*** DEBUG END ***

Pilgrimage: Journeys of meaning, by Peter Stanford

30 July 2021

Sally Welch welcomes the personal note in a book about pilgrimage

IN HIS exploration of “journeys of meaning”, Peter Stanford gives us a detailed, well-researched, thoughtfully presented view of 12 major pilgrim trails from different faiths, as well as a few minor ones and a Peace Pilgrim.

His descriptions are careful and thorough, offering an insight into the history of each trail, some of its more popular rituals, and an occasional reflection on those who walk it. An interesting feature are the two collections of colour photos in the book, offering another dimension in understanding the power and meaning of pilgrimage routes and places.

Stanford is a well-read man: he quotes from a wide range of authors, from Hilaire Belloc to Martin Luther and from Paul Theroux to the Kebra Nagast from the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition. He begins the book from a deeply personal viewpoint, with a description of a visit that he made to Lourdes while still a schoolboy, and the lasting impression that it made on him.

This first pilgrimage was obviously the springboard for a lifetime of travelling, as we are treated to a geographically and sociologically eclectic and meticulous account of his chosen routes. Although he covers the traditional Christian routes of Santiago de Compostela, Rome, and Lourdes, other, less well-known routes are given space, as well as those, such as Mecca and Shikoku, of other faiths.

Stanford’s approach is scholarly and detailed, opening up to the reader some new destinations for pilgrimage and a consequently broader understanding of the phenomenon. Some of the huge variety of reasons that pilgrimages are undertaken are given colour and depth by being embedded in accounts of routes from different faiths and none, although the spiritual aspect of all these journeys is never treated lightly.

He is careful to make no judgement on the reasons that people engage in pilgrimage, commenting instead that such a journey “cannot easily be regulated around a single set of officially approved stories”. His openness is appealing, as is his attitude that the historical veracity of a site is not always its most important aspect, remarking simply that “[pilgrim sites] speak to an older variety of truth”.

It is not until we arrive, somewhat breathless, at the epilogue that his own opinions are given voice once again, in a short but moving reflection on a pilgrimage that he undertook with a group to El Salvador, in memory of Óscar Romero, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador assassinated in 1980 and canonised in 2018.

In this, he experiences the depth of companionship which is such a feature of pilgrimage, and one of its most important aspects, and the book gains in impact from his recollection of this event, adding as it does a level of the personal to the work. Stanford ends with a reminder that a pilgrimage is not a holiday, but a way of taking “a longer, slower and hence more profound look at life”; his book helps us to do that.


The Revd Dr Sally Welch is the Vicar of Charlbury with Shorthampton, and Area Dean of Chipping Norton. She is the author of Making a Pilgrimage (Lion, 2009) and Pilgrim Journeys (BRF, 2017).


Pilgrimage: Journeys of meaning
Peter Stanford
Thames & Hudson £25
Church Times Bookshop £22.50

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM: 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available



The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)