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Young Anglian pilgrims go in search of northern saints

A pilgrimage in pursuit of the northern saints of Britain was the aim of a group of young people from the Diocese of East Anglia over six days in late July. Clare Storey reports.

The pilgrims were led by youth chaplain, Fr Luke Goymour, and Youth Service Director, Hamish MacQueen.

With our pilgrim guides written by Ciaran Loasso and Fr Luke in hand we first encountered St Margaret Clitherow. Crossing the Lendal Bridge we spotted a plaque marking the place where St Margaret was crushed to death for harbouring priests in her house. At the Bar Convent, England’s oldest surviving convent, dating from 1686, we met Sr Agatha who shared with us a potted history of the Venerable Mary Ward, foundress of the Congregation of Jesus. We looked around the interactive exhibition on being a Catholic in England at the time. Ducking into a priest hole gave some idea of what it would have been like to be a priest-in-hiding. No arrests awaited, and the rest of the visit proved to be a highlight for all of us.

The following day, after celebrating Mass at St Margaret’s Shrine, we set off for a visit to Durham Cathedral, the final resting place of St Bede (whose body was brought there from Jarrow), St Cuthbert and St Oswald’s head (!), en route to Lindisfarne, home to some of the early Christian missionaries.

Walking to the Cathedral, we passed a statue of St Cuthbert being carried by his brother monks from Lindisfarne to his final resting place. The peace of the cloisters provided a chance to say afternoon prayer together before continuing to Lindisfarne.

We had plenty of time to explore and gain some sense of what it would have been like to live here at the time of the earliest missionaries, reflect on what we had already experienced and what was still ahead of us. Ruins of the monastery are still present, and the place where the Lindisfarne Gospels, a Latin translation of the Gospels, were most likely illuminated.

For me, the experience of being ‘stranded’ – Lindisfarne is accessible by a causeway just twice daily when the tide is out – was a new one. In a world where almost everything is instantly accessible, it is very easy to forget what it is like not to have everything at the snap of the fingers. Being on Lindisfarne, and again on the island of Iona, after early evening although both islands are inhabited, we were isolated.

The feeling of being stranded can take root in our spiritual lives. One might feel that they are isolated in some way. No doubt the early Christian Saints, and those who followed them, felt that isolation on both a physical and spiritual level at times. Truly following God and doing what He asks of us, as He did of the northern saints that we encountered during this pilgrimage, can be an isolating experience.

But if there is one thing that I know better now than before I set out on this pilgrimage, it is that God is always with me and that isolation is sometimes necessary for listening to Him more attentively.

Pictured top are some of the East Anglian pilgrims outside the Shrine of St Margaret Clitherow in York and, above, a statue of monks carrying St Cuthbert’s body from Lindisfarne to Durham Cathedral and Iona Abbey.