Visiting Canterbury Brings Chaucer’s Tales to Life

    Canterbury Cathedral - Diane E. Tatum

Canterbury Cathedral – Diane E. Tatum

Visiting Canterbury allows the visitor to see Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales come to life along its cobbled streets as well as in the Cathedral itself.

Canterbury, at its heart, is a medieval walled city with modern conveniences. The pretty little town gives way to one of literature’s most famous pilgrimage sites, Canterbury Cathedral. It too is protected by its own gate and wall. Entering the Cathedral compound is like taking a time machine trip back to the 1500s.

Pilgrims to Canterbury

Geoffrey Chaucer tells the tales of the many pilgrims who come from all walks of life with but one goal: to visit the grave of Thomas Becket. Becket was murdered by King Henry II’s men as he observed evening prayers in 1170. Becket was the king’s childhood friend; one’s path carried him into the political arena, the other’s path to the religious order. These positions of power, king and archbishop, placed the friends at odds over the power of the king over the church. Pope Alexander III canonized Becket in 1173.

A visitor today can see the spot where Thomas Becket’s blood and brains were spilled. The stone steps to the altar have been worn by the knees of pilgrims. The altar that once covered his grave, and the pilgrimage site, has since been desecrated and destroyed by the campaign to remove Catholicism from Britain in 1538 at the will of Henry the VIII. It is easy to picture Chaucer’s pilgrims on their way to a miracle in the church today.

The Black Prince, Edward

The graves of royalty still grace the Cathedral. Edward the III was succeeded by Richard the II in 1377. Richard was the son of the Black Prince Edward (died 1376) who is buried south of the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. The Black Prince Edward is a central character in Heath Ledger’s film A Knight’s Tale, which harkens back to Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Geoffrey Chaucer is a prominent character in this film as well.

Chaucer, English Literature’s Best Poet

Chaucer was a friend of kings Edward III and Richard II and a contemporary of the Black Prince. He held government appointments from them and served as a member of Parliament from Kent. At his death, he was buried in Westminster Abbey. His remains were later interred in what became known as the Poet’s Corner. Chaucer was the first writer given this honor.

Setting for the Tales

Every high school senior in the USA studies part of The Canterbury Tales. Visiting Canterbury helps put The Canterbury Tales into perspective by visiting Chaucer’s setting for them. Canterbury is in the county of Kent. In addition to the Canterbury Cathedral, a visitor’s attraction, The Canterbury Tales, is just minutes from the Cathedral and helps visitors experience what it would be like to walk take the pilgrimage from London to Canterbury in the 14th century. Day tours from London are available.

See The Canterbury Tales

Modern version of The Canterbury Tales

Study Guide and Cliffs Notes for The Canterbury Tales

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