Quotes about Religion in The Canterbury Tales

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Religion in 'The Canterbury Tales' by Geoffrey Chaucer is complicated. Some characters use religion for their own benefits, while others are committed to their faith. In this lesson, we will look at religion as a theme in the poem.


Religion is a defining feature of Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, a fifteenth century poem written in Middle English. The poem follows twenty-nine pilgrims as they tell stories to one another on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, where the body of St. Thomas Becket rests. Many of the characters are members of the church and the others are devoutly religious. Other characters use religion for personal gain. Moreover, several stories told by the characters are so deeply religious that it's impossible to ignore the deep-seated nature of religion in the writing. Through the narrator, the characters, and the stories, Chaucer develops a strong theme. In this lesson, we will look at several quotes that discuss religion to get a better understanding of the theme.

Christianity Provides True Knowledge

Christianity and pagan religions are shown in The Canterbury Tales, but quite often the characters argue that Christianity is the bread and butter of religion. For example, in the Second Nun's Tale, the character Cecilia reiterates that through Christianity, people have access to true knowledge as opposed to what was available prior to Jesus Christ's revelation.

Cecilia says, 'But ther is bettre lyf in oother place, / That nevere shal be lost, ne dreede thee noght, / Which Goddes sone us tolde thurgh his grace.' In this excerpt, Cecilia is describing the chief principles of Christianity: God provides an afterlife to those who obey his laws and that knowledge is made available only to those who follow Jesus Christ.

Now, do you think that Chaucer, a worldly man truly believed that Christianity is the cornerstone of society, or do you think that he is using his characters to suggest that there is more to life the Christianity? Or something else entirely, perhaps?

Religion as a Means for Attention

In the Miller's Tale, characters use religion as a tool to fool others to get away with unethical acts. The story involves John, a carpenter, his beautiful wife Alisoun, Nicholas the scholar, and Absolon the parish clerk. Both Nicholas and Absolon desire Alisoun, and both manage to have affairs with Alisoun while her husband is away.

For example, Nicholas uses religious songs to garner Alisoun's attention. The narrator says, 'And all above there lay a gay sautrie, / On which he made a-nyghtes melodie/ So swetely that all the chambre rong;/ And Angelus ad virginem he song.'

Nicholas pretends to be holy, but it is a rouse to show Alisoun his wonderful voice. He wants to start an affair with her and will happily use religion to get her attention.

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