After a few days in London, I took the train down to Canterbury. Not because of a song. But–if you’ll allow the stretch–you can listen to Sting’s 1993 album Ten Summoner’s Tales which Sting describes as a “Canterbury Tales” format. Click here for my personal discography commentary. Yes, I reviewed an album that came out when I was 2. My blog, my rules.
No, I stopped in Canterbury because there are 3 UNESCO World Heritage churches there: Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine’s Abbey, and St. Martin’s Church. Along with songs and cool buildings driving my itinerary, I’m also trying to hit as many World Heritage sites as I can. [Read about UNESCO here, but basically they have an arm that deems sites around the world as “special” and then works to preserve them.]
I had only scheduled one night in a cute little AirBNB (the host Sarah makes the BEST tea!), so I had to rush through all 3 sites before nightfall. Definitely not the way to go, but I still had a blast.
Canterbury Cathedral: The Fail
A short walk through the narrow streets later, the spires emerged.
I hate to admit this, but the crowd in front of the cathedral scared me away. I feel lousy about it now because it’s a hugely important part of England’s history and is apparently spectacular inside (can anyone say fan vaults?), but that’s also the beauty of being on your own. If you don’t want to do something, you just don’t.
The saints and dignitaries looked down in stony disapproval as I went on my way.
Ruins of St. Augustine’s Abbey
St. Augustine’s Abbey is easy to miss because it’s outside Canterbury’s ancient town walls, but make sure you go. It’s one of England’s oldest monastic sites, started by St. Augustine (the first Archbishop of Canterbury–a.k.a. head of the Church of England) who was sent by Pope Gregory I to bring Christianity to “pagan” England in the sixth century.
SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH if you don’t want to hear me get philosophical, but there were some boys playing soccer (sorry, football) in a field right on the other side of the ruin walls. They were laughing and yelling, totally causal, next to a 1400 year-old sacred site. Just got me thinking that magnificence and mundanity are so closely linked–and oftentimes, enhance each other by proximity. Then I saw a little stone marking St. Augustine’s burial spot. Nothing quite like being laid to rest close to your life’s work, and then watching it be expanded, remodeled, dismantled (and during WWII, blitzed) while you get rained on century after century and birds crap all over your headstone. That struck me as simultaneously beautiful and shitty. Sorry, done. On to St. Martin’s!
St. Martin’s Church
Read up on St. Martin’s here–it’s the oldest church in England. It was late enough in the afternoon that the doors were locked when I arrived. I was alone, which was a little creepy but also meant I could take pictures of the surrounding headstones in peace. Is that morbid? Is that disrespectful? I swear only one grave was stepped on, and by complete accident.
About 15 minutes into my photo session, a man appeared. The only thing scarier than being in a cemetery alone is being in a cemetery alone with one other person. He entered silently, sat down on a bench, and lit a cigarette. He was bald, all in black, carrying a dark leather briefcase. He was obviously a trained assassin so I left immediately. In cases like this, don’t wait around to see if you intuition is right. Just go.
On a side note, when I was reviewing my photos of the cemetery, I found this one and it totally freaked me out. Look closely. Do you see it?
Just kidding. I photoshopped Voldemort in to amuse myself. Three weeks is a long time to spend with just yourself, ok?
I’m heading to tiny town in Northern Ireland now, so on the off-chance I have Wi-Fi, I will post that castle I’ve been promising.