WE enter the sacred edifice by the southwestern door a porch built by Thomas Chillenden, prior at the beginning of the, fifteenth century, and covered with niches in which are placed famous characters connected with the history of Canterbury A scene of splendor bursts upon the vision a prelude, as it were, to other scenes of greater glory and of more soul-stirring emotion. The view up the nave toward the east is enhanced by the cleanness of pillars, roof and walls. The white stone has not been darkened by smoke or by age, though four centuries have passed since Archbishop Chicheley finished the work. The lofty pillars, massive and exact, appear in their long avenue as giant trees of the forest, supporting arches of noble sweep, the triforium and clerestory of delicate detail and the roof which bewilders with its distance. Some have thought that the steps leading up into the choir detract from the effect ; it is only for a moment. The design of the building as a whole dawns upon the mind, the magnitude of the nave and aisles becomes every moment more impressive ; and if disappointment there were, it speedily passes away in wondering surprise at the daring splendor of the art and the completeness of the work. If from the choir beyond the great stone screen the melody of pealing organ or chanting boys steals echoing down the church, emotions are awakened which subdue the soul and suggest exalted things. Up the steps we pass, under the central tower a beautiful structure open to the top and worthy of much attention. In front is the entrance to the choir, to the left the transept in which St. Thomas of Canterbury was murdered, and to the right the south-west transept, leading out of which is St. Michael’s or the Warriors’ Chapel. In this chapel, among other tombs, is one, half in and half out of the church, said to contain the body of Archbishop Langton. As a proof of the high esteem with which the people regarded the hero of the Magna Carta, when this part of the building was erected and the line of the wall fell exactly upon his grave in the cemetery the architect built over it an arch rather than disturb remains so revered. It is doubtful, however, whether the archbishop was buried here at all. A story runs that when young he and a village maiden were lovers, but for some cause or other they were separated ; he became a churchman, she a nun. In time he reached the rank of archbishop, and she that of abbess. Then they met again, and continued in intimate friendship till they died, when they were buried side by side in a country churchyard a few miles away. Whether this be legend or no, certain it is that her tomb has been identified and beside her lies a man. Somehow or other, this story of love draws us closer to the great cardinal than even that which he did at Runnymede. In this same chapel is a monument of marble and alabaster, very fine to look upon, to the memory of Lady Margaret Holland and her two husbands. She lies in full-length effigy between her two lords one, the earl of Somerset, who died 1410; the other, the duke of Clarence, who died 1420. She died in 1440. At their feet, as usual, animals are sculptured. These generally indicate the characteristic of the deceased; e. g., an eagle, courage ; a hound, fleetness ; and a dog, fidelity.
The choir is contained between the pillars dividing it from its aisles on either side ; here, as in the holy place, service is daily held. Another flight of steps leads up into the presbytery ; another, to the altar rails; and still another, to the jasper pavement on which stands the high altar. Several tombs of archbishops are on both sides of the presbytery; that to Archbishop Chicheley, on the north side, is too remarkable to be passed by. Beneath a rich canopy of carved stone-work, supported by exquisitely sculptured pillars, in the niches of which are small elegant statues of white marble, rests the body of the prelate who built the nave. The monument was erected in his lifetime, and he left a large endowment to All Souls’ College at Oxford to keep it in repair. On an upper, altar-shaped slab he lies in effigy, clothed in his splendid pontifical robes, so well done as to seem almost living. Angels support his head, and at his feet are two monks holding open books. Underneath, on an-other slab, lies the effigy of a skeleton partly shrouded, and also so well done as to appear like actual death, The contrast is startling the archbishop in his glory, and the archbishop in his shame.
