I’m fas­ci­nated by the no­tion of pil­grim­age

Rochdale Observer - - THE LAUGHING BADGER -

WE vis­ited York last week­end, and the view from our ho­tel win­dow is what you see here, just awe­some, the River Ouse, river­side hostel­ries and the quite re­mark­able York Min­ster, which was our first port of call, and per­haps more im­por­tantly, we vis­ited the shrine of the Sec­ond Di­vi­sion holy man, Saint Wil­liam, which makes us pil­grims.

Think­ing about it, we vis­ited the Catholic shrine of Knock in County Mayo three weeks ago, so al­ready we’re two-time pil­grims.

York’s cathe­dral church is one of the finest me­dieval build­ings in Europe. The Min­ster is also known as St Peter’s, its full name be­ing the ‘Cathe­dral and Metropo­lit­i­cal Church of St Peter in York.’ In the past the church sat within its own walled precinct, known as the Lib­erty of St Peter. The site of the mag­nif­i­cent me­dieval build­ing has al­ways been an im­por­tant one for the city. The re­mains of the basil­ica, the cer­e­mo­nial cen­tre of the Ro­man fortress, have been found be­neath the Min­ster build­ing.

The first Chris­tian church on the site has been dated to 627 and the first Arch­bishop of York was recog­nised by the Pope in 732. A stone Saxon church sur­vived Vik­ing in­va­sion in 866 but was ran­sacked by Wil­liam the Con­queror’s forces in 1069. Wil­liam ap­pointed his own Arch­bishop, Thomas, who by the end of the cen­tury had built a great Norman cathe­dral on the site. The present Gothic-style church was de­signed to be the great­est cathe­dral in the king­dom. It was built over 250 years, be­tween 1220 and 1472. As the nat­u­ral cen­tre of the Church in the North, the Min­ster has of­ten played an im­por­tant role in great na­tional af­fairs – not least dur­ing the tur­bu­lent years of the Ref­or­ma­tion and the Civil War.

At this stage I should point out that I am in no way re­li­gious, but I do like the idea that peo­ple with a strong faith will test them­selves against the el­e­ments. There is a spir­i­tual side to this of course, self dis­cov­ery even, and that’s the route I would fol­low, with a po­lite nod in the di­rec­tion of those with the ‘faith,’ and a mas­sive doff­ing of the cap to those who achieve the most ar­du­ous of pil­grim­ages for what­ever rea­son.

A good ex­am­ple for me of the spir­i­tual, as I see it, was this from a fel­low pil­grim to York... ‘You are one de­ci­sion away from a com­pletely dif­fer­ent life. The first to apol­o­gise is the bravest, the first to for­give is the strong­est, and the first to for­get is the hap­pi­est.’ Th­ese sen­ti­ments are sim­i­lar to those found in many dif­fer­ent re­li­gions and philoso­phies across the globe but I like the fash­ion in which he wove them to­gether.

We didn’t walk to York but I did ditch the mo­tor­ing car and bought a brace of tick­ets from Moss­ley to York, which proved a mas­ter stroke and only took just over an hour from door to door. With the bags dropped and af­ter break­fast in Betty’s, the renowned café, where I tried Rwan­dan Cof­fee we ad­dressed the Min­ster, tower an‘ all but first, about that cof­fee.

It was ace and my les­son of the pil­grim­age. Rwanda is blessed with ideal cof­fee grow­ing con­di­tions that in­clude high al­ti­tude, reg­u­lar rain­fall, vol­canic soils with good or­ganic struc­ture. The vast ma­jor­ity of Rwan­dan cof­fee is pro­duced by small­hold­ers of which there are thought to be around half a mil­lion, with parcels of land of­ten not much larger than just one hectare per fam­ily, with an av­er­age of ap­prox­i­mately 180 trees each. Cof­fee is grown in most parts of the coun­try, with par­tic­u­larly large con­cen­tra­tions along Lake Kivu in the west and in the south­ern prov­ince. I love cof­fee, even at £6 for a small cafetiere.

I’ve never been a pil­grim be­fore, and the more I look into it, the more I am fas­ci­nated by the no­tion of up­ping sticks and fol­low­ing the long line of wan­der­ers over the cen­turies. I think our third pil­grim­age will surely need to in­volve a pere­gri­na­tion along The Camino de San­ti­ago (the Way of St James) a large net­work of an­cient pil­grim routes stretch­ing across Europe and com­ing to­gether at the tomb of St James in San­ti­ago de Com­postela in north-west Spain.

●●York Min­ster

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