Lots of people have asked me what on earth I am doing and why I am doing it, and it isn’t easy to give a concise answer. Truth is, I am doing a mix of things…
I wouldn’t be being truthful if I didn’t admit that the idea of a round-Britain m/bike isn’t exciting in itself – a cool thing to do – a mid-life-crisis-y kind of thing to do. This was the case for many medieval pilgrims too. Pilgrimage was one of the few ways (other than being recruited into someone’s war!) to travel and see something of the world – to be accompanied by fellow travellers and have a rollicking good time. That’s not to say that pilgrimage was comfortable for the average pilgrim – far from it – but then neither was everyday life for many of them! It was adventure and an excuse to see things and places they would never otherwise see. So I am trying to be unapologetic about that!
Pilgrims back then had several motives – probably mixed like mine…
Indulgences – receiving forgiveness for themselves or for someone in purgatory on completion of this religious task or duty;
Healing – most shrines had healing specialisms – you could go there when the doctors had failed – the relics held there had mystical healing power;
Curiosity – everyone else was going, why not go and see what all the fuss was about;
rarer – but real – a desire for the ascetic life – to leave comforts behind and go where God leads out on the hardship of the wilderness road.
Of those motives I am not going for the receipt of indulgences nor to be physically healed of an ailment, nor to be healed of the trendy and less easy to prove modern equivalent – a spiritual healing of some kind. But the latter two are part of what I am hoping it will be.
Yes – curiosity. If for so many millions of people this thing called pilgrimage was an important spiritual tonic – then the very last I can do is assume they weren’t all stupid and have something to teach me.
and – Yes – a desire for the ascetic life. There was a rare breed of Pilgrim who set out in rudderless and paddle-less boats/coracles with nothing but a week’s supply of food, trusting that God would so move the waves and tides that they should wash up in the place God wanted them to be. St Brendan was one such Pilgrim.
OK, I’m not taking it as far as he did! I DO know where I am going and I am taking supplies – but it is a little bit sobering to be contemplating 26 days on the road with just the stuff I can fit on my bike. I AM looking forward to the experience of leaving behind the easy comfort of my house and contemplating (yes, I have started to think about this!) the uncertain provision of toilet facilities at the moments you most need them, and the uncertain eating arrangements that will attend my travels.
I am reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – it’s a bit of a task, to be honest! But I have just read the “Man of Law’s Tale” about a woman called Constance. She was punished by being put on a ship and set adrift. As she drifts, she prays, likening the wooden boat to the cross:
Victorious tree, proteccioun of trewe,
That oonly worthy were for to bere
The Kyng of Hevene with his woundes newe,
The white Lamb, that hurt was with a spere,
Flemere of feendes out of hym and here
On which thy lymes feithfully extended,
Me kepe, and yif me myght my lyf t’amenden.
My situation won’t be that perilous – but I am setting off in the hope that the stripping away of some creature comforts will unlock the door to some deeper spiritual riches… we’ll see!
anyway – packing to do, I set off in the morning! (I might pack a toilet roll!)