The shrine of the martyrs and the footsteps of pilgrims

By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt

In the midst of all the experiences, both bad and good in 2020, there has been the opportunity to journey each day to the gardens around Canterbury Cathedral for Morning Prayer with the Dean.

He attracted media attention around the world when a videographer captured the image of the cat, who has joined the Dean each morning, strolling in between his legs, and disappearing under his cassock! As Dean Willis offered Morning Prayer from the Gardens on the cold and frosty morning of December 29th, he reminded his viewers of the significance of the Fifth day of the Christmas Season for the Canterbury Cathedral community and all who are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Five days after Christmas in the year 1170, several knights entered Canterbury Cathedral during the Vespers Service and murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket. The knights believed they were carrying out their mission on behalf of King Henry II, who they had heard challenge his courtiers, saying,” Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”

As a boy of nine, travelling with my parents, we were part of a pilgrimage tour through the Cathedral. The Resident Canon, who was our guide, engaged members of our group (including me!) to take the roles of the knights as we stood at the exact place where the Archbishop was killed. As you may gather, this generated a vivid memory which has stayed with me through the years.

Early in my ministry, along with Bishop David Ragg, I had the opportunity of participating in a Summer School programme offered in Canterbury. After meeting with the Dean, I received an invitation to celebrate and preach on the Feast of St James. That special moment took place in the Corona Chapel of the Cathedral. The Chapel had been built to create a space where pilgrims who came to the Cathedral would be able to offer prayers in the presence of the Archbishop’s relics and Shrine. It was an amazing experience as the Celebrant for that Eucharist to stand with my back to the East wall of the Cathedral, pausing to look past the former site of the Shrine, past St Augustine’s Chair, past the Choir, through the Nave to the Great West Doors and think about the all those who had been within those walls over the centuries. Another profound memory, indelibly etched into my mind.

Years later, as the representative of the Diocese of Huron on the National Board of the Canadian Compass Rose Society, my wife Carolyn and I were able to join Bishop Bennett and other Canadians as we participated in the Annual Meeting of the International Compass Rose Society with Archbishop Rowan Williams, in Canterbury. As a part of our experience, Dean Willis led us on an Evening Candlelight Pilgrimage through the Cathedral. I encourage you to connect up with the Canterbury Cathedral website, where you will be able to follow in the footsteps of pilgrims, who, through the years, have made the journey to Canterbury and who visit the site of Becket’s Martyrdom.

The Altar of the Corona Chapel has a frontal with words taken from T.S. Eliot’s play, ”Murder in the Cathedral”, which was written for the Cathedral community in 1935.

The Blood of the Martyrs and Saints

Shall Enrich the Earth

Shall Create the Holy Places

No longer exclusively designated as a place to remember a martyred Archbishop of the 12th century, the Corona Chapel is now being claimed as a place in which to remember Modern Day Martyrs. We begin to observe Lent 2021 on Ash Wednesday, February 17th, a day which, in some parts of the Anglican Communion is a day also given to commemorate the martyrdom of Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda, who was shot to death on the orders of President Idi Amin in 1977. The swords of the 12th century have been turned into the bullets of the 20th century and the bombs of the 21st century. All too often our news is saturated with the suffering which surrounds us, as people of faith seek to be faithful and then must deal with the consequences of their faithful witness.

Archbishops Becket and Luwum spoke Truth to Power. As people of faith, we seek to follow their example… not to seek out martyrdom… but to stand for what we believe to be right and not what may be perceived to be convenient. The journey through life is reflective of the act of Pilgrimage.

The journey towards a Holy place is not always easy. These days, the option of a physical journey anywhere is limited. We may simply have to settle, for the moment, with a video link that takes us to another part of our global village. The journey of the soul is a life-long pilgrimage, yet one which may be set within the framework of the Season of Lent.

I hope that this Pilgrim’s Prayer from the Canterbury Cathedral community will help to guide you through the Season of Lent 2021.

O God, Be for us our Companion on our walk,

Our Guide at the crossroads

Our Breath in our weariness

Our Protection in danger

Our Refuge on the way

Our Shade in the heat

Our Light in the darkness

Our Consolation in our discouragements

Our Strength in our intentions

So that with your guidance, we may arrive safe and sound at the end of the road enriched with grace and virtue.

May we return safely to our homes filled with joy, in the Name of Jesus Christ the Lord.

Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full time parish ministry,
but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese of Huron.

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