What is the reason for the pilgrimage in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Geoffrey Chaucer, in his General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, introduces an array of characters who have stopped at an inn on their way to Canterbury. The purpose of their trip is religious; they are going to pay homage to the the blessed martyr, Thomas a Beckett.  

And specially from every shire's end

Of England they to Canterbury wend,

The holy blessed martyr there to seek

Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak.

Though each of the pilgrims has a different degree of devotion to the martyr, they are all going to express their gratitude for his help in their lives.

Ironically, the innkeeper has turned the table on this holy pilgrimage, and because of his proposed wager they each have a chance to win something. Now the journey is about that rather than about the holy martyr.