I’m fascinated by the notion of pilgrimage
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.