Emma Holland on the resurgent popularity of pilgrimage

Emma Holland on the resurgent popularity of pilgrimage

On the website Thinking Faith, Emma Holland has an interesting piece on the resurgence of popularlity of pilgrimage. I’ve blogged a lot here about Peter Reason’s “In Search of Grace” a book which is particularly good on the messy human reality of pilgrimage. Indeed, it is good to recall the messy human reality of all sorts of monastic, mystical and otherwise otherworldly enterprises.

Bearing this in mind, as Holland points out, the Camino de Santiago in particular has had a massive surge in popularity:

The statistics about the number of people walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in 1986 point only to the sparseness of a forgotten trail. A low pilgrim population in the 80s turned an ancient path into more of a medieval legend. Rather than a well-known travel destination, the ancient ‘Way of St James’ was then little more than a dusty relic of Christian, and pagan, history. However, 21 years later, statistics show that 301,036 pilgrims received their Compostela certificates in 2017. [1] The powerful resurgence in the popularity of pilgrimage, particularly of the Way of St James, is undeniable. Is pilgrimage providing the perfect nourishment for the ritualistic needs of a spiritually hungry generation?

The concept of ‘going on pilgrimage’ has traditionally evoked many ideas: undertaking a journey to serve a personal purpose; giving expression to a difficult situation through bodily action, in the hope of securing an outcome; following in the footsteps of many who have walked the same path before; fulfilling a religious obligation. The idea of pilgrimage has over time evolved to meet the expectations of a 21st century world and yet still, whether the hope is for healing, miracles, peace, or even weight loss, people choose to walk the gruelling 500 miles of the Camino, with the bare minimum of possessions, more than a thousand years after the first pilgrims.

I didn’t realise that in the 80s the numbers were so starkly low. one of the topics Adam DeVille touched on in his blog post which I cited the other day was the faslity of the lazy use of the term secular:

Fong’s book is worth it if only for this central insight, which comes almost exactly half-way through: “there is perhaps no more confused assertion, for a critical theorist, than that capitalist society is becoming increasingly ‘secular’.” Why churchmen and others insist on using this term or its even more fatuous variants (“secular humanism”) has never made sense to me–except, of course, to flog their hideous books.

(he’s talking about Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option)

Holland goes on to consider various frameworks for thinking about this:

Biblical and anthropological insights could shed some light on why this might be. The God of the Old Testament provided the people of Israel with ritual instruction, intending to show them how properly to praise their creator and provider. Rituals were the intended outlet for the heart, reinforced with a physical action. One such example is fasting. As Karen Eliasen describes: ‘Fasting as a ritual act is not merely a symbol or a metaphor for some other-worldly activity. It is an experience of concrete, this-worldly changes.’[3] Eliasen continues to say that these physical changes are part of a communication and dialogue between God and the people. In a similar way, pilgrimage is a way of physically enacting and embodying a conversation with God. It encompasses all manner of the human being: it is spatial, physical and it speaks to the inner emotional and spiritual dynamics of a person. To provide an example of this in another cultural context, anthropologist Catherine Allerton studied the padong journeys undertaken by the brides of Manggarai of Eastern Indonesia, whereby brides would walk long distances from their kin towards their spouse’s family, wailing on the way as a fully embodied image of the journey the heart is also taking.[4] Such pilgrimage rituals witness to an important inner journey and to the importance of documenting emotions through physical manifestations.

However, it is the anthropological theory of ‘liminality’ developed by Victor Turner that might be the most important lens through which to study the contemporary allure of pilgrimage. Liminality can be described as the ‘in-between’ place whereby one has crossed a threshold but has not yet arrived at a final place, communitas, a place of completion. Turner suggests that ‘pilgrimage provides a carefully structured, highly valued route to a liminal world where the ideal is felt to be real, where the tainted social persona may be cleansed and renewed’.[5] In other words, it is a place to forget socially-structured life before the pilgrimage and move towards the place of communitas. In a society seemingly more polarised than ever, the idea of being somewhere outside of the socio-political realm where one is equal with fellow pilgrims could be a highly appealing prospect. Pilgrimage almost has the ability to create a microcosmic utopian society, in which one bonds along the way with all those who are on the same inner and outer journeys.

 

 

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Pilgrimage at St Declan’s Well, Toor, Co. Waterford

Happy St Declan’s Day! For the occasion here is a post from 2012 from the wonderful Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland blog which I have had cause to reblog much from. By my reckoning this year’s pilgrimage will be at Toor on Thursday coming the 26th..

Pilgrimage In Medieval Ireland

St Declan’s Well at Toor in Co. Waterford, has a special significance for me as my grandmother, who was originally from the area, visited the well throughout her life (even when living in another county).

St Declan’s Well

According to folklore St Declan  stopped here while en route to Cashel to quenched his thirst and it was this act that blessed the waters (Komen no date). I was unable to find any references to the well prior to the twentieth century, but the dedication to St Declan a pre-patrician saint suggests it is of some antiquity and  it may have originally attracted pilgrims only from the local area.

