A host’s view of pilgrimage

On this summer’s pilgrimage from Swansea to Hereford we were given a very generous welcome by church communities in Wales, for which we are most grateful. Helen Murphy, from St Catherine’s Church in Caerphilly, sent us an article she had written about our visit with permission to share it on our website. It is reproduced below,


According to my records, it was 2nd November 2019 that Father Mark sent me an email from a group of pilgrims enquiring if they might hire St. Catherine’s Church Hall for one night in August 2020.

Over coffee, after the service held on Sunday 3rd November 2019, the congregation of St. Catherine’s unanimously welcomed the prospect of pilgrims staying in our Hall. But who were they?

Well, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arundel and Brighton for the last forty-seven years has organised an ecumenical pilgrimage where up to one hundred people at a time walk to a Holy Shrine. For example, in 2019, this led them to visit the Shrine of St. Hilda which meant walking from Lincoln to Whitby. If you can walk up to fifteen miles a day, like the company of other people, don’t mind stopping at pubs for lunch and sleeping in church, scout or village halls and want to grow closer to God, then a pilgrimage could be exactly right for you! To find out more, go to www.thepilgrims.org.uk.

But that was in 2019; this is 2022 and in between the World has suffered a Pandemic which, in its way, has been as terrifying and devastating as any Medieval plague. And during this time, Sue Adilz, from the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, and I have kept in touch by email and finally, on Friday 19th August, the pilgrims were here! They had started their pilgrimage at Swansea and their ultimate goal was Hereford Cathedral.

Forty people arrived in Caerphilly. Most of them stayed at St Helen’s Community Hall but twelve pilgrims slept in St Catherine’s Hall. Two vans laden with catering equipment and the pilgrims’ luggage always go ahead to set up ready for the weary walkers’ arrival at their home for the night.

John and Tineke, a Dutch lady who comes over specially to take part in these pilgrimages are in charge of this vanguard. The catering was done at St Helen’s which has a super kitchen and on the morning of Saturday 20th August, a prayer meeting for the pilgrims was held at St Catherine’s. It was a dreadful morning with the rain coming down like stair-rods; some of the pilgrims looked half drowned before they’d even left Caerphilly on their way to Newport and their next stop! Before they left, all those present stood to say the Celtic prayer from Northumbria which we, at St. Catherine’s, always say (or sing when allowed) at the end of every service. It begins: May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you, May He guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm…” – it was such an apt prayer for these people on this very wet, Welsh day!

To mark their stay, the pilgrims gave a small wooden cross to each person in the congregation who had come to pray with them so Janice, Daphne, Deryn and myself all received a cross which we will always treasure. Canon John from St Helen’s was also present, but he’d been given his cross earlier.

So that’s the background to the pilgrims’ stay but who were they honouring? The answer to that goes back to the 13th century.

In 1275, Thomas de Cantilupe, who had been Lord Chancellor of England under Simon de Montford, became Bishop of Hereford. He had become a trusted adviser to Edward I, but apparently, he was a feisty character, and he wasn’t afraid of putting the greedy Norman barons in their place. For example, when Gilbert de Clare of Caerphilly Castle fame, built a ditch, which can still be seen on the Malvern’s today, to try to filch hunting rights from the Bishop, Thomas de Cantilupe went to Law to win his case. Thomas even argued with the then Bishop of Canterbury, John Peckham, who was insisting on his right to visit the Hereford Diocese. This led to Thomas being ex-communicated. He had to travel to Italy to request that Pope Martin IV absolve him – which he did – and then Thomas promptly died! It is said that his body was then boiled with his flesh being buried in Orvieto, Italy, his heart returned for burial at Ashbridge, Buckinghamshire and his bones interred at Hereford Cathedral. So loved was Bishop Thomas that in Medieval times, his shrine was second in importance to that of Thomas a Becket’s in Canterbury Cathedral.

In 1320, Thomas, Bishop of Hereford was made a saint. In our modern times, his life has inspired Mother Theresa and more recently, Melissa Gates.

That answers why our pilgrims are going to Hereford but why does their pilgrimage start in Swansea?

In 1290, William Cragh, who, depending on which side you were on, was variously called an outlaw, a rebel, and a warrior. He was to be hanged by Lord William de Briouze in front of Swansea Castle for his part in the rebellion against the Norman baron led by Rhys ap Maredudd in which he apparently killed thirteen men. However, the gallows on which William Cragh was to be hanged collapsed twice before the deed was finally done. Lady Mary de Briouze must have been distressed by all this because she prayed to Thomas de Cantilupe to restore William Cragh to life – and her prayers were answered. As a consequence, William Cragh vowed to walk barefoot all the way to Hereford Cathedral, still with his noose around his neck, and accompanied by Lord and Lady de Briouze. William Cragh left the hangman’s rope at the shrine.

Our pilgrims have stopped at all the places associated with that journey which not only includes Caerphilly but also Margam Abbey though Father Mark was on holiday when our pilgrims visited it.

All this weekend, after meeting John and Tineke and Sue and their friends making this journey, I have had a hymn going round and round in my head: John Bunyan’s “Who would true valour see”.

This wonderful hymn ends with the words:

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit;
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away;
He'll not fear what men say;
He'll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.

And I have no doubt that the pilgrims from Arundel and Brighton Diocese shall indeed life inherit.

Helen Murphy
St Catherine’s Church, Caerphilly

4 thoughts on “A host’s view of pilgrimage”

  1. I think the tribute from Caerphilly is great. How good to think we touch their spirits as well as their hospitality uplifting ours.

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