Assisi. We have been several times before and it has always been a very special place for us. As my wife and I turned 50, we wanted to do a special visit and walk there. But then Covid stopped that. Once the world gets back to normal, we will be on our way.
Would you make any special stops?
The wonderful thing about pilgrimage is that the journey is a “stop” in itself – a break from the normal pace of life, the daily chores and the usual routine. I don’t mind stopping or diverting, of course, along the way to see things; but for me the whole focus of pilgrimage is the focus on the end. I’m not sure diversions and stops mean too much when one is doing a pilgrimage. Funnily enough, I can remember very little about the journeys we’ve made to Fátima, Santiago, Međugorje and elsewhere: but hugely vivid memories of the places themselves.
Who would be your travelling companions?
I’d be happy for anyone to join me – friends, family or strangers. As long as they can keep up. And don’t talk about themselves too much!
You can transplant your favourite pub, bar or restaurant onto the route. What is it?
I’m not too bothered about bringing a place with me and in fact part of the whole point of pilgrimage for me would be to leave places behind. But I wouldn’t mind a bottle of good red wine waiting for me at relatively regular intervals.
Camp under the stars, or find a church hall to sleep in?
The stars, for sure. Though now I am a little older and more achy, I’d bring a nice mattress and a couple of pillows with me. I’m not sure my back will hold out otherwise; and I’d rather get to Assisi in the end than get told off by my fellow pilgrims that I am not suffering sufficiently.
Which books would you take with you?
You can’t beat a bit of Thomas Aquinas, so the Summa Theologica. I have also learned a great deal over the years about ideas about pilgrimage from other faiths and cultures. The Buddhist Records of the Western Worlds is a particular favourite, so that would come along too.
What Bible verse would you ponder as you walked?
At the moment, it’s Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul. He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.” There is lots going on in the parts of the world that I work on – especially in Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Middle East where strength, faith and hope are enormously important.
You stop in a church. What’s your go-to prayer?
The novena. It has been since I was a small boy.
It’s your turn to cook. What’s your speciality?
I do a mean Thai green curry. Classic spices from the Silk Roads – and the more the better.
What’s the singalong to keep everyone’s spirits up?
The Sound of Music. Each song is a banger. Not sure how “on brand” that is for a pilgrimage though; and definite mixed messages about Fräulein Maria deciding her calling was not to be a nun after all.
You’re allowed one luxury in your bag. What is it?
My smartphone, on airplane mode so it can’t receive calls, emails or messages. But with my playlists to keep me company. I was a chorister, music scholar at secondary school and scholar at university, so I love my music. And I have a good range too, from plainsong to Dizzee Rascal.
What would you most miss about ordinary life?
My family. No question. I move and travel a lot – or at least I used to before the pandemic. They’re all I miss, and I always miss them.
What would you miss the least?
Deadlines. I love my work – genuinelyadore it, even. But there are a lot of obligations, commitments and requests; and sometimes, other people’s expectations of what I can do are unrealistic and even overwhelming. I would not miss those pressures at all; it is hard to find silence and space to contemplate and reflect. Being able to do so is one of the great rewards of pilgrimage. Cutting out the noise is, after all, the best way to hear God’s voice.
Peter Frankopan is a writer and historian. His latest book, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, is published by Bloomsbury
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