Thomas More Service live from Canterbury

The Thomas More window in St Dunstan’s

The eve of the Translation of St Thomas of Canterbury is the anniversary of St Thomas More’s death in 1535.

He is a Becket figure who put God before the state and as a result lost his life.

Today pilgrims ‘meet’ him at Southwark, Dartford, Farningham and Canterbury.

In Canterbury every 6 July there is a lecture within a service at St Dunstan’s Church where St Thomas’s head is buried in the family vault. His daughter lived along the street on the PW.

The church is the last one on the PW to get your pilgrim passport stamp before reaching Canterbury’s city gate.

The St Thomas More Commemoration Service will go ahead on Monday 6 July at 7pm and can be followed live on the parish Facebook.

The order of service is available on the church website.

Entrance to home of Thomas More’s daughter Margaret in Canterbury

Can we walk?

Window in Canterbury Cathedral next to shrine

On this coming Saturday 4 July some pubs, bed & breakfasts and cafes will reopen.

Does this mean that we can now walk to Canterbury and get there by the 800th Translation anniversary on Tuesday 7 July?

‘Probably not’ is the best answer.

Not all pubs or accommodation will be open on 4 July. Some are anxious to welcome us but others are being cautious and reopening later in the month.

Don’t expect to be able to collect lots of stamps in your passport.

Pilgrimage is most rewarding when taken slowly so you don’t want to have to walk long distances at speed to reach a bed. Booking ahead will be essential for some time.

Also, public transport does not have much capacity at the moment. Southeastern Railway has a new timetable from Monday but there will still only be 80% of normal services.

If you do go on the PW follow physical distancing guidelines and limit your contact with others and anyone you meet. Your party should be restricted to five others from different households.

Looking at the PW from London to Canterbury, the good news is that Southwark Cathedral will reopen on Saturday for private prayer and reflection between 10am and 3pm daily.

Public services will resume on Monday.

Tuesday 7 July, Translation of St Thomas of Canterbury: Canterbury Cathedral will be open from 10am (Sun 12.30pm) to 4pm from Saturday 4 July with free entry during the first week. Becket 2020 celebrations and events have been postponed but on Tuesday there will be The Eucharist at 8am and Evensong (without singing) at 5.30pm.

Door in Christ Church gateway at Canterbury Cathedral is closed at present.

St Swithun’s Day in Norway

Stavanger Cathedral (picture: Visit Norway)

Today Thursday 2 July is St Swithun’s Day in Norway.

Norway’s Stavanger Cathedral, built in 1125, is dedicated to St Swithun. Its first bishop, Reinald, came from Winchester and was responsible for the construction by English builders.

He arrived with one of the saint’s arms which was last seen in 1517. The other one was in Peterborough.

2 July marks the day of Swithun’s death in 863. In Norway it is known as Syftesok meaning Swithun’s wake.

St Swithun’s Day in Winchester and the English calendar is 15 July and marks the moving of his grave in 1093 which it is claimed triggered forty days of rain.

Becket & Trinity Sunday

Canterbury Cathedral

Today Sunday 7 June is Trinity Sunday.

On the Sunday after Whit Sunday 1162 Thomas Becket was consecrated bishop by Bishop of Winchester Henry de Blois assisted by fourteen other bishops.

The Sunday after Whit Sunday‘ was at Canterbury Cathedral afterwards called Trinity Sunday as in France and eventually this was incorporated into the universal calendar.

In 1220 St Thomas of Canterbury’s shrine at Canterbury was placed in the Trinity Chapel.

Joan of Arc & Cardinal Beaufort

Rouen Cathedral known to St Joan and St Thomas Becket

St Joan of Arc Day on Saturday 30 May brings to mind Cardinal Henry Beaufort.

The Cardinal presided at the trial of Joan who afterwards entrusted her ring to him on the eve of her death by burning in Rouen’s market square in 1431.

We meet Cardinal Beaufort as we start out on the Pilgrims’ Way.

At Winchester Cathedral his magnificent tomb is next to St Swithun’s shrine.

In Southwark Cathedral there is the Cardinal’s shield in the south transept and his image on the great screen.

He knew both churches well.

Those setting out from Winchester will pass through Farnham where there is the St Joan of Arc Church in Tilford Road just behind the station. The church, built in 1929, is dedicated to St Joan because Cardinal Beaufort, as Bishop of Winchester, was often in residence at Farnham Castle.

This year is the centenary of St Joan’s canonisation.

Rouen was also known to Thomas Becket who was there in 1170 on his way back to Canterbury and his death.

***Southwark Cathedral and Rouen Cathedral maintain an ecumenical link with exchange visits.

Bishop Henry Beaufort’s shield with cardinal’s hat in Southwark Cathedral

Henry VIII to Canterbury

The Great Hall at Charing Palace

Today 21 May is the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII setting out for Canterbury.

