The site of the former abbey is now run by English Heritage, and after paying an entrance fee, a free audio-tour is available which gives some idea of what life was like in this great complex of buildings. I couldn't help feeling both impressed and also saddened by what had been lost. Whatever abuses the medieval Church might have been accused of, I do not believe that this holy place of prayer was so awful as to deserve destruction. There is plenty of evidence that this monastery had a vital role to play in the local community of Canterbury. Ordinary lay folk prayed here, received the Sacraments here, sought advice here and when they died they were buried in the lay cemetery. On the many altars of the abbey, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered to the Glory of God, and this no doubt sustained countless individuals throughout the ages.
Back in town, it was a delight to see this image of the Mother of God in a prominent public position. It is the mark of a true pilgrimage town to see these shrines to Our Lady dotted around the place, inspiring people to piety as they go about their daily business. The sign below points to the local Roman Catholic church.
Greyfriars house, so named because it was once the site of the first Franciscan settlement in England. This was once the sleeping quarters of the friary, and stands over the river Stour. In more recent times, the sight has been reclaimed by the Society of Saint Francis, who have a chapel upstairs where a Mass is said every wednesday at 12.30. There are also Roman Catholic Franciscans in Canterbury who occasionally use the chapel. To me, this was also a living sign of the continuity of faith in this city.
The famous Cathedral needs to introduction. I took my atheist friend along to Evensong, and she had plenty of questions about why we said certain prayers and what it all meant. The choir was away so a singing group stepped in. Eh, it was the only way to get into the cathedral without paying so we were happy.
The famous stained glass.
The ornate choir screen of the Cathedral really is worth seeing. I imagine that the common man sitting outside this screen would have had no view of the liturgical action whatsoever, although he must have been able to hear the services being sung quite well. During my visit, a nave altar and some Indaba-style starwars chairs had been set up in the nave. A cuddly liturgical setting I'm sure, but I wouldn't want to get a splinter of those chairs. Ouch!
The nearest thing to a shrine to S. Thomas is the site of his martyrdom, marked by an altar and this weird sword-cross arrangement. I was quite gratified to see a number of people head straight down here to pray, and it was comforting to know that S. Thomas still has modern pilgrims who bear him in mind as they wander around the Cathedral which once held his shrine.