Martyrdom by Catherine Pepinster

This year “is full of anniversaries: 40 years since Oscar Romero was assassinated; 100 years since Joan of Arc’s canonisation; 850 years since the killing of Becket; 50 years since the canonisation of the 40 martyrs of England and Wales,” says Catherine Pepinster.

Catherine Pepinster’s new book Martyrdom: Why Martyrs Still Matter embraces St Thomas Becket and is extremely timely despite Becket 2020 events being postponed by the virus.

Her main six page section on Becket, who appears again and again through the book, is a good introduction.

Also featured are a number of the PW saints. On pilgrimage we meet St Oscar Romero in Southwark’s Roman Catholic St George’s Cathedral and again in Canterbury.

Catherine devotes a chapter to Oscar Romero, a 20th-century ‘Becket’ murdered in church by the state. Within hours of Romero’s assassination Archbishop Robert Runcie publicly knelt to pray for his soul at the site of Becket’s murder.

It is suggested that both Becket and Romero were considered to be irritants who were expendable.

Also making an appearance is St Thomas More. Walkers meet him in Southwark where his head was put on a London Bridge stake and find that head in St Dunstan’s Church on approaching Canterbury’s city gate.

He famously declared himself, like Becket, to be “the king’s good servant and God’s first”.

Thomas Becket and Thomas More “are people of conscience whose sacrifice resonates with contemporary audiences,” claims the author.

St John Fisher of Rochester is shown as standing by Katharine of Aragon despite the consequences. The Pope tried to save the bishop from death by making him a cardinal but Henry VIII threatened to send Fisher’s decapitated head to Rome for the red hat.

Much more is covered in this thorough book: many countries, eras, other faiths claiming martyrs and 20th-century suffragettes.

Also included is a look at the English Reformation which paused pilgrimage. At this time the new English College in Rome had a large painting of Becket to inspire students. Now the annual Martyrs’ Day at the college is a Christian unity occasion with Anglicans and Methodists present.

The book was completed after Covid shut down the country which enables the author to reflect that, although the planned Becket 2020 events are cancelled, many were to have been ecumenical. Pilgrimage today is one of the great signs of living and growing Christian unity as people of all churches and none begin to understand history.

In the 21st-century it is natural for Canterbury Cathedral and Santa Maria Maggiore to be ready, as Catherine reports, to cooperate in honouring Thomas Becket.

Martyrdom: Why Martyrs Still Matter by Catherine Pepinster is published by SPCK (£25).

Southwark remembers Thomas Becket’s visit

Replica of a 14th-century pilgrim token showing Thomas Becket on a horse is available from Canterbury Cathedral shop (£14.99).

With the approach of Advent we can soon start to follow in real time the weeks before the murder of Thomas Becket 850 years ago.

At the start of December the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket returned to from exile in France by landing at Sandwich in his diocese.

His ride into Canterbury through cheering crowds was compared to Christ on Palm Sunday.

The following week, Becket set off for Southwark. Although it was winter with short daylight hours, he managed to ride in a day.

A brief confirmation service at Newington near Sittingbourne took place by the main road saving the archbishop from having to turn off to the church which lies to the north.

The 850th anniversary of Becket’s visit to Southwark Cathedral (called Southwark Priory in 1170) is being marked during Choral Evensong on Friday 11 December when the saint’s successor Justin Welby will preach.

Representatives from nearby St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral Southwark will be present. The Dean of Canterbury, the Very Revd Robert Willis, is coming up the PW for the occasion.

Flickering before the altar will be a candle made to the height of St Thomas Becket and another the exact height of Marion Marples who promoted the Santiago pilgrimage and, just before her unexpected death last year, helped to prepare the reawakening of the PW for this anniversary year.

Becket spent at least the first night of his visit in the house near to the cathedral which is now the familiar preserved ruin in Clink Street.

After about a week, having gone to Harrow and been snubbed by Henry II’s courtiers, Becket returned home. That journey took two days and after Dartford was by way of the Darenth Valley and Otford with an overnight stop at Wrotham.

This is the route we follow today from Southwark to Canterbury.

**The service will be streamed live on the Southwark Cathedral website. Those wishing to be present should register via Eventbrite.

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.

To Canterbury from Winchester and London / Leigh Hatts