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Pilgrim's Way

Brother Percival

The Pilgrim's Rest bench was unveiled in 2007 alongside the Pilgrim's Way, just off the beaten path from Percival's Rest

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Winchester to Canterbury

Pilgrim's Way stretches from Winchester to Canterbury. It is the most well-known of British pilgrimages. Pilgrims first started making the journey from AD1172 to Canterbury, where Thomas Becket was buried after his martyrdom two years before

Thomas Becket

Also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas Becket was assassinated on 29th December 1170, after serving as Royal Chancellor and later as Archbishop of Canterbury. Initially a close friend of King Henry II, When the position of Archbishop of Canterbury became vacant, Becket was put forward. Given his lifestyle and reputation he was an unlikely candidate but the king had other ideas. Henry was keen to appoint his close friend to the role but, crucially, he wanted him to continue as Chancellor. With Becket in both positions, Henry saw an opportunity to exercise greater authority over the Church as well as the state. However, at some point during the rest of that year, and against the king's wishes, Becket resigned as Chancellor. His actions drove a wedge between him and the king which would never be repaired. From this point on, Becket's relationship with Henry began to deteriorate. A series of disputes ensued regarding the division of power between the Crown and the Church. By 1164, tensions were at an all-time high and, in October, Becket was summoned to appear before the King's council and ordered to forfeit all his personal property. He refused and, fearing further repercussions from the king, he fled to France. Becket remained in France for 6 years. During this time Henry flexed his power in England. His most blatant snub of his old friend's authority was his decision to have his son, crowned in June 1170 by Becket's long-standing enemy, the Archbishop of York. Becket appealed to the Pope and Henry agreed to reopen negotiations. Following this, the Archbishop and the king spoke privately for the first time since 1164, and Henry promised to restore Becket's rights as Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket was reassured that it would be safe to return to England. However, his final act was to punish those involved in the unauthorised coronation. Before leaving France Becket issued three letters expelling (excommunicating) the Archbishop of York and two bishops from the Church. This act was to have devastating consequences upon his return to England. 

Meanwhile, the Archbishop of York and the Bishops of London and Salisbury, furious that they had been excommunicated, travelled to Henry where they relayed Becket's actions to the King. Henry was outraged and his furious outburst prompted four knights – Reginald FitzUrse, William de Tracy, Hugh de Morville and Richard le Bret – to travel to Canterbury in search of Becket.

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Pilgrim's Way was born

After spending the night on the high altar of the Cathedral, he was buried by the monks the next day in the crypt. Reports immediately circulated of miraculous healings connected to Becket. After pressure from the people, the monks opened the crypt of the Cathedral so pilgrims could visit his tomb. An extraordinary wave of miracles was recorded and, in recognition of this, Becket was made a saint by the Pope on 21 February 1173. It was one of the fastest canonisations in history. Becket's death and subsequent miracles transformed Canterbury Cathedral into one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Europe.


The main backbone behind the story of the Canterbury tales is a pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas Becket. The 30 pilgrims who undertake the journey gather at the Tabard Inn in Southwark. They agree to engage in a storytelling contest as they travel, and Harry Bailly, host of the Tabard, serves as master of ceremonies for the contest. The use of a pilgrimage enabled Chaucer to bring together people from many walks of life: knight, prioress, monk; merchant, man of law, franklin, scholarly clerk; miller, reeve, pardoner; wife of Bath and many others.

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