We pass back again to the steps under the tower and turn to the northwest transept the place of the martyrdom. It has been changed since that dark December evening, seven hundred years ago, when was shed the blood which made it sacred for ever. Against the north walls are the tombs of Archbishops Warham and Peck-ham ; the latter, of bog-oak, is in good preservation, though six hundred years old. To the .east is the Dean’s Chapel, formerly called the Lady Chapel, in which are several monuments to the deans and some books on which the titles have been placed, not on the backs, but on the edges of the opening leaves. These, however, are as nothing beside the interest of the martyrdom itself. The story is too well known to need repeating. Suffice it is to say that the memory of the man who dared to die for rights which he deemed sacred was precious in the hearts of Englishmen. from the day his blood was poured out on the cold stones till the day when a king coveted the treasures which the ages had heaped upon his shrine. Nor has the spirit of admiration and of justice so passed away that none are left to think of him with honor, and even with love. He fell pierced with many wounds. In the darkening twilight the murderers escaped ; and when the news spread through the city, the townspeople ran to the cathedral. The glimmering torches showed them the body of the archbishop lying in his gore before the altar. They began to weep, and, while some kissed his hands and his feet, others dipped linen in the blood with which the pavement was covered. Ere long the trembling monks buried the body in the crypt. The royal proclamation to the contrary was useless : Becket was a martyr and a saint from that very night. If Henry feared him when living, he had much more cause to fear him when dead. The thunderstorm which burst upon the city as the murderers fled was at once the sign of Heaven’s anger and the awakening of an enthusiasm which lived for centuries. Miracles were wrought at the tomb ; pilgrimages became popular. An altar was erected upon the spot of the martyrdom, and here the greatest of the Plantagenet kings married Queen Margaret. Edward IV. gave the great window of the transept, wondrous in workmanship, wherein were, seven glorious appearances of the Blessed Virgin and St. Thomas himself fully robed and mitred. This was mostly destroyed by a Puritan iconoclast.
From the martyrdom we proceed along the north aisle of the choir, past the north-east transept and the chapel of St. Andrew, beyond which is the treasury, up the steps by which the pilgrims went, into the chapel of the Holy Trinity. This is immediately beyond the high altar, and here, in the highest and most beautiful part of the cathedral, was the shrine of St. Thomas. The tile pavement against the west screen was given by the Crusaders; it remains, but every vestige of the shrine is re-moved. An evidence of the multitudes who visited it is in the worn stones : the bare knees of pilgrims hollowed out a semicircle before the saint. Close by is the tomb of the Black Prince, and hanging aloft are the helmet, the coat and the gauntlets which he wore at the battle of Crecy, half a millennium ago, his popularity attested in his being buried near the most sacred spot in England. Henry IV. with his queen, Joan of Navarre, is also buried there. Beyond this chapel is the corona, the most eastern part of the cathedral. Here is the plain tomb of Cardinal Pole, the lasts English archbishop who recognized the papal supremacy. In the ancient black marble chair have been enthroned the rulers of England’s primatial see, the patriarchs of English Christendom. Thoughts press fast upon one another in such a place, but even as the sunlight outshines the stars the surrounding vision blots them out. Look down the mighty and magnificent edifice raised to the glory of almighty God and through long centuries a centre of the nation’s life. No description can convey the impression of that vista; no picture or poem can impart the fact of its splendor. The vastness of the structure and the beauty of the conception overawe the mind. Through the windows, marvellous in tracery and rich in colored glass, falls the soft and tinted light, its warmth and loveliness of hue suggesting the contrast between the outer and the inner radiance, between the realm of grace and the region of nature. The long lines of sculptured shafts rise with noble dignity and impressive stateliness to sup-port the lofty and majestic arches. The eye passes down through the Trinity Chapel, where once thousands and tens of thousands knelt before the hallowed shrine of the martyr ; on beyond the high altar and the presbytery into the choir, where holy service is chanted at the rising and the setting of every sun ; and farther on, beyond the richly-finished screen, into the great and glorious nave a very forest of noblest architectural splendor, where like tall and mighty trees set in a royal avenue of wide-arching beauty pillar after pillar rises and sends aloft its moulded branches into the groined and distant roof, glory upon glory, strength upon strength, as though the builders, filled with divinest power, sought to outdo the work of Nature, and to show to the Lord of all that human hearts and human hands could do that which the rocks and the forests, the sun and the frost, the shifting winds and the flowing waters, could not do. In the mellowed radiance fading in the misty distance, and in the holy awfulness of the voice of God speaking through man in the lines of the poem wrought in stone, the mysterious sweetness of the Divine Presence makes itself felt. Heaven may have that which is grander, more suggestive, richer in form and color and more truly an expression of all that the mind conceives to be beautiful and sublime, but earth has not. The King’s daughter is all-glorious within, and the great Anglican communion wants no grander centre, no nobler mother-church.
