It's that time of year again when the quiet British countryside gets infested with a lively group of cross wearing pilgrims following little orange arrows! It's when all the hard work of the organising team comes together into two weeks of blind panic, when everyone realises that Lesley is driving the catering car (crunch), Hairbear the chief route planner is in the pub again trying to work out where he left the drawing pins for the arrows, Simon is setting off the hall fire alarms with the toaster, the washing up bowls are not where you thought they were and Frances the chef can't find the wretched tin opener! but hey, I wouldn't be anywhere else for all the tea in China........... because I prefer cider.
Yes, this Cornish pilgrimage is going to be a cracker. Variety or what? We'll have everything from incredibly beautiful coastal scenery, rugged Cornish countryside, exquisite churches, the Red Arrows display team, a huge record breaking Pasty, surfing, a sailing regatta, more pasties, the usual joyful masses, the colourful Celtic history of Cornwall to enrich us, shared services............... and Julian walking down disused railways...... no surprise there then!
As I mentioned in the previous Newsletter, the amount of material that I have uncovered and been sent (thanks Fr. Rob Taylerson...... if I manage to read that lot I'll set myself up as a consultant Encyclopedia Britannica on the lives, history, genealogy, theology of the Saints of Cornwall and their families, friends and associates, where they went, where they came from, what they did, what they were alleged to have done, what they said they didn't do, who they said they didn't do it to, the case for and against, their insurance liability levels, their social security numbers........ etc.). Hang on a minute........ Dear Father Rob Esdale and Father Jonathan How...... have I got some material for you..... The long and the short of it, dear pilgrims, is that the theme of St. Michael as a champion of good over evil, his important place in the Celtic Church's faith, with its history and traditions should make this pilgrimage rather special.
I have no doubt that the October Newsletter will abound with colourful tales and experiences shared on this years walk. Of course if you can't wait that long to hear about what happened or are beginning to get the feeling that you might be one of the ones who foolishly missed applying for this years pilgrimage........ there are a Few Places Left..... get in quick if you want to be lucky and not disappointed.
There are of course two pilgrims who have a very good reason for missing this years pilgrimage........ remember the noodles? Nicola Noodle Brown is getting married while we are on pilgrimage and Claire Noodle Fellingham is going to be her bridesmaid. Claire, take good care of Nicola on her special day.... you know what she is like for putting her foot in it!!! (ref. cattle-grid Glastonbury 2)
Talking of marriages, Ruth Allanson and Alan Tilley got married on Saturday 4th April ......... It transpires that I am to blame for them meeting and I would like to take this opportunity to say ...... OOPS! Absolutely excellent wedding and as for the reception..... Fantastic!! A P.S. on this... be advised that if you are offered a place to stay at Linda (Green)Eason's sister Diana's abode after a wedding DO NOT LOCK THE TOILET DOOR! EVER EVER EVER ! I did and spent between 3.00 am and 3.20 am taking a lock mechanism apart with scissors.... realising the cause was hopeless after the mechanism slid down inside the door, spent the night wrapped up in a shower curtain!
You may remember in the last Newsletter in February that I mentioned how wonderful it was to meet or hear from pilgrims that have been away for a while but still have very fond memories of the time they spent walking on an A & B pilgrimage. Well here's a blast from the past that makes me feel pretty humble when it comes to walking, Fr. Hans Burgman from the 1977 Walsingham Pilgrimage. It is so wonderful to hear how he is doing after all these years. (his letter in Newsletter). So if any of you other past pilgrims think that it has been a while since you've been in contact..... take inspiration from Fr. Hans. and write in.
On a sadder note, could you all remember Kath Grafen and family in your prayers as Harry Grafen, her husband, has made his final pilgrimage to Our Father in Heaven. R.I.P.
For the Future :
The Reunion....... No volunteers yet.... how about checking out your local parish hall and seeing if a walk is possible from it? Do you know a good barn dance group or have you another idea for the Saturday night entertainment? Get in touch with me if you do want to give it a go.
