Wednesday, 18 August 2010
We may be behind, but we are coming!
This picture might be on the Mesata in Spain in early summer. But it is not. It is Northamptonshire on a rather dull day in August. And yes they are pilgrims, Santiago pilgrims. It is a pilgrimage organised by The confraternity of the Glorious Apostle St James the Greater in Peterborough Diocese, more often know as Peterborough Pilgrims or as Rebecka Scott calls us the Peterbros. We have been working for sometime on the development of the Camino/Way of St James in England from the remains of the Monastery of St James in Northampton to join with the route opened by the confraternity in Normandy and so on to Santiago. This photograph is the fruit of this work. We have found and walked the route from Northampton to Portsmouth harbour. We have a set of maps and a guide for any who wish to use them and we will put you up for the night before you start as well issue you with a credential from the Archconfraturnity We have also been recognised by the Bishop of Peterborough and issued with letters of association to develop our work,. St James tide was great time for us. But more of the pilgrimage. We started off from our guild church of St Mary, Far Cotton, just over the river from the ancient Abbey of St James on Saturday, 24 July, the eve of St James walking 5 miles that afternoon to Blisworth. We had a good number who came with us who had been at the dedication and lunch led by our president Bishop Donald Allister. This event was a gathering of over 60 pilgrims and well wishers.We stayed in the Baptist chapel for the night, setting off about 9am for the walk to St Peter and St James in Brackley. We passed the Santiago churches of Paulerspury, Syresham and arrived rather late for the evening service. This service was the night of St James day, day so it was a double celebration. The next day the walk was to Bletchingdon and camping overnight in a rather nice campsite. Then on to Oxford by way of the Oxford canal to St Stephen's house for the night. St Stephens gave us a great welcome and lovely rooms - too go of dirty Pilgrims .The highlight for most was the showers.. Next to Dorchester on Thames by way of Littlemore, where we stopped at the College. This was the home of John Henry Newman after he took leave of the Church of England and was where he was admitted to the Roman catholic fellowship. It is now managed by an order of Nuns who have restored and preserved his rooms and chapel. It is possible to stay there, but we didn't as it was early in the day. On to Dorchester. This was the home of St Birianus; the Apostle to the middle part of England. At one time his shrine was here, but the monks of Winchester pulled rank and took him to their Cathedral, where he now is. It is a great building and we were welcomed by their Vicar. She provided us with tea, before we set off for the night's stop at Wallingford, camping by the river. Now on the river for a while we enjoyed the evening which was rather overcast. We were under canvas, but had no rain .It was a good stop with a nice steak for dinner. The next day we were given water transport to Reading by a family who took good care of us. We had some debate as to the validity of a boat as a proper means of pilgrim transport. We came to the view that without boats, we would be in some difficulties on a later pilgrimage, when we will need the help of a boat to take us across the sea to St Malo/Santander to continue this route opening. We also considered that the Thames was the medieval M1 of its time. So we accepted. The sun shone and we watched the the countryside pass by. Our hosts were wonderful and supplied drinks and sandwiches. They blessed us and we left our blessing with them. In Reading we stayed with the Priest of St James the Great, Roman Catholic Church. This church is built in the grounds of the Abbey of St James, where the hand of St James resided for many centuries. He is a supporter of pilgrimage and as he has recently become the Parish priest is taking a great interest in the renewal of Santiago pilgrimage as it passes by his church. He gave us a stone from his garden, that was once part of the great Abbey, to place on the Santiago altar back home. There is much to be done to develop this work and he is with us. The route now diverts from what some have seen as the traditional ancient route. This would have gone straight to Winchester. The London confraternity of St James have incomplete plans for t his route and hope to develop it to Southampton, which was the point of embarkation in former times. Now one can go to the Isle of Wight or catch a container ship to most parts of the world, but no ferry to France or Spain. That traffic goes by road and the Dover ferry or tunnel. So we have started to promote the new route through Hook, Alton, Arlesford, Bishop's Waltham. This will need some adjustment. We have noted that it is better to head off from Alton to Petersfield, Havant and to Portsmouth. For us pilgrimage is a modern day spiritual discipline. It is more that the putting of feet into the marks of those who came this way long ago. To return to the journey. It is a wonderful walk to Hook. The church there was generous to lend us their hall and the Vicar was very friendly. The fellowship gave us a great dinner of fish and chips as well as Eucharistic hospitality. They took a great interest in our progress. Next morning it rather looked dull and promised a wet day. This is did not materialise, for which we were grateful. The countryside so far had been very interesting, but it now took on a different sort of interest with Hampshire breech woods and heaths. Long green lanes. It really does not get better that this. Before we started off, I was in two minds as to the value of the enterprise. What was the use of developing a walk/pilgrimage that was a long lost note of history. Just keep going to Spain and walk many of the routes that are so readily available. Or so I thought. The experience was very different. The only way I can explain it is that it was like being faced with a deep jungle. As we stood at the beginning with the dense green before us. It seemed almost impossible or at least very difficult to hack our way through. But as we put our feet on the path it was as though the herbage parted before us to reveal a long lost path that was still there. The green parted and we walked easily. One of our number who has walked a number of pilgrimages in Spain thought that this was the best that she has been one. Full of deep meaning and beauty. From Hook we crossed the grain of the land to Alton. A typical Hampshire town. Again we stayed in the parish hall. By now we were in need of a stop with a good shower this we got at Arlesford in the Swan Hotel the stop for t he next night. As for the showers they seemed to come every other day. The weather was good and at time very warm, for England. So we got. If it had been hotter we would have been in difficulties in this matter. On to Bishop's Waltham. For those who wanted a route that took in Winchester, there was a St Swithin's way that leads to Winchester. I had seen Winchester before and opted for the direct way. To me Winchester Cathedral is too commercial, too tourist of it to be of any use in the scheme of pilgrim things . So I opted for the direct way. That was not to be, as I had to take over the role of support diver. But the rest of the group decided that they didn't want to go to Winchester either. Perhaps it was the 8 miles that it added to the minimum of 12 to Bishop's Waltham. And so after a lovely sunny summers day the rest of the group showed up, as if by magic, in Bishop's Waltham that evening. They had had a good day. With just the right number of pubs on the way to keep them happy and moving. Pilgrims don't change much!! Then it was the last day. The triumphal arrival in Portsmouth. We went to the ferry port as a symbolic statement that we would be back to catch a ship to Northern Spain one day soon. That will be a year in October. We have decided that a walk to Santiago from Northampton is possible in the limits of the normal pilgrim journey . We have noted that it is the same walking distance to Santiago from Northampton,via Portsmouth, Santander and the Camino Primativo as it is for St Jean,