Statue of St Declan at Toor

Changing landscape of the Well

The modern landscape of the well is relatively recent. The statues, the structure where mass is said, the outdoor pulpit, are all additions dating to the 1950’s -1960’s. The coniferous plantation…

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Ray High Cross, Falcarragh, Donegal

Ray is a townland a little beyond Falcarragh on the road to Dunfanaghy (near Joe & Anne Kane’s Studio)  It boasts an ancient Irish Church site associated with Iona and therefore  St Columba , and forms part of the Slí Cholmcille. The site boasts what is purportedly Ireland’s tallest high cross. It is rather less embellished than more familiar High Crosses in the rest of the country. , but has its own epic, stark grandeur:

St Patrick’s Breastplate / The Deer’s Cry : music by Shaun Davey / Rita Connolly, Arvo Part, John Fahey, John Kenny, Melville Cook

St Patrick’s Breastplate  / The Deer’s Cry :  music by Shaun Davey / Rita Connolly, Arvo Part, John Fahey, John Kenny, Melville Cook

As a child, I was somewhat mystified why a certain hymn in our religion books was called “St Patrick’s Breastplate” but went:

Christ be beside me, Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me, King of my heart.
Christ be within me, Christ be below me,
Christ be above me, never to part.

Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand,
Christ all around me, shield in the strife.
Christ in my sleeping, Christ in my sitting,
Christ in my rising, light of my heart.

with no references to breastplates (or St Patrick)

Only much later did I hear a complete version and also read that this was an example of a lorica, an invocation of the divine for protection in the manner of a warrior putting on armour.

The text is first found in the Liber Hymnorum or “Book of Hymns”. It seems most dating of the hymn sets it later than the historical Patrick, who is therefore unlikely to actually be the author.

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Two translations are presented here. Here is the second of those translations:

I arise to-day
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise to-day
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise to-day
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preachings of apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise to-day
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise to day
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in a multitude.

I summon to-day all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me to-day
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise to-day
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

There have been many musical settings of this text. My own memory of the Christ Be Beside me of my school days was a rather wishy washy acoustic guitar led dirge, though I did like the words. However the piece – which as the translation above reveals has a certain narrative drive and power – has lent itself to some excellent settings. Not all the text is generally set – the reference to “spells of women and smiths and druids” gets omitted. This site presents many versions and an excellent discussion on the piece as a hymn (some of the historical background given is slightly at variance with that above) with a helpful account of the musical background.

“This hymn can be a chall­enge to sing with­out see­ing the words matched to the notes,” observe the editors of the Cyberhymnal (linked below), “but it is a mas­ter­piece ne­ver­the­less.”

They’re correct on both counts.

The hymn is complex musically. As Wikipedia notes, “In many churches it is unique among standard hymns because the variations in length and metre of verses mean that at least three different tunes must be used – different in the melody sung by the congregation.”

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Here is one of the most powerful versions from Shaun Davey’s “The Pilgrim” with vocals by Davey’s wife, Rita Connolly:

Many contemporary versions seem to owe quite a debt to Davey’s, although few come close to its power.

Here is a photo from the CD sleeve of “The Pilgrim” of Shaun Davey with some piper. I am not sure why I find this a wonderful photo, but I do:

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Here is an austere, haunting Arvo Part setting:


The eclectic, eccentric American folk guitarist John Fahey
made an arrangement called “St Patrick’s Hymn” which sounds like an off-kilter Renaissance Fayre soundtrack:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/2Sw8D1YGU0bjWVHt3k5nzv

This isn’t on YouTube as far as I can find, but here is someone else playing the arrangement:

Finally, here is something very different… and perhaps for those who find all the above a little too pious / inspirational / hymn-y this is a very different version by the British composer John Kenny sung by the choir of Gonville and Caius College Cambridge. Some interesting background from the John Kenny article linked to above:

At the point we actually had the three Celtic instruments – the great horns of the ancient Celtic world – reconstructed, I thought ‘yeah’, there is only one poem that I know that could combine these three cultures for real, and that’s possibly the oldest poem in old Irish that has come down to us.

The poem is called the Lorica, or ‘the Deer’s Cry’ – attributed to St Patrick himself. I’ve set the text in three languages; old Irish, ancient Celtic Latin and a wonderful English translation.

The piece features two ancient instruments – the Lochnashade horn, representing Irish culture and the Deskford Carnyx representing where St Patrick originally came from. It seemed appropriate to set with these instruments – this is a poem from the transitional period between Paganism and Christianity, between Roman culture and the hinterland culture of the Celtic Church.

Here is a whole Spotify playlist full of versions:

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/aoifenichorcorain/playlist/07QE6H6nzmahWpCt233clF

One of my favourites of these is the Rites Reserved version (first on the Spotify playlist above) – cannot find a YouTube link. While the arrangement is rather familiar, there is something in the instrumentation and vocals reminiscent of Judee Sill

Finally to end with a more “traditional” choral setting, firmly in the Anglican choral tradition. Charles Villiers Stanford’s setting seems to be the canonical hymnal one, but I somewhat prefer this by the organist and composer Melville Cook. As per the info on the YouTube video below:

During his service as Organist and Choirmaster of Leeds Parish Church (as it was then known) from 1937 to 1946, Melville Cook left a number of craftsmanly hymn settings for posterity, most of which survive in manuscript in the Leeds Minster Choir Library. At least one was published and printed locally – a large-scale score of the traditional Irish hymn known as ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’. Dr Cook’s setting is a real gem, with an organ part of considerably more interest than the ‘standard’ version by Stanford


Pilgrimage to St Gobnait at Ballyvourney, Co. Cork

Happy https://ga.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gobnait to one and all – here is a post on Gobnait from Louise Nugent’s wonderful Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland blog!