The rich, delicate carving, the simplicity and dignity, the costliness and rareness of material, the most thoughtful, consummate poetic and religious art, show that the best of all has been given to the Lord of glory. But much of what was once here has been taken away. The wealth of gold and of precious stones that once adorned the sanctuary and the shrine was stolen to replenish the exchequer of Henry VIII. Even the jewels about the head of the Black Prince were dug out and appropriated. Never were the desires for the purity of the faith and the wealth of the Church more curiously blended than in that age, and no one seems able to say which was greater the hatred of the men of those times for the clergy or their love for the lands of the Church. Beautiful as Canterbury Cathedral is, there comes upon one the feeling that it has been stripped of its richest glories and is not what it was in the first days of the sixteenth century.
There is little difficulty, standing here in Becket’s Crown, in repeopling the place with the men of earlier days. The picture of pilgrims walking barefoot or crawling on naked knee up the stone steps in the north aisle to the shrine of St. Thomas soon becomes vivid. They brought their offerings and uttered their prayers to him who they hoped would intercede for them, before the throne of God. Sometimes a nobler penitent came a prince with a rich retinue and with costly gifts. Kings and emperors worshipped there, people from all parts of England, and even from the lands beyond the seas. As an illustration of the popularity of this pilgrimage, we may note that in the fifteen days’ jubilee of 1420 no less than a hundred thousand persons knelt before the glorious shrine of St. Thomas, and the offerings in money made that year amounted to nearly six hundred pounds a sum probably equal to about eighteen thousand pounds at this present day. Miracles were wrought there, and revelations made. Some of the windows, dating from the thirteenth century, remain, and are unrivalled both for delicacy and harmony of color and for accurate execution of design.
The central thought of Canterbury is undoubtedly the martyr, and yet the building is full of the associations of other men who helped to make England what she is and whose names are enrolled in the annals of her fame. They looked upon these very walls and trod these very stones. Many of the archbishops are buried here, but only one king, and he has a chantry on the north side of the Trinity Chapel.
We wander down the south steps and look into the chapel of St. Anselm, in the entrance of which is the tomb of Archbishop Mepham, and from which a pleasing glimpse of the choir presents itself. Hence we find our way across the building to the entrance to the crypt, and on descending we first visit the Lady Chapel St. Mary’s of the Undercroft. This is a singularly attractive spot. It is directly under the high altar in the cathedral, and is divided off by stone screens of fine workmanship. It was once rich in jewels and in gold ; gold, Erasmus said, was the meanest thing about the place. Traces of the exquisite decorations remain. Figures, symbols and stars cover the vaulted roof. When lighted with lamps and tapers, the effect must have been great. Here service never ceased, day nor night. A curious shrine, down in the deep body of the church, symbolical of the affection with which men regarded her whom all generations call blessed. Beyond this chapel is the place where Becket’s body lay for the first fifty years after his martyrdom. Here is the spot where Henry did penance and submitted his back to the scourge of the monks. Not far off is the tomb of Archbishop Morton, who re-stored the chapel of Our Lady. In the work about this tomb is an illustration of the rebus-play of the old sculptors. There are figures of a hawk and of a tun, the former lighting upon the latter. The arch is also adorned with roses, each surmounted with a crown. Of these the last one is cramped and imperfect, the artist evidently having tired of his work. In St. Gabriel’s Chapel are some curious figures. of animal-minstrels wrought around the capital of the central column goats, etc., playing horns and flutes. The mural paintings are not obliterated; figures of angels and of saints are plainly visible. In the middle, over where the altar formerly stood, is a representation of Christ, singular in the right hand pointing downward. The blue-and-gold illuminations in the vaulting are also visible. This chapel was the work of a genius, and is not excelled by other work of the time, either in the cathedral or elsewhere. Another interesting feature of the crypt is the little French church, the home of refugees nestling under the protection of the great cathedral. Queen Elizabeth extended this hospitality, and from then to now the organization has held its own. It is not a part of the Anglican Church, but its pastor receives Anglican orders.
