Friday, 25 July 2008

Some Canterbury Observations

Some random Canterbury observations:

  • There is no observable recycling program in Canterbury. Everything goes into bins (if you can find them)

  • Parts of Canterbury remind me for all the world of towns in southern Ontario. The red brick houses look the same, along with the tidy gardens (hollyhocks and buddelia are favoured - oddly, I've seen no Canterbury bells). Like towns in southern Ontario, the landscape is green and hilly, with a lot of leafy trees overhanging shady brooks (referred to here as rivers).

  • The water tastes odd, so I've taken to drinking bottled water. I mark the days by the 1.5 litre empty bottles I accumulate along the top of the shelf in my unit.
  • The age of structures amaze me. Yesterday, I was in a building built in 589.

  • Healthy breakfasts seem hard to obtain (I've almost bought out all the yoghurt at the local corner store); but the sandwiches are endlessly creative.

  • Coffee shops and late-night stores are as rare as albino crows.

Having said all that, Canterbury is an amazing city. Yesterday, the five representatives of Integrity Canada present here - Chris Ambidge, Ron Chaplin, Steve Schuh, Bob Webster, and me - took advantage of the bishops' visit to London to go on a walking tour of the old city. We visited the oldest parish church in England, St. Martin's, which has been in continuous use for over 1400 years. It began as the chapel of Queen Bertha of Kent in the sixth century, who herself built it on the remains of a pagan or Roman shrine dating back at least two hundred years earlier. Standing in the ancient cemetery, I sensed a merging of antiquity and continuity, making real for me that we are "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses," joining with us in praise and supplication to the source of love and life and redemption.

Bertha's Christianity inspired Pope Gregory to send a delegation of monks, under the leadership of Bishop Augustine, to Christianize the Kentish people - and it is for this reason that Canterbury became the genesis and locus of English Christianity. From this humble stone church, the origins of the Anglican Communion can be traced. It is a must see for any pilgrim to this town.

Our next stop was the remains of the Abbey of St. Augustine. Originally an enormous complex - one of many religious houses in the city - it was dismantled by order of Henry VIII as part of the dissolution of the monasteries. I was struck by how many of these ruins exist throughout Britain, having not been utterly destroyed and built over - testament perhaps to a silent acknowledgement of the sanctity of these places.

After a walk around the city walls, built over several centuries of an agglomeration of granite, flintstone, brick, and lime, I returned with my colleagues to the great cathedral, for a more leisurely and comprehensive tour of its precincts. We topped off the day with a traditional English tea; and the rather more prosaic activity of watching a movie ("Wall-e" - somewhat dark, but entertaining).

All in all, this was definitely my most exhausting day in Canterbury...and it didn't involve the Lambeth Conference at all! I will have more to report on that tomorrow.

Neil Fernyhough

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