The Canterbury Tales: Pilgrimage to St. Thomas Becket's Shrine

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

In this lesson, we will explore about how the pilgrimage functions as a framing story in Chaucer's ''The Canterbury Tales.'' We will learn about pilgrimages in various religions and then discover the significance of St. Thomas Becket in Christian belief.

Unlikely Traveling Companions

In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer uses pilgrimage as a storytelling device. A group of strangers meet at the Tabard Inn, outside London, and, realizing that they all have the same travel destination, agree to enter into a contest. Whoever can tell the best story along the journey will get a free meal--on the house! The pilgrimage gives Chaucer the opportunity to bring together these unlikely companions, and to compare and contrast their differing perspectives through their evocative tales.

It's just like in 1001 Nights, where Scheherazade must tell a new story every night to delay her execution. It's also similar to Boccaccio's Decameron, which compiles the 100 stories told during an excursion from Florence to avoid the Black Plague that's devastating the city. Like the Decameron on which Chaucer modeled his tales, all of these classic works of literature have at least one thing in common: the frame story. In each, the author sets the stage for the series of tales by 'framing' the story in a broader context of the storytellers or narrators engaged in an adventure or a journey.

For Chaucer, the pilgrimage provides a reason why all these strangers have come in contact with one another, as well as the motivation for each storyteller to reflect on their own position in society. Each story is in some way autobiographical.

What is a Pilgrimage?

Many religions have them. The pilgrimage is an act of faith, in which devotees (aka pilgrims) show their devotion in the form of a physical (oftentimes arduous and treacherous) journey to a sacred destination of some kind. In the Muslim faith, it's Mecca. In Judaism, it's the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Christians have many destinations. Some make the journey along the Camino de Santiago in Spain to the shrine of the Apostle St. James. But, Brits usually opt to journey to Canterbury to pray at the shrine of St. Thomas.

Pilgrimage to the Wailing Wall
Wailing Wall

What motivates the pilgrims? Journeys, such as these, can test your devotion and faith. They can also provide space for self-reflection and the time to grapple with doubt. Some walk in hope of attaining spiritual redemption.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account