The Staff


My Staff with Canturbury, La Mont Saint Michel,  Jerusalem (not seen) and Santiago Badges

Trusty rod – a support and companion

Practical and yet symbolic

Of the aid we receive in this world chaotic

As our life’s journeys are made


The staff upon which we lean

Like the pillars of faith given from above

A simple reminder upon our way

Of a Father’s eternal love


It bears emblems of where we have been

The places – mere glimpses of where we have yet to go

Our pilgrimage is of yet incomplete

Till we reach that throne aglow










Journey Home

Photo Credit: Susan Spaulding

Limann and Vale’s journey had taken them through the depths of a wilderness where only the faintest hints of a disused trail guided their way.  The two pilgrims had left the trees behind three days hence, and the path had widened to become a narrow dirt road, punctuated by the occasional slate grey paving stone.

“Brother we have journey far enough today,” Vale said.  “Let us stop here and worship, and then make camp.”

Limann led them in a simple devotional, and asked for divine guidance for the remainder of their journey.

The next morning, Vale led them in a thanksgiving prayer for the new day, and they then  proceeded towards their spiritual goal.

About noon, the paving on the road became more regular, and far easier to travel.

By three, the road began to climb upwards, and despite its ascent the pilgrims found the path easy.

They began to sing hymns of praise and thanks as they walked, and kept their eyes on the straight and narrow road before them.  So enraptured were they in their walking praise they did not notice the steepness of the path, as it led them Home.


Sunday Photo Fiction

A Visit to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem

imageedit_7_6010501265 (1)

Holy Sepulchre

It’s travel Tuesday, and time for me to share one of the most interesting (and moving) visits I have ever made: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This place of worship and pilgrimage has its origin in the Passion Story of Jesus, and the present building dates to immediately after the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, and has expanded through the years until the 18th Century.  It houses arguably the two holiest sites in Christendom: The Hill of Calvary, and the Tomb of Jesus.

Because of its importance in the Christian faith, it is a place of both pilgrimage and tourism.  It is also administered by a wide swath of Christian traditions.  With the Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, Ethiopian, and Coptic faiths all having areas of responsibility within the church.

No one sect/tradition has overall control, and even the entry to the building is managed by a Muslim family to promote peace.  Saladin gave care of the key to the Nuseibeh clan in 1192, a responsibility they have had ever since.

This was not the only measure to promote harmony within the shared structure. In 1757 Sultan Abdul Hamid I decreed that nothing in the church can be moved by one Christian group without the consent of the others. This Status Quo had the effect consolidating the areas of responsibility (and setting positions of statues shrines, etc.) within the church.  It had one unintended consequence as well:  “Immovable Ladder.”  This workman’s ladder has remained on a window ledge since the edict!


Muslim Controlled Door (centre) and Immovable  Ladder (upper right)

The church is open to all, but decorum and respect of its holy status is expected. Bare legs and immodest clothing are to be avoided. It was interesting during my visit to see a large group of East European men wearing sarongs over their shorts.

There are areas in which one can sit and contemplate, and there is a strictly adhered to schedule of religious services, each tradition showing respect to the others in the use of facilities.

There are multiple chapels and shrines for the various traditions, but the most important ones are The Aedicule (Tomb of Jesus), and site of Calvary.  The Aedicule is an 18th Century shrine that surrounds the empty tomb site.

imageedit_6_7275156777 (1).jpg


Other key features include the “Stone of Anointing” or unction table where it is believed that the body of Jesus was prepared for burial.  There are some really beautiful mosaic murals within the church as well.

imageedit_9_9033159136 (1).jpg

Unction Stone

While not strictly an ecumenical triumph, the various faiths do get on (for the most part), and the faith of the pilgrims of all traditions is encouraging and uplifting. I spent several hours in the church, and made a point to see each of the areas, while showing respect to the various “high” church customs.

History is everywhere, here.  The growth and diversity of the Christian family is evident, the stories of the Status Quo, and even graffiti left by Crusaders can be found within its walls.



Even for those of a non-Christian faith, or no faith at all, this is a fascinating place to explore, if for nothing else the art and history.



Visiting Walsingham, Norfolk


Walsingham Shrine

It has been called England’s Nazareth, the shrine at Walsingham in Norfolk.  In  1061 Lady Richeldis de Faverches had a vision of Mary who instructed her to have a house constructed which was a copy (so the story records) of the home in which Jesus grew up in.  Lady Richeldis obey and had the structure built, and during its construction a spring was found that offered healing properties.  The completed house became a centre of pilgrimage until the destruction of the monasteries in 1538.  The present shrine was built in 1938 and has once again become a place of pilgrimage.

