Over the summer many Catholics will have made their way to pilgrimage sites all over the world. Pilgrimage is as important as ever, with the revival of many ancient pilgrim routes and sites taking place over the last couple of decades.
However, it is not always necessary to travel long distances at great expense to enjoy the spiritual benefits of a pilgrimage. We can achieve the goal of pilgrimage in simple ways much nearer to our homes. Pope Benedict XVI said that “To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”
With this in mind, I have sought to undertake a number of mini-pilgrimages near to home over the quieter summer months this year. This has brought me numerous blessings as I have walked the lanes and footpaths around my parish. Within a few miles’ radius of my home there are a number of interesting and historic churches which can be reached easily within an afternoon’s walk. And so with a little planning I have set off on my local Caminos.
My latest pilgrimage was on the solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady. In the gap between the morning and evening Masses I set out to a tiny village, three miles from home, which is right on the edge of my parish. There in a small hollow 15 miles south-west of the city of Leicester sits the tiny medieval chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption.
It is remarkable that after the Reformation the place retains its original dedication to Our Lady. The church largely was rebuilt in the 19th century, but on the original sandstone plinth, and much of the original structure remains. The historian Sir William Dugdale (1605-1686) thought that it occupied the site of the Roman town of Cleychester.
The chapel today is a humble, almost negligible building which passers-by could dismiss as a barn if it were not for the tiny bellcote on the roof. It sits in a field without a churchyard or much else to distinguish it from many of the other buildings around.
I had set off armed with my rosary, breviary and some Lourdes water. I passed down lanes that I had travelled on countless occasions in the car but had never fully appreciated before. After about a mile I felt truly and wonderfully alone with God and could have easily forgotten how near I was to home.
Like a medieval pilgrimage, the journey became the important component of my afternoon. When I reached the church I said an early Vespers and then turned around and headed home. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the Assumption of Our Lady.
We all live near places that can become pilgrimage destinations for us. Whether we walk, hop on a bus or jump in a car, nobody is far from a historic place of faith. I would certainly recommend having a go yourselves and reaping the spiritual benefits of a home pilgrimage.
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