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Archive for August 3rd, 2017

One of the most exciting aspects of my Southwark to Canterbury pilgrimage was arriving in Rochester. According to the Canterbury Tales Chaucer and his pilgrims stopped in Rochester to visit the Cathedral, a site of pilgrimage in it’s own right, comparable to Canterbury.

Rochester Cathedral; 2nd oldest cathedral in England

Rochester Cathedral; 2nd oldest cathedral in England

I’d visited Rochester twice already in the past 2 years and although I did visit the castle, I wanted to save the cathedral for when I did this particular journey; Southwark to Canterbury in the footsteps of Chaucer, and suddenly here I was….just across the river. I could see the tower and the turrets and my heart quickened…at last I would step through those hallowed doors!

entering Rochester Cathedral - pilgrims shell

entering Rochester Cathedral – pilgrims shell

Rochester is famous not only for it’s cathedral, the 2nd oldest in England, but also for the fantastically well-preserved Norman castle (well worth a visit any day). Charles Dickens, as mentioned in a previous post had many associations with Rochester and a number of places feature in his stories.

During the 13th century, Rochester Cathedral became an important place of pilgrimage for those wishing to venerate William of Perth, a Scottish baker who was murdered nearby and enshrined in the cathedral. Although no trace remains of the shrine today the well-worn Pilgrim’s Steps can still be seen; now protected by a series of wooden steps.

Rochester Cathedral; the Pilgrim's steps - worn away by centuries of footsteps

Rochester Cathedral; the Pilgrim’s steps – worn away by centuries of footsteps

Although the well-known Pilgrim’s Way, a series of track-ways used since neolithic times, has been used across the centuries as pilgrim’s made their way to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Archbishop Becket, Chaucer’s pilgrims did not use that route from Southwark. ย It’s quite difficult trying to tie down the exact route Chaucer and his fictitious pilgrims followed, since not only are the tales fictitious but so is the apparent route. There is also quite a LOT of dissension from various experts, each of whom regard their information as being correct….a moot point really since it’s a work of fiction.

Stepping through the doors after my journey that day was quite surreal. I had waited for this moment for many years and now finally I was here. The cathedral is beautiful. Not as ostentatious as many of the other cathedrals I have visited, but has a simple beauty that enchants. I spent quite some time just looking and absorbing the atmosphere and marvelling at the fact that I was finally there.

Rochester Cathedral; the interior of the cathedrals are designed to inspire and awe

Rochester Cathedral; the interior of the cathedrals are designed to inspire and awe

The next step was to find someone to stamp my passport……I saw a man in a long black cloak waft down the stairs and along a short corridor, turn through a doorway and disappear. I therefore made my way in that direction figuring if he went in, he must surely come back out….and so he eventually did. (it’s weird how their cossacks make it appear as if they’re floating across the floor). Anyway, I digress. I went to the doorway with the intention of following him, instead my way was barred by a sign: ‘staff only’. Hmmm. So instead I called out ‘hellooooo’…..I got no reply. In a bit of a quandry now, I wasn’t sure what to do, so banged on the door rather loudly. Still nothing. I could hear voices echoing from somewhere in the corridor, but got no answering reply. So I figured I would just sit there till someone came back out again…..which our gentleman in the black cloak eventually did. In no time at all he had hailed a lady from the depths of the cathedral and she came armed with the relevant stamp ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ Hoorah!

Getting my Pilgrim's passport stamped at Rochester Cathedral

Getting my Pilgrim’s passport stamped at Rochester Cathedral

I meandered about the cathedral enjoying the tranquillity and peace. I managed to track down the name of the Bishop of the time; one Thomas Trilleck who was nominated Bishopย of Rochester on 6 March 1364 and consecrated on 26 May 1364. He died between 12 December and 25 December 1372 so would have been bishop at the time of the pilgrim’s journey. I found his name inscribed on the wall above the quire. Some of those dates are seriously astounding.

So there I was, finally at Rochester Cathedral. The lady who had stamped my passport managed to track me down and invited me to attend a service of thanksgiving at 5:30pm, which I duly did after a quick shower and change of clothes at the B&B.

Rochester Cathedral organ...appears to soar.

Rochester Cathedral organ…appears to soar.

Rochester is one of those cities that really captured my imagination. I had seen the cathedral and castle so many times from the train between London and Broadstairs, so when we finally visited I was enthralled. It’s certainly not the prettiest city I’ve visited, but there is so much atmosphere and character with the ancient buildings and alleyways, cobbled streets and phenomenal history, it’s quite impossible to not be charmed. There are numerous places that feature in Dickens’ books (as mentioned previously),

Charles Dickens and Rochester

Charles Dickens and Rochester

there’s the Restoration House that is an absolute must visit; phenomenal, two of the city Gates still stand. The castle moats are till visible, and many of the streets bear the names of ancient history.

Rochester Castle and remnants of the moat, two city gates

Rochester Castle and remnants of the moat, two city gates

Rochester has also been an important centre for many a royal visit and a number of kings passed that way between landing at Dover and travelling to London.

Rochester History; oldest pub in Kent, Restoration house, ancient streets, significant people

Rochester History; oldest pub in Kent, Restoration house, ancient streets, significant people

Rochester, we may have only spent a brief time together this time around, but I shall be seeing you again……

Further information via The British Library

What is ‘The Canterbury Tales’ about?

Chaucer’s long poem follows the journey of a group of pilgrims, 31 including Chaucer himself, from the Tabard Inn in Southwark to St Thomas ร  Becket’s shrine at Canterbury Cathedral. The host at the inn suggests each pilgrim tell two tales on the way out and two on the way home to help while away their time on the road. The best storyteller is to be rewarded with a free supper on their return.

This literary device gives Chaucer the opportunity to paint a series of vivid word portraits of a cross-section of his society, from a knight and prioress, to a carpenter and cook; a much-married wife of Bath, to a bawdy miller – an occupation regarded in Chaucer’s day as shifty and dishonest.

Chaucer mixes satire and realism in lively characterisations of his pilgrims. The tone of their tales ranges from pious to comic, with humour veering between erudite wit and good honest vulgarity. Taken together, the tales offer a fascinating insight into English life during the late 14th century.

Chaucer’s original plan was for over 100 stories, but only 24 were completed, some of which had already been written for earlier works. Their order varies in different surviving copies, the Hengwrt manuscript being valued most for its accuracy.

More about the journey:

Prelude – Day 1 Southwark

Prelude – Day 2 Southwark and the City of London

Day 1 – Southwark to Gravesend

Day 2 – Gravesend to Rochester

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