I have visited the shrine, and surrounding village on several occasions. The Anglican centre is welcoming, and several chapels in addition to the “Holy House” are available for worship and meditation.  The village also has the ruins of the Medieval monastery, a Catholic church (and a basilica nearby), and an Orthodox church.






The shrine grounds have some very nice gardens, and the grounds are peaceful.  The shrine has a refectory but there are a couple of pubs in the village as well, including the Black Lion which has Medieval origins, and developed into a coaching inn.

The village also has several shops selling religious items (rosaries, badges, etc) and mementos for pilgrims.

Below is a humorous take on the shrine, made by members of the centre’s staff.

and now a more serious introduction,


Post-Pilgrimage Reflections

I have made several spiritual journeys in my life, some of these have been internal and personal, others have been physical.  These physical pilgrimages, were not mere holidays for me, but meaningful attempts to come closer to God.  As I look back on these, I have come up with a few post-pilgrimage reflections and subsequent tips.

First, don’t expect all your fellow “pilgrims” to be on the same journey as you.  Yes, they may physically walking the same path, but their intentions may not be the exact same as yours.  Despite these differences still treat them as fellow travelers and support them in their journey.  This may be that they are devoutly seeking the divine.  It may be that they are seeking a non-conventional (religious) spiritual experience. Some may be the curious trying to see or feel what it is all about.  While yet others, may be their for the sights (tourists, etc.).  What ever their motivation, their journey is their own.

Secondly, with the first point established, expect the “unexpected.”  For those with different religious, spiritual, or non-religious intentions, you will meet with “less than pious” acts by your fellows.  It is not unheard of for there to be swearing or irreverent humour.  I have come across drunkenness and anti-social acts.  And  more and more, don’t be surprised by what may seem to you unnecessary or even inappropriate selfy-ism.  Bottom line, don’t judge.  Your actions may be equally alien to them.

october half term 2017 017

Queues at Santiago de Compostela

Third, be ready for hustle and bustle at the site of your pilgrimage goal.  While some quieter shrines, and wayside churches may well be places for quiet contemplation, most of the famous sites will not be so tranquil.  I found the Via Dolorosa  awash with tourists, vendors, pilgrims and more.  Santiago de Compostela was packed for mass, and crowds waited outside.  This does not mean that they were not spiritually moving experiences, but rather that they were less than idyllic.

Fourth, make the most of the time you have.  Even with crowds, or with others with different agendas than your own, find time and a place to make the pilgrimage your own.  If you tend to seek solitude for prayer, consider visiting a side chapel, or neighboring church for your reflections.  Most cathedral cities have these.  If you are a emotional or tactile worshiper, find a time to touch the stones (as in the Holy Sepulchre) at less busy times of the day.

St Oswald Chapel 1

Side Chapel Peterborough Cathedral

Finally, whether the experience met your expectations, or no, remember to be thankful for the opportunity, and be sure to reflect on what blessings you have gained.

I hope that what ever your spiritual journey may be, that it will be blessed.




Biscay Cruise (Part 4a): The Cathedral of Santiago


Santiago de Compostela

This wonderful cathedral is the focal point of the entire pilgrims’ trail. It is said to house the remains of Saint James the Apostle, and has been a site of veneration for centuries. The golden altar, and silver casket, the coming and going of pilgrims and the sense of the faith of those who have journeyed there, and built it as a token of faith is evident everywhere. Some features are well worn by the faithful’s touch over the years.

This is a grand Catholic cathedral, and the symbolism is strong throughout. There is a set of special doors opened only in certain years which pilgrims can enter for the forgiveness of sin, and these are regulated directly from the Vatican as to when they can be opened. Again truly powerful in the spiritual feel and significance of the place.

We arrived just as mass was about to begin. The cathedral was packed, and the pilgrims and tourists were beginning to settle. The altar area and censer were beautifully crafted, and added to the sense of spiritual praise and elevation of the cathedral.

Again, as I stated in my post on preparing for the spiritual aspect of pilgrimage,  I get much from the faith and devotion of those around me.  The true communion of the saints.  I also marvel at the works of art and architecture which are marks of the faith of those of previous generations.  This cathedral is moving in all of these.  Only at the Holy Sepulchre, have I felt it more.

That said, when mass is not taking place there are many areas to explore, and huge number of confessionals.  There is a museum and a shop, as well, which sells guidebooks and religious artifacts such as rosaries and pilgrims’ badges (more marks of faith).

