When the sweet showers of April fall and shoot Down through the drought of March to pierce the root, Then the people long to go on pilgrimages And palmers long to seek the stranger strands Of far-off saints, hallowed in sundry lands. Geoffrey Chaucer
This year another Geoffrey, the Bishop of Europe, invited the parishes in his Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe to observe the 25th Jubilee of its creation with pilgrimage as the theme. The chaplaincies of the Swiss Archdeaconry decided to organise a series of pilgrimage featuring the historic sites and beautiful scenery of each chaplaincy area to celebrate our common faith together. For instance, in June five of the chaplaincies (Montreux, Vevey, Lausanne, La Côte and Geneva) walked along the north shore of the Lake of Geneva to follow the traditional pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela. This section is on the route from Northern Germany which traverses Switzerland and exits at Geneva to continue across France and on to Northern Spain.
Christian pilgrimages began at least as early as the 3rd century. The main destinations were Jerusalem and Rome and these were joined in time by Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the supposed site of the tomb of St James the Apostle. In England the most frequently visited sites were the shrines of St Thomas at Canterbury, of St Edmund at Bury St Edmunds and of Our Lady at Walsingham.
The desire of the believer and the penitent to visit holy sites is common to many religions. Historically the reasons for undertaking pilgrimages can best be summed up in three ways:- the desire to visit a holy site to make amends for having committed sin and as a penance in the hope of forgiveness — for example, officially at least, Henry II’s pilgrimage after the murder of Thomas à Becket; the wish to see and touch places and objects (the cult of relics) considered to be holy; for the pleasure of travelling. In the Middle Ages — and even in the 21st century from our recent experience — a pilgrimage provided an exciting challenge and an opportunity to leave a familiar and mundane life. In medieval times naturally it was much more challenging — no mobile phone, no backup cars on hand for refreshments in case the local inn or bistro was closed or for when rucksacks became unnecessarily burdensome. It was a hard slog into the unknown for weeks and months on end. Medieval pilgrimages were not just for the wealthy; the poor, the sick and afflicted also went. A pilgrimage was often the only chance people had to travel. It could be loosely described as the equivalent of a modern ‘package’ tour. The merchants of Venice offered to organise travel, food, accommodation and guided tours of Jerusalem! The Mirabilia Urbis Romane was a 12th century tourist guide which listed and described the sites of Rome that the pilgrim or stranger might like to explore.
Pilgrimages experienced a mass extinction event, though not quite of dinosaur magnitude, at the time of the Reformation. Henry VIII abolished pilgrimage in Britain when he dissolved the monasteries. There was a strong universal repudiation of relics in many countries of which Calvin’s treatise An Admonition showing the advantages which Christendom might derive from an inventory of relics is arguably the most lucid and well known. Now in the 21st century pilgrimage could be said to be enjoying somewhat of a revival. Routes are being clearly indicated, travellers are anxious to experience a lesser dependence on the slavery of technology, enjoy the beauties of the countryside and possibly, as we in the diocese tried to do, to re-think spiritual faith and Christian commitment.
In no sense can this issue of the Tyndale Journal be described as a pilgrimage one. However members of the Tyndale Society were warmly greeted by the local residents rather in the manner of medieval pilgrims when they attended the spring meeting in Kirtling, Suffolk. Our lead article is the paper given on that occasion by Prof David Daniell entitled No Tyndale, No Shakespeare. Eunice Burton’s report on this day conference will surely make many of you regret that you were unable to travel there. If pilgrimage is defined as travelling and arriving as a stranger in a distant land with good intentions then the journey undertaken to the New World by John Eliot, surely qualified. Dr Herbert Samworth’s paper entitled To Lay a Sure Foundation: John Eliot and the Algonquin Bible was given at the Tyndale Society’s Virginia Conference in September 2004.
Sadly both Justin Howes and Carsten Peter Thiede’s pilgrimages through life have been cut tragically short. There are appreciations of both of them and also a reprint of Carsten’s article on The Greek Bible which first appeared in the Church of England Newspaper in 2004. It gives a small taste of his scholarship for those who were not privileged to make his acquaintance.
Rowland Whitehead’s report Arboreal Tyndale describes the recent planting of a tree in memory of William Tyndale in Lambeth Palace Garden — quite an honour for the Society as it continues its journey to heighten awareness of the achievements of this Protestant reformer and martyr.
There is a particularly lively book review section in this issue embracing a variety of subjects. The editor is especially pleased to welcome some new pens/keyboards to the task. As promised in TSJ No. 28 Neil Inglis has reviewed a history of the Reformation in Spain written by Thomas McCrie in 1842. The reviewer remarks that this study is ‘dated and quaint’. Dr Korey Maas gives a measured assessment of the reissue of that essential volume for students Documents of the English Reformation. Pilgrimages were not the only practices suppressed at the Reformation as we learn from Dr C. Daniell’s review of the recent paperback edition of Peter Marshall’s Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England.
Dr Donald Smeeton not only found time to review a book but also travelled to review two exhibitions in America for us. The exhibition Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible unfortunately closed in Minneapolis in July but will undoubtedly travel to other locations in the States. Ink and Blood: Dead Sea Scrolls to the English Bible is currently running in Lexington, Kentucky. After Gutenberg, a recent exhibition at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, also reviewed in this issue, had amongst its rare incunabula a pilgrimage map the Rom Weg and an illustration probably intended as a souvenir for pilgrims.
Press Gleanings continues to throw interesting light on a myriad of subjects. Who amongst us was aware that Captain Bartholomew Gosnold alighted from his ship the Godspeed on the shore of Virginia a full 13 years before the Mayflower set sail? DNA may identify America’s founding father will provide the details.
My thanks go to all those who answered my appeal to review books and write articles. I am truly grateful even if I am not always as meticulous as I should be in replying to you all.
You will find within this Journal details of many interesting events in the coming year. The most imminent is the Fourth Oxford Tyndale Conference Opening the Word to the World. It has succeeded in attracting a remarkable line up of distinguished speakers from all over the world. You should all register without delay! Read your issue assiduously, sign up for events and conferences and encourage others to do so and, above all, keep on sending articles, information, letters and comments to the editor.
This issue was not taken on the Diocesan pilgrimage but, following the steps of John Eliot and Bartholomew Gosnold, it did journey to the New World — San Diego to be precise — and back but by plane rather than on foot, horseback and in a small ship.
God of our pilgrimage you have led us thus far. Refresh and sustain us as we go forward on our journey.