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Open your doors to pilgrims to offer sanctuary, says British Pilgrimage Trust

24 June 2022


Wilmington Valley, on the Old Way from Southampton to Canterbury

Wilmington Valley, on the Old Way from Southampton to Canterbury

CHURCHES are being asked to provide overnight sanctuaries for pilgrims travelling a network of cross-country routes that link sites of religious or historic significance.

The British Pilgrimage Trust, which started publicising the trails eight years ago, is seeking cheap accommodation in churches and church and village halls, modelled on the albergues and donativos hostels on the Camino Way across northern Spain.

“The sanctuary project has been set up to re-root us to an ancient tradition that has connected those making pilgrimage to the communities through which they travel for many hundreds of years,” the Trust’s co-founder, Dr Guy Hayward, said.

“Taking up sanctuary at the heart of a community has proved for many to be an eye-opening — even life-changing — experience. They can enhance their pilgrimage with a night’s stay in a holy place, or simply find the most economical solution to enable them to make a long journey on foot.

“Whether it’s the ancientness of the church, the memories in the stones, the stained glass, or the feeling of being welcomed by the community or connecting with the locals — sleeping in sanctuaries can provide a sounder form of sleep, a deeply restorative experience. Sanctuary solves a basic issue for pilgrims and local communities, but it also aligns in an unexpected way with each church’s purpose of being a place of sanctuary.”

The Trust suggests a donation set by the provider of between £5 and £20 per pilgrim, depending on facilities offered, or with a sliding scale based on a pilgrim’s income. “The average price per night per pilgrim for a sanctuary is £10, which makes multi-day pilgrimages accessible to society at large,” Dr Hayward said. “It provides much-needed revenue to churches and shared community buildings like village halls, which get 100 per cent of the revenue: we take no commission.”

Unlike “champing”, in which families or groups reserve a site for themselves, sanctuaries offer space for travellers sleeping in the same place, whether or not they know one another. The places are available exclusively to pilgrims who sign up for £24 annually as friends of the Trust. Bookings are made direct with the provider using an Airbnb-style app through its website.

So far, three routes are covered by the scheme: the Old Way, from Southampton to Canterbury; the Cornish Celtic Way, from St Germans to St Michael’s Mount; and the Golden Valley Way, a 59-mile circuit based on Hereford Cathedral. Here, all but one of the church halts are next to a pub offering food.

A rural pioneer priest in Hereford diocese, the Revd Simon Lockett, said that it was “a wild, frugal, contemplative, spiritual experience of divine presence: an affordable celebration of the incarnational in creation, culture, food, and people, by connecting up churches, local businesses, artists, and growers through fellowship around a circular path. It’s a wonderful example of churches combining gifts, skills and vision.”

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