Canterbury tales and the city

“The Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400), “father of English poetry” according to the perceptive commentator John Dryden, is the poet’s last work (surviving unfinished) and at the same time his masterpiece. Chaucer, whose tomb is in the pantheon of the great deceased, in the “Poets’ Corner” at Westminster Abbey, represents the great and revered tradition that refines medieval English, making the poet one of the most important in Europe.  

Canterbury Tales are of the most critical works in English literature. Contains 24 stories written in Middle English. These stories are mostly written in verse form, although some stories contain prose. 

As part of a pilgrimage from the Tabard Inn in London to Canterbury (where the tomb of St. Thomas Beckett is located), Chaucer will set out the panorama of the mentality and living conditions of medieval English society. Pilgrim storytellers, “on horseback on the move” (unlike the storytellers of Vokkaki’s “Ten Days”, where the narrators are in a country mansion), coming from every corner of the country, will successively project through their narratives different moral values of the time, progressively reaching from the first obscene love pranks to the culmination of the remission of sins and redemption with the story told by the Pastor. The richness and variety of the stories, which constitute the narrative canvas of the work (from about sixteen thousand fifteen syllables), embody the ideals that have to do with the human condition, what life, death, submission and compliance mean, what it means to communicate with others, to believe in miracles, not to be crushed between antinomies and contradictions, and not to hesitate to challenge some certainties by passing them by. 

 The role of the coordinator of the stories with interventions, suggestions, remarks or praise is taken over by the Host (Hoost) and owner of the inn. 

Chaucer, who planned to frame the five-day journey (from April 16) with four stories from each of the thirty or so narrators (two on the way and two on the way back) and to complete the work “in a circle” (with a meeting in “Tabard”, where the narrator of the best story would be given a dinner at the expense of the others), did not complete his plan. The book, which opens with the hymn in April, the lively month of spring (at the beginning of the general preface), closes with a farewell – an apology for what from what was recorded could be considered a sin. 

But what about the city that was he destination of the Chaucer’s stories? 

Canterbury is located in the south-east of London, an hour and a half by train, in the Kent area. It is a relatively small town, with 40-45 thousand inhabitants, and is well known for its Cathedral. Canterbury is the seat of the Archbishop of the Church of England (Archbishop of Canterbury is its title) and has been the destination of many pilgrims for centuries. 

 Westgate Tower
 Westgate Tower.

The city’s relationship with Christianity goes back a long way. The first Archbishop of Canterbury was St Augustine of Canterbury, an envoy from Rome in the 6th century, who laid the foundations of the Christian Church in England. The Abbey of Augustine, as well as the Cathedral and the Church of St Martin, the oldest functioning parish church in England, belong to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. 

A landmark date for the Cathedral and the Church of England in general is 1170. At that time the then Archbishop Thomas Becket was assassinated inside the Cathedral by knights of King Henry II. Thomas Becket had served as Chancellor (something like a minister, chancellor) of Henry but with his promotion to Archbishop he changed his attitude and clashed many times with the King. After his assassination, Thomas Becket was treated as a witness by Christians throughout Europe and was canonized by the Pope just three years later. A year later King Henry II himself made a humiliating public repentance at the tomb of Thomas Becket. Since then the Cathedral and its tomb have become a pilgrimage destination for many Christians of the Catholic and Anglican Churches. 

By Eurospeak

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