The Organising Committee...... As you may know, the pilgrimage is organised by a group of volunteer pilgrims. Each year the committee moves on with some standing down and new pilgrims taking over. After this years walk, my three years term as Coordinator finishes and Lesley Hill takes over with me becoming her deputy for next year. I have been extremely lucky with the team that has helped keep me in line and hope that she can be as lucky. Many people have over the years gained a lot from going on a Walking Pilgrimage and it only continues because of the goodwill, care and love of those who freely give their time to make it all happen each August. Please think about whether you could be able to commit yourself to four reasonably fun meetings a year. You would be most welcome. The next meeting is after the pilgrimage on Sunday the 13th of September. Contact Lesley on 0181 8970585 for more details.
To those of you who are coming on the pilgrimage...... get those practice walks in and I'll see you there. To those of you who are not........ keep in touch...... and try to make the Reunion which is for pilgrims from any year.
Love & Prayers
Running straight across southern Britain from the far west of Cornwall to a point on the east coast of Norfolk is St. Michael’s Line, which intersects a remarkable alignment of ancient sacred sites. This alignment or “ley line” connects legendary places such as St. Michael’s Mount, Glastonbury, Avebury, Royston, Bury St. Edmunds and many others whose significance is half-forgotten.
Marking particular places along the line are many megalithic monuments and prehistoric sites and a great number of churches, some important, others almost clandestine. These churches are dedicated to St. Michael and other “dragon-slaying saints” or to St. Mary. The line’s trajectory of alignment coincides with the direction of the rising sun on or near Beltane or May Day.
The A & B Walking Pilgrimage has probably crossed this “line” on many pilgrimages; notably the Walsingham, Norwich, Hereford, and Glastonbury ones. This year in Cornwall we will cut across it again. Our pilgrimage goal lies at almost the westernmost point of this archaic terrestrial line, the Mount of Saint Michael.
Guarding the entrance to the Land’s End district of Cornwall, the “English Mount of Saint Michael” was known as a port and trading post from as early as 350 BC. Situated on the other side of the English Channel and similarly precariously perched upon a coastal rock outcropping is the famous medieval pilgrimage shrine of Mont St. Michel. At both sites, visions of the archangel were seen during, the fifth century and the histories of the two shrines are intimately connected with one another.
Following the defeat of the seafaring merchants who controlled the English Mount by the Roman Julius Caesar in 56 BC, the small island was abandoned to hermits and mystics. Legends tell of a visit by St. Keyne and a spring that miraculously gushed forth when she set foot upon the rock in 490 AD. The event which most clearly stimulated Christian pilgrimages to the mount however, was an apparition of St. Michael to a fisherman in 495 AD. According to different versions of the legend, St. Michael was observed either high upon a rocky ledge or walking upon the waters of Mount Bay. Whatever the case, the mount quickly became an important sacred site that would continue to draw pilgrims from throughout England for 1500 years. During its long history after the apparition, the Mount has been a church, a priory, a military fortress and a private castle of the St. Aubyn family. Today the castle and shrine are maintained by an historical department of the government and the site is visited by both tourists and religious pilgrims.
In studying St. Michael’s Mount two interesting matters come to light. The first regards the legendary accounts of apparitions of the archangel. According to various tales, St. Michael was said to have miraculously appeared in over 400 places throughout Britain and Europe during the 4th and 5th centuries. At a large percentage of these sites he was supposed to have slain dragons. It is remarkable that paleontological excavations have brought to light large numbers of dinosaur bones from hundreds of millions of years ago yet not one single dragon bone from only 1500 years ago. This lack of evidence for the existence of dragons, at least in early medieval times, must cause one to question the Christian story of St. Michael. Did the archangel really appear and did he really slay dragons, or should the myth be understood as having a metaphorical rather than literal meaning? At sacred sites throughout the world, various cultures have represented the mysterious subjects of power places and their enigmatic apparitions with myths, legends, drawings and carvings of dragons, serpents and giant snakes. These iconographic representations of the earth spirit and its mystic powers are methods whereby peoples’ experiences of the unexplainable were symbolically communicated over long periods of time. Snakes live beneath the surface of the ground ‘and thus were universally used to symbolically depict the mysterious forces of the underworld (it is also true that various species of snakes live in trees and there is much ancient iconography depicting serpents and dragons sinuously wound round the great Earth Tree whose roots reach into the underworld).
