As we approach Becket 2020 year a book is being published which will change what many look at on arrival in Canterbury.
When pilgrims enter Canterbury Cathedral now they go to the Trinity Chapel behind St Augustine’s Chair to see the site of St Thomas Becket’s shrine.
A single candle burns in the centre of the vast empty space.
To find any relics one must go to St Thomas of Canterbury Church in nearby Burgate where three bones removed when the shrine was completed in 1220 are displayed.
The Relics of Thomas Becket: A True-life Mystery by John Butler does not mention the surviving relics outside the cathedral but it does look very closely at two locations in the cathedral crypt.
Under slabs of stone lifted in recent times may lie the main remains of Thomas Becket removed from his shrine just before its destruction on the orders of Henry VIII.
The story of the search is fascinating as is the reminder of the events of September 1538 when first Canterbury’s St Thomas shrine was torn down just a few days before Winchester’s St Swithun shrine was destroyed.
The author reminds us that many believe St Swithun to lie hidden somewhere in his cathedral. But at Canterbury there are already several clues as to the possible whereabouts of St Thomas.
So now the crypt must be added to the shrine and martyrdom sites for that first visit to Canterbury Cathedral at the end of the long walk.
The book, launched last week at Canterbury Cathedral for publication in January, is a 72 page large paperback published by Pitkin at £12.99. Early copies are available now from the Cathedral Shop at a special price of £9.99.
A group of history enthusiasts met on Sunday night outside the Mecure hotel in Winchester.
This is where, in an earlier building, John Keats stayed two hundred years ago.
On Sunday afternoon 19 September he walked out into the countryside before writing his his poem To Autumn.
At lunchtime some of us had heard the poem’s bicentenary marked on Radio 4’s World This Weekend with Edward Stourton walking to St Cross.
But we were on a Hyde 900 organised walk where it was being suggested that in 1819 Keats had been walking the start of the Pilgrims’ Way. His St Cross walk was maybe a regular route on other days.
First we followed Charles Ball’s 1818 Winchester walks book which Keats had read. It took us to the remains of Hyde Abbey which in 1819 was Hyde Farm with several thatched barns. These may be the ‘thatch-eves‘.
On Twitter Anna Mercer had just recalled Susan Wolfson’s claim that Keats was a “cat person”. We were delighted to meet two on leaving the Abbey.
Then we were on the Pilgrims’s Way, or St Swithun’s Way as it is known in Winchester, which follows Nuns Walk. We walked past blackberries and over conkers alongside one of Itchen braids hinted at by ‘river sallows‘. On a bridge we batted aside ‘small gnats‘.
To the right were water meadows where sheep were once reared in large numbers – the ‘full-grown lambs‘.
To the left was the Abbey’s former farm Abbots Barton and its stone barn. Crab apples, or ‘apples‘, were cascading from one side.
Was Keats trying the first mile or so of the Pilgrims’ Way before his death in Rome two years later?
Starting a pilgrimage from Winchester now has a new resonance.
The Hyde 900 annual King Alfred weekend is at the end of October. Saturday 26 October is King Alfred Day in the calendar and Alfred was buried at Hyde Abbey.
Two hundred years ago today John Keats wrote his poem called To Autumn.
It was written on Sunday 19 September 1819 in Winchester about Winchester which for years has promoted a Keats Walk along the River Itchen from Winchester College to St Cross.
New research suggests that his walk was not to the south but along the first mile or so of the Pilgrims’ Way (waymarked St Swithun’s Way) between Hyde Abbey and Abbott’s Barton.
Here “Keats saw barns, apple orchards and stubble fields,” says Hyde 900 which is promoting a guided walk along Nuns Walk on Sunday evening.
Keats makes no mention of the Pilgrims’ Way by name although earlier he had seen other stretches by moonlight.
However, Keats does start his poem in the manner of Chaucer using the word season which appears in the prologue to The Canterbury Tales. Keats knew Southwark and its Chaucer association having lodged as a student in St Thomas Street round the corner from The Tabard Inn.
On Sunday the walk leader will be referring to Charles Ball’s 1818 guide book to Hyde. The event is part of Winchester heritage week.
To Autumn by John Keats
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, And still more, later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease, For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store? Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find Thee sitting careless on a granary floor, Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind; Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep, Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep Steady thy laden head across a brook; Or by a cyder-press, with patient look, Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,— While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue; Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn Among the river sallows, borne aloft Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies; And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn; Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft; And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
The William Blake exhibition opening at Tate Britain today has a reminder of the artist’s interest in the Pilgrims’ Way.
He started thinking about Chaucer’s characters in The Canterbury Tales in about 1806. However he was peeved when his friend Thomas Stothard allegedly stole his idea by signing deal with a publisher for a pilgrims’ painting.
Blake completed his own Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims painting in 1808 and issued it as a print in 1810.
Southwark’s Tabard Inn is depicted as having a gothic gateway. In the background there is the suggestion of St Dunstan-in-the-East towering above the other London city churches which would have been seen by Blake although not of course Chaucer.
The depiction of the characters can only have come from a close reading of the Tales.
Later Blake was to spend long periods at Shoreham in Kent which is on the Pilgrims’ Way out of London. He stayed with fellow artist Samuel Palmer who lived at Water House where the ancient pilgrim path passes the door.
Next year 2020 is the 850 anniversary of Archbishop Thomas Becket’s murder in Canterbury Cathedral.
St Thomas was killed in his cathedral during Christmas week 1170.
Just two weeks earlier the Archbishop had visited Southwark Cathedral, then a priory, and spent the night next door at the Bishop of Winchester’s house.
Thomas already knew Southwark well having been born over the river in Cheapside and often crossed London Bridge for the road south.
Southwark Cathedral, where many today start their Canterbury pilgrimage, will begin its Becket 2020 programme in November this year with performances of Scena Mundi Theatre Company’s production of Murder in the Cathedral by TS Eliot.
The opening night is on Monday 4 November.
TS Eliot knew Southwark Cathedral which he visited in 1957 for the opening of the Shakespeare Festival.
How has the weather been this month on your walk to Canterbury?
St Bartholomew’s Day is Saturday 24 August which is forty days after St Swithun’s Day.
An old saying claims that if it rains on 15 July it will rain for 40 days but if it’s fine it will be dry for forty days.
You will find a St Bartholomew’s church at Hyde Abbey as the Pilgrims’ Way leaves Winchester and at Otford in Kent where the two branches of the Pilgrims’ Way come together.
St Bartholomew is one of the Apostles and his relics are on an island in Rome’s River Tiber. An arm was for a long time at Canterbury Cathedral having been given by Queen Emma whose own remains are in one of the newly restored chests in Winchester Cathedral.