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From Gatehouse to Cathedral: A Photographic Pilgrimage to Chaucerian Landmarks

From Gatehouse to Cathedral: A Photographic Pilgrimage to Chaucerian Landmarks

These pictures, taken between July 1996 and March 1999, make a photographic pilgrimage to various sites that Chaucer would have seen or been associated with in his lifetime, ending with the destination of his pilgrims, Canterbury Cathedral. They show details which link to larger 20-40k, full-frame photographs.

York Scenes like these in York have not survived in modern London, but these photos provide glimpses into medieval city life as Chaucer would have lived it.

york_bootham_bar_sml Bootham Bar, York
Bootham Bar is actually in York in Northern England but is similar to the dwellings in which Chaucer lived, rent-free, over Aldgate from 10 May 1374 until 1386. Aldgate was north of the Tower of London and provided entrance into the walled City of London for farmers and merchants to sell their wares. The Aldgate residence is likely connected with Chaucer’s contemporaneous appointment as controller of the wool custom and wool subsidy and of the petty custom in the port of London, which is within walking distance south of Aldgate.
shambles 2 The Shambles, YorkThis view of the Shambles, also located in York, provides a sense of how the streets in London might have appeared in the 14th Century: rickety wooden tenements and shops and narrow, crowded lanes. One must imagine the filth and rubbish which would have paved the muddy lanes.
London Amazingly, despite the ever-advancing development of the city of London and the passage of over 600 years, traces of Geoffrey Chaucer’s London remain. While Chaucer’s childhood home at 177 Upper Thames Street, in the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral, was leveled by redevelopment and the Blitz, the street itself remains a busy thoroughfare in the City of London. Many of the existing medieval buildings and churches have been redesigned since Chaucer’s day, yet a few buildings and churches are remarkably unblemished by the intervening years.
photo03 The George Inn, Southwark
The Tabard Inn, Chaucer’s embarkation point for his pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, once stood in the borough of Southwark on Talbot Yard, off High Street. Today, just south of the current London Bridge, the best preserved coaching inn is the George Inn, dating from 1677. Traveling pilgrims would have been accommodated in the rooms behind the galleries on the right.
photo05 Westminster Abbey, London
The exterior of Westminster Abbey is much altered since the mid 1300’s. Originally built by Edward the Confessor and consecrated on December 28, 1065, the Abbey has been the site of all but two coronations since William the Conqueror in 1066. Constant refurbishment and additions to the Abbey produced an eclectic mixture of architectural styles, leaving only the ground plan of the Abbey as original. The twin Gothic towers on the western facade were built by Nicholas Hawksmoor in the early 18th century.
Inside the Abbey, the House of Commons, of which Chaucer was a member between 1 October and 28 November 1386, met in the Chapter House which still contains the original tiled floor that Chaucer would have walked upon. This photograph of the north transept offers an interior view of a rose window.
westminster abbey Flying buttresses support the high walls of the nave of Westminster Abbey. In the Lady Chapel gardens of the Abbey, similar to the area shown in the foreground of the larger image linked to this thumbnail but behind the eastern-end of the Abbey, Chaucer lived the last months of his life. On 24 December 1399, Geoffrey Chaucer, thought to be in failing health and working on The Canterbury Tales, took out a 53-year lease on his final home.
The Shrine of St. Edward the Confessor, Westminster Abbey
Behind the High Altar in Westminster Abbey stands the shrine to St. Edward the Confessor, Richard II’s patron saint. One of the few surviving shrines in Britain after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, St. Edward the Confessor’s shrine gives one an excellent example of what medieval pilgrims would travel hundreds of miles to venerate. Notice the niches in which pilgrims would pray.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Tomb, Westminster AbbeyChaucer’s tomb in “Poet’s Corner” of Westminster Abbey was built around 1556 to provide a more honorable tomb for the “Father of English Poetry” as his remains were transferred from their initial resting place in St. Benedict’s Chapel to their current location. It is from the date given on this tomb, 25 October 1400, that Chaucer’s death date has been traditionally assigned.
John Gower’s Tomb, Southwark Cathedral
Chaucer’s friend and poetic rival, John Gower, was born c. 1330. He is best known for his three principal works, Speculum Meditantis (also known as “Mirour de l’Omme”) (written in Anglo-Norman, c. 1376-78), Vox Clamantis (written in Latin, c. 1380), and Confessio Amantis (written in English c. 1390). Notice the three volumes on which Gower’s head rests on his fifteenth-century tomb. His works are more serious and moral in tone than are Chaucer’s, a fact recognized by Chaucer in his dedication to “O moral Gower” in Troylus and Criseyde. An allusion to Gower can be found in the Introduction to the Man of Law’s Tale (77-78), while Venus praises Chaucer in Confessio Amantis (VIII. 2940). In addition to poetical rivalry and friendship, Gower appears as Chaucer’s lawyer in a 1378 document. Gower lived the last years of his life around the Priory of St. Mary’s Overies, Southwark. He died in 1408 and is buried in Southwark Cathedral.
jeweltower01 Jewel Tower, London
The Jewel Tower, along with the impressive hammer-beamed roofed Westminster Hall, is all that remains of the medieval Palace of Westminster. Edward III built the Jewel Tower to house the Crown Jewels, which today are housed at the Tower of London.
Westminster_Hall Westminster Hall
On 12 July 1389, Chaucer was appointed Clerk of the King’s Works with a daily wage of two schillings. As Clerk, Chaucer was responsible for the administration of building and repair projects for the King’s belongings. During Chaucer’s term as Clerk, he oversaw work on the nave of Westminster Abbey and the construction of the lists in Smithfield for a jousting tournament. Henry Yevele, architect of the nave in Westminster Abbey, directly supervised by Chaucer, would later re-design Westminster Hall, first built in 1099 by William Rufus. The Hall is an impressive 240′ x 60′ and is housed under a magnificent hammer-beam roof designed by Hugh Herland. In this Hall met the King’s Great Council which eventually grew into the Courts of Justice and Parliament. Also held here were the trials of Sir Thomas More, Charles I, and Guy Fawkes. Chaucer relinquished his position as Clerk on 17 June 1391 to John Gedney.
Temple-Church Temple Church
One of the oldest surviving churches in London, Temple Church was originally built in 1185 by the Knights Templar, a religious order founded to protect travelers in the Holy Land during the years of the Crusades. The order had its base here until 1312 when the Crown disbanded the Knights out of fear of the order’s increasing power. The church is modeled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and was re-furbished by Wren in 1682. The church lies between the Middle Temple and the Inner Temple, two of London’s Inns of Court.
temple_church-william-marshal Effigy of William Marshall, Temple Church
This picture of William Marshall, first Earl of Pembroke, shows a typical effigy of a knight. Marshall (1146-1219) was a Knight Templar and Regent of England from 1216-1219, hence his inclusion inside the Temple Church. This photo is intended to give one a sense of how Chaucer may have envisioned his Knight in The Canterbury Tales, Palamon and Arcite in “The Knight’s Tale,” and Troylus. Notice the presence of the chain-mail armor (“habergeoun”) and tunic (“gypoun”) which hangs along Marshall’s right side. According to the description of the Knight in the “General Prologue” (GP 75-76):

