First stop is lunch at The Skinny Kitchen – decent food and cracking crockery, but both its atmosphere and smiling staff are lacking (I guess the clue was in the name).
There is no such mediocrity in the Cathedral – a beauty disguised by scaffolding. The whole complex is undergoing more than a mere facelift, and the lady who sells us our tickets enthuses about the ongoing major development that will enhance this ancient space (first established in AD 597 when missionaries led by Augustine arrived from Rome).
The Cathedral is famous for being the site of the murder of Thomas Becket at dusk on 29th December 1170, when a band of Henry II’s knights attacked as Becket was preparing for Evensong. One knight struck at his victim so wildly that his sword tip broke on the stone floor.
A troublesome quote then lay at Henry II’s door: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?“, although Simon Schama reckons contemporary biographer Edward Grim was more accurate (in Latin): “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?“
Whichever words Henry II had used, his knights freed him of an obstacle. However, Thomas Beckett still symbolised a threat 368 years later when Henry VIII ordered that the saint’s shrine and his remains be destroyed. Today in that empty space burns a single, solid candle.
Down in the quiet of the crypt, right above where Thomas Becket’s tomb was first (until 1220), floats Antony Gormley’s 2010 sculpture named Transport. The figure is created from just one material: handmade iron nails from the 19th century. They pierce the form inwards and outwards and make it human.
The Cathedral, together with its story of Thomas Becket, still draws and welcomes pilgrims to this day. Us included.
We make one last stop at Catching Lives Books, a second-hand bookshop which raises money to support homeless and vulnerably housed people in the area.
Two things stand out. The first is the shop’s skew-whiff 17th century home (apparently the second most photographed building in Canterbury).
The second is this genius idea ..
Which we can’t resist.
Last stop: MilkMate