On seeing the new Britain’s Pilgrim Places book one turns first to see the Pilgrims’ Way entry.
But the book has a lot more and many diverting entries. It’s a candidate for a definitive work.
This is a British Pilgrim Trust book by Nick Mayhew-Smith and Guy Hayward. The photographs are by Marcus Green who has visited every cathedral in England and Wales.
Having read the two PW pages, with a vital map, one soon realises that some places on the route are deemed worthy of having their own entry.
Winchester, Southwark, Rochester and Canterbury of course are here but with new insights.
Compton church gets a separate section due to its ‘peculiar arrangement’ which ‘might have something to do with pilgrims’, Chaldon for its wall painting, Aylesford for its living priory and Lullingstone for its Roman villa and chapel.
Next special mention is Kemsing just after Otford where the two routes come together. At Kemsing water flows from St Edith’s Well and flowers appear around the time of her September feast day. The book reminds us that William of Malmesbury claimed that when a sceptical King Canute ordered St Edith’s tomb to be opened she sat up and slapped him.
Five pages further on is a picture of ‘the mysterious shrine-like tomb’ in Newington church on the direct Chaucer road to Canterbury. The ‘appealing church merits a detour’ we are told. It does for the tomb was erected by the church’s patron the Abbey of Our Lady & St Thomas Becket at Lesnes which deepens the mystery.
This book is the first stop for getting to grips with the exciting Old Way (to Canterbury) which Henry II followed from Southampton.
In the introduction Simon Jenkins (of England’s Thousand Best Churches fame) writes about Chaucer’s ‘middle class pilgrims’ as a ‘tourist group’ before looking at modern pilgrimage.
This book locates numerous reawakened pilgrim routes and holy places from St Duthac’s Tain in Scotland to Bisley’s holy well invented by John Keble’s brother in Gloucestershire.