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).

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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

St James’s Day

St James as o pilgrim with a shell on his bag

Saturday 25 July is St James’s Day which is special to pilgrims old, new and intending.

St James the Great, one of the core apostles and John’s brother, is now found in Santiago de Compostela cathedral where he draws thousands of pilgrims arriving on various trails across Spain from France and Portugal.

From England you start by walking the Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury.

James’s shell logo is the badge for pilgrims to Santiago and other places including Canterbury where the shell is found on the cathedral’s gatehouse door.

“Pilgrimage is physical travel in pursuit of a spiritual goal,” says Vadis VR founder Professor Amy Giuliano when writing about St James as the patron of pilgrims.

“It is a microcosm of the soul’s lifelong journey to God – the greatest of all adventures.

“A pilgrim lives each day with radical intentionality and utter dependence upon divine providence. When he leaves the comforts and security of home behind, illusions of self-sufficiency and control quickly dissipate.

“He traverses unfamiliar terrain, encounters new people and customs, and sleeps each night in a different locale. He is vulnerable to the elements and the road’s many pitfalls. He experiences his own physical limits, his dependence on others for aid, and the necessity of pairing down his baggage to the bare essentials.

“At the same time, his spirits are buoyed by prayer, progress, and the natural beauty that surrounds him. He is encouraged by the charity of strangers and enjoys a deep camaraderie with fellow travellers striving toward the same goal.

“These lights and perils, ecstasies and elations involved in the pilgrim’s physical journey point to greater spiritual realities, thus imparting life-changing lessons.”

Information about St James and pilgrimage to Santiago is available from Camino Pilgrim.

St James depicted with pilgrim staff, water bottle and book decorated with a shell in a window at Wrotham Church. Thomas Becket stayed next door on his last ride back to Canterbury from Southwark in December 1170.


Southwark’s lost St Margaret’s

Bridge Tap on St Margaret’s site (photo: www,LondonSE1.co.uk)

Today is St Margaret’s Day.

Before Southwark Priory became the parish church (and later also cathedral) there was St Margaret of Antioch Church in Borough High Street.

St Margaret’s in Borough High Street, rebuilt in the 13th century, was Southwark’s parish church until 1540.

As you left the Tabard Inn you would have seen the church opposite on an island plot . The site is now The Bridge Tap pub with the war memorial outside its front door. Here Borough High Street was known as St Margaret’s Hill although the incline for London Bridge was little further north.

The church became a court and was destroyed by fire in 1676.

Plaque on The Bridge Tap (Photo: Alan Patient of www.plaquesoflondon.co.uk)

St Swithun’s Day 2020

St Swithun’s shrine in Winchester Cathedral with the side of the canopy depicting rain. The other side has sun rays.

Public worship has returned to Winchester Cathedral in time for St Swithun’s Day on Wednesday 15 July.

Swithun (800-862) often gets a mention in the weather forecast at this time of the summer thanks to the saying:

St Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.

This derives from the report that a violent storm broke as Swithun’s body was being moved on 15 July 971 from his outdoor grave to a shrine inside the Old Minster which preceded today’s Norman cathedral church.

Before the change in calendar 15 July would have fallen on today’s 26 July so the forty days refers to the possibility of a wet August which is not unknown.

Pilgrims setting out from Winchester would have been able to visit Swithun’s shrine containing his body knowing that at Canterbury they would find his head.

This skull is now in Évreux Cathed­ral in Normandy although not displayed.

Pilgrims starting at London’s Southwark Cathedral can look for the figure of St Swithun in the Great Screen at the east end.

At Winchester Cathedral this year the St Swithun’s Day Eucharist is at 12 noon. Evening Prayer at 5pm will be broadcast on Zoom.

A reconstruction of St Swithun’s shrine before Henry VIII’s reign
St Swithun’s Church at Martyr Worthy in Hampshire seen from the Pilgrims’ Way
St Swithun, second left, on Southwark Cathedral’s Great Screen built 500 years ago this year by order of Bishop Fox of Winchester. St Thomas Becket, holding a sword, is next to Swithun.
A St Swithun rose blooming this year: ‘St Swithun Rose’ was bred in 1993 by David Austin who was also responsible for introducing the red ‘St Thomas À Becket Rose’ introduced at Canterbury in 2013.

The Pilgrims’ Way, out of Winchester and as far as Farnham, is waymarked ‘St Swithun’s Way’ with the pilgrim shell and the croziers of Becket and Swithun.

William Cash walks to Canterbury

The Catholic Herald’s July cover marking the St Thomas Becket anniversary

William Cash was planning a Catholic Herald readers’ Becket anniversary pilgrimage to Canterbury when the virus struck.

In this month’s Catholic Herald he writes about St Thomas Becket and recounts own recent walk from Southwark.

There are some delightful illustrations.

According to The Times William Cash is thorough for he also went solo from Winchester being the first person to ask for a pilgrim stamp at Winchester Cathedral after its reopening.

He arrived in Canterbury last week on the 800th anniversary of the consecration of St Thomas Becket’s shrine.

Maybe the magazine’s readers can walk with William in 2023 to mark the 850th anniversary of Thomas Becket’s canonisation.

To Canterbury from Winchester and London / Leigh Hatts