Of fustian he wered a gypoun Al bismotered with his habergeoun

st-bartholomew-the-great St. Bartholomew-the-Great, London
St. Bartholomew-the-Great, begun in 1123, is one of London’s oldest churches. Along with the Chapel of St. John-the-Evangelist in the Tower of London, St. Bartholomew’s is an excellent example of Norman or Early English (Romanesque) architecture. The 13th century gatehouse (above, far left) served as the original entrance to the nave; however today, the church is considerably shorter after years of neglect and late-nineteenth century restorations.
The actual Tower of London. This is the center tower within the castle. Tower of London, London
Begun by William the Conqueror, the history of the Tower is nearly the history of England. Site of executions, famous imprisonments, the national mint, and the Crown Jewels, the Tower of London is also one of the most impressive fortresses in the world. William the Conqueror built the White Tower in 1066 and subsequent rulers have added towers, walls, moats, and additional fortifications throughout English history.
tower-of-london-traitors-gate Traitors were taken down the Thames and entered the Tower through the haunting Traitor’s Gate. By foot, entrance inside the inner wall would entail walking beneath a seven-hundred-year-old portcullis forming part of Bloody Tower. It was here in the Tower that Richard II took refuge during the Peasant’s Revolt. Walking from his home over Aldgate to his job as controller of the petty custom at the Customs House beginning in 1374, Chaucer would have frequently passed the impregnable walls and forbidding towers of the Tower of London.

Canterbury
The ultimate destination of the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, the shrine of St. Thomas a’ Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, unfortunately suffered greatly from Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries and today, the site in the cathedral is marked by a simple burning candle.

cathedral1 Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury
The great central tower of Canterbury Cathedral inherited the name of the earlier Romanesque tower, the Angel Steeple, when it was completed in the 1490’s. However, like Big Ben in London today, a large bell hung in 1498 has given the tower its more popular name, Bell Harry.
westminster-hall-hammerbeam-roof Once inside, one experiences the English Perpendicular Gothic style on the vaulting of the cathedral. Contrast the flamboyant Perpendicular style with the bare, weighty Norman style of St. Bartholomew-the-Great. Henry Yevele, the master-mason with whom Chaucer worked during his appointment as Clerk of the King’s Works between 12 July 1389 and 17 June 1391 in the construction of the nave of Westminster Abbey and the magnificent hammer-beam roof of Westminster Hall, is associated with the construction of parts of the cathedral, most likely in the west porch.