All posts by Leigh Hatts

Alfred the Great weekend

The prominent statue of King Alfred looks across Winchester where he is buried

Monday 26 October is Alfred the Great Day in the Anglican and Winchester City calendars marking the King of West Saxons death in 899.

Alfred was a pupil of St Swithun and like his teacher is a key figure in Winchester’s history.

We come across Alfred at the start of the PW when passing through Hyde Abbey. The Wessex king is buried in the churchyard of St Bartholomew’s opposite.

Details of the King Alfred Weekend & Community Dig starting today at Hyde Abbey are on the Hyde900 website.

It is interesting that Southwark, the London starting point for the PW and closely associated with Winchester, has Alfred in its early history. Nine years after making Winchester the capital of Wessex he made Southwark a borough.

The 14th-century figure of Alfred in Southwark’s Trinity Church Square is London’s oldest outdoor statue

The Royal Oak reopens

Repainted Royal Oak tonight shortly before reopening

The Royal Oak, the first pub out of Southwark on the Pilgrims’ Way, has reopened this evening.

Arrivals are finding the pub repainted outside and in with the downstairs feeling light and airy. Without the old curtains there is now a view of the street.

The present Royal Oak is a well-preserved Victorian building standing in Tabard Street which is the start of the road to Kent. It was once called Kent Street and joins the Old Kent Road at the Bricklayers Arms junction.

Henry V after Agincourt and Charles II at the Restoration both came up the road.

Pilgrims to Canterbury went down the road to Canterbury as they still do.

At present it is just a trickle being brave in this year of virus. Not all pubs, teashops and bed and breakfasts in the countryside have yet reopened.

But walkers can get their pilgrim passport stamped now at The Royal Oak just half mile after setting out from Southwark Cathedral.

The Royal Oak belongs to Harvey’s of Lewes which is the successor to the Lewes Priory brewery shut down by Henry VIII.

The Priory monks owned an inn by London Bridge ( News Building site) where Canterbury bound pilgrims could spend their first night before setting out on foot or horse.

In 2018 the award-winning Royal Oak, aware of its heritage, hosted special Pilgrims’ Way evening.

It’s a good stop for lunch on the first day or a drink the night before.

The Royal Oak pilgrim stamp.

Live streaming from pilgrim cathedrals

Bishop Fox of Winchester in Southwark Cathedral holding a model of the stone screen found in two cathedrals

Those who have had to put off their Becket 2020 year pilgrimage may like to watch the live broadcasts from Winchester, Southwark, Rochester and Canterbury Cathedrals.

It is an opportunity to worship with the congregation and take in the architecture and history in anticipation of the pilgrim visit to come.

Winchester’s Sunday Sung Eucharist is at 10am and except on big occasions, such as ordinations last week, is usually celebrated in the quire giving a very good view of the great screen with its famous figures behind the altar.

Half an hour later Canterbury’s Sung Eucharist is broadcast from the nave.

Although Southwark’s 11am Sunday Eucharist is in the nave there is still a clear view of its great screen at the east end.

Southwark’s screen is 500 years old this year and at the instigation of Bishop Richard Fox is an echo the one he had found just completed on his appointment to Winchester in 1501.

The Cathedral Eucharist at Rochester begins at 11.30am.

Evensong at Canterbury can be followed daily at 5.30pm.

The live steams are available through cathedral websites and Twitter.

The view of Rochester Cathedral as seen by pilgrims arriving from Peters Village

Lesnes Abbey stamping passports

Lesnes Abbey pilgrim stamp

Lesnes Abbey is now stamping pilgrim passports.

The stamp features the pike from the arms of abbey founder Richard de Lucy who knew Thomas Becket .

The de Lucy fish were part of the abbey seal.

Pike in Latin is lucius which is a reference to the Lucy name.

Pilgrims arriving in Canterbury will find the de Lucy pike shield in the cathedral cloister ceiling.

Walkers starting out from Winchester can see the tomb of the Lesnes Abbey founder’s son Godfrey, who became the bishop, next to St Swithun’s shrine.

Passports are stamped at the Chestnuts refreshment kiosk coffee shop in the Lesnes Abbey garden.

From early days the abbey has been a stopping point on the way to Canterbury with pilgrims turning off the main road through Welling to reach Lesnes.

In 1300 Edward I visited on his way to Canterbury as did the Bishop of Worcester who stayed the night in 1313.

Geoffrey Chaucer, accompanied by the landlord of Southwark’s Tabard Inn, visited in 1387 when writing The Canterbury Tales.

Passports can be obtained from Southwark Cathedral shop. Lesnes Abbey is reached on the first or second day out of London.

During October the Lesnes Abbey kiosk is open daily until 4.30pm.

Chestnuts refreshment kiosk

St Edith’s Day

Kemsing village sign

Wednesday 16 September is St Edith of Kemsing Day.

The annual devotions take place on the Pilgrims’ Way at St Edith’s Well in Kemsing next Sunday at 3.30pm.

Due to the virus only this outdoor event will take place. There will not be the usual vespers in the church or tea.

40 days after St Swithun

St Bartholomew’s Church at Hyde Abbey, Winchester

St Bartholomew’s Day 24 August is forty days after St Swithun’s Day on 15 July.

Is summer coming to an abrupt end?

How much has it rained?

All the tears that Saint Swithun can cry,
Saint Bartlemy’s dusty mantel wipes dry

You will come across churches dedicated to St Bartholomew at Hyde Abbey, on the edge of Winchester, and at Otford where the two PW routes join.

Canterbury Cathedral once had the arm of St Bartholomew. The relic was given in about 1030 by the Archbishop of Benevento in a deal sponsored by Queen Emma who later gave St Valentine’s head to Hyde Abbey.

St Bartholomew’s Church Otford. The route passes the door.

Just out: Britain’s Pilgrim Places

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.

Britain’s Pilgrim Places by Nick Mayhew-Smith and Guy Hayward (British Pilgrimage Trust £19.99)

Oscar Romero Birthday Mass

The Romero Cross being dedicated by Archbishop Peter Smith at St George’s Cathedral in 2013

Oscar Romero is the 20th-century Thomas Becket.

Archbishop Romero was killed in a church by the El Salvador dictatorship because it did not like his defence of human rights .

The St Oscar Romero national shrine is in St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Southwark (opposite the Imperial War Museum).

Pilgrims from Southwark to Canterbury can start out at St George’s Cathedral and head for Canterbury either via the Anglican Southwark Cathedral or walk direct to the Elephant & Castle and down New Kent Road joining the PW at the Bricklayers Arms junction.

More exciting is that on arriving in Canterbury they will find relics of Becket and Romero side by side in St Thomas of Canterbury Church near the cathedral.

This Saturday 15 August the annual Romero Mass to celebrate the birth of St Oscar Romero is being live streamed from St George’s Cathedral on YouTube at 12.30pm. Note that the cathedral will not be open to the public for this Mass due to the virus.

The booklet is here and the live stream links here.

St Thomas Becket relic in St Thomas of Canterbury Church at Canterbury where St Oscar Romero vestments are also displayed.

The Book in the Cathedral

New ‘Hardback Penguin’ on Becket

Published this month, between the 800th anniversary of the Translation of St Thomas Becket in July and the 850th anniversary of his murder next December, is a book which would have been part of the Becket 2020 programme.

But the pandemic has not stopped the appearance of this lovely hardback Penguin The Book in the Cathedral: the Last Relic of Thomas Becket by Christopher de Hamel.

The author, former Librarian of the Parker Library, tells the story of how he was lunching at Corpus Christi Cambridge when suddenly by chance a mystery was solved.

His guest Eyal Poleg, senior lecturer at Queen Mary University London, mentioned a book listed in the 1321 Sacrist’s Roll at Canterbury but never located. The description fitted a book in Christopher de Hamel’s possession. Coffee was abandoned as both made for the library.

Becket’s Psalter had been discovered.

It appears to be the book of psalms taken by Becket into exile and read in many places in traumatic times. A case is made for the book having returned with Becket in 1170 and even being in his hand as he died.

Is it, as suggested, the book being held by Becket in the 12th-century window in Canterbury Cathedral? And in the Old Kent Road pub sign?

There is another fascinating conjecture made. Becket admired predecessor St Alphege, preached about him in his last sermon and invoked the name as the knights murdered him. Did Becket love the book because it had once belonged to Alphege?

The de Hamel book is only 58 pages long but it is packed with information and gets close to Becket as archbishop.

It is also a book where the notes (nine pages) are rewarding.

Becket’s Psalter is due to be exhibited at the postponed Becket exhibition at the British Museum. The dates will be announced shortly.

The Book in the Cathedral: the Last Relic of Thomas Becket by Christopher de Hamel (Allen Lane; £9.99).


Lammastide at Southwark Cathedral

Lammastide postage stamp issued in 1981.

The Lammas Fair in Exeter and the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle have been cancelled due to Coronavirus. But Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral are together maintaining ancient tradition.

The word Lammas is derived from Loaf Mass and refers to bread made from the first harvested wheat for the Mass of Thanksgiving. This is Old Harvest Festival at the start of Harvest.

Lammas would have been observed on 1 August in villages along the Pilgrims’ Way.

This year Southwark is giving thanks on the fifth day of Lammastide: Wednesday 5 August.

The service starts at 12.30pm in Bread Ahead bakery in Borough Market. After the blessing of the bakery, bakers, grain and flour, clergy and Bread Ahead bakers process to the Cathedral with the first loaf, a wheatsheaf and other loaves for the Eucharist at 12.45pm.

There will be limited seating in church due to social distancing but the service is being streamed live on the cathedral website

The order of service and a PDF booklet can be downloaded.

Sub Dean Michael Rawson and Borough Market’s Bread Ahead team with a wheatsheaf and Cathedral loaves
Lammas Day in the Book of Common Prayer