Students walk in character as Canterbury pilgrims

Sunday, November 23, 2003

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Senior students in Debbie Huffman's basic English class at Springfield's Lanphier High School recently traded in their baggy jeans and sweat shirts for 14th century costumes.

The long dresses and knee pants were part of a special field trip Huffman had planned to bring to life "The Canterbury Tales," which the class had just finished reading.

Huffman and her students recreated the book's framing story line -- 30 pilgrims from all layers of society walk the 55 miles from London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket, the archbishop murdered inside Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 by King Henry II's soldiers.

The book, written by English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th century, recounts the tales the pilgrims told as they made the journey. It's through their stories that readers learn that, although they were on a religious journey, very few of the pilgrims were particularly good Christians.

Huffman borrowed costumes from the school's music director, and students took on different character like merchants or sailors.

Then the class walked to St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church. While the trip was not quite 55 miles -- more like a mile-and-a-half -- the brisk weather gave the students a taste of the conditions travelers might have encountered in 14th century England.

James Brahler, dressed as the miller, wore knee socks and knickers and sported a red beard. The miller was also known for a wart at the end of his nose with a red hair growing out of it.

"I liked the story," Brahler said of the book. "I liked how he described the characters, and the detail he went into."

Adam Jackson dressed as a "mean" monk, and Rachel Jameson was the merchant's wife who went to church only to be seen. Adam Coe was the rich lawyer who was on the pilgrimage only for the money.

"Most of these people are really bad people," Coe said.

At St. Aloysius, the Rev. Don Meehling stood at the altar and pretended his church was Canterbury Cathedral. Meehling welcomed the travelers as an organist played.

"Undoubtedly you had tales to share with one another in abundance, and high school students centuries from now will be reading about you," joked Meehling.

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