When we finished in the cathedral we made our way to the Plaza de la Quintana behind the cathedral. We stopped in the plaza to take in the atmosphere, and to admire the architecture. It had some beggars, but it was quieter than the main square. There were cafes, and plaza offered great views of the cathedral and the surrounding buildings. We watched the arrival of pilgrims, and had a quiet time for reflection.



We then stopped for a cup of tea and coffee at Cre-Cotte a cafe/creperie in the square. The atmosphere was great, and we continued to watch the pilgrims and tourists coming and going in the plaza. And just soaked in the feel. The tea was good, but the coffee was a bit tart even when sweetened. The service was quick. It was also a great place to take in the architecture of the cathedral (this section not under scaffolding) and the surrounding buildings.

With our pilgrimage achieved, we decided to go back to Praza do Obradoiro to try the “road train” tour of the city. We have used “road train” facilities before in other cities and most have been interesting, even if limited. This one however, is interesting for all the wrong reasons.  Plus points first, you do get to see the city. Sorry, that’s it.

On the negative front, the tour is over very rugged cobbles, and there is a lot of jarring about. It is so rough in areas that any photography is impossible. On smoother sections it travels at too great a speed to take focused pictures. Only on the occasional stop for traffic signals are there any photo ops. The commentary is okay, but is difficult to listen to, accent is only a minor issue, but that it is over a intercom is more difficult to hear. It also has a limited scope of the sites available and spends more time in the university campuses than in the traditional old sectors.  In short the tour was a diabolical bone shaking experience with little merit.

Once back to the plaza, we went for a recuperation, and some pampering at Cafeteria Hostal dos Reis Catolicos. This was a true parador experience. Firstly, this is a beautiful building with excellent service, and really tasty food. We had a good quality tea, and a latte. Then shared an octopus dish with olive oils, spices and very good bread wedges. This was followed by St James Cake, which was also rich and satisfying. This was a luxury experience and one well worth making if in Santiago.

It was all to soon that we had to depart the city.  But it will remain one of the outstanding experiences of my life.




Biscay Cruise (Part 4): Santiago De Compostela

While it was my intention to do a single posting for Santiago, it seems that the experience merits more (so apologies for rambling in my ramblings).

The Camino de Santiago or Way of Saint James is the series of paths leading to the pilgrimage site in Santiago. Owing to mobility issues, I was limited to traveling only 7 km of The Way. It was nonetheless a beautiful and moving experience. The various paths across Spain and beyond come together at Santiago. They do in a sense as the fan out from the cathedral form a scallop pattern. It is this symbol that marks the way. I found them along the short distance outside of Santiago, but also in Guernica. As I got closer to the cathedral it is with some irony that this is where pilgrims’ staves are sold. But, even this can make a souvenir of the spiritual journey one has made.


As the cathedral was approached we first came upon the Convent of Saint Francis (Convento de San Francisco).  This is a beautifully designed convent, and the monument to St Francis is also wonderfully constructed. Both serve as inspirational landmarks on the way to the cathedral, and mark the spiritual heritage of the order, and of the city.


We soon arrived at Plaza del Obradoiro.  This is a grand plaza at the end of the pilgrims’ trail. It features the main entrance to the cathedral, and the Palacio de Raxoi. There are buskers, beggars, vendors, and pilgrims galore, and the views are great. It is a shame that the cathedral on this side is undergoing restoration, as it does slightly diminish the visual impact, though the spiritual and cultural feel is still powerful here.


Palacio de Raxoi

The Palacio de Raxoi is a truly grand building with its massive facades and pillars. With the Cathedral under scaffolding at present, this building maintains the grandeur of the plaza. I believe it is a former seminary, and if so it would have been a inspiring place to study. As far as architectural landmarks go, this is a must see.


Igreja de San Fructuoso

To the side of the Plaza is the Igreja de San Fructuoso.  This is a small round church, which sits below the main square.  Because of its recessed position, its top is essentially at eye level to those in the square. This is a beautiful little church on the approaches to the cathedral. It has a wonderful exterior, and works as a useful landmark as well when finding one’s way back from the plazas.


Fuente de Los Caballos

As the main entrance of the cathedral is under renovation, we had to make our way to a smaller square at the side of the building.  This square is the home of Fuente de Los Caballos.  There was no real seating here, though one could rest on the steps of adjoining buildings. The queues were long to enter the cathedral, but square did offer great views of this lovely horse-motif fountain.

As mass was about to begin the lines were especially long.  My wife sought some assistance for me as the steps at this entrance were rather severe, and I was allowed to enter from an alternative entrance.

