Deanery Pilgrimage to Canterbury

Tuesday 25th September  --  Tuesday 2nd October 2012
Setting out from St Cuthbert's Corsenside
Here we reflected on what Pilgrimage means.  We poured water into the font from Cuddy's [St Cuthbert's] Well at Bellingham, remembering the beginning of our Christian journey at baptism.  After singing our pilgrimage hymn ("The Kingdom is upon you"), we realised that this message "summons every pilgrim to take the questing way" which can give us a meaningful direction in life, following the way of Jesus to a life of fulfilment.
The Prayer Cairn

     So we set out with a mixture of curiosity, excitement, reluctance, anticipation and uncertainty, adding our stones to the prayer cairn and carrying one with us to take to Canterbury.

Tuesday afternoon                              We reached Durham after a detour to avoid the roads which (including the A1) were closed by flooding.
     A wet day at Durham Cathedral, a magnificent building erected to house the mortal remains of the humble Cuthbert  --  where we cheekily conveyed greetings from Corsenside "to our brother and junior church" as we presented to the Dean of Durham some earth from Corsenside parish.      
     We were touched by the Dean's welcome and by the hospitality offered, enjoying our tea after an inspiring guided tour of the Cathedral.  What do those massive pillars say to us?  (Their circumference measures the same as their height  --  which means that if they were unrolled like a sheet of wallpaper, they would each form a perfect square.)  Looking closely at the marble pillars (Frosterley limestone) at the chancel step, we were amazed at the fossils visible in their polished surface.
   When Lillian, our guide, asked a child "What do you feel in the great space of the cathedral nave?", the answer was  that the building was embracing us.
     Of course,at the east end of the cathedral is the shrine of St Cuthbert, the shepherd of the hills who became a shepherd to the people.  In Lillian's opinion, the monks who carried his coffin on its circuitous route ending at Durham were not wandering randomly to avoid invading Vikings but "marking the territory of Cuthbert".

Supper in Durham before Compline in the chapel of St Chad's where we spent the night

                                                                                              St Kyneburgha travelled to 
The parish church of St Kyneburgha
in the village of Castor
near Peterborough

Thursday morning
Northumbria in the 7th century and was converted to Christianity on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.  On her return south, she was responsible for the re-foundation of Christianity in about 650 A.D. ( labelled Anno Domini: "in the year of Our Lord" in Christian reckoning).
Carving of Christ in glory
holding the sun and moon
To church for 7.30 Mattins

                                                                                   This was the church which had              
The presiding priest, Deacon and
sub-deacon after the Pilgrims'
Mass at the shrine of
Our Lady and St Kyneburgha
requested water from Cuddy's                                    
Well, the spring at Bellingham which has never dried up since  St Cuthbert blessed it in the                                                    7th century.                                  


We were looked after wonderfully with a substantial tea in the Prince of Wales Feathers, drinks at the Rectory and a cooked supper in the pub  --  before being taken to the private houses of parishioners who had agreed to take in  pilgrims who arrived as strangers and left as friends.
We broke our journey at St Alban's where we had lunch and a rest.
St Alban's Abbey

The person on the desk put me through on the phone to the Diocesan office to find me a contact number for this evening's destination:  I needed to ask for a postcode for the coach driver's sat nav.

mediaeval wall painting of
Christ's Crucifixion

St Alban's Abbey nave with

St Alban's Abbey high altar
Thursday evening

Welcome to London

Pilgrims are taken to parishioners' homes

The odd figure behind the tea-drinkers is one of many scarecrows placed in the church by different organisations celebrating an urban harvest festival with an event called "The country comes to Lambeth".
and return for the fish and chip supper      

with members of the local congregation

in St Anselm's, North Lambeth

The church is planning alterations to the enormous Victorian building to enable worship and a restaurant and training and accommodation for rehabilitation and...and..and.  We were inspired to hear about the ambitious "Pathways" project to benefit  the local community in an area so different from where we live.

A future career?