Pilgrimage In Medieval Ireland

Saint Gobnait: first impressions

I first came across St Gobnait when I wandered in to the Honan Chapel  around 14 years ago.  The Honan chapel is  very  beautiful  church located on the campus of University College Cork. It has many splendid stained glass windows by Harry Clarke, who in my opinion was Ireland’s finest stain glass artist.

As I wandered around the chapel I looked up at one of the many windows which depicted various Irish saints and there was Gobnait. Her window is one of the most beautiful depictions of a saint I had ever seen. The window shows  Gobnait of Baile Bhúirne/Ballyvourney adorned in blue robes and surrounded by bees, at her feet  are two men with   fearful expressions.  My curiosity immediately demanded that I find out who this saint was, where she came from and most importantly what was the connection with the bees?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/feargal/6388195535/ Stain glass image of St Gobnait in the  Honan Chapel . Taken…

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“The pilgrimage is not all plain sailing, not all peak experience” – Peter Reason on the messy human reality of pilgrimage

“The pilgrimage is not all plain sailing, not all peak experience” – Peter Reason on the messy human reality of pilgrimage

One of the charms of Peter Reason’s “In Search of Grace” is his human honesty at the gap between the lofty ambition of pilgrimage and actual experience. At the very outset of his voyage, he writes of “the repetitive anxiousness that so often comes in the small hours … I lost all sense of why I was on this journey; all sense of pilgrimage disappeared.” He expands on this theme:

It is not uncommon for travellers to feel resistant at the point of setting out. For years the French writer and traveller Sylvian Tesson had wanted to spend the winter in a small cabin in Siberia. In Consolations of the Forest he writes about the challenge of rousing himself from bed on the morning he is to set out and wonders if he will undermine his own desire. In The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen describes the calamitous weather and uncertainty about porters at the beginning of a trip in the Himalayas. The forthcoming journey is losing all sense of reality and he asks “where did I imagine I was going, where and why?”

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I suspect that in order to gather the energy for a significant journey we have to idealise it in our minds beforehand. There has to be a grand purpose to make it all worthwhile. So I have described my voyage as a pilgrimage (rather than a sailing cruise) I had thought of it as a “deep ecology homage” But once I set off, these worthy ambitions ran up against the unrelenting and sometimes frightening reality of the wild world. The high-minded purposes become meaningless and difficult to hold on to. The pilgrimage is not all plain sailing, not all peak experience. We can only engage with the world on its own terms, terms that include inclement weather, the contingency of plans, and the unreliability of equipment. And they meet with my fragility as a human being; my mistakes, my indulgences in emotions, my fear, the gap between my high expectations and the reality.

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There is something of the ridiculous in this. I boldly wrote that on pilgrimage we leave the comforts and habits of home in order to meet the more-than-human world more directly. But I was discombobulated when I had to live through what this actually means in practice. The grand purposes with which the pilgrim sets out will only survive and deepen as they are tested against experience.

Peter Reason on pilgrimage, ecology and in-between space.

Peter Reason on pilgrimage, ecology and in-between space.

From “In Search of Grace”:

“In modern times, the idea of pilgrimage falls within so many cultural and spiritual traditions that it holds no single meaning. However, it usually entails a long journey in search of qualities of moral or spiritual significance, a journey across both outer physical and inner spiritual landscapes. A pilgrim separates herself from home and familiars, may join with a group of like-minded seekers, sometimes wearing special clothes or other marks that indicate their pilgrim status. In an important sense the pilgrim leaves the everyday and familiar, and journeys through an in-between space towards some transcendent purpose….Places where two ecosystems meet, such as the brackish water of lagoons, are rich with lifeforms and ecological adaptation. As the Catholic writer Douglas Christie puts it, ‘The liminal space of the pilgrimage journey offers a fluid and imaginative space between the human and the more-than-human worlds, between matter and spirit, body and soul, heaven and earth, humanity and divinity.

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“I studied many accounts of religious pilgrimages, learning how the faithful travel to sacred sites in order to encounter a holy realm for worship and the affirmation of faith, in search of illumination and for healing. I began to draw parallels with my idea of ecological pilgrimage as seeking a primal, heartfelt connection with the Earth itself and the community of life that has evolved on Earth. It is also an ongoing celebration of that connection and an act of homange, honouring the Earth as the more-than-human world of which we are a part, existing for itself rather than for human use. By taking the pilgrim away from the habits of civilization and by disrupting the pattern of everyday life, pilgrimage offers and opening to a different view of the Earth of which we are a part.”