Early on the morning of 21 May 1520, after the Ascension, the King and Queen Katharine (of Aragon), accompanied by Cardinal Wolsey and a huge entourage, left Greenwich Palace.

A very long procession went uphill towards Blackheath. 

The final destination was to be France where Henry was attending the great summit known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

The government of England and Wales had been placed in the hands of Bishop Richard Fox of Winchester who remained at Greenwich.

Henry stopped at Lullingstone Castle, home of SirJohn Peche who was accompanying him, before staying overnight at Otford Palace.  The King was familiar with the Archbishop William Warham’s recently rebuilt palace having stayed there in the previous year.

Next day the party arrived at Maidstone.

But a night was still spent at nearby Charing, another of the archbishop’s staging post palaces.

A day later Henry and Katharine arrived at Canterbury ready to keep Whit Sunday at the cathedral.

They were joined by Charles V of Spain, who was concerned about the pending summit, and together the two sovereigns paid homage at the shrine of St Thomas Becket.

It was not until 7 June that Henry VIII at last met King Francis of France near Calais.

The return at the end of July was by way of Sittingbourne rather than Charing.

New Lesnes Abbey website

Book accompanying the online guide

A recent addition to information relating to the Pilgrims’ Way is an online guide to Lesnes Abbey.

But for the Coronavirus lockdown this is a site which would have been having much traffic in this Becket 2020 year.

Lesnes Abbey, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury, lies on the north side of the main road between Shooters Hill and Dartford.

It was founded by Richard de Lucy who had been close to both Henry II and Thomas Becket.

The website is the work of Chris Hawkins and a Lesnes Abbey book based on the content is also available.

The illustrations show how the abbey once looked and maps explain its setting on the marshy bank of the River Thames.

The abbey was a day’s journey from London and it is good to read the author’s firm view that ‘pilgrims had always been important to Lesnes Abbey’.

We know that in 1300 Edward I visited on his way from London to Canterbury as did the Bishop of Worcester who also stayed the night in 1313.

Chris says that there would have been ‘a steady stream of poorer pilgrims’.

Although Geoffrey Chaucer does not have his pilgrims call at Lesnes in The Canterbury Tales he did visit in the company of The Tabard Inn landlord Harry Bailey.

The book cover shows the doorway below the guest house.

BECKET 2020 OR 2023?

Compostela Holy Year 2021 logo

It is reported by the Confraternity of St James that Santiago Cathedral is asking Pope Francis to extend next year’s St James Holy Year into 2022.

This is prompted by a growing realisation in Galicia that a return to normal will be gradual with travel restricted for sometime after a phased return to work.

The Camino may still be ‘closed’ next spring.

Indeed Venice, for example, is already planning to severely limit tourists for some years after the virus is defeated.

So where does this leave our current Becket 2020 programme?

Even if Canterbury Cathedral reopens this summer there will be few able to be present for the Translation of St Thomas of Canterbury on 7 July. Planned lectures are unlikely to take place or may have to be online only.

Should we think about re-starting our Becket year when the UK has returned to normal? The very earliest date for that state of affairs appears to be summer 2021.

One possibility for a new Becket year free of difficulty is 2023 which will be the 850th anniversary of Thomas Becket’s canonisation.

The actual date was Ash Wednesday 21 February 1173.

In 2023 that day, 21 February, will be Shrove Tuesday. A Pancake Day with resonance, and during the half term holiday, could be the launch of another Becket year.

Walking to Canterbury on a treadmill

Tim Gee, who lives near the Old Kent Road, was planning to walk to Canterbury during Holy Week arriving this Easter weekend.

Aware that St Thomas’ Hospital is named after St Thomas Becket whose shrine was at Canterbury, Tim is fundraising for Latin American Women’s Aid refuge.

Not to be stopped by the virus crisis he is ‘walking all the way’ on a treadmill outside his Peckham flat.

He can be seen on BBC London & South East News today (at about 3 minutes in).

The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis, is planning to send him a message of welcome.

St Catherine’s Chapel cave discovery

The cave is to the east of the tunnel entrance.

A cave has been discovered under the grounds of St Catherine’s Chapel in Surrey.

The chapel is on the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester and just south of Guildford, between Compton and St Martha’s Hill.

St Catherine’s Chapel was built in 1317 as a chapel of ease for St Nicholas Church in Guildford but is known to have had a huge number of visitors.

The discovery was made following a collapse of railway embankment at the southern entrance to the tunnel under the site.

An archaeology expert has suggested that the cave must pre-date the chapel. The chapel has given its name to the village but the earlier name for the hill was Hill of the Dragons.

“Every effort will be made to preserve elements where possible,” says Network Rail.

The cave entrance
St Catherine’s Chapel looking east towards St Martha’s Hill

To Canterbury from Winchester and London / Leigh Hatts