British Isles and Ireland
In the Middle Ages, the shrine of Walsingham in Norfolk was one of the three most important pilgrimage destinations in the whole of Europe, with two trips here being said to be equivalent to one to Rome! Tradition has it that the Holy House of Nazareth, the home of the Holy Family, flew through the air and landed at Walsingham! Ever since and to this day, it has been a great place of devotion. Although not so well known as Walsingham, there are many other places of devotion to Our Lady in England and Wales, which led to our land being known as “ Our Lady's Dowry" in the middle ages. Many such shrines have their origin in Pagan wells. Fernyhalgh near Preston and Our Lady of the Taper, near Cardigan are both such places. At Cleator Moor in West Cumbria on the other hand, you can find a scale replica of Lourdes, built by local unemployed Catholics in the 1930s.
Other saints have made their mark on England. The Celtic trail across northeast England is now well established. The island of Lindesfarne, off the coast of Northumberland close to the Scottish border, was once the site of a major monastery and home to St Cuthbert and St Aidan. St Bede, who lived at the monastery at Jarrow near Newcastle, wrote the Ecclesiastical History of the English People – one of the earliest and most important histories we have. The Celtic Trail ends at Whitby, where, at the Council of Whitby, St Wilfrid convinced the British church to adopt Roman practices. The ruins of Whitby Abbey survive and are now complemented by an excellent new visitor centre.
Not too far from Whitby, you can visit the remains of several Cistercian monasteries, such as Rievaulx and Fountains Abbey.
The recusant period, when Catholics were persecuted for their faith, has also left its mark. The house of St Margaret Clitherow in York is always worth a visit. Padley Chapel in Derbyshire has been a Mass site since Penal times, disguised as a barn. There are also many stately homes with priest holes. Perhaps one of the most charming is the manor house of Baddesley Clinton, between Birmingham and Stratford.
Of course there are also more famous pilgrimage centres such as St Albans, where the modern day abbey is said to be built on the spot where the first English martyr was executed. Canterbury is also still a very popular site of pilgrimage for many Europeans. It is possible to visit St Martin’s Church, the first Christian Church in England which is said to have been set up by Queen Ethelreda, as well as St Augustine’s Abbey and of course, Canterbury Cathedral, the site of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in 1170. In London there are numerous places of interest to the modern day pilgrim. Most recommended are: a visit to Westminster Cathedral which contains the remains of St John Southworth as well as its unique mixture of mosaics and marble, or just down the road, Westminster Abbey, the site of the tomb of Edward the Confessor and the setting for every English Coronation since 1066.
With the invasion of the Germanic and early English in the fifth century, Christianity found itself contracted into Celtic areas such as Wales. It was in these areas that the faith persisted until St Augustine’s arrival in the twelfth century. Unlike much of the rest of the Celtic areas, in Wales there was great persistence in trying to maintain links with Rome. The very term Welsh is an early English term for ‘Romanised Celt’. During this time the Middle Eastern style of hermits living lives in isolated areas in prayer had a big influence on the Welsh Christians, as is shown by sites of communities such as those in Bardsey Island, Caldy, and St David’s.
As in England there are also some sites in Wales dedicated to Our Lady. Bala has the first church dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, converted from a former fish and chip shop against considerable local opposition!
In Scotland, the Christian faith found it harder to gain a major influence until the sixth century with the arrival of St Columba from Ireland. He set up a community on the island of Iona from where he and his followers spread the Gospels into the Pictish communities. The island is the perfect place for a retreat and today is a major ecumenical centre.
Although St Columba’s arrival was a major influence, there had always been an element of Christianity in Scotland, which had crept in as a result of the numerous Roman invasions. In the late fourth century the first Bishop from north of Hadrian’s Wall, (St) Ninian, set up the first Celtic monastic community in the small fishing port of Whithorn. In the 1990s this site was excavated to find traces of his Candida Casa (White House), and numerous early Christian graves and artefacts and is now a fascinating place to visit during a tour in Scotland.
Like the other Celtic lands, Ireland was a safe-haven for Christianity during the dark ages. Consequently there are numerous places of pilgrimage worthy of a visit.
The most famous Christian figure in Ireland was of course St Patrick who it is thought worked mainly in the north of Ireland and set up his first bishopric in about 444 in Armagh, where it is possible to visit both the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals. Many pilgrims might also like to travel west to visit Croagh Patrick, a beautiful mountain in Co. Mayo, where it is said that St Patrick spent 40 days upon the summit communing with God and praying for the people of Ireland. On the last Sunday in July pilgrims from all over Ireland flock to climb ‘The Reek’ in what is a particularly arduous, but rewarding pilgrimage.
It is also possible to see one of the most famous symbols of Celtic Christianity wherever you are visiting in Ireland - the Celtic cross. The famous High Crosses in Monasterboice are particularly good examples of these intricately-designed stone crosses and are well worth a visit, as are the High Crosses in Kilfenora Cathedral which are made with the very distinctive Burren stone.
The Irish also have a particular devotion to Our Lady, as is illustrated most famously by the shrine of Knock. On the 21st August 1879 it is said that Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist appeared at the south gable of Knock Parish Church. The apparition was witnessed by fifteen people, young and old. From this miraculous occurrence Knock has grown to the status of an internationally recognised Marian Shrine.
- On The Trail of Edward de Vere
The 17th Earl of Oxford
|18th June 2013 - 25th June 2013
18th June 2013 - 28th June 2013