From my room in the Cathedral Lodge I look out at the immense bulk of the Cathedral itself. Surrounding it are the various buildings of the close which house the Cathedral school and in which live some of the 300 paid staff of this busy and ancient society. People have lived in intentional Christian community on this site continuously for 1,400 years. Surrounding the close is the town of Canterbury, bustling with students and a few, hardy, out of season tourists. All of it, Cathedral, Close and City wear the patina of age. Houses are crooked and streets are narrow. Ancient fortifications sit jammed against ancient places of worship and ancient dwelling places. There are half timbered houses and walls made of stone or flint and panes of runny distorted glass. And yet there is a strong sense, not of being in a museum, but in an energetic, vibrant modern town.
It is a bit incongruous for someone like me, used to the Historic places trust getting twitchy over minor changes to an 80 year old building, to see 500 year old ones housing pizza joints or tattoo shops or estate agents. This afternoon I went to a pub with David Rice and Ross Bay. From the dozens of cutesy ye olde English alehouses available, we chose, naturally, The Bishop's Finger. It is tiny, it glows suitably with the oak which lines it and which last photosynthesized around the time of the first Queen Elizabeth. It has little tables made from old barrels and a range of good English beers, and a row of pokie machines lined up against one of the walls. It is, like the rest of the town, a functioning, living place which participates in the 21st Century as much as the 16th.
And so, although abbey and it's priory are only metres away I am staying in a very modern, very comfortable room in a very modern, very well designed conference centre whose existence is a sign of the continuing life of this, one of the most significant holy places in the world. There is a pattern of life here, of daily worship, reflection and community life which I have been assimilated into and for which I feel a peculiar sense of ownership. Here is the central point of my tradition. I am very thankful to be here.