As you go on your contemporary pilgrimages, have a thought for your predecessors. And amongst them, the most famous of them all, Chaucer’s pilgrims! You can now see what they really looked like, because the original woodcut depictions of Chaucer’s Pilgrims published in 1483 by England’s first printer, William Caxton (whose 600th birthday is this year), have now been reproduced in a beautiful paperback. With each one, beneath the picture, is Chaucer’s description of that pilgrim in his original Middle English, accompanied by a new modern English translation. Chaucer died in 1400, only 83 years before the images were cut. So they are authentic.
The book concentrates on the personalities in Chaucer’s famous work. Today when pilgrimages are again becoming popular, we can vividly imagine ourselves on the pilgrimage from Southwark to Canterbury with Chaucer’s twenty-two characters. There is the knight, whose manner was ‘as meek as a maid’s’. There is the squire, who ‘all day long sang and played the flute’. There is the prioress whose outer lip was ‘so clean that in her cup no grease was seen as she drank’. There is the monk whose ‘eyes were fiery and rolling in his head’. There is the ‘wanton and merry wandering friar.’ There is the West Country seaman who ‘could cope with many a raging storm, even if his beard shook with the tempest’. There is the wife of Bath, who ‘had been married five times in church, not to mention having other companions in her youth’. There is the doctor who ‘loved gold especially’. There was the miller, ‘whose chatter was mostly about sex and whores’. And there is the cook, who ‘had a sizeable canker growing on his shin’ but who ‘made blancmange puddings in bell-shaped jelly moulds’.
Join the company!
The book, priced at £9.99, may be obtained from the publisher’s website, www.eglantynebooks.com. Or, if you wish to encourage pilgrims, order it from your local bookshop. The ISBN number of the book is 9781913378028. And be sure to recommend the book to your local cathedral bookshop. We pilgrims have got to stick together! So give copies of the book to your friends and bring Chaucer’s pilgrims back to life again.
Remember the Pilgrim’s Motto: Every destination is a shrine, however humble, if the heart be true.