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Obituary: Rosemary Nutt

18 February 2022

The Dean of Southwark writes:

IN CHAUCER’s Canterbury Tales, the Clerk, having set off from Southwark, tells his tale to his companions and says: “As surely as we know that we will die, so we are uncertain of the day when death shall fall on us.”

Rosemary Nutt was a valued member of the Southwark community, having worshipped both at St Peter’s, Clapham, and, latterly, at the cathedral. She was part of that bigger story of pilgrimage, at heart a pilgrim who helped thousands of others from the UK and beyond, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and people from every tradition, even those for whom traditional pilgrim sites held their challenges, to identify themselves as a pilgrim. Her sudden and unexpected death came as a shock to all who knew her.

Rosemary began working for McCabe Pilgrimages in 1987, after having worked for Inter-Church Travel. It was to become her life’s work. Her knowledge and friendships were much more than simply those in the Holy Land. She introduced pilgrimage groups to diverse places, latterly off the usual beaten track, in Eastern Europe, where the riches of the early church in Armenia, Georgia, and Romania among other places, are to be found. In response to the problems of international travel in this pandemic, she also enabled groups to travel to the Celtic fringes of these islands, to Cornwall as well as Northumberland.

It was in the Holy Land, however, that Rosemary seemed to be at her most comfortable. The staff in hotels both in Jerusalem and Tiberius knew that what Rosemary liked after a tiring day on the pilgrimage trail was a nice chilled glass of wine, and pilgrims quickly gathered round her to be entertained with her cheeky and dry sense of humour. Working with the Israeli Arab and Palestinian communities, as well as with Jewish hoteliers, Rosemary made sure that all her pilgrims were looked after, whatever their needs, whatever the crisis.

Rosemary was born in rural Berkshire, one of three children. Obedience at school was a challenge for her, and any naughtiness in her behaviour that pilgrims observed had been spotted much earlier in her life by her teachers. While she found it hard to be at her studies, that was not the case with music, however. Rosemary was a gifted musician. At school, she gained four Grade 8s, in French horn, piano, singing, and theory. Her lifelong love of donkeys, witnessed by many pilgrims, began when she was seven, when she was given a donkey called Tabitha.

From school she went to work in banking for a short time, before studying music at Goldsmiths College, London. Church was always part of the mix of her life, however, and for many years she served on the PCC at St Peter’s, Clapham, was treasurer, sang in the choir, and undertook other tasks. At Southwark Cathedral, she trained as Guide — gamekeeper turned poacher, really — and was often on duty as a Welcomer.

It was always a privilege travelling with Rosemary, not least because she made us laugh, but also because she had a deep spirituality that was continually fed by the places we went to and the people we went with. Her interest was not just in ancient stones or holy relics, however. McCabe Educational Trust, of which Rosemary was a great supporter, encouraged pilgrims to support the “living stones”. So, many pilgrim groups have visited projects such as Jeel al-Amal Boys Home, in Bethany. The joy on the faces of the children as more visitors arrived was always genuine, and it enabled pilgrims to understand what was happening now, not just what was happening in the time of Jesus.

Rosemary Nutt has left a legacy of pilgrimage spirituality in churches and communities in this country. Uncertain as we are about “the day when death shall fall on us”, we are confident of the love of God, as was Rosemary.

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