Pilgrimage to England

This pilgrimage kicked off my sabbatical adventures. I arrived in England a little broken. While this job transition is what I wanted, no transition is without heartbreak. This sabbatical will function as a transition from my role as associate pastor of Third Church to a new opportunity yet to be determined. When I arrive home later this summer, we will adjust my job description and dissolve my pastoral relationship with Third Church. This means I will no longer be their associate pastor, but Third Church is graciously allowing me to use my remaining time with them after the sabbatical to focus on finding a new home for Days for Girls Pittsburgh and a new opportunity for me. I am hopeful that I can develop a ministry that will allow me to continue my work with DfG, but I remain open to whatever God has prepared for me and for this program that is dear to my heart. These plans were laid out long before the congregation received this letter just three days before my sabbatical began. It was difficult to keep these transitional plans a secret, as I value open and honest relationships. I was relived that we were able to send the information to the congregation prior to me departing for the pilgrimage, so that I could begin my trip with that closure and be able to start the prayerful healing I was hoping to and did find among my fellow pilgrims as we traveled to Oxford, Bath, Sudeley Castle, and Norwich.

I am struggling, even as I write this, I know I’m getting better each day. As I look back on my time preparing for this pilgrimage, I am aware that I was unable to prepare as well as I had for the Italian Pilgrimage. I took one class somewhere near the beginning of the pandemic on Julian of Norwich and read sections of her showings then, so I felt, that was the part of this pilgrimage I was most prepared for (but it was our last stop). I was (and still am but to a lesser extent) struggling to read and write. Both of these are essential to my job and my own devotional life. I can’t remember the last time I read for fun.

There were three books assigned for this pilgrimage. The first was “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis. My husband and I read this out loud to each other since it was written as a children’s book after all. We finished it just before I had to leave to go to the pilgrimage meeting where we discussed the book. We found out during our discussion that everyone going on the pilgrimage was the eldest daughter (like Susan), so our group name became “the Susans”. Later, I watched the movie with my husband. He had never read the book or watched the movie before so it was fun to do that with him. He’s officially one of those people who says at the end of the movie, “The book was better”, and “The movie left out…”.

The second book was a very long biography of Katherine of Parr by Linda Porter. I really struggled to get through it and finished it just a few days before we left for the trip. I did get through all of the recommended viewing material I could access, including watching the entirety of “The Tutors” series. Although, it wasn’t exactly historical, it did help me to visualize and understand the prominent people in Katherine’s life.

The third book was Julian’s showings translated and interpreted by Mirabai Starr. Mirabai, along with Matthew Fox, taught the Julian zoom class I mentioned earlier, so this book was the new edition with the new cover art and forward by Richard Rohr. I had debated about buying this new edition, and was thrilled to see it was the Julian book we would be reading. I read a little of it before the pilgrimage, took it on the plane with me, and ultimately finished it in the middle of the night in Oxford when I couldn’t sleep.

If you’re interested, this is the recommended viewing list for the pilgrimage (with Laura’s comments):

1. BBC’s The Search for the Lost Julian of Norwich Manuscript Julian of Norwich Documentary, 55 Minutes I cannot overstate how well this documentary will prepare you for appreciating Julian of Norwich’s writing and the spiritual discipline she adopted. It’s produced by the BBC.

2. BBC’s The Untold Story of Jane Austen The Untold Story of Jane Austen, 1 hour 5 minutes Lucy Worsley, scholar in residence at the Tower of London, has an empire of British history documentaries. This is gold.

3. Lewis, Tolkein, and the Inklings Lewis, Tolkein, and the Inklings Lecture, 44 minutes Diana Glyer lectures in 2019 at the Lewis Symposium on the topic of Lewis and Tolkein’s theology, backgrounds, and friendships. 

4. Tolkein Documentary Narrated by Judi Dench The Life of J.R.R. Tolkein I will listen to anything Judi Dench narrates. This 2 hour documentary comes from 1996, and is a deep dive into who the author was, a wonderful prep for what we will see in Oxford.