Next up, the cathedral experience and beyond.



Preparing for Pilgrimage: A Matter of Heart


I have written on pilgrimage in the past, and hold this form of spiritual devotion in high regard.  Pilgrimage is not a random journey, or mere holiday, it is rather a profound expression of the desire to be linked with the divine by visiting those places associated with the faith.

That said, I am not a typical pilgrim in several respects.  Firstly, I am a “low church” Protestant.  Secondly, I am disabled with limited mobility.  As for the first of these it was of little consequence when visiting the Holy Land.  There I walked (even if only briefly) in the footsteps of Jesus and the Apostles.  I saw sights familiar to King David, and to the prophets.  But I have also journeyed to Walsingham, and Canterbury.  Here there was not the direct Biblical connection, nor one which in my own theological background “had significance.”  It instead was an act of devotion which was appreciative of the faith of my distant brethren who had made these journeys of faith.  I am thankful for the prayers that have been uttered there.  I am appreciative of the arts and works of those who devoted themselves to these expressions of their love for God.  It is this that is spiritually moving to me, and links me to “the communion of all the saints.”

I am now preparing to visit Santiago de Compostela.  This is a pilgrimage with mixed intention.  Whether this is the resting place of the Apostle James, or not, it is a place of prayer and worship. The faith of countless pilgrims has led them to overcome the desires of personal comfort, and to make long journeys of personal and spiritual discovery.  It is this which I too will be doing.

As a non-Catholic, and as one who can only walk short distances, I will need to make different preparations.  I will not travel the entire way of the pilgrim.  I will not have a pilgrim’s passport.  I will not be able to benefit from the spiritual and physical support at the way stops.  I will however, be prayerful, reflective, and dedicated to finding the presence of God in the place.

My preparations need not therefore need to include in much in arranging stops at way stations.  My eating and sleeping requirements will need only modest research.  But my biggest preparation must be of the heart. It is the heart motive of worship and praise. It is also in heart that I hope to benefit from the company of others who are seeking to encounter God.  I desire to celebrate the faith of those who I meet, and of those who have gone before me. May God bless me, and those I that journey along side me in our endeavors.


Pilgrimage Revisited

The topic of pilgrimage is a complex one, and one close to my heart. My life’s journey has thus far been a pilgrimage, a searching after a connection with God.  I have for almost all my life been an active Christian and I have “journeyed through” the Catholic, Anabaptist, Restoration and Pentecostal traditions.  In the end, I am a Christian – denominational tags meaning little to me.

This journey has also taken me through “actual” pilgrimages.  A pilgrimage is a journey of spiritual or religious significance, usually to a site associated with figures or events of faith in the past.  It is not a holiday (British usage) or vacation, as it is not meant for leisure or recreation, but for contemplation and spiritual revival.  There is an old English word – Stowe – that can be associated with this.  It means “meeting place” or “special place,” and pilgrimage sites are often both of these.

The Sikh religious leader – Nanak – was against ritual pilgrimage.  He had observed people making obligatory ritual pilgrimages and saw that they often were “ticking the boxes,” as we would say, so lost any spiritual benefit.  Here I can agree with him.  I have been to sites of religious significance, and seen the tourists, the ritualists, and the true pilgrims – there does seem a difference in the reactions and what is gained by the experience.

I have been to Auschwitz and seen the curious, the tourists, and historically mindful, but found it far more spiritually moving to see the reaction of those finding their roots, their losses, and feeling their humanity.  I have been to Jerusalem, and trod the paths of Jesus and the prophets.  This was spiritually moving to me, but incidental mistakes in my navigation took me to places which came to have greater significance.  I came upon the Via Dolorosa unintentionally, but found that pathway overpowering in my own soul.  I have sat and watched worshipers in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and seen simple faith. Jerusalem was and is a stowe place for me, and it is the one pilgrim badge I wear (despite being a “low churchman”).

I find wonder in spiritual places.  Ancient cathedrals are not just wonderful pieces of architecture, but to me acts of faith.  I often, when visiting such places, thank God for the expressions of faith which the buildings and their art are monuments of.  I try to catch a feel of the millions of prayers that devout hearts have uttered in the place, and humbly add my own to the collection heard not by the stones, but by the creator of the stones themselves.

We humans strive to find something to fill the voids within us.  We all have them.  Some try to fill them with the temporal – money, food, alcohol, even fame – but in the end the need is spiritual. Finding the divine is the only long term fulfillment.

I hope you can find your stowe place today.