A Canterbury Tale


Trying to write a few words about Canterbury Cathedral is akin to trying to sum up a Mozart opera with a few bars on the piano. It is impossible. So therefore perhaps one can aim to say a few words about a visit to Canterbury Cathedral, because that is personal, and a few words will suffice.


The cathedral itself can absorb many superlatives and still be ready for more. At the moment, a great deal is covered by scaffolding. I ask the guide who greets me when I enter when that scaffolding will be coming down. ‘Perhaps two or three years’, he replies, and then adds laconically, ‘and hopefully the roof will still be under there when it does’.

I spend the morning drawing. It’s a useful way to notice more and to realise the subtlety of so much of the work. That piece of tracery; at first glance it seemed to be a curve in a certain way, but when you look at it for half an hour while you try to draw, you notice a nuance in the curve. It is all like that. While drawing, I am asked by one of the guides if I would like a tour of St Anselm’s chapel. It is done in such a way that it would be impolite to refuse. I am glad I accepted the invitation. She explains the detail of the stained glass window with William II, Lanfranc, St Anselm, Baldwin and Henry I. And then the black marble tomb, created in 1333 to Simon Meopham. I have been using the year 1333 as an aid to remember technical innovation. I have grouped around this year (based on Arnold Pacey’s book The Maze of Ingenuity) the following:

– gunpowder
– horizontal loom
– machine for twisting and reeling silk thread (Italy)
– Spinning wheel – the Saxony Wheel
– all metal, weight driven clocks
– ‘an interest in mechanical things for their own sake’ ( p 66)

So I am glad to add fascinating black marble tombs to the list. And something happens when I take photographs of the sculpted figure which reaches a hand out to the movable book shelf. What I see in front of me is not what is revealed in the photograph. It must be a trick of the light or a change in perception.

There are prayers inside the cathedral to the victims of the shooting massacre in New Zealand. And two armed police in the precincts. Each carries a heavy looking machine gun with a pistol in a holster by their side.