5. Lewis’s Radio Address Lewis’s BBC Radio Address, 9 Minutes This is a fun opportunity to hear Lewis’s voice, cadence, and theology. Can you imagine they played this on the BBC to the British public in the 1950’s? 

6. Sudeley Castle Sudeley Castle This is kind of a light documentary on the home of Katherine Parr. It’s a little dramatic, tongue-in-cheek and over-the-top on the people who live there now……definitely a reality tv feel! It’s roughly an hour long.

Have fun, friends! None of this is “required,” but may serve to enrich your experiences on the trip. 

For lighter, more dramatic and popular depictions of what we’ll see, which are fictional adaptations check out:

– The Tudors television series 

– Becoming Jane, film starring Anne Hathaway

– Becoming Elizabeth television series, Jessica Raine plays Parr

– Tolkein, film starring Lily Collins

As with the Italian Pilgrimage and the Ecuador DfG trip, I prepared a small journal to take with me. I copied the dedication to Lucy Barfield from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe on the front page. I copied program notes from the broadway musical SIX and glued them into the book. It was a really fun musical, I highly recommend. I have a couple pages of notes from reading the Katherine book, a few pages of C.S. Lewis quotes, some prayers and poems that felt fitting for the pilgrimage, and I printed a “all shall be well” quote and glued it in, reminding myself to leave some space for Julian notes when I began journaling about the trip.

The night before leaving, I was going through my emails and setting up the vacation responses when I came across an email advertising a seven week Shift Network course on the Black Madonna with Christena Cleveland. I watched the preview just out of curiosity. She mentions dozens of titles and attributes of the Black Madonnas she visited on her pilgrimage and some that she created herself as a devotional practice. The one that hit me right in the soul, was “Mary, the container for the uncontainable”. I really needed someone to hold all of the emotions, decisions, and worry that was feeling overwhelming and uncontainable for me. I wrote the quote on a scrap of paper and put it in my Julian of Norwich book (and later I tucked it into my journal) for the pilgrimage. And, even though it wasn’t very presbyterian of me, I asked Mary to hold some of my uncontainables, and because she likes to work in ecumenical and interfaith spaces, she did. Thanks be to God.

April 18, 2023, our first drink at what became our favorite pub in Oxford, The Turf Tavern. I had the 1381, named for the year the pub opened, 500 years before I was born. I read Susan by Kaitlin Shetler to our group of “Susans”. Cheers!

April 19th:

We started our day (as we did everyday on this pilgrimage) with the continental breakfast and the hotel allowed us to use a room just off of the main dining room to have our morning devotional time. My journaled prayer/hopes for our time filled a journal page. I knew then that I was hoping for too much from the ten day pilgrimage, but I told myself this list could include my entire sabbatical time. Reading it now, a few weeks later, I can see that list is too big for the sabbatical too. There are three themes in the list: finding joy (in my life, work, and in the hobbies that used to bring me joy. I’m sure that I’m a little depressed, nothing really feels like it used to feel), reconnecting (to my body, to the holy, and to my husband and family), clarity (not being overwhelmed by too many choices, to listen deeply to God, and to reorder my life). Those three things should be easy to tick off in a week or so… haha… they won’t be accomplished in a twelve week sabbatical either… but I share all of this to say, that I do feel better than when I wrote this list/prayers/hopes. I’m slowly returning to myself and it feels okay, maybe even hopeful.

We visited the Oxford botanical gardens. I wandered around with the group and alone off and on through the garden paths. My mind was racing and suddenly I heard a robin chirping, as though she was chirping at me to wake up and pay attention to the garden. It felt like God was winking at me. Not a sign or a direction, just a “I see you, and I still love you” kind of wink. Trying to be more mindful, I wandered into anther place where the grounds crew was cutting the grass and I thought to myself, I remember liking the smell of fresh cut grass, but I was struggling to find that fresh cut grass feeling, maybe it will return later, but at least I had engaged in the practice of stopping to notice the smell.

