20 August: Pilgrimage, Celebrating Saint Edmund, I.

Pilgrimage was a popular devotion in England before the Reformation, that tornado which changed the face of Canterbury and many other towns, including Bury Saint Edmund’s in Suffolk. People would travel, often with some hardship, to celebrate a saint at his or her home, to pray at the shrine, and to buy a souvenir to show to family and friends. Earlier this year we brought home some Saint Edmund’s Russet apples from Saint Edmundsbury Market as our pilgrimage souvenir.

After our visit to Norway yesterday, join us in a virtual pilgrimage to Bury, beginning, as is right, with a passage from the Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.


Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,

Thanne longen folk to go on on pilgrimages.
When in April the sweet showers fall
That pierce March’s drought to the root and all
And bathed every vein in liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has with his sweet breath,
Filled again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and leaves, and the young sun
His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run,

Then folk do long to go on pilgrimage,
Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims set out to Canterbury in April, probably just after Easter but Mrs T and I left that city just after Christmas, travelling to Bury Saint Edmund’s.

Getting around England is so much easier today than in Chaucer’s time: a train to London, a short walk, and onto another. That said, we arrived out of season, as the restrictions on travel and gatherings were easing. We found ourselves warmly welcomed in another pilgrimage city. The Cathedral’s choirs were just finding their voices again. It was good to be there, but we did not see everything we had in mind. Another time, maybe?

One blessing of a short time away is to shake off the daily routines that keep us from spending time with each other. Even if you can only manage a walk for a few hours with your spouse or friends, create the opportunity and enjoy your time together. By the time you read this it will be summer holidays: plan now for quality time at half-term or Christmas!

Tomorrow we will look at the story of Saint Edmund, king and martyr, which turned the little town into a major pilgrims’ destination.

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Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Mission, PLaces

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