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Canterbury
Kent, England

[Friday - 11/04/94] We split in to two groups today to pursue specific interests. While half of us took in some shopping in London as well as the London Zoo, the others took the train to spend the day in Canterbury. Along with the Cathedral, they took lunch in town and got in some serious shopping of their own!

Canterbury is located in Kent, which is in the southeastern part of England. The city includes the seaside town of Herne Bay, which we thought was especially cool since Herne legends played such a crucial role in the Dhai Saga. Of course, the chief point of interest is the town's cathedral, seat of the Primate of the Church of England since the late 6th century.

Canterbury is a town of ancient British origins. It was occupied by the Romans in the 1st century AD. In the late 6th century, it became the capital of Ethelbert, king of Kent. The town later became a Saxon religious and cultural center. From the 8th to the 11th century, it was raided periodically by the Danes, who burned the cathedral in 1011. During the 16th century, French and Flemish Protestant refugees introduced the textile industry to Canterbury.

There is some evidence of settlements in the area as far back as between 3,000 BC - 2,000 BC although by the time the Iron Age had arrived in about 700 BC there was definitely a fortified site where Canterbury now stands. When the Romans arrived in approximately 43 AD, Canterbury soon became an important center and was named Durovernum Cantiacorum. The Romans and their influence remained in Canterbury until about 410 - 450 AD when the Roman Empire was in a state of collapse and could no longer support its far flung outposts. Canterbury under the Romans was a large and extremely important settlement and even boasted what is believed to be the largest theatre in Britain. The existing City Walls are one of the few things that remain which still follows the original Roman layout of the City.

Following the departure of the Romans and the gradual decline of their influence on those that remained in England, the Saxons started their raids and soon took control of the Country. That was until the next group of interlopers arrived in the middle of the 9th Century: the Vikings, who did a lot of pillaging in Kent. For some time they were satisfied with sending raiding parties but eventually they established their own influence in Britain and this remained the norm until a young Norman named William decided to wrest the Crown of England from Harold, the Saxon King!

To the Norman Kings the City of Canterbury was a strategic site and the original fortifications were soon replaced with a stone castle which was erected at the end of what is now called, naturally enough, Castle Street. The shell of this building still stands and is ignored by the local traffic that now floods passed it on the Rheims Way every day. It was also during the reign of the Norman Kings that the Cathedral started to take on its present shape replacing the previous Saxon Church.

Canterbury was really brought into prominence following the murder of Archbishop Thomas Beckett in the Cathedral in 1170. Following the reports of miracles being performed at the burial site in the Crypt of this "meddlesome priest", the popularity of the City as a tourist trap began and the Pilgrims Way through Kent to Canterbury was established. It is hard to realize the importance of the shrine, built in 1220, until you examine the evidence in the Cathedral itself.

The pilgrims would enter the Cathedral on their knees and make their way up the stairs to the Trinity Chapel at the East end of the Cathedral and remain on their knees as they worshipped at the tomb. If you stand at the West end of the Chapel and catch the light correctly, it is possible to see the groove in the marble floor made by the kneeling pilgrims which clearly outlines the dimensions of the original structure. It takes a lot of kneeling to make a fold in marble! You can also see this when you look at the amount of wear on the steps that take you from the level of the Nave to that of the Choir on the South side of the building. When Henry VIII decided to dissolve the monasteries, it is said that it took five ox-carts to carry away the gold and jewels that made up the tomb of the Saint.

Prior to the dissolution, Canterbury had grown in importance and was a great religious center. It had at that time twenty-two parish churches, three friaries and three priories and several hospitals run by religious orders for the care of the sick, poor and elderly. It was a center of commerce and the merchants thrived. Following the dissolution things went downhill very quickly as the flow of visitors simply came to an end. However, with religious unrest in other parts of Europe, Canterbury started to gain a population of immigrants, the Walloons and the Huguenots, who fled the Lowlands and the Northern areas of France and brought weaving to Canterbury. Even these days, it is still interesting to note the number of French and/or French sounding names in the area. At the same time, disgruntled Canterburians James Chilton, Robert Cushman and his son Thomas Cushman decided to hire a little boat to leave England from the West Country called "The Mayflower!"

With the coming of the weavers, the City again began to flourish and the location of the City, being very central to the rest of East Kent, also came into play. In the 17th and 18th centuries, money was made from smuggling and in the 19th Century it's importance grew as a market town and as a center for the brewing industry as a result of the growth of the famous Kentish hop fields. In the 19th century, Canterbury had 13 breweries and over 100 hundred public houses when the total population was about 15,000. There were still more than 90 public houses in Canterbury before the outbreak of WWII by which time the population had risen to around 25,000.

The importance of Canterbury by way of its location was really established by the Romans. There was a ring of forts around the East Coast of Kent at Reculver (Regulbium), Richborough (Rutupiae), Dover (Dubris) and Lympne (pronounced Lim)(Portus Lemanis). Canterbury was more or less central to all these places and therefore made an ideal supply depot and therefore roads were made from the forts directly to Canterbury. Where there's a supply depot, there is a need for trade and that is how Canterbury built on its importance in the area.


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