Pilgrimage – 17 May 2021
Here is a scene of the end of a pilgrimage. In an apse of a church, raised on a dais, is a casket holding the earthly remains of a saint. The casket is on pillars, so that the faithful, those who have travelled as pilgrims to get here, can touch it. There is a stream of people moving towards the shrine, representing the variety of reasons, or ‘intentions’, for the pilgrimage. Some are sick themselves, some carry others who are ill and infirm. Others show no outer bodily trouble, so their intention might relate to a need for forgiveness and atonement. Some pilgrims are wealthy and well dressed, others are poor, maybe because of debilitating long-term illness. The shrine is the place where earth and heaven meet, the sanctity of the saint a portal of mercy for the love and healing of God. The man at the front of the picture, to the left, walks away healed, carrying crutches that he no longer needs. He turns his head to observe those crossing the final few feet to the shrine, still to be healed. As he turns, maybe he is praying for them.
The picture is Crippled and sick cured at the tomb of St Nicholas, Gentile da Fabriano, (1425) National Gallery of Art, Washington. In the apse the ceiling contains an image of Christ seated in glory. Below this are five small images that describe pilgrimage, the final one (on the right) is very similar to this larger picture. These pictures were displayed in a church in Italy, so that those seeing them who were not able to make the journey to the real shrine, far away, could make the same pilgrimage journey in their spiritual imaginations.
The purpose of a pilgrimage is about setting aside a long period of time in which the only focus is to be the matters of the soul. Many believe a pilgrimage is about going away but it isn’t; it is about coming home. Those who choose to go on pilgrimage have already ventured away from themselves; and now set out in a longing to journey back to who they are.
Many a time we believe we must go away from all that is familiar if we are to focus on our inner well-being because we feel it is the only way to escape all that drains and distracts us, allowing us to turn inward and tend to what ails us. Yet we do not need to go to the edges of the earth to learn who we are, only the edges of ourself.
L M Browning
God of our pilgrimage,
you have willed that the gate of mercy
should stand open for those who trust in you:
look upon us with your favour
that we who follow the path of your will
may never wander from the way of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Church in Wales