Sunday, 17 November 2013

A French secret at Canterbury Cathedral

                                    Outside the Huguenot Weavers Restaurant in Canterbury

As the Reformation swept Europe in the 16th century, many Continentals wanted to turn from the Catholic faith or from communities influenced by the Albigensians, Cathars or the Waldensians. Italian, Walloon and French religious refugees flooded to England to shelter from burnings, massacres and persecutions. They arrived in Dover, Canterbury, London, Norwich. Some went to Ireland.  

The population of Canterbury was reportedly about five thousand at the time. Suddenly two thousand skilled Walloons and French refugees arrived. One can imagine the social upheaval.  In Bedfordshire, it is thought that the immigrants brought lacemaking with them, which helped local women earn a living, including my female ancestors.

Some Huguenot refugees were weavers and eventually worked in this house above in High Street Canterbury still called Weavers Restaurant, where we had Sunday lunch today.  It is thought that Kent had many descendants of mixed French and English ancestry due to this immigration.

In London, Stranger Churches under Royal protection, were set up for refugee communities of Italians and French. William Shakespeare lodged with immigrant skilled French for some time.  They were skilled wig makers, which he would have appreciated.

After lunch, we sought the Chantry of the Black Prince at Canterbury Cathedral to attend the regular Sunday afternoon French Protestant service, still in the French language. This Chantry was given in perpetuity by reformed boy king Edward VI to the French Protestant refugees. His edict has held for over 450 years.   One would not find this service if one did not know it existed!  Here is a clue.

                 Entrance to the French Protestant Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral

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