His mother was one of the local people who so generously gave us hospitality overnight.  I read that pilgrims travel as guests of the places they travel through.  Hospitality is a form of love: so on pilgrimage, there's a widening of the family circle.  When we realise that we belong in it, and that that is our human identity, and that we are brothers and sister of Christ, then (as John Bunyan's hymn puts it) "there's no be a pilgrim".
     Let's hope that some of our hosts will come to Northumberland as our guests in the future.


Setting out from Lambeth, we are now following a route not far off the one taken by Chaucer's pilgrims from the Tabard Inn in Southwark, and we arrive in Rochester in mid morning.

Rochester Castle keep; and opposite it:
Rochester Cathedral

Inside we found a flower arranger,

a conservator at work in the library
 and in the crypt children on a schools visit
This is a living cathedral, open to the outside world, where people enter for worship and go out to engage with the world.
Refreshments in the cathedral garden

The nave, looking east

Windows in the Lady Chapel
showing the infant Christ

 scenes from his later life (death on the Cross and risen in glory)

Painted in 2000 A.D., the only true fresco commissioned by an English cathedral for hundreds of years:

The baptism of Christ (by John the baptist) in the River Jordan

Crowds are baptised as Christianity comes to Kent
(on his return from baptising thousands of Northumbrians at Yeavering Bell, St Paulinus returned to become Bishop of Rochester in 633 A.D.)

The cathedral currently displays a temporary exhibition of art by Ruth Dent [see her website  ]    These banners at the high altar are four of a series inspired by Evensong. After Choral Evensong we met her chorister son who, with his fellow choir members,had filled this part of the cathedral with unaccompanied singing full of  strength and vitality. 

The doors at the west end of the cathedral have been replaced with glass; so that people passing outside can look in and decide if they wish to enter.  Standing just east of the choirstalls, we could see all the way to the west doors and out to where we would go to share God's love with the world.


    Our first stop was at the church of St Cosmos and St Damian in the woods at Challock where a mural was painted for the new Millennium (in 2000 A.D.) by John Ward, R.A.
Jesus "triumphal" arrival  --  humbly on a donkey

His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane whilst the disciples sleep  (Notice the Kentish countryside, with the barn owl at top right, the green woodpecker above the stone arch of the doorway, the primroses bottom right etc.)

The story of Jesus's life, death and resurrection helps to make sense of life in all places and at all times  --  including for these people of this Kentish parish depicted in these scenes.
At this point the more energetic
pilgrims set out to walk to Chilham where the modern long-distance trail follows an old pilgrims' way.

Picking sloes

Old man's beard (wild clematis), rosehips and blackberries

The track climbs the flinty chalk of the North Downs

through King's Wood, so called because Henry VIII used to come here for deer hunting  --  and the tall fence on the right of the picture shows how farmers down in the valley are trying to prevent the deer of today from getting down from the wood to eat their crops.

and coming out to the edge of the wood...

the first sight of Canterbury Cathedral
as Chaucer's pilgrims --  and non-fictional pilgrims down the centuries  --  would have glimpsed it on the horizon.  I was very happy that I had managed to remember the spot where I could let everyone have this view and exclaimed "I was right!"  --  at which one of the others commented "That's what she'll say when she gets to heaven."

An oast house

through zoom lens

Equestrian facilities in Chilham Castle Park include a
fence on the cross-country course built to resemble an oast house. 

Arriving at Chilham

There is nothing wrong with eating, contrary to the qualms of one pilgrim who wondered if we ought to be fasting.  As was written by the "Shepherd of Hermas" in the 2nd century,
"God does not want you to deny yourself good things.  That is no road to holiness.  A true fast is to deny yourself bad things; keep  his commandments, do what he says, reject evil thoughts and desires the moment they enter your imagination.    Reject what is wrong and serve God with a simple, uncomplicated heart.  If you do that, you are fasting  --  fasting in a way that pleases the Lord."        
Lord, help us to follow this road.
And so to Canterbury: entering the mediaeval city walls through the West Gate

Canterbury crowds in the High Street, as thick a throng as in  any time past

Our first glimpse of  Canterbury Cathedral

Entering the precincts
We learn here that in the Cathedral there is "a space where many people have brought hopes and fears and celebrations and anxieties.  There is a silence that is full of other people speaking in a different way."
The nave from the pulpitum steps after we had come down from the Quire where the choir had sung Evensong 

