Any time friends or family visit, I take them around Canterbury Cathedral
. It is to Anglicans what Rome is to Catholics - the mother church, and seat of its head. But apart from its religious significance it is a great architectural gem with a fascinating history - in many ways the history of England is reflected in its walls in microcosm (Along with St. Martin's Church
and St. Augustine's Abbey
it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
). After a while I thought why not sign up to volunteer there since I practically live there anyway! I was on the waiting list for over a year before I was accepted on the assistant training course. By then I'd discovered I was pregnant but decided to do it anyway, bump and all, as I wasn't sure when I'd get the opportunity again. It was the most amazing experience - four months of lectures ranging from ecclesiastical history to the monarchs of England, monastic life to stained glass windows, through architecture down the ages and on to stone care of visitors. I loved every minute of it, despite an exam at the end! Now I'm on a two year probationary period after which I can train to be a Cathedral guide if I wish. The fabulous thing is that there are always ongoing lectures plus the Cathedral archives to explore in order to broaden your knowledge, so it is like an ever-expanding study module. I love the whole thing. Once a week I sling The Daughter on my front and stand around with a sash on, attempting to look friendly and approachable, answering any questions visitors might have (she just looks cute, or falls asleep).
Recently we've had a few interesting events happen there. First, the hosting of the Lambeth Conference
. A left-over reminder is a giant Archangel Rafael whose wings are made up of paper cutouts of the hands of all the hundreds of bishops and archbishops who attended - each drew around their palms and some wrote on their profferings. It is quite charming, and was made by the children who attend Sunday School at the Cathedral. A nifty idea. Last month we had a week of apprentice stonemasons chipping away in the nave as they studied under Canterbury's master stonemasons. If you shut your eyes, you could transport yourself back to the 14th Century when the last major work on the Cathedral was carried out, and imagine the building site mourners at the Black Prince
's funeral must have had to pick their way through. And just a couple of weeks ago the Cathedral nave was transformed into a theatre for the world premier of Sebastian Barry
's new play, Dallas Sweetman
. Barry follows a long line of distinguished playwrights commissioned to set a play in the Cathedral: John Masefield, T.S. Eliot and Dorothy Sayers among them. I enjoyed an afternoon of watching actors in rehearsal hurl themselves with reckless abandon from the stage, robes swirling.
Yesterday I woke to find the electricity off. No explanation has yet been given, but the outage covered a large swathe across this area of Kent affecting parts of Canterbury, Blean, Herne Bay and Whitstable. No heating, no light, no radio, no television, no telephone, no internet connection. When I left for the Cathedral in the afternoon it had been off for more than ten hours, and The Daughter and I were both a little chilly, the temperature inside the house having dropped close to four degrees. The Cathedral, unaffected, thawed us out. It is an awe-inspiring place. I hope you make pilgrimage there, should you visit the city.
Labels: Canterbury Cathedral, Life in Canterbury