Dominican Jubilee Pilgrimage in Britain (Days 3 and 4)
The pilgrims depart Canterbury for Chilham and Aylesford.
A group of British Dominicans are following the footsteps of their predecessors on a walking pilgrimage in England. Readers are invited to send their prayer intentions and join the pilgrimage virtually at the Dominican Jubilee website, and through this Register series. (See also Days 1 and 2.)
Day 3 (Tuesday, Aug. 3)
Singing, says St. Augustine, is what lovers do. They sing when their love is requited, to announce their joy — and when their love seems to be spent in vain, they sing to console their spirits.
He goes on to note that it is not much surprise that pilgrims sing. They sing to keep pace on the road; they sing to forget their sores; they sing because a fire is kindled in their hearts at the thought of their destination.
We must be pretty good pilgrims if this is the measure, because there has been a lot of singing in the last 48 hours. I count seven or eight Salve Reginas.
We have been privileged to sing Vespers in a number of quite ancient churches now in the care of the Anglican communion — though originally, they would have been Catholic places of worship. We have sung Lauds, and not only we, but passers-by and old friends and new companions have joined us as we sang on Tuesday by the altar dedicated to St. Thomas Becket and yesterday in the churchyard of Charing, sometime residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury (but no longer).
Canterbury Cathedral (Canterbury). Becket’s altar is a moving site to visit. It marks the place where tradition has it that he was struck down — during Vespers, as it happens. The monks had wanted to lock the cathedral, knowing that something suspicious was afoot, but Becket insisted that the church doors must be open at the time of public prayer. He knew full well what would be the consequences of this openness.
Somewhat ironically, perhaps somewhat pointedly, the Freemasons of Britain donated a stained-glass window, which is now in place above the Becket memorial. The window celebrates the kings and queens of this country. Becket died for upholding the rights of the Church against the secular power of the king, and this juxtaposition is a reminder that today still there we must stand our ground. Who knows what will be the consequences of our courage?
The road to Chilham. On leaving Canterbury we found ourselves, after a little hesitation, following the North Downs Way into a glade that looked like Rivendell, a place that Tolkien describes as “without spot or stain” — a new Eden, as our Lady was a renewed Eve. I wondered with a fellow pilgrim whether the place would have the same magical effect if we were to return there already having seen it, and whether we wouldn’t happen upon other places that conjured the same serene splendor.
Pilgrims may be refreshed by sites on the way, but they are passing places, not our final rest. That is part of what makes pilgrimage an icon of the whole Christian life.
Church of St. Mary (Chilham). The next major stop was the church at Chilham. Here we paused for lunch, and congratulated Father Sam on his birthday! As we ate our pizza slices in the churchyard, and were talking of praying midday office, Serendipity saw to it that the Anglican vicar of the place walked by and came up to speak to us. Very graciously she opened the church, so that we held the office there. What’s more, she joined us in our prayer — yet another token of the generous hospitality we have received again and again from Anglicans on our walk.
Chilham Castle (Chilham). Chilham is overlooked by a castle built by King Henry II, the king with whom Becket was once very friendly, before disagreement over the liberties of the Church set them at odds. Views of the castle accompanied us for some miles as we set out toward the day’s destination, at Charing.
Doddington Place (Sittingbourne). Once in Charing, and having sung Vespers, we were met by our kind host, Mr. Oldfield, who drove us to his beautiful manor. Perhaps even more impressive than the house itself are the gardens in which it is set. Doddington Place has won awards for its gardens, about which you can find more information (and perhaps a few photos) at DoddingtonPlaceGardens.co.uk.
Day 4 (Wednesday, Aug. 4)
Leeds Castle (Broomfield). The next day we made a little detour — this time not to a manor, but to a castle. Leeds Castle in Kent, the southeast of England, is nowhere near modern day Leeds, in Yorkshire up north. The name, I am reliably informed, derives from a corruption of the original Anglo-Saxon place name.
More interesting than this problematic etymology, however, is a recently-uncovered treasure of medieval art housed by the Castle — the Dartford Retable (also known as the Battel Hall retable). This altarpiece is very similar in style to the Thornham Parva altarpiece of which a digital reproduction is displayed in the chapel of our present-day Cambridge priory.
Both present stylized saints of particular significance to Dominicans, on either side of a Crucifixion scene. For a brief explanation of the retable, see Brother John’s video presentation.
Carmelite Priory (Aylesford). Day’s end took us to the Carmelite priory at Aylesford. This site is quite historic for the Carmelite friars, having been a prominent medieval priory. The priory now is a well-known center of prayer and retreat, which boasts some tremendous devotional artistic works of the late 20th century and a shrine of St. Simon Stock.
The Carmelites themselves received us as fellow friars with great fraternal warmth. Father Francis, their prior, explained that there are some important ties between the Dominicans and the Carmelites, since the Order of Preachers did a great deal to assist the transition of the Carmelites from being an order of hermits to being an order of friars. Apparently even the similarity of the orders’ habits points to this line of influence.
Carmelites honor the great prophet Elijah as their holy Father — Elijah, who not only proclaimed the Word of God in power, but met the Lord atop Horeb, after climbing and fasting 40 days and 40 nights. This great Old Testament figure, a witness to the long journey into contemplative prayer, and the suffering way of the Lord Jesus, will provide us with much to meditate upon as we continue walking, and continue singing, in the days to come.