Thursday, October 6, 2011

Opening paragraphs..........

               At night was come in-to
                       that hostelrye
              Wel nyne and twenty in a companye,
              Of sondry folk, by aventure y-falle
              In felawshipe, and pilgrims were
                      they alle...

So does Geoffrey Chaucer describe the convening - at the Tabard Inn in Southwark on the southern bank of the River Thames - of twenty-nine pilgrims.  The next day they would ride southeast from London to Canterbury, "the holy blisful martir for to seke (seek)."  For in the year 1170, Canterbury had been the scene of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, the unbending archbishop of Canterbury, slain by four knights in service to King Henry II.  The martyr's bones were kept in a jewel-encrusted shrine in the cathedral where he had been murdered, and from them was believed to emanate miraculous healing power.  All over England people prayed to Becket, invoking his intercession with God "whan that they were seke (sick)," as Chaucer tells us.  Those who were cured of their maladies would then make their promised pilgrimage to Becket's bones.

-Thomas Cahill,  Mysteries of the Middle Ages

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