souls Day 2 November with Holy Communion at 8am.

Since Remembrance Day there have been poppies on the altar.

Last weekend there was a peaceful scene as people tended graves in the warm sun whilst visitors looked at the memorials in the cloister.

Watts Chapel interior

Shadows in the Watts Cloister

Cloister on the hill

What Henry II really said

New Pitkin book

John Butler’s book on Archbishops of Canterbury is now out.

This is a 112 page Pitkin paperback.

Professor Butler is a Canterbury Cathedral guide and the author of The Quest for Becket’s Bones so the chapter on Thomas Becket is especially interesting.

We know that Henry II probably did not say: “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”

The author says that the King cursed his knights as “a nest of cowards and traitors who had allowed their lord to be treated with contempt by a low born priest”.

This was the outburst which triggered the unauthorised murder of the Archbishop.

The cover picture is a portrait in a medieval window now reproduced as the pub sign at the St Thomas A Becket pub in London’s Old Kent Road.

Another figure familiar to those on the Pilgrims’ Way is Archbishop William Warham. It’s the remnant of his great palace which we visit at Otford.

The book’s portrait of Warham is by Hans Holbein the Younger and is described as the first realistic representation of any Archbishop of Canterbury. His face is captured in 1527 showing the strain of dealing with Henry VIII’s divorce and the coming Reformation.

The Archbishops of Canterbury: A Tale of Church and State by John Butler (Pitkin 12.99).

Old Kent Road murals to be moved

Old Kent Road mural depicting Canterbury pilgrims

Murals in the Old Kent Road will be removed and put in storage if a demolition plan is approved.

The mosaics by Adam Kossowski (1905-1986) were completed in 1965 and  adorn the former North Peckham Civic Centre.

Depicted are people known to have travelled the Roman road to and from Canterbury.

Adam Kossowski’s work is also found at two more places on the Pilgrims’ Way outside the capital.

At Otford in Kent, where the path from Winchester joins the main London way, the stations of the cross inside Holy Trinity Church are by Kossowski.

His most famous murals are at Aylesford Priory  where he continued working on site until 1971 and is buried.

The plan for the Old Kent Road site is to replace the existing three storey building with a mixed use redevelopment

Only the large three panel ceramic mural, which wraps around the recessed ground floor frontage to Old Kent Road and Peckham Park Road, is listed.

This is Adam Kossowski’s only large secular work.

The planning application seeks to eventually install the murals at first floor level facing Old Kent Road in a high rise development. A present they can be viewed at ground level from the street.

Objections should be received by Thursday 15 November.

The Bull at Otford

The second, or Elizabethan, fireplace in The Bull at Otford

The Bull at Otford stands in the High Street close to the point where the two PW routes from London and Winchester come together.

The pub was built around 1512 by and for the builders and craftsmen working on the massive rebuild of Archbishop Warham’s Otford Palace. So in a way it has been a pub for a long time.

There are two fine Tudor fireplaces (early and late 15th-century), panelling and a tall oak seat known today as Becket’s Chair. It’s not but serves as a reminder that Thomas Becket spent much time at the old palace.

It’s the custom to sit in the chair and have  wish.

Another surprise is that the pub, which is open all day, is part of the Chef & Brewer chain.

This may be why the menu seems confusing with lots of seasonal offerings at different prices.

On  quiet weekday lunchtime we had to wait for our fish but when it arrived the dish was freshly cooked and felt filling after a morning outdoors on foot.

The village claims three tea shops but The Bull is a must when on a first lunchtime or evening visit to Otford.

St Oscar Romero: another Thomas Becket

Pope Paul VI and Oscar Romero who were canonised on the same day

This Saturday there will be a National Mass of Thanksgiving in St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Southwark for the recent canonisation of St Oscar Romero.

On the day of the canonisation in Rome last month there were many references to St Thomas Becket.

Oscar Romero was, like Becket, murdered in church for making a stand against the government.