Later, we took a tour around Oxford. It was a long tour but luckily nothing was far from our hotel, so a few people decided to go back and rest. I made myself stick it out. I was practicing not running through the events of the last few months or going through the list of things I hoped to accomplish during the sabbatical or making plans for my next steps after the sabbatical. I knew if I went back to the hotel room, I would just cycle through those things and feel guilty about thinking of the things that I cannot control and feel shame about not doing the planned adventure. I needed to pay attention to something else other than my own thought spiral. I’m glad I stuck with the tour, I was able to get out of my spinning brain and pick up a couple of interesting things the guide said. And the last stop, Magdalene College was my favorite part of the tour.

Oxford is the town and the University and there are lots of colleges too. I didn’t quite understand how it all worked. Students apply to the colleges depending on the unique character of the college and what they want to study. Most of the colleges we couldn’t walk further than the entry way because they were closed to visitors. It wasn’t always clear why, sometimes it seemed like covid protocols that were limiting the number of people and sometimes it seemed they were closed because the students were testing or defending their doctoral dissertation. We ran into a student at the pub who had successfully defended and was out celebrating.

Jesus College

Lincoln College

Radcliffe Camera and Brasenose College

This next set of pictures is between Brasenose College and the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. The oldest surviving lamp post in Oxford and the carved images of the fawn and the green man on the door are thought to have inspired C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.

University Church of St. Mary the Virgin has a memorial plaque to the Martyrs of the reformation (both Catholic and Protestant).

Oxford University Divinity School

Magdalen College was our last stop (usually the tour guide ends in a pub frequented by the inklings but those pubs have been closed since the pandemic). It was also one of the few places we could go inside and tour the grounds. We even got to see the chapel and hear the choir. And we saw a dining hall. Most colleges have a dining hall like this and I think a few of them claimed to have inspired the Harry Potter great hall.

Magdalen takes its name from the Greek Magdala, the name of the town on the Sea of Galilee (from an Aramaic word meaning ‘tower’), from which Mary Magdalen originated. In the Middle Ages this word’s pronunciation became anglicised to “maudlin” – as reflected in the contemporary spelling maudlyn.

“It is well to have specifically holy places, and things, and days, for without these focal points or reminders, the belief that all is holy and “big with God” will soon dwindle into a mere sentiment. But if these holy places, things, and days cease to remind us, if they obliterate our awareness that all ground is holy and every bush a Burning Bush, then the hallows begin to do harm.” C.S. Lewis from Letters to Malcolm

We had diner at the Crown Tavern (I had steak and ale pie).

April 20th:

Breakfast, journaling, and then off to Bath.

The Jane Austen Centre far exceeded my expectations. It was silly and fun. We were guided through the museum by characters from Jane’s novels. Everything in the museum was interactive, we got to smell perfume, taste biscuits, write with a quill pen like Jane, and we took silly pictures in costume with “Mr. Darcy”. Then we had tea and visited the gift shop to invest in our happiness.

Jane’s prayer was part of our morning devotions.
When in Bath, you must promenade

Next we visited the Roman Baths. The museum itself was full of information… and people. And to be honest, I don’t tolerate crowds as well as I used to. I kept being drawn back to the water where there was surprisingly less people, or maybe it seemed like less people because it was a different space than the museum exhibits, somehow calmer. I thought of the ways women and the divine feminine are connected to water. The museum had information about goddesses that were venerated at this site. I captioned my instagram post: Springs of living water from unseen sources are honored as divine, as a way to capture what I learned and felt at this water. Carrying water is often the work of women or girls in places without the infrastructure to pump potable water to homes. In her book, Native: Identity, Belonging, and rediscovering God, Kaitlin Curtice explores her identity as part of the Potawatomi Nation and a Christian, including the sacredness of water, and the importance of being a water protector. Jesus spoke to the samaritan woman beside a well about truth, worship, and living water.

