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The primary cultural belief was in the supremacy and power of the Church. The common belief in Chaucer's time was that life was merely a state preceding when one went to an eternal reward or punishment. It was also widely believed that the Church held the keys to heaven and hell and could ordain that one go to either place at its will. The very essence of the Canterbury Tales indicates this: The travellers were on a pilgrimage to Canterbury to pray at the tomb of Thomas Becket, a Saint of the Church. It was widely believed that pilgrimages were a form of penance that would atone for sin. The fact that several of the travellers were in church related orders is also indicative. Although Chaucer indicates that some were less than holy, in fact, some such as the Pardoner are absolute crooks. This may not have been true in fact, but there was the widespread belief that churchmen were by and large as sinful as the next person.
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