Yet there is still more to this matter, and the Christian myth of the dragon-slaying St. Michael may be further unravelled. Many pre-Christian legends, in those areas of Europe with standing stones in the countryside, have references to giants or normal persons who ‘speared a serpent’ or ‘captured the dragon forces at a site’ by the placement of a great stone into the body of the earth. Even more telling is the fact that many Christian sacred sites were, prior to the arrival of Christianity, known as dragon’s dens and serpent’s lairs. The Christian story of St. Michael spearing a pagan serpent may thus be seen as a appropriation of a far older pagan myth. It is truly one of the sweetest ironies that while the Christian symbol of St. Michael was intended to depict the so-called ‘victory’ of the new faith over the old, it does so with a graphic form that actually perpetuates the very pagan myths which the Christians sought to eradicate.
The image of St. Michael, distant and untenuous to some, has been inculcated over the centuries fired by many images from mythology. St. Michael’s graphical depiction as a dragon slayer can be allegorical of the continuous war of “good against evil” which we are engaged in today.
However, unlike St. Michael’s line the Pilgrimage does not follow a straight and true line, much like our pilgrimage of life, fraught with its ups and downs. St. Michael is one who clears the way for us and for the second coming of Jesus, a destroyer of demons and a great Angel of Light, guiding us pilgrims by kindling the beacons to illuminate our way. Make this pilgrimage like a journey into God, which in a way is a journey into our true selves; like emerging from the heathen darkness into the light of Christ.
Danny Thomas July 1998
I will be taking over from Patrick as co-ordinator after this year’s pilgrimage. The route and destination for next year are yet to be democratically decided. There are several exciting suggestions including; Bath via the Isle of Wight, Canterbury to Winchester, Lichfield and Evesham. Lists will go up at the end of this years pilgrimage, however if you will not be with us at Marazion please send me your suggestions or preferences.
There will be several changes to the organising Team; Danny is stepping down as Accommodation Officer and we urgently need a successor (Could it be You?). The position comes with a full job description, no pay but the rewards are immense. You would be masterminding the overnight stops for next years route, searching towns and villages for potential pilgrim abodes, a little leg work will be needed to measure the space available, ensuring the facilities fulfil pilgrim expectations and that the kitchens attain the high standards required by Francis!!
Danny will be on hand during this years pilgrimage for an informal chat if you are interested but unsure, and Danny will also no doubt continue to offer guidance during your first year.
We also need a new treasurer as Julian too is stepping down. There might be other help needed, so if you want to contribute to the pilgrimage we will be having an open meeting on Sunday 13th September. Why not come along?
Lesley Hill (Tel: 0181 897 0585)
If anyone wishes to go on a trip to the St Austell Brewery during the Fowey rest day, please contact Maurice Hickman asap (13/8/98 at the latest)
This year the return coach will be stopping at Hove, Redhill & Reading. Please note: It will not be possible to travel back to Plymouth on the Coach, as this would involve a considerable detour.
If you are arriving or departing during the pilgrimage and need local bust train details ring Monica McLauchlan before 14th August.
You send me your newsletter so faithfully, and often you must be wondering if it arrives. Well it does, and I always look at it with interest. I am the Mill Hill Priest who met Bill Haynes at Farnborough in the 70s on my way to Santiago de Compostella, and till ‘77 I joined in your pilgrimage a few times.
Since 1977 I have been back in Kenya, I see that you put some news items about old pilgrims in your newsletter, and decided to send you a little message.
In the ‘80s I got an arthritic hip. In 1992 the doctor gave me an artificial replacement, and since then I have made several pilgrimages, The most noteworthy being:
In 1995 we walked from Mombassa (Kenya) to Kamyala (Uganda) to commemorate the arrival of the first Mill Hill Missionaries in East Africa, and we recreated their caravan along their 1300km route. We all survived; 35 for the total distance and another 35 part of the way.
In 1996 I walked by myself from Holland to Santiago and back, 6000km in 9 months. I passed through Lourdes, Compostella, Avignon, the Alps (Small + Great St. Bernard) and Fulda in Germany (Shrine of St. Boniface). That was the way I spent my Sabbatical. I am doing well, although the situation in this country gives us a lot of head-aches.
My greetings and best wishes to you all, Yours on the way as ever.