A pilgrimage is a journey (on foot) to holy places. There are many types of holy places – natural and man-made – such as a parish church, chapel, mosque, synagogue, temple, hermitage, cave, grave, holy well, waterfall, ancient tree, ancient/prehistoric monument, war memorial, source, or mouth of, a river, and hilltop.
During the last few weeks, my television viewing has included two programmes about Pilgrimage: an appropriate topic for the Easter season. In the first programme which is called “Pilgrimage”, seven well known personalities with differing faiths and beliefs put on their backpacks and waterproofs and set out on foot, by road and sea, to learn about a key figure in early British Christianity, St Columba: an Irish monk born 1,500 years ago who helped spread the faith from Ireland to Scotland. Following ancient paths and heritage walking trails, interior designer Laurence Lewellyn-Bowen, a non-conforming pagan; England cricketing legend Monty Panesar, a practising Sikh; actor Louisa Clein, who is Jewish; TV personality Nick Hewer, an agnostic; social media influencer Scarlett Moffatt, a Christian; comedian Shazia Mirza, a Muslim; and Paralympian Will Bayley, a lapsed Christian, live as modern-day pilgrims. Several conversations follow about the meaning of faith as the pilgrims journey on foot to follow in the steps of St Columba. Travelling over 1,600km they visit key places of worship and rural communities, but will this journey of a lifetime change the way they think about themselves and their beliefs?
The second programme was presented by the actress Jill Halfpenny, one of the North East's best-loved and most dedicated champions. Jill takes us on a personal journey of discovery through the region, exploring how ancient Christian paths criss-crossed this part of world, inspiring unique traditions and customs, many of which are still celebrated at Easter. Jill travels across the beautiful landscape she calls home, offering us a unique window into this part of the world, its history and its significance to Christianity. The films mark Easter, the coming of Spring and the ancient ideas of renewal that are associated with it as we travel with Jill through this stunning part of the world. She also meets walkers who make an annual pilgrimage across the region, following in the footsteps of the area's patron saint, St Cuthbert, ending at Cuddy's Well, said to have been blessed by St Cuthbert himself. Jill's journey ends on the island of Lindisfarne. There she meets Mary Fleeson, an artist who moved to Lindisfarne and was entranced by the place. Mary draws in a style similar to that used by the monks who used to live there, and she shows Jill how the mindful practice can be a form of prayer.
Whilst one can finish a pilgrimage at a remote island, holy well or great tree, cathedrals are the pilgrim’s destination of choice for cities, where most people live, work and celebrate together. This is why, in Britain, cathedrals have become, over time, particularly powerful symbols of pilgrimage.
It is always interesting to welcome Football fans from across Europe who make their journey into the Cathedral. I wonder if they are on a Pilgrimage. There are some interesting conversations to be had.
In 2004, the Year of Faith, the Cathedral held a series of Deanery Pilgrimages to celebrate the Centenary of the foundation of the Cathedral. Canon Hawley and I visited Deaneries to introduce the idea of Pilgrimage. Each Deanery was allocated a day to be part of the Cathedral company. Help was given in the Refectory, looking after visitors and helping with services. Ormskirk Deanery actually made their journey on foot and ended up with stalls selling the local farm produce for which the area is known.
After weeks of planning each Deanery took part in a final day of celebration. Groups had worked with a local choreographer to present their own interpretation of their Pilgrimage journey. The display marked a spectacular climax to the weekend celebrations, which started with a "pilgrimage parade" of more than 200 carnival-costumed dancers down Hope Street from the Metropolitan Cathedral, on Saturday afternoon. An hour later, Liverpool Cathedral played host to a celebration of dance, drama and music by children and adults from every Deanery in Liverpool. Banners and flags were unfurled, and the day concluded with a lively act of worship.
As we move into the Easter Season, I hope you find time to plan your own Pilgrimage.
The British Pilgrimage Trust can help you plan a Pilgrimage to a Cathedral. Have a look and plan your journey to some of our best-loved Cathedrals.