Now that the academic year has drawn to a close, many of us will be turning our eyes to destinations beyond Bath. Some will be applying for jobs, some may be heading off for further studies elsewhere. Many will be travelling, either for a short holiday or for longer exploration of distant places.
Some people may be going on pilgrimage. All the world religions have places of pilgrimage and many people of faith will make a pilgrimage at some point in their life. Pilgrims can have specific hopes and intentions, offering the effort of the journey as a kind of sacrificial prayer. Pilgrimage can mark a change in someone’s life, giving thanks for what is past and asking for help with what is coming in the future. Pilgrimage can quite simply be an act of love for the holiness of the pilgrimage destination.
Some pilgrimage sites are well known and attract millions of people: Jerusalem and Mecca come to mind. But a pilgrimage doesn’t have to be to a well-known site. It can be to any destination that is significant for the pilgrim. It also doesn’t necessarily need to be a long journey.
This Saturday morning, 8th July, I will be making a pilgrimage to somewhere close by – to the Saxon church in Bradford on Avon! My parish community have been going there every summer since 1982 to pray to the two saints associated with the Saxon church: St Laurence, (to whom it’s dedicated) and St Aldhelm.
This Saxon church has been sanctified by prayer for over a thousand years. When it was rediscovered in the nineteenth century, it was thought to have been built by St Aldhelm in the early eighth century, but it’s now thought to be a bit later than that: early eleventh century. St Aldhelm did build a church nearby, maybe on the site of the present-day parish church across the road.
I have a real soft spot for St Aldhelm. He was a great scholar and poet and as a missionary bishop travelled all over the area we now call Wiltshire and Dorset, preaching and founding churches. I especially like the story that as a young monk at Malmesbury he was disappointed by the low numbers of people who came to church on Sunday. In response to this he would go to the town bridge and do some juggling and sing ballads which he had composed himself. When he had got people’s attention he would then switch to talking about the Gospel, and encourage them to come to church. There is an icon of St Aldhelm in the chaplaincy. It was painted in memory of the first chaplain at the University, Robin Lancaster.
To get back to the subject of pilgrimage – I hope and pray that whatever travels you make this summer, there may be some element of pilgrimage. May you return home spiritually refreshed and with new insights and inspiration for what lies ahead.