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OU are making your first visit to Canterbury, and in
the railway, you are coming in by the famous old Pilgrim's way, the road from London over which Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims traveled
"The holy blisful martir for to seke." About a mile and a half from Canterbury lies the little village of Harbledown, in the quaint language of Chaucer's day
"a litel town
Under the Blee, in Canterbury weye.” The road, true to its name, drops into a valley just before you reach the village, then rises sharply and as you come over the crest of the hill, you get your first view of Canterbury and its noble cathedral, the Mother Church not only of England, but of all English speaking peoples. Canterbury lies in a hollow encircled by low hills, and the red roofs of the picturesque old town make a rich setting for the soft gray stone of the cathedral which towers above them. You can imagine what this glimpse of the sacred city meant to the Canterbury Pilgrims though the building which you see is far goodlier than that which they beheld with its glittering Angel Steeple. The old steeple is gone and instead rises the majestic central tower, the most perfect Gothic struc
ture in all England. The two lower western towers in the foreground are quite different in form from their peerless companion and seem to emphasize its faultless proportions.
It was at this point that Henry II, in 1174, on his way to humiliate himself at the shrine of Becket, dismounted from his horse and walked some distance to the Church of St. Dunstan where he changed his ordinary dress for the garb of a penitent and from there traveled barefoot into the town. As you approach the city, you are confronted with the huge bulk of the old West Gate, for Canterbury was a walled city back in prehistoric times. The West Gate has a pedigree not to be lightly regarded. Repaired in Roman times and rebuilt again in 1380 it has frowned down upon Roman and Saxon, Dane and Englishman. Its earliest written record tells of the mighty procession accompanying Canute the Dane who brought back the body of the martyred Archbishop Alphege to the Cathedral from which viking hands had torn him. The royal visitor left his crown of gold at the high altar to atone for the sins of his lawless subjects. Coming down High Street from the West Gate you turn into little old narrow Mercery Lane and as you glance ahead you see one of the most artistic bits of old Canterbury. At the end of the narrow lane rises the beautiful gateway leading into the Cathedral precincts. It has stood there since 1517 and its grim Norman predecessor for centuries before it. The gateway could tell many a tale of pageants, for the history of Canterbury is the story of the making of England, and her ancient shrines and powerful archbishops wielded an enormous influence from British times to the Reformation.
Before you enter the gateway you must make a short excursion to get the best possible historic setting for your visit to the Cathedral, first to the tiny church of St. Martin, the oldest church in England, on the site of the chapel where St. Augustine in 597 baptized his first English convert, the Saxon King Ethelbert. The King was a little suspicious of
Old Font in St. Martin's Church the new religion and stipulated that Augustine should remain on the Isle of Thanet, where he had landed, until after their first meeting which was to be held in the open air secure from the danger of magic spells !
The frank attitude of Augustine appealed to the equally sturdy character of Ethelbert, whose Queen, Bertha, a French princess, had brought her own Christian bishop from France and had already established service in a small chapel outside the city walls, once used by the earlier British Christians, and named by her for St. Martin of Tours. Within the present church which retains in its walls some of the old Roman bricks, you find an ancient Saxon font where, presumably, the Saxon King was baptized on June 2, 597. Such traditions are to be doubted but the font is unquestionably very old and fitly commemorates the momentous event which brought Christianity into England. Ethelbert next presented Augustine with a neighboring Saxon temple
which was speedily dedicated to St. Pancras and became a center for public worship. Later the King granted a large tract of land for an Abbey where the new religion might establish a monastery and school. And so St. Augustine's Abbey became England's venerated Alma Mater, “the seat of letters and study, at a time when Cambridge was a desolate fen and Oxford a tangled forest in a wild waste of waters."
All of these buildings were without the city walls, the Abbey at the special desire of Augustine that he might have a consecrated spot for his bones after death. According to the Roman and Oriental usages to which he was accustomed such burial could not be thought of within the city walls. But King Ethelbert, not content with having the new faith represented outside the city alone, removed his own palace to Reculver not far distant and, having consecrated Augustine the first Archbishop of Canterbury, gave him the former royal palace and an old British or Roman church as the foundation of the new Cathedral, which Augustine named Christ Church.
As you walk back to the Cathedral you go into the gateway of St. Augustine's monastery and look round the ancient precincts. The crumbling crypt of the Abbey church and the distant ruins of St. Pancras are eloquent of the glory of departed days. Even the burial place of Augustine is now unknown. The Abbey and its traditions were swept away by Henry VIII but the spirit of Augustine is still marching on for the restored buildings now harbor an efficient school for missionaries and the old Abbey sends its Christian teachers to the remotest ends of the earth. Back to the Cathedral gateway again and with eager anticipations you enter the precincts.
"Far off the noises of the world retreat" and you are greeted by broad stretches of English lawn, splendid towering lindens, and fine old houses enclosed by picturesque walls over which vines clamber and beckon al