We had a quick stop for tea and buns at Sally Lunn’s before heading back to Oxford.

April 21st:

Today’s adventure started with the Bodleian Library and a trip to Blackwell’s book store. Learning is essential to my faith and I know that it is central to other faiths, too. I can’t imagine destroying someone’s holy books and study materials, especially when those books were hand written. And yet, people have been hurting each other this way forever. This library starting with only a few books, grew to a collection of over 200 books only to have them destroyed. But the love of learning prevailed and now this library has over a million books.

The tour included a demonstration about how the books were chained to the shelves to prevent them from being removed from the library. (The books are still not allowed to be removed from the library today.) Our guide told us that what the movies get wrong is that the chains were attached to the covers not the fragile bindings. They would have been shelved with the spines facing the back of the shelf. Some books had marks on the pages, but the librarian was always consulted when a book needed to be found. The librarian would look up the book’s coordinates and find it by shelf, and position on the shelf. The reader would sit at the bench in front of the shelf (that the chain would allow) to read the book. The library was cold and dark in the early days and students would be very uncomfortable studying as long as daylight or candle light allowed. Today, the library is a pleasant place.

More pictures of this historic section of the library.

Privacy screens were added to this study space for royalty.

We are so jealous of the students that get to study here!

After the library visit, we needed to go to Blackwell’s book store. I bought a signed edition of Janina Ramirez‘s “Femina: A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It”. I was drawn to the book because I recognized the art work on the front as belonging to Hildegard of Bingen. Also, the title of the book is the word that was written on books authored by women so that if the library was in distress or there was a limited amount of space to preserve books, the books labeled Femina were the books that were neglected.

We had tea on a boat on the Themes River. We passed the boat houses for the rowing teams and heard about their rivalries and traditions. We learned that this is the only section of the river where boats can dock without charge (because none of the colleges know who owns what and no one cares enough to find out) so people live on boats here.
This is the Oxford crest. It reflects a time when it was a low point in the river that oxen could be moved through.

We attended evensong at Christ Church

April 22nd:

We visited Sudeley Castle and the Cotswold Villages. Katherine Parr (Kateryn) was the first English woman to be published under her own name. She was the first English Queen to have a protestant burial and the only English Queen to be buried on private property. As Henry VIII, last wife, Kateryn encouraged both Mary and Elizabeth to publish under their own names as Kateryn had done. She moved to Sudeley Castle when she remarried after Henry VIII’s death. In 1548, she died in child birth. There aren’t many records of her daughter so there is some speculation about if she died or lived a quiet life. In 1782, after years of neglect, interest in Sudeley Castle grew and her tomb was discovered in the chapel. When they opened her grave they discovered she was uncorrupted but they did not reseal it properly so she did decay.

Today, the castle grounds have a play ground and paths along ancient ruins. The rooms inside the castle that tourists can visit have been converted into a museum (if you had been blindfolded on your way to the museum you would not have known you were in a castle). The museum covers the history of the castle, but mostly highlights the Tudors, especially Henry VIII’s wives. One of Kateryn’s teeth is on display. It is simply labeled “Queen Katherine’s Tooth”. Of course, we speculated on when the tooth was removed and how it looked so white, and that devolved into a discussion of who is still saving baby teeth and hair. I have promised Laura she can have one of my teeth when I die, let this blog serve as a record of that promise. Anyway, we found out that locals have season passes to the castle grounds to use the play ground and picnic areas.

The chapel where Kateryn is buried is like stepping into a lovely jewelry box, there is something of the queen’s elegance and restraint throughout. I especially loved the tiny flowers in the flooring. They reminded me of the DfG logo. I purchased a Tudor Rose for my DfG apron at the gift shop.

Next we took a tour of the Cotswold Villages in a van. I was concentrating on *not* being carsick, so I don’t have photos from the van, so just take my word for it that we saw the lovely countryside.

