THEY did not go all the way to Santiago de Compostela, but they made a good start. Four walkers from Peterborough diocese trekked across fields and along footpaths, following the early pilgrims’ route from Northampton to Portsmouth, where those going to St James’s shrine in Santiago would have taken ship for Spain.
The walk began with 20 people, who were joined by others for sections along the way, and they called at all the St James’s churches on the route. They were celebrating the inauguration of the Confraternity of St James in the diocese, launched by the Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Donald Allister, at a service in St Mary’s, Northampton.
They are known as the Peterborough Pilgrims to Santiago, and are recognised by the Santiago authorities, says the Revd Ian Holdsworth, who organised it all. It is the first such group to be formed in England, and prospective pilgrims to Santiago can now obtain the necessary pilgrims’ passports from Peterborough, as an alternative to getting them from the Confraternity of St James in London.
These special passports, Mr Holdsworth tells me, date from medieval times, when they were needed for safe passage, but they are still important and enable modern pilgrims to use the pilgrim accommodation provided on the recognised routes across Europe.
Mr Holdsworth is Vicar of St Mary’s, in Northampton, and has been leading pilgrimages to Santiago for the past five years. He says that every other Western European country except the UK has designated pilgrim routes to Santiago, and he is hoping this will now be rectified and a long-distance “St James’s Way” will be created along the route taken by the Peterborough walkers, to highlight the pilgrimage heritage of England.