A Reflection given by Crook minister Ray Anglesea on the recent West Durham Methodist Circuit Pilgrimage
One of the surprising facts about the British holiday market is the increasing popularity of so-called pilgrimage routes. The British Pilgrimage Trust suggests that 30 pilgrim routes have now been discovered in Britain. What’s more, since 2013, there’s been a 14% increase in people, of all faiths and none, engaging in pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage was a feature of the Roman Empire. But it took on a new guise in Anglo-Saxon Britain as Christianity spread. Rumours began to circulate that a place had become holy, because of some miraculous event or the reputation of a great teacher, and this soon encouraged the faithful to flock there. The murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, and later the publication of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales comes immediately to mind. Catholics today are well known visitors to Holy sites such as Lourdes, Fatma, Knock, Medjugorje. The Cathedral shrine of St Cuthbert too attracts global visitors.
Next year will be the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, 500 years since Martin Luther, the German professor of theology, composer, priest, Augustinian friar, nailed his theses to a church door in 1517. Five hundred years later we recognise that all our churches and denominations grew out of those events.
To mark the event a pilgrimage walk of some a 1,200 kilometres and known as the Luther Trail has been established across the German federal states of Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony. Every stopping point along the trail looks back on a piece of history about Martin Luther and his fellow campaigners of the Reformation. In Thuringia the route takes in Eisenach and Wartburg Castle, Luther’s House, the Augustinian abbey in Erfurt, Wilhelmsburg Palace in Schmalkalden and other sites. In Saxony-Anhalt the route goes to Eisleben, to the house where Luther was born and the house where he died, and to Wittenberg, the most important site of the Reformation, the church where Luther preached his sermons, the castle church where he nailed his 95 theses to the door. Along the trail there are exhibitions on various aspects of the Reformation, historical festivals, guided tours, concerts and much more.
Of course we do not have to journey to Europe to make a pilgrimage, or view relics. We can make our own short journeys either together or singularly here in beautiful Weardale. One of the most prolific contemporary Christian authors on the subject of pilgrimage David Adam, a former Vicar of Holy Island, wrote “We need to capture again the ability to make short pilgrimages, to turn to God in our daily lives and actions.”
I pray that God may accompany you today on your short circuit pilgrimage. For whatever reason you are making the journey I trust travelling together, sharing the journey, reflecting, being quiet, taking time out, you may be blessed. And maybe the things that inspired our Catholic and Reformed friends to make their pilgrimages might also inspire us too.