Archbishop Romero was shot dead in El Salvador on the eve of The Annunciation in 1980. The following day Archbishop Robert Runcie was enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury and during the installation he went, with the assassination in mind, to the spot where Archbishop Becket had been martyred in 1170.

St George’s Cathedral holds relics of both Becket and Romero and in  Canterbury, at the end of the Pilgrims’ Way, you will find more relics of both in St Thomas of Canterbury Church.

**National Mass of Thanksgiving for Oscar Romero’s Canonisation is on Saturday 3 November at 12.30pm at St George’s Cathedral, Lambeth Road SE1 7HY (opposite Imperial War Museum).

St George’s Cathedral during an anniversary of St Oscar Romero’s murder

Pilgrims’ Way: London talk

Pilgrims’ Way guidebook

On Friday 16 November I shall be giving talk about walking the Pilgrims’ Way at The Royal Oak in Southwark.

The Royal Oak, in Southwark’s Tabard Street behind St George the Martyr Church, is the first pub on the ancient route after Borough High Street and can claim an interesting heritage.

The illustrated talk, Walking the Pilgrims’ Way from London, begins at 7pm and will be followed by refreshments.

The London to Canterbury route starting in Southwark is the one known to Geoffrey Chaucer.

The alternative route starts in Winchester and dovetails in Kent with the more famous London route.

We shall dwell on the interesting places in Borough and the Old Kent Road before the looking at the countryside beyond.

All are very welcome to the special evening which marks the publication of an updated version of the guide.

TALK: Friday 16 November, 6.30pm for 7pm, at The Royal Oak 44 Tabard Street, London SE1 4JU.

Admission is free but booking is essential: pilgrimsway.eventbrite.co.uk

The Royal Oak in Southwark’s Tabard Street

St Edith’s Day in Kemsing: a day of celebration

Flowers laid in the morning

More flowers by the afternoon

Flowers were laid on St Edith’s Well in Kemsing during the morning and afternoon on Sunday.

St Edith’s Day started with a procession from the parish church after the main morning service. The singing could be heard in the old Post Office (now Kemsing Italian Deli and Coffee Shop).

In the afternoon a Roman Catholic group mainly from Sevenoaks came for the annual devotions at the Well before processing to the church for a beautifully sung Vespers.

Anglican in the morning and Roman Catholic in the afternoon seems a little old fashioned but a warm welcome at the church for the Sevenoaks pilgrims (many had walked) by a churchwarden and an Anglican presence brought an ecumenical dimension.

Tea with lots of cake followed in The Bell.

** St Edith of Kemsing was born in the village but she is also known as St Edith of Wilton where she was Abbess.

Service sheet for afternoon devotions and Vespers

St Edith’s Day

Kemsing’s village sign features the well

This year St Edith’s Day falls on a Sunday so celebrations at Kemsing are on the actual day: 16 September.

Kemsing is by the Pilgrims’ Way just east of Otford so pilgrims from both London and Winchester pass the village.

Many stop to see the well, church and call at a pub.

Edith, born at Kemsing in 963,  was the daughter of King Edgar. Her mother was Wilfrida, an unmarried woman, from a Wilton Abbey.

The parents did not stay together although they remained on good terms when, shortly after Edith’s birth, mother and child went to live at Wilton.

Her brothers were Edward the Martyr who died at Corfe Castle and Ethelred the Unready.

As a  teenager Edith is said to have worn golden garments which led Eleanor Parker to headline her blog post on the saint ‘St Edith of Wilton: Nun, Fashionista, Artist, Zoo-keeper, Ruler of the Waves’.

Edith died at the age of 23 on 15 September, the day before her present feast day.

On Sunday 16 September there is a procession to St Edith’s Well in front of the post office from the church at the end of the 9.15am Sung Communion.

In the afternoon there are devotions at the  Well at 3pm before vespers in church.

Kemsing church has an ancient door pitted by knocks from pilgrim staves.

The day’s celebrations conclude at The Bell pub.

** Some pilgrims will be setting out on foot for Kemsing  from Holy Trinity  (RC) Church in Otford (on main street and just west of the river) at 1.30pm.