My DIY pilgrimage
Prevented by lockdown from making a planned pilgrimage to Cluny Abbey, Dixe Wills decided to make up his own pilgrimage destination
‘Ah yes, there it is!’ Weary of foot, cold of limb, and with face blasted by a scouring westerly, I looked down from a high ridge and caught sight of a church spire poking up from a little circle of trees. Another half dozen miles or so and I would arrive at the Church of St Pancras in Arlington. I had walked many miles, crossing rivers and marshes, climbing thigh-testing Downland scarps and slithering down rain-slick chalky slopes. But now at last I was closing in on my objective, and my heart was glad of it.
To explain how I came to be making a pilgrimage to an obscure country church in East Sussex, we must travel back the best part of a millennium. Ten years or so after the Battle of Hastings, Norman nobles William de Warenne and his wife Gundred decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome. However, on reaching Burgundy, they found their pious intentions stymied by warfare. Making the best of things, the couple visited the abbey at Cluny. So impressed were they that, on their return to England, they founded the nation’s first Cluniac Priory at Lewes.
Nearly a thousand years later, I moved into a flat a short walk from the ruins of that priory. And as soon as I read about the de Warennes’ truncated journey, I yearned to replicate it. I’ve long felt a leaning towards the DIY pilgrimage. After all, if a destination is of personal significance to a pilgrim, their journey is likely to be imbued with greater meaning than would an off-the-peg hike to, say, Santiago de Compostela. This particular pilgrimage would be my rite of passage, signalling a new stage of life after 20 years in London…
This is an extract from an article published in the March 2021 edition of Reform