Although some entries in our blog speak about events and experiences of people who have visited, studied or worked at the Franciscan International Study Centre, which sits on the hill overlooking the city of Canterbury, this Centre was founded here because of a rather hidden historical site right in the heart of the city. This is the remaining building of what was once a fairly large Franciscan Church, friary and guest house, built in the 1260s. By that time, Franciscans had been living in small muddy huts (wattle and daub, to be technical) on Binnewith Island in the River Stour for 40 years. They arrived at the Stour Street location in 1224, two years before St. Francis died, led by Agnellus, a deacon. What now remains is the guest house, poised over the river, which now houses a chapel.
This is a photo of that guest house, a suitable picture to present as we welcome readers to our blog.
A few years ago the Time Team archaeology TV programme visited Greyfriars. The programme can be found on You Tube:
(If the link does not work, try searching for Time Team Canterbury.)
Greyfriars has been in the care of the Society of Saint Francis, the Anglican Franciscans. I fondly remember how during the last Lambeth Conference they welcomed the children of Saint Thomas’ Church Canterbury for a little retreat, in the course of which we made two banners, one for them and one for St Thomas’. We were visited and blessed by Bishop Gene Robertson of New Hampshire who was in town along with a few dozen others.
In 2016 I visited Greyfriars and took a few more pictures to help you visit the friary site in imagination.
Greyfriars chapel from the wild flower meadow.
Inside the chapel, with the Blessed Sacrament on the windowsill (below).
There is an icon of Blessed Agnellus of Pisa above the staircase to the chapel, which he is cradling and blessing. May his blessing remain upon all who have studied, worked and worshipped at the Franciscan International Study Centre, as well as today’s pilgrims and other visitors to Greyfriars:
Blessed Agnellus: pray for us.
After the friars were expelled at the Reformation the last remaining building served many purposes, including as a prison.
The three panels that follow are in the Poor Priests’ Hospital, which overlooks the friary site. They tell a little of the story.
My apologies for the poor quality of these three images. (Old mobile phones have their limitations!)
As well as the Huguenots, another group of refugees stayed here: Belgians fleeing the German invasion of 1914.
In Mediaeval times Greyfriars was a place of sanctuary for those in trouble with the law. In 1338 two friars were pardoned after rescuing a couple of felons on their way to execution.
Today the friars welcome visitors to the peaceful gardens and the chapel itself, during the spring, summer and autumn, at certain times of day.