Broadway Tower Our tour guide told us a story that I can’t seem to find on their website about a man building this tower so his homesick wife could see her home…. it was a lovely story, but probably made up. Let’s just say, he knew his audience and we loved every story he told and every “twee” thing he pointed out.

St. Edward’s Church, Stow-on-the-Wold is famous for this door that inspired Tolkein’s world. I was more inpsired by other aspects of this church.

Like many churches, this church has a WWI and WWII memorial. But what we found unusual was that out for display was a binder that had information on each name on the wall. There was also a mention that the church provided eggs to the front lines and when they did they wrote their addresses on the egg containers so that soldiers had someone to write home to.

What I admired most was the needlepoint kneelers.

I took a ton of pictures of them…

April 23rd

Travel day to Norwich

This is a flap jack. I know, I thought it would be like a pancake too! It was the best kind of granola bar I’ve ever had. It tasted a little more like oatmeal cookie than a dry nature’s valley bar (yuck). It was a delicious breakfast.

When we arrived at All Hallows Guesthouse, each room has a saint’s name. I was the lucky girl who got to stay in Lady Julian’s room and I had the best view of St. Julian’s church.

Then we went to Norwich Cathedral for Evensong.

April 24th:

Morning Mass in Julian’s cell… I was so enthralled I didn’t take a single picture. There was a group of ladies already there and they scooted around to make room for us. They were local and one of them was the sister of the visiting priest. (The assigned priest was away on a pilgrimage but we got to meet him for morning prayer on our last day). They were thrilled to know we were on a pilgrimage and staying at All Hallows Guesthouse. Everyone we encountered at Norwich knew the couple that has (and is) renovating the guesthouse and they are so proud of them. In some ways, Norwich felt like a small community.

St. John the Baptist This church is in the same parish as St. Julian’s.

Underground tour: I did not take pictures here either but I was thoroughly entertained by the stories.

exploring city

Two churches: one alive (St. Peter Mancroft) and well the other is an antique store (St. Gregory’s).

Even song at the Cathedral (St. George’s Day). We had a little time before the service started to explore the Cathedral. I could have gone every day for weeks and still not seen every nook and cranny.

Evening devotions from the coronation booklet some of use picked up earlier at St. John the Baptists.

April 25th:

Morning Prayer at St. Julian’s Church. I was prepared to take pictures today.

Book Crawl

Closing thoughts:

I bought a blind date with a book. I’ve been struggling to read and it’s even been overwhelming choosing a book to read, so this was my attempt at finding something fun. It was a wonderful book!

The couple running All Hallows Guesthouse have a corgi and she was so much fun to play with during our closing devotional time.

We were in Norwich just ahead of the 650th anniversary, but I’ve been following along on facebook. If you are considering a pilgrimage, I would highly recommend Norwich and All Hallows Guesthouse. We had a wonderful time and it’s only going to get better.

Our closing journal exercise was to remember that Julian saw the hazelnut as a sign of hope and to make a list of places we saw hope. If I had been asked to do this at the beginning of the pilgrimage, I would not have been able to think of a single thing, but without my realizing it, I had changed in the ten days in England and I managed to fill an entire journal page of hope and gratitude. Here are a few: morning light, tulips, children singing, well-worn pew cushions, lavender, independent book shops, the kindness of strangers, and especially, my fellow pilgrims.

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well… for there is a force of love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go. ~Julian of Norwich

With love, gratitude, and hope, Karie

1 thought on “Pilgrimage to England

  1. Karie you are missed at Third Church but I hope you find your time living in England as rewarding as I did. In 1976 I signed a teaching contract for North Allegheny and my husband came home and announced that we were.moving to London The girls were 13 and 15 and Very Very sad. The next assignment was 2 years in Switzerland. These 4 years were the high point of our family life. I am sorry we couldn’t meet before your departure. Hopefully your time will be as rewarding as mine. Enjoy every day. Carol Costa

    Liked by 1 person

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