Setting out on the Pilgrims’ Way you will find a St Valentine connection at both Winchester and London’s Southwark.
On the edge of Winchester the path passes through the remains of Hyde Abbey where one of the attractions was the head of St Valentine.
The relic was given in 1041 by Jumièges Abbey in Normandy to Queen Emma of Normandy who a year later presented the head to Winchester.
For centuries 14 February was an important date in the Hyde Abbey liturgical calendar.
Hyde Abbey also owned The Tabard Inn in Southwark’s Borough High Street and Professor Andy Kelly of the University of California suggests that a St Valentine’s Day Mass would have been said in the Tabard Inn chapel.
Nearby Southwark Cathedral has the magnificent tomb of John Gower who ghosted some of the Canterbury tales for his friend Geoffrey Chaucer.
Chaucer refers to ‘seint valentynes day of the parlement of briddes’ in The Canterbury Tales.
Which one first wrote of birds choosing mating partners on St Valentine’s Day is a matter of debate.
But Professor Kelly suggests that they were looking to a St Valentine’s Day then observed in Genoa during May.
In the grounds of Mary’s house, Limnerslease, is a terracotta Pilgrims’ Way cross inscribed: ‘G. F. Watts, O. M. R. A. His Pilgrims Way 1891-1904. By his wish, this cross placed here.’ At the base are pilgrim figures.
The book’s many illustrations include photographs of pilgrim mugs manufactured on site as well as different ceramic pilgrim bottles with delightful designs.
Red clay pendants depict landmarks to come: St Catherine’s Chapel and St Martha’s Hill church.
The book also suggests that in St Nicholas church, at the entry into Guildford, the figure of the saint comes from Compton.
Allow plenty of time if you are pausing for refreshment at Compton.
Artist Michelle Rumney was at Southwark Cathedral on Sunday to measure more people for her Lent art installation.
Bishop Peter Price and actor Timothy West were among the many who were measured to be part of the artwork.
In Medieval times your body (or dead body) could be measured from head to toe with a length of string which would used to make a candle . It would then be lit as prayers were said for your recovery or eternal soul.
This practice was called Measuring to the Saint and Michelle Rumney is using it as inspiration to create the installation.
2020 is St Thomas Becket anniversary year and so the Lent 2020 artwork will explore the idea of pilgrimage and the routes that connect us through the centuries.
The strings will be used in the installation covering the Southwark Cathedral great screen from Ash Wednesday 25 February until Good Friday.
Pilgrims and intending Canterbury pilgrims are being invited to drop in at Southwark Cathedral on Sunday.
‘Measuring the saint’ is an old custom involving making a candle to the height of a particular saint.
The saint in question this time is St Thomas of Canterbury, better known as Thomas Becket, whose 850th anniversary of martyrdom is being marked this year.
Church candles were sometimes made to the height of a deceased person being remembered or a living person needing our prayers.
Michelle Rumney is measuring people with string so she can weave hundreds of lengths into her Lent installation in Southwark Cathedral. Its theme will be the Pilgrims’ Way from Southwark to Canterbury.
The Archbishop of Canterbury was measured last week.
Next Sunday 12 January Michelle will be back at Southwark Cathedral between 12 noon and 3pm to measure anyone who wants to participate.
“I’d love everyone who feels they have a special connection with Southwark in any way to be part of this if they’d like to be – to actually be part of the artwork,” says Michelle.
So far Michelle has collected 257 lengths of string but needs a further opportunities to measure in order to be able to represent the full 86 miles from Southwark to Canterbury.
The backdrop to the artwork will be the 500 year old great screen which features images of figures associated with the pilgrimage including St Thomas, St Swithun, John Gower, Cardinal Beaufort and Bishop Richard Fox.
Lent starts at the end of February and lasts for six weeks until Easter in April.
St Thomas Becket visited Southwark Cathedral just three weeks before his murder in Canterbury. His route back to Canterbury is the present Pilgrims’ Way followed by pilgrims and made famous by Chaucer.
Sunday 29 December is St Thomas of Canterbury Day when the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket during Christmas 1170 is remembered.
It will be a low-key day as this year it is a Sunday when most churches are keeping Holy Family Sunday or First Sunday of Christmas.
At Canterbury Cathedral there is evensong at 3.15pm when the service includes a procession to the Martyrdom for a liturgical reading of lines from TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. The service ends in the crypt.
Thomas Becket was murdered during Vespers in the late afternoon and Solemn Vespers will be sung in the crypt at 8pm.
Next year, a leap year, the 850th anniversary will fall on a Tuesday and be widely marked especially at Canterbury.
As at Otford, there is a problem of an unpopular busy road at Godmersham.
The present guide points walkers along the very busy A28 main road. There is a pavement but uncared for hedges and vegetation have reduced its width in several places.
This route was chosen in order to enable pilgrims to visit Godmersham Church, which holds a fragment of Becket’s shrine, and is said to have been visited by pilgrims in past times.
It also allows for a good view of Godmersham Park known to Jane Austen.
In addition Donald Maxwell, whose 1932 The Pilgrims’ Way in Kent booklet ran to fourteen editions, thought that pilgrims would have stayed near the River Stour.
But today walkers cannot see the river let alone cool their feet in it as Maxwell suggests. They are on a main road opened in the 19th century and not the nearby lost lane which might have been used.
However, Ordnance Survey holds that the Pilgrims’ Way runs along the ridge above Godmersham long marking the way as Supposed Pilgrims’ Road. This line was supported by Hilaire Belloc who published The Old Road in 1904.
He wrote: “We looked through the mist, down the hollow glen towards the valley between walls of trees. We thought, perhaps, that a dim mark in the haze far off was the tower of the Cathedral–we could not be sure.”
He was right although it’s hard to see without a camera zoom or binoculars. The spot where this is possible on a clear day has been marked with a board erected in 2015 by St Martin-in-the-Fields Church which organises an annual pilgrimage using this route .
This possible glimpse does not at all spoil that famous ‘first view’ at Harbledown.
The case for the higher path at Godmersham, which is already part of the North Downs Way, is so strong that it already has a PW waymark. Recent surface improvement means that this path is no longer muddy for long periods.
So the higher NDW path will be adopted as the PW in future but with a diversion for those who wish to see the Jane Austen house which features on the ten pound bank note and the church.
Soakham Farm to Chilham: new directions
Follow existing directions from Boughton Aluph to Soakham Farm where the way runs downhill and through the farmyard.
Where the concrete ends keep forward to a hidden gate. A track treble bends and turns uphill before bearing left. On approaching a usually open gate (and passing an easily missed waymarked path to the right) keep forward as the path continues to climb steeply up towards Soakham Downs. Briefly there is a magnificent view to the left.
The path bends to the right to run along the edge of King’s Wood (right). In season there will be game on the path. Go through a high deer gate to reach a junction. Go right and at a fork, with Pilgrims’ Way sign, bear left. Keep to the main track as it gently descends and go left again at another fork as the way curves steeply left and right. Now the path is on a high wooded bank.
Just beyond a junction with a footpath (left) there is a NDW stone. After 0.25 miles there is a board (right) indicating a very brief view (half right) of Canterbury Cathedral. Almost 0.5 miles further on there is an original low wall deer fence.
[Only to see Godmersham Park and its church go through the gate (left) and follow the path downhill. At the bottom crosspaths, with a view of the mansion, go left for Chilham or to visit the church continue ahead between hedges, bear right for the main gateway and go right along the road for the church.
GODMERSHAM PARK mansion, featured on the £10 bank note, was built in 1732 and inherited by Jane Austen’s brother Edward Knight (with Chawton manor; see Stage 2.) Jane visited often from 1794 to 1813 and here worked on Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park, which feature Godmersham, and Emma. The church has a stone plaque thought to have been part of Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury.]
The PW continues ahead. At a T-junction go right on a path which runs downhill to meet Mountain Street. This wooded lane from Godmersham Park (right beyond the high gateway) to Chilham is an old road to Canterbury running just below the “Supposed Pilgrims’ Road” which entered Chilham via the Castle. Turn left on the rough and narrow Mountain Street which becomes metalled after another junction. Beyond a hamlet there is the castle wall (left) which when built in 1728 caused the road to be again slightly diverted. A gate (left) and then a brief railing give a glimpse of the castle and lake. Keep forward at a junction past Elephant House (left) and up School Hill to the hilltop village. Opposite, at the Chilham Castle gate, is a modern sculpture of pilgrims.
The PW runs across The Square and past the White Horse Inn into the churchyard.
To Canterbury from Winchester and London / Leigh Hatts