The spritual value of pilgrimage

midday mass Aylesford Priory

midday mass Aylesford Priory

A pilgrimage is a journey there and back to some sacred or holy place. The journey is as important as the destination.

Pilgrimages are fashionable. Pilgrimages are now big business, travel and tour companies have jumped in on the act. But a pilgrimage is not leisure, it is a devotion.

326 AD St Helena went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She discovered relics of the Cross.

The destination may be a cult of a saint, holy relics, a spring.

Walsingham is a house, a replica of a house in the Holy Land.

The medieval concept of a pilgrimage was as a penance, atonement, to ease passage through purgatory. If you were wealthy enough you paid someone else to go on pilgrimage on your behalf.

Shrines were destroyed during the reformation. Henry VIII needed the wealth of the Church to finance foreign wars. Martin Luther railed against shrines and relics, proclaimed the path to salvation was through faith not superstition.

A pilgrimage is a journey, you go there, you come back. It is an experience, maybe a life changing experience, you come back changed, hopefully a better person. The journey is the pilgrimage.

Brazilian writer Paulo coelho was obliged to walk El Camino de Santiago as a penance. He had a guide. He walked back and forth over the same route for several days. He was not aware of this until it was drawn to his attention by his guide. His focus was on his destination, not the journey. He had to be reprimanded several times by his guide.

When we go on a pilgrimage we let go of our everyday life, it is a quest, an adventure.

Pilgrims should walk El Camino de Santiago on their own. They will meet up with fellow travellers. There are as many reasons for being a pilgrim as there are pilgrims, each has their own reason.

Are we following the right path?

In The Shack, Jesus tells Mack there are many paths to God. If we are on the wrong path, Jesus will set out to meet us.

Paulo Coelho lost his way. He was advised to go on a journey, to not return until he rediscovered his faith. He went on a spiritual journey on the Transiberian railway. [see Aleph]

A Pilgrimage can be fun. The Canterbury Tales is a series of bawdy tales written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century.

You go home, you bring something back.

In The Shack, when Mack went to spend a weekend with God in the shack where his daughter had been brutally murdered by a child serial killer he came back a changed man.

When Paulo Coelho walked El Camino de Santiago he was told he had to bring something back. His guide had painted a painting. Paulo Coelho wrote The Alchemist.

The destination is usually recognised or designated as holy or spiritual.

There are a large number of spiritual and holy places in the British Isles. As varied as the ruins of Waverley Abbey to the shrine of Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral to sacred stones on remote moorland.

In 1061 a lady had a vision to build a house at Walsingham, a replica of a house in the Holy Land.

Bernadette encountered an apparition, a lady. The lady told her the spring water had healing powers. From this sprang Lourdes. Of Bernadette we hear little more, she was despatched to a convent.

Paulo Coelho writes of this in By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept. He also writes of Charismatics there in the winter when all the visitors have gone home.

Auschwitz is not somewhere we usually think of for a pilgrimage. Those who have been there describe it as a grim desolate place, of being able to feel the evil.

Auschwitz had such a bad impact on Paulo Coelho that he thought it the after effects of a bad drugs trip. He encountered a man in a vision. A man he was to meet some weeks later in a coffee shop in Amsterdam.

To tred the Holy Land is to follow in the footsteps of those who went before.

When Canon Andrew White speaks of biblical associations and places in Iraq, the awe in his voice is palpable.

When you go on a pilgrimage expect the unexpected!

Loosely based on a talk by Father Philip North at St Nicolas Church in Guildford. Father Philip North is the former administrator of the shrine at Walsingham.

Of those present at the talk, all had been on a pilgrimage, many had been on several pilgrimages. But they were a self-selecting group. To put in context, the following evening I was at a meeting at North Camp Methodist Church. Of those present not a single person had been on a pilgrimage, not only that, at least one person asked what was a pilgrimage, another asked what had it to do with prayer!

Father Philip North was given a copy of The Pilgrimage to thank him for his talk.

Since publication of The Pilgrimage in the mid-1980s, the numbers of pilgrims on El Camino de Santiago has risen exponentially, with sharp peaks in Holy Years.

I walked Father Philip North to the station. He asked had I walked the steep hill up to Lincoln Cathedral. I think he was quite surprised when I said many times last winter. I could have added I was a contributor to Capturing Lincoln Cathedral, a must have book on the cathedral.

St Nicolas run an annual pilgrimage to Walsingham.

Bishop Christopher (of Guildford Cathedral) is planning a pilgrimage to Walsingham sometime October 2012.

Pilgrimage to Aylesford Priory with the Knights of St Columba
The History of the Pilgrimage to Compostela
Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela today

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