Outside the cathedral were the old cloisters.
Much of it was disused after the Dissolution of Monasteries by Henry VIII, but one can still imagine robed monks, priests and bishops shuffling down these paths and catacombs.
Well, that ends our trip around England. But it’s definitely not the end of our journey. Oh no, if you can believe it, we’ve only just started. Next up, a country I touched on briefly during my visit to the British Museum – Greece.
The cathedral has its darker side. In the basement lies this altar – the place where St Thomas Becket died.
Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th Century, in the time of King Henry II. He and Henry were friends (Becket was Henry’s chancellor at one stage), but fell out over the rights and privileges of the church versus that of the monarchy. Henry wanted the church to live by the rules of the land, but Becket maintained that the church and its clerics should be judged by their own rules (strangely topical given the revelations this week about how the contemporary Catholic church handled its crimes and criminals).
The controversy lasted for a good part of a decade, and by the time Becket had excommunicated many of his advisers Henry had had enough and said so to his court. This inspired four of Henry’s supporters to come to their king’s aid and assassinate the archibishop while he said his prayers.
So Henry got rid of the ‘rogue’ Becket and was able to reassert his position. Becket meanwhile became a martyr of the church and was made saint within two years of his death. His shrine in the cathedral became the main attraction for pilgrims over the centuries. So in my humble opinion, in the end it was even-stevens between the two.
It was Easter Saturday when we visited, so there were reminders of the Paschal season all around the cathedral.
We walked inside and was greeted by such a sight. The nave was bigger and higher than any church in London – the church did really seem to go forever. And it was was heated too. One wonders about their heating bills. I think most of the entrance fee would go towards this.
The main altar and seats were rather modern, yet organic, which I quite liked. None of your jewelled thrones here.
But the bell tower was something else. It’s gothic style at its best.
But our prime destination for the day was the great Canterbury Cathedral, which is right in the middle of the old town. The entrance is via this stunning gate.
The central figure looks rather scary. Even though it looks like he’s been there forever, it’s only a recent add-in and a mere twenty years old.
Once through the gate, we were struck by the size and majesty of this gothic church. It’s certainly worthy as the central place of worship in the Anglican Church.
We’ll have a better look around in my next post.
Not Canterbury in New South Wales, or even Victoria. It’s the original Canterbury in Kent, east of London. To get there nowadays takes a mere hour due to the Channel Tunnel line. Add to that being the Easter long weekend, it’s no wonder that the town was filled to the brim.
The town is the seat of the Archibishop of Canterbury, the leading cleric of the Church of England, and has been the prime pilgrimage spot in England since the 7th Century. It’s no wonder that so much of the city is well-preserved, like the main gate, which has existed since Roman times, although the current version is medieval.
Being a pilgrimage, and now a tourist town, there were plenty of restaurants, accommodation and souvenir shops around.
But I liked how the old town is still full of half-timbered buildings that houses all the shops, even somewhere as pedestrian as Starbucks.
Westminster is one of the most iconic areas of London, and one of the most visited.
I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed being jostled for the best view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, nor did I go inside Westminster Cathedral (it was a Sunday, and closed for services), but I visit somewhere worth it.
Around the corner from the mayhem of Big Ben is the Churchill War Rooms – the basement complex from which was Winston Churchill’s command centre during World War II. It’s now a museum and wonderfully intact. The meeting rooms, communication rooms, bedrooms, and most impressively, the map rooms, where every action in WWII, all across the world, were meticulously tracked.
The museum also includes the Churchill Museum, which follows the life of Winston Churchill, from his not-so-humble childhood, his pre-politics career as a Boer War journalist, as well as his political and family life. The exhibits are interactive, but there were also plenty of Churchill’s letters and personal effects to illustrate his colourful life. I do like that the museum placed great emphasis on his writing, especially his war time speeches – how he composed them on his typewriter as he went from one meeting to another, and how they were in stanzas, like a poem. He really was a man of his word.
The Natural History Museum is huge, with galleries full of old-school stuffed animals, dinosaur galleries (bones and all), reconstruction of blue whales, as well as enormous displays of minerals, precious gems, and interactive earth sciences exhibits. There were so many galleries in fact that it made my head spin. But given our recent trip to Lyme Regis, and my acquaintance with the story of Mary Anning, it was the marine reptile gallery that I found the most memorable.
It’s quite a simple gallery really – a light and airy space, it has mounted on its walls complete fossils of marine dinosaurs. In fact, it houses the actual fossils that Mary Anning found in the cliffs of Lyme Regis, 200 years ago.
Here was the head of the first full ichthyosaur fossil that she found with her brother when she was just twelve years old.
And above it was another ichthyosaur that she found in Lyme Regis. The details are fascinating – the teeth, the ammonites embedded on to the ichthyosaur, showing that the two very different creatues did co-exist 200 million years ago.
I actually got a bit emotional seeing ‘her’ creatures in the most hallowed natural history museum in Britain, knowing how she struggled to make her mark. It goes to show that Mary Anning’s contribution, although not fully acknowledged in her lifetime, is now celebrated.
We travelled back to London, and visit the Natural History Museum in Kensington, right across the road from the V&A. Like the V&A and British museums, this museum was also completely free to visit. Both British and Natural History museums were housed in one building in the early 1800’s, but as both collections grew, it became more practical to split the collections, and the natural history component moved to a new building in Kensington.
The main entrance of the museum is impressive enough, dominated by ‘Dippy’ the dinosaur, a replica of a Diplodocus carnegii skeleton.
And on the main staircase, Charles Darwin looks over proceedings. Some of his research collection is stored at the museum, although he was probably too old to have seen the museum open. These days he’s more likely to see hoards of ankle biters than suited, bearded scientists – predictably, the dinosaur exhibits are very popular with children.
We’ll delve into my favourite gallery next.
We didn’t just visit the Geevor and Levant mines, but walked south along the Coast Path to find other remnants of mining. Nowadays, the land has been turned back to grazing, mainly that of sheep. As with walking in the British Isles, there were a few stiles over stone fences to navigate over.
Sure enough, there were abandoned buildings and stacks all along the coast.
And the British weather never failed to surprise. We saw our fair share of rainbows that day.
But the weather cleared up just as we reached the Botallack mine site. This is also a World Heritage site, and is probably the most scenic mine sites you will ever see.
Where’s the mine, you say? The shaft entrance is down the bottom of the cliff. Needless to say, the miners got very wet when the tides were high. The miners dug shafts up to 500 metres deep and 400 metres out to sea. Once again, it was hard and dangerous work.
But as international trade ramped up during the Industrial Revolution, local mining work such as that in Cornwall dried up. Many Cornish miners immigrated abroad to find a better life. There are now descendants of these miners in USA, Canada, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Australia (in South Australia) and New Zealand (which I visited and will post about one day). It certainly explains how pasties and rugby and soccer got to all those places.
You might think it was the end of mining around Pendeen when the Levant mine closed in the 1890’s, but the lure of tin and copper was too hard to resist. In 1911, the Geevor Tin Mine opened up the hill to work the same area as the Levant mine.
The mine was worked through until 1990, and was the last mine to close in the area. When it first opened, it was mined by miners returning from the Boer War, but by the time WWII ended, miners were scarce, and the mine employed Polish and Italian miners. Working conditions improved over time – the shafts were properly re-enforced, they wore safety gear, they had proper head torches instead of oil candles for lighting, they had rules and regulations with blasting with dynamite, but life underground was still dirty, hard work.
The good thing about Geevor is that it is also covered under the World Heritage listing, and has since been made into a tourist attraction. It has a great museum, and interesting tours where they take you into the old processing plant as well as into an old shaft. We had a young man lead us around the site, and gave us many insights into life as a miner. At least now the old life won’t disappear completely from people’s memories.