Days could be spent in this wonderful cathedral without exhausting its treasures of art and of association. Happy are they whose duty lies within its sacred walls and whose life is spent in its calm, heavenly atmosphere. They who visit have for ever recollections to sweeten and brighten the after-days. As we pass out of the church into the cloisters the white-robed procession winds from the chapel of St. Andrew through the dark aisle into the choir, and ere we look for the last time upon the vision of beauty, the storied windows, the shafts crowned with the circlets of vine and acanthus leafage, the silent tombs, the vast spaces of nave and aisle, there come the voices of singing choristers, and in the murmuring melody of evensong, sweeping in gentle waves of undulating sweetness, hope rises upon the wings of hallowed imagination and suggests the glories of the worship of the land which is very far off.
The cloisters are full of architectural and heraldic interest. In the groined roof are the armorial bearings of benefactors of the church, and, though sadly mutilated, some Romanesque arches, trefoil-headed arcades and ribbed vaulting indicate the former splendor of the monks’ walk. Here the brethren spent some of their time in meditation, amusement and exercise, the bright green’ earth being restful to the eye and’ healthful for both body and soul. On the eastern side is the chapter or sermon-house, a noble structure of several styles, from Early English to Perpendicular. Some traces of the former glory remain the coloring and the enamelled work in the canopies of the raised stalls at the east end. Around the hall are the stone seats on which the brethren sat during chapter, the abbot’s or prior’s throne being conspicuous for its higher elevation and its greater finish. Here the community met to consult about the affairs of the church and the monastery, for Canterbury was a Benedictine foundation. The youngest brother first gave his voice and vote, and so on, ac-cording to age, till the most ancient spoke, and then the prior uttered sentences and censures and penances and scourgings were imposed, the delinquent standing out in the open space to receive punishment, perhaps to turn his back to the whip of the penitentiary. Sermons and lectures were given from the pulpit in the centre ; no one then thought of using the church, so utterly unadapted for the purpose, for preaching. A light burned perpetually in this place, and the chapter met every morning. Sometimes a novice received the cowl or an officer was appointed; perchance a brother that night deceased was carried in on his blue bed with a chalice on his breast, and then with solemn dirge and requiem taken away to his long home. At the close of the meeting a wooden tablet was struck, and in the dull sounds the brethren were reminded of man’s painful life, his sad pilgrimage and his sure death. No longer, however, are these things done. Times have changed; the monks are gone. One of the most interesting events of the year is the ” speech-day ” of King’s School. Then the beautiful building is filled with scholars and their friends, addresses are made and prizes presented, ladies, gowned masters and scarlet-robed doctors look with interest and admiration upon the happy faces be-fore them, and one wonders what the old monks would think were they in slow and silent procession to enter upon the scene.
Near to the chapter-door is the way, through walls fourteen feet thick, into the slype. Here, when a brother lay dying, the hollow sound of the clapper called his fellows to his bedside in the infirmary. They watched beside him, prayed with him and for him ; the children of the almonry sweet-voiced choristers sang to him from the psalms of David ; and when he passed away, he was gently and lovingly carried to join the silent brotherhood in the green churchyard.
We pass out of the dark entry, and find ourselves among buildings and remains of buildings which show the extent of this place in olden times. In the green court, on one side of which is the deanery, we linger to look upon some of the exquisite views of the cathedral. The quiet charm can only be suggested; neither pen nor pencil can do more. A few steps farther, and we are outside the sacred precincts. We wander around the wall for the cathedral was enclosed and fortified till we get back again to Mercery Lane ; then through High street we proceed eastward to other historical spots.
Canterbury is full of interesting churches and other buildings ; two, however, are pre-eminentSt. Martin’s church and St. Augustine’s College. The former of these is in the extreme eastern part of the city; the latter, halfway between it and the cathedral. On the way out the highly-respectable and the highly-dull character of -Canterbury becomes more than ever apparent. One of the oldest churches is St. Paul’s, founded in the thirteenth century, lately restored, and containing some interesting tablets. In the belfry is one to the memory of Sir Edward Master, once lord mayor of London, and in the inscription emphasis is laid upon the fact that he was the husband of one wife and by her the father of twenty children. Farther on is a long row of low-built houses called a hospital and founded by a John Smith in 1657. Farther still, leaving the great monastery on the left, is the little building which may in truth be called the cradle of all English Christianity.
A simple, unostentatious structure is this St. Martin’s, rich in age and in associations, but void of architectural beauty. There are genuine bits of Roman work in the walls, showing that the more modern Norman work was done only in the way of repairs and restoration. On the whole, it is the very building in which St. Augustine celebrated the services of God thirteen hundred years ago, and it was esteemed old then. There Christians ,worshipped in the days of the Roman occupancy of Britain, and, though the English pagans fiercely swept out of the land the older civilization and religion, there divine worship was destined to be offered again without interruption, even as at this time.
The story of St. Augustine is as well known as it is ever fresh. When he and his monks passed up the way from Ebbsfleet to win the kingdom of Kent for their Lord, not only were they kindly received by Ethelbert, but in his queen, Bertha, they found a protector and in St. Martin’s church a home. This was for a time the headquarters of the mission; ere long both king and people were converted to the faith, and the land was given upon which was afterward built the abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul. In a once Christian church there the king of Kent worshipped the gods of the heathen; this he changed into a church again, and St Augustine consecrated and dedicated it to St. Pancras. When we go back to the city, we will look at the ruins of this first abiding-place of the founders of the Church of England.
St. Martin’s consists of a nave, a chancel and a tower. The entire length of the building is less than eighty feet, and the chancel is nearly a yard longer than the nave. The walls are about twenty-two inches thick, and are of stone, rubble and Roman bricks. The tower was built in the fourteenth century and is covered with ivy. In the choir floor appears an altar-slab about eight feet long and having the usual stigmata and crosses one of the few stone altars which escaped utter destruction in the Reformation. It was, however, used as a monument, and is inlaid with memorial brasses. A Norman piscina in the south wall, possibly of Saxon date, wrought by itinerant masons from the Continent, is said to be the oldest in England, and there is an aumbry in the chancel of the fifteenth century. In the chancel is also shown a tomb said to contain the remains of Queen Bertha, but she was buried somewhere in or near the monastery. The font is one of the greatest objects of interest. Its age is unknown ; ancient tradition affirms that in it St. Augustine baptized King Ethelbert on Whitsunday, 597. In the western wall, north of the tower, is a squint through which penitents could see the high altar ; there are also near the altar traces of the priest’s door and of the lepers’ window.
The contrast between this plain, tiny edifice and the grand and glorious cathedral is very great, even as the brown shrivelled seed to the full-blown splendor of the flower. This is really the mother-church of our race. Through the changes and the chances of thirteen centuries we look back to the day when within these walls was gathered the handful of men who were to lay the foundations of a religious community that should spread through all the world and become second to none of the churches of Christendom. Stand in the western porch, in the gateway of the ivy-clad tower, on the ground where once stood St. Augustine, Queen Bertha, and many another Christian of the distant ages, and look upon the exquisite and inspiriting landscape. That view is a type of the spiritual garden of the Lord, as refreshing as it is picturesque and as full of glory as it is rich in living green and pleasant memories. Under the yew tree close by lie the remains of Dean Alford, a man of varied gifts, at once a theologian and a poet, a musician, a carver and a painter, a preacher and a writer -more than all else, a gentle and holy servant of God. The lich-gate is a fine piece of work. Near to it is a cross on the front of which is carved the name ” Hew Whyte ;” on the back, ” And Alys his wife.” One passes away over sacred ground thankful for the mercy which has suffered one to see so holy a place.
The abbey of St. Peter and St Paul was famous as much for the extent and the magnificence of its buildings as for the constant quarrellings of its members with the community at the cathedral. Among other causes of contention. was that over the remains of the deceased archbishop. The monks of Christ church wanted him living and dead ; the canons of St. Peter claimed his body for their own. Therefore, whenever a prelate died, the dispute arose, till at last the former prevailed. How-ever, within the porch of the great church which in time was erected lies the dust of St. Augustine and his six immediate successors; but whereabouts the porch was no one living knows. Some parts of the building remain the wall of the north aisle and some bases of columns, fragments of fallen arches and mounds. The old builders wrought well : a strong outer casing of good stone, then the interior filled with rubble, and finally molten cement, possibly near boiling, poured in. The result was a solid mass of unwearing masonry. To the east is the only remaining arch of St. Pancras church. Many parts of the monastery buildings are still standing the tall towers, the beautiful gateway and some portions of the dining-hall and the chapel. The wealth and the position of the brotherhood were once great; they entertained kings and prelates and feasted six thousand guests at a time. Changes came, and in the end of the fifteenth century they had scarcely bread to eat.
Perhaps this was prophetical of the degradation to which the place itself was destined to fall. Henry VIII. appropriated it, converting the grounds into a deer-park and the building into a palace ; Queen Elizabeth kept court here in 1573; Charles I. was married here, and Charles II. was here entertained on his passage at the Restoration. The abbey and its precincts of sixteen acres enclosed by a wall passed to various lay possessors ; it was finally neglected, suffered to go to ruin, and the people of the neighborhood freely appropriated its materials for building-purposes. Less than half a century since, this place, sacred for its memories and famous for its work, was woefully desecrated by having within its courts a brewery, a skittle-alley. and a public-house. Gamesters, pleasure-seekers, idlers and riff-raff, drunken and irreverent, wandered at will over ground and within walls rich in the memorials of saints and kings and for ages consecrated to religious purposes. In 1844 the premises were bought by an earnest and devout churchman, Sir Beresford Hope, and converted into a college for the training of a missionary clergy ; of the good which the noble institution has accomplished the hundreds of missionaries scattered through-out the world testify. The men of St. Augustine are to be found in Canada, Australia, Africa; India, and else-where; wherever found, they display a piety, an earnestness and a power unexcelled by any and worthy of their Alma Mater. Parts of the ancient buildings are utilized in the modern college; the same water-springs which supplied the old monks supply their successors. In the modern cloisters are painted on the wall the names of the graduates of the college and the dioceses to which they were sent ; to the names of those who have passed away are added the letters R. I. P. There is a chapel in which these latter names are also reverently inscribed, and an altar where probably commemorative services are held. In the college chapel everything denotes good churchmanship; the altar is suitably furnished and appropriate vestments are used. In the hall under the library is the museum, in which is a fair collection of curiosities sent by the missionaries from their several fields of labor. Thus the beauty of holiness and the life of usefulness have come back again to the old monastery. There were difficulties in the way. It is said that when St. Augustine converted the heathen temple into the church of St. Pancras the devil was so annoyed at the change that he sought with all his might to overturn the building. He only succeeded in leaving the print of his talons in the walls of the south porch. It may have been the work of the ivy, but that is immaterial ; let the legend stand : the cross won. So in this later regeneration right prevailed over wrong and light over darkness.
Our visit to Canterbury is at an end. Full of pleas-ant recollections, we take the train for London. In the same railway compartment with us are three or four boys of King’s School on their way home for the holidays. What happy, jolly little fellows they are ! How politely they offer us the newspapers they have with them, and with what free, undisguised delight one of them shows us his prize book ! Their bright laugh rings in our ears, and somehow or other we forget the dark sculptured faces in the cathedral and see only the clear faces of these merry schoolboys.