‘Steps unto heaven’

Published February 29, 2016

Among the grand features of the Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of Christ in Canterbury, England—its columns and arches, its quire and its crypt, its exquisite stained glass—are its many steps.

From the great West Door through the nave and into the quire; up to the high altar and the chair of Augustine of Canterbury; on to the shrine of Thomas Becket and into the Chapel of the Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time, there are 45 steps. Having been climbed for some 1,400 years by abbots and monks, archbishops and deans, pastors and pilgrims from all over the world, these steps of stone have been made smooth by their footsteps. The wear and curvature they bear are visible signs of the quest of all who desire through pilgrimage and prayer in this hallowed place to draw near to God. The words of the hymn-writer come to mind:

There let the way appear,
Steps unto heaven;
All that thou sendest me,
In mercy given;
Angels to beckon me
Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee
(Hymn 383, Common Praise hymn book).

To climb these steps is to be humbled in the knowledge that thousands of men and women have trod them before us, and thousands more will tread them after us.

To climb them is to be reminded that, notwithstanding controversies of faith and order of one kind or another through the centuries, the church continues its witness in the world, endeavouring “to fulfil the mind of him who loved it and gave himself for it” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 43).

To climb these steps is to experience the very antiquity of our faith, at the heart of which is the great declaration:

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

? Book of Alternative Services, The Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, p. 195.

In this holy mystery, let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.


  • Fred Hiltz

    Archbishop Fred Hiltz was primate of the Anglican Church of Canada from 2007 to 2019.

Related Posts

Skip to content