Dominican Jubilee Pilgrimage in Britain (Days 1 and 2)
The pilgrims depart Ramsgate and visit Cliffsend, Minster, Littlebourne and Ickham on their way to Canterbury Cathedral.
This year, the Order of Preachers is celebrating the 800th anniversary of the death of St. Dominic in Italy, and the arrival in 1221 of the Dominican Order in Great Britain. To mark the occasion, a group of British Dominicans are following the footsteps of their predecessors on a walking pilgrimage in England, starting at Ramsgate on Aug. 1 and arriving in Oxford on Aug. 15. Readers are invited to send their prayer intentions and join the pilgrimage virtually through this Register series, and at the Dominican Jubilee website.
Day 1 (Sunday, Aug. 1)
St. Augustine’s Church (Ramsgate). Our pilgrimage to Oxford began in the seaside town of Ramsgate. Our wonderful host, Father Christopher Basden, who began his priestly ministry in Iran where he grew up, knew from his experience of the Chartres pilgrimage the importance of a hearty breakfast and good cheer — both of which were supplied in abundance to set us off on the right track.
All pilgrimages begin with prayer, and ours began in earnest with Holy Mass at 9am Sunday at St. Augustine’s Church. This beautiful church was principally designed by A.W.N. Pugin but carried on by his sons, and is rightly regarded as an early masterpiece of the Gothic Revival. Pugin, who became a Catholic, is perhaps most famous for having designed so many of the details for the Palace of Westminster, including the clock tower that holds the famous bell known as “Big Ben.”
Andrew Kelly, founder of the Augustine Camino, pointed out the rich historical and artistic intricacies of St. Augustine’s in a brief guided tour. Before heading west, we received a traditional Dominican blessing for safe travel, and this began a pilgrimage of some 240 miles to Oxford in the footsteps of Gilbert of Fresnay and his Dominican brothers 800 years ago.
St. Augustine’s Cross (Cliffsend). With the sea to our left we wended our way to St. Augustine’s Cross, erected to make the place where the missionary monk first preached to King Ethelbert of Kent (c. 589-616). There we paused briefly to pray Lauds.
St. Mildred’s Abbey (Minster). Our next stop was for Midday Office at St. Mildred’s Abbey of Benedictine Sisters at Minster, a 7th-century religious foundation. It fell into abeyance but was refounded in 1937 by courageous sisters from Bavaria who were fleeing Nazi persecution at home.
As the day drew toward evening, our hopes of escaping the impending rain were dashed. Kent, the county through which we were walking, is known as the “Garden of England” for its fertile soil and fine produce, as our hosts were later to explain to us. Well, just before our arrival at Littlebourne, it seems that the garden was due a thorough watering, and the deluge dampened our habits but not our spirits!
New Place Farm (Littlebourne). On arrival we sang Vespers with a local congregation of 20 or so parishioners who had been very patient in awaiting the late pilgrim party.
Overnight, we stayed at New Place Farm, home to Geoff and Liz Preston, who cooked a veritable feast for famished Friars. It is humbling to consider that people are willing to open their homes and their hearts to mere strangers, let alone strangely-clad friars, and welcome us as Christ. Any pilgrim — especially mendicant pilgrims — rely upon such kindness and goodwill. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people who welcome us, pray with us and for our mission, and support us financially. Our heartfelt gratitude to all our supporters. It gives us great encouragement!
Day 2 (Monday, Aug. 2)
St. John the Evangelist (Ickham). After breakfast, we sauntered from the farmhouse to the 12th-century church of St. John the Evangelist, Ickham, where we prayed Lauds.
Our first stage of the day’s pilgrimage was aided greatly by Hendricks, a South African gentleman, who had prayed with us in Littlebourne, and guided us through the densely-wooded area towards Canterbury.
As on the previous day, we prayed the Holy Rosary, and prayed for the intentions of people as we walked — those who have emailed us or sent intentions through the website and those whom we have met along the way. It is a great privilege for us to be entrusted with the petitions of friends and strangers, which tell of both trials and joys. We carry each one physically and spiritually. This solemn responsibility is at the heart of our identity to offer prayers for the people of God, and it’s a central part of our pilgrimage.
Canterbury Cathedral (Canterbury). In the afternoon, we took those prayers to the Canterbury Cathedral, where the first Dominicans were invited to preach by Archbishop Stephen Langton on their way to Oxford but only after examination beforehand, to make sure they were up to the task. Happily, no such tests were required this time.
We first celebrated Holy Mass in the All Saints Chapel. Then, after a good lunch, we were joined by other brothers to sing a Votive Vespers of St. Dominic, with the choir of the cathedral. The service drew a good congregation in person, and thousands more online. How heartening it was to be joined in prayer by so many through the wonders of modern technology! Father Richard Finn preached on the joy that we must convey in proclaiming the Gospel.
One wonders, what would the first brethren have made of it all? Something tells me they would be sad at some ways in which the world has changed, and encouraged by other things. But, above all, they would be proud of how something they began 800 years ago continues now — a mission to praise, to bless and to preach.