Looking upwards from the pulpitum steps

Saturday evening

     There was no accommodation available for us all in Canterbury for the Saturday night, which truned out to be a blessing in disguise

The coach dropped us at Sheldwich Village Hall to share in the Harvest Supper of the parish of Badlesmere and Leaveland.  (The decorations are a contrast with St Anselm's North Lambeth!)
Local corn and apples

Preparations in the kitchen

A fleece as a farmer's harvest offering

more produce
vegetables from the parish

beans and flower seed
It was a delight to enjoy the contrasting meals of chilli con carne in Northamptonshire, fish and chips in London and local lamb in Kent when we were entertained by parishioners before being taken to their houses for the night.
     Then finally to Canterbury for forty-eight hours, beginning with the Sunday morning Eucharist in the Cathedral.  We were honoured to have been invited to choose three of our number to present the bread, wine and water at the altar for the Communion  --  a difficult choice but they represented Bellingham, Birtley and Wark for us.
     More importantly, they simply represented the two hundred or more people of all ages, races and nations who had gathered that morning to worship God.
The chapel of Our Lady Martyrdom  where some of us attended Morning Prayer at 7.30 on Monday and Tuesday

A welcome to the Deanery from the Dean, the Very Revd Robert Willis, the author of our pilgrimage hymn which we sang in Corsenside and Durham and Castor but didn't have the courage to sing in Canterbury!

The Cathedral from another angle, the Deanery garden

One pilgrim said that Canterbury Cathedral is like a city of God containing many houses.

Dr David Flood came to talk to us about music in the Cathedral.  The choir achieves an incredibly high standard on quite limited rehearsal time.  Probationers need the beginnings of a good singing voice and the ability to keep up with school work.  They receive professional musical training; but also, amongst the other qualities that David looks for in an aspiring chorister,  is "a sparkle in the eye".  Youngsters arrive with potential and under his care that potential can come to fruition as he "opens the door for them to enable them to go through".  Clearly the choristers trust him and so feel secure enough to take the risks demanded by constant public performance.

The south-east corner of the Cathedral
The Dean told us that  two hundred people work at Canterbury Cathedral (of whom six are clergy) and the 4-word "mission statement" is one which can be demonstrated by all of them.  It is
to show people Jesus.  
A gardener may break off pruning to tell a visitor the variety of rose; a stonemason may explain his work; a gatekeeper offers the first welcome,  as the whole cathedral community continues its centuries-old tradition of Benedictine hospitality.                                             

from the Lodge garden
Canterbury Cathedral is the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion  --  for all.  The Dean emphasised "This is your cathedral" (as he served us coffee) and we believed him, recalling how the three pilgrims had taken up the Communion elements on Sunday and then finding on Tuesday morning that I was invited to help the officiating priest with the administration of Holy Communion for the early-morning congregation.
The rain just holds off as Bell Harry Tower overshadows us
There may be some clouds overshadowing the life of the Anglican Church; but we were moved by the Dean's description of a video made of two bishops (one African, one American) walking through the lanes of Kent.  They were deep in theological argument..  They stopped.  One said "We don't agree, do we?"  "The other replied,"No."   "Shall we go on together?"  They then walked on side by side.
A mural made of fresh moss and other plant material
After the splendour, magnificence and beauty that we had witnessed, it was curious to realise that the offerings we had brought to these grand places were Northumbrian soil from Corsenside for the Dean of Durham, fresh spring water from St Cuthbert's Well for Castor and other host parishes, and a piece of stone from Bellingham Deanery which we signed and left at Canterbury Cathedral.

During this pilgrimage we have stepped back from the pressures and "noise" of our daily life.  If we had walked here five hundred years ago, we would have had an equal amount of time in which to make the homeward journey and talk over all that we had experienced.  We don't have that space; but the return home is not "The End".
St Cuthbert's Corsenside
" 'Tis good, Lord, to be here,
yet we may not remain;
But since thou bidst us leave the mount,
come with us to the plain."      [J. Armitage Robinson]

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful story of a special time together, thank you for sharing it with us.