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Following in St. Edmund's Footsteps

by Gerry Lynch last modified 14 Aug, 2013 12:34 PM

Calne parishioners resurrect a pilgrimage trail after a 17 year gap, retracing the steps of a former Vicar of their parish – from the 13th Century.

Following in St. Edmund's Footsteps

Bishop Ed with Calne pilgrims before their departure.

For the first time in 17 years, 30 Christians from Calne spent five days following in the footsteps of St. Edmund of Abingdon. Starting at St. Mary’s Church in the Wiltshire town, where they were blessed by Bishop Edward Condry, their journey took them via Canterbury Cathedral to Pontigny in France and the final resting place of St. Edmund.

St. Edmund of Abingdon was a scholar who did not allow worldly wealth or privilege to stand in the way of serving Christ, and gave most of his income away to the poor. St. Edmund was appointed vicar of the parish of Calne in 1222. Eleven years later, while Edmund was still a resident of Calne, he was made Archbishop of Canterbury by Pope Gregory IX. 780 years later, Calne’s