St James’s Day weekend

This year St James’s Day 25 July falls on a Sunday which means that 2021 is a Holy Year in Santiago de Compostela.

Many seek to be a pilgrim to Santiago in a Holy Year and due to the pandemic this special year is going to continue into 2022.

The Pilgrims’ Way from Southwark to Canterbury is not just the way to St Thomas Becket but the first leg of the Camino which reaches across France and Northern Spain to St James the Great in Santiago.

The familiar yellow arrow of the Camino will be projected on Southwark Cathedral’s east end exterior on Friday evening 23 July.

This is part of a light projection to mark Holy Year and is best viewed from the south end of London Bridge or a train entering London Bridge Station.

The Camino Pilgrim office where pilgrims to Santiago visit before setting out is just half a mile from Southwark Cathedral.

The Camino shell which has become the badge for other pilgrimages including Canterbury where you enter the cathedral by way of the door with a shell at the Christ Church Gate.

London’s main St James’s Day Mass is 24 hours early at noon on Saturday 24 July at St James’s Spanish Place W1 where Cardinal Vincent Nicholas will be the celebrant. But due to the virus there will not be the usual party afterwards.

***Churches dedicated to St James the Great on the Pilgrims’ Way are in Surrey where the path passes the door at Shere (14th-century glass in the east window) and nearby Abinger Hammer although here a visit to the church requires a diversion up to the Common.

***St James, patron of Spain, is one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus and brother of St John.

St James’s as a pilgrim with the shell on his bag.


Charing’s loss is Otford’s gain

The great hall of Charing Palace

Ambitious plans to save and make accessible the Archbishop’s Palace at Charing have been abandoned.

With no prospect of being able to achieve its objectives in the foreseeable future it has been resolved by the trustees to wind up the Charing Palace Trust .

This is a blow to all who are aware of the important role played by the building known to Thomas Becket and Henry VIII as well as many other significant figures.

Charing was an overnight stop for archbishops and VIPs on the London-Canterbury road.

Another was Otford. The Charing trustees have very generously transferred their remaining assets to Otford’s Archbishop’s Palace Conservation Trust.

Otford is today a pivotal resting place on the Pilgrims’ Way since it is where the Winchester and London routes merge.

The remains of Otford Palace, also known to Becket and Henry VIII, are impressive. Indeed Otford inspired Wolsey’s Hampton Court Palace.

Meanwhile there must be continued concern about the future of Charing which has recently lost pubs and teashop.

A corner of Otford Palace

St Swithun’s Day ONLINE

St Swithun’s Shrine seen between chantries of Bishop Fox (left) and Cardinal Beaufort.

It’s a special day at Winchester this week.

Thursday 15 July is St Swithun’s Day when choral evensong and the procession to the shrine will be broadcast online from Winchester Cathedral at 5.30pm.

The body of St Swithun was until the Reformation in Winchester Cathedral.

However, pilgrims from Winchester would have found St Swithun’s head at Canterbury. The precious relic survived the Reformation having been taken to Évreux Cathedral in Normandy where it remains.

The custom of wondering if St Swithun’s Day will be followed by forty days of rain or sunshine takes us to St Bartholomew’s Day on Tuesday 24 August. A good period for a slow walk to Canterbury.

An image of St Swithun printed in London by Wynkyn de Worde (c 1500)

Winchester Friends look back over centuries

Rain depicted on St Swithun’s shrine. Sunshine is on the other side.

The Friends of Winchester Cathedral’s 90th anniversary festal evensong on Saturday looked back to St Swithun and the beginning of the cathedral .

The service, broadcast online to Friends unable to be present, included impressive camerawork featuring unusual views around the building.

After a procession to St Swithun’s shrine there were prayers of thanks invoking names we meet along the Pilgrims’ Way including Richard de Lucy, Richard Fox and Jane Austen.

Former BBC presenter and Friends Chair Bruce Parker laid flowers not only at the shrine but also on Swithun’s original outdoor grave. It was the translation to inside which gave rise to the forty days of rain or sun story.

The service is available to watch online.

St Swithun’s Day is Thursday 15 July when the weather is expected to improve.

Translation evensong live from Canterbury

A candle burns on site of Thomas Becket’s shrine

Choral evensong is being broadcast online live from Canterbury Cathedral on Wednesday the Feast of the Translation of St Thomas of Canterbury.

Before the pandemic the annual service was in the choir and followed by a procession of canons to the shrine in a pre-Reformation tradition.

At present services are sung in the nave.

This is the 801st anniversary of Thomas Becket’s body being moved from the crypt to his new shrine upstairs. Archbishop Stephen Langton presided in the presence of King Henry II’s grandson Henry III.

Cathedral Cats Day

David Guest, vicar of Otford, is coming up the Pilgrims’ Way to host Southwark Cathedral’s Stories of Cats day.

Cathedral cat Hodge is expected to be around on Saturday 7 August to welcome visitors joining the day event.

Speakers include George Hoyle (aka Cunning Folk) on The Folklore of Cats, Dr Kathleen Walker-Meikle on Literary Cats in History and Celia Haddon on How to Read Your Cat.

Anita Kelsey is calling her talk Claws: Confessions of a Professional Cat Groomer.

Julia Bird is speaking on The Poetry of Cats.

Pilgrims often had Hodge’s famous predecessor Doorkins on their of what to look for list before setting out for Canterbury.

Tickets are £18. Full details and booking are here.

**David Guest is vicar of St Bartholomew’s Otford where the Pilgrims’ Way paths from Winchester and Southwark converge. The village has associations with St Thomas Becket and The Bull pub has a Becket seat.

Otford church seen across the duck pond roundabout.


Nancy Sullivan

Nancy Sullivan, who has appeared in west end productions and BBC1’s Call the Midwife, is bringing theatre to Lesnes Abbey.

She has formed the The Ruined Theatre company to stage Our Teacher’s a Troll, a play for all the family by Dennis Kelly.

The performances are in mid August and will be at 10am and lunchtime which will enable passing pilgrims to enjoy the show.

Lesnes Abbey was founded in 1178 and is dedicated to St Thomas Becket. After being closed in 1525 by Cardinal Wolsey the monastery has become an attractive ruin with just one church service a year.

Visitors to the Augustinian community, used to receiving pilgrims travelling from London to Canterbury, included Geoffrey Chaucer.

Now on the edge of London, Lesnes was once considered a first stop on horseback out of London before reaching Dartford.

Nancy lives next to the Abbey which she visits daily. Her plans include an ambitious programme to attract and involve others living nearby.

The Ruined Theatre’s first poster

These Days Will Pass

The candles are lit for the midday Eucharist in front of Mark Titchner’s artwork

These days will pass and we shall more easily be able to go on pilgrimage. But we don’t know what it will be like.

‘Please believe these days will pass’ is the message seen by visitors to Southwark Cathedral and most certainly by those present at the midday Eucharist at 12.45pm which is usually at the nave altar.

A huge installation at the east end is by Mark Titchner whose work is found in many public collections. Me, Here Now has a permanent place in nearby London Bridge Station.

The words on the banner in the cathedral evolved during the pandemic after the artist found his poster work Please Believe These Days was being shared on social media by his friends.

‘Mark Titchner’s monumental installation in Southwark Cathedral will be a stark reminder that we need to look beyond these islands to a world still suffering,’ says Dean of Southwark Andrew Nunn.

He quotes the words of Jesus about the passing of days: ‘Truly I tell, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’ (Luke 21. 32-33)

The Dean describes the artwork as ‘both reassuring yet realistic’ and asks ‘these days may pass, but what will remain, what will we find, what is there new that awaits us beyond the passing?’

A sermon preached by the Dean on the Feast of Corpus Christi, when the installation was first revealed, can be seen here (from 16.35).

The artwork will remain in place until Friday 23 July.

Canterbury’s Becket anniversary exhibition

Exhibition poster in Canterbury

Canterbury’s own Thomas Becket anniversary exhibition has opened after the long delay caused by the virus.

Has the wait been worth it? Certainly Thomas Becket: World Celebrity Healer at The Beaney is very well researched with the organisers having the advantage of access to local material.

Even the chronology at the entrance is extremely thorough and a must to read before you see the exhibits.

Casually on the floor are two pink marble capitals believed to come from Becket’s shrine. They were found forty years ago in the river near the West Gate.

There is much evidence provided of how quickly devotion to Becket spread following his murder in 1170 and of his memory being kept alive during the years following the Reformation.

The murder is described as being as great a shock as the assassination of President Kennedy or the death of Diana, Princess of Wales was in the 20th century.

Becket’s image was quickly found as far south as Sicily and east in Sweden where his statue was dressed in his own vestments.

The show suggests that the few relics we have today, despite Henry VIII’s destruction of the shrine, come from 1220 when the cathedral opened the coffin prior to the body being placed in that final upstairs shrine.

Photographs include Bill Brandt’s Pilgrims Way, Kent (1950) which is described as ‘one of his most abstract and mysterious’.

One of Elisabeth Frink’s Canterbury 1971 etchings of pilgrims depicts Arrival at Canterbury.

William Blake’s 1810 print showing Chaucer’s pilgrims leaving Southwark reminds us how the pilgrimage was being highlighted and recognised in the early 19th century.

In a brief look at the wider world of pilgrimage there are two photographs by Czech photographer and pilgrimage expert Marketa Luskacova taken in Slovakia and Ireland.

It is interesting to find that Canterbury Cathedral’s chapter house has long been a venue for Becket theatre.

There in 1897 Henry Irving gave a reading of his role as Becket in Alfred Tennyson’s play which in 1932 was fully staged in the same long room.

Just two years later it was the venue for the premiere of TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

When Robert Donat played the role of Becket in a new production of the play at The Old Vic in Coronation Year 1953 he received twenty curtain calls on the opening night.

It appears that the play was only written and premiered at the Canterbury Cathedral thanks to Margaret Babington, cathedral Friends’ treasurer, who had played Eleanor of Aquitaine in Tennyson’s play. A letter reveals how Dean Hewlitt Johnson was primed by her to agree to it.

The many items on show embrace holy water bottles old and new, pilgrim badges and even a bottle of Bishops Finger ale available today at pubs on the PW.

An hour is probably not long enough to look at everything. The museum should consider publishing a souvenir catalogue of the show which only runs until Sunday 4 July.

Thomas Becket; World Celebrity Healer at The Beaney is open Tuesday to Sunday; admission free. Booking ahead is essential whilst social distancing rules are required.

One of the pink marble capitals from Thomas Becket’s shrine

The exhibition has a photograph of an Exeter Cathedral roof boss depicting Becket’s murder. It was put in place about 1341 at the instigation of Bishop John Grandisson who had a special devotion to St Thomas.
Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell’s A Canterbury Pilgrimage (1885) open at Canterbury pages. The American couple explored the PW from London on a tandem tricycle.

Cycling PW with Paulo

Paulo in Seale

Paulo Seth’s introductory film about cycling from Winchester to Canterbury is now online.

Fifteen further films for each stage follow weekly.

The route is not exactly the same as the footpath since cyclists have to avoid kissing gates as well as other problems.

But the Pilgrims’ Way often has parallel paths even for walkers and horse riders. In the past this was sometimes the result of the main path being too muddy in winter.

The first video can be seen now here.

Paulo tackled the Pilgrims’ Way during the pandemic after much experience of other major pilgrim routes. The PW, in four days, is his shortest.

The Winchester to Canterbury journey was filmed by German television.

His blog provides added interest.

**Attractive pilgrim T-shirts and shell badges can be purchased online through an associated website.

To Canterbury from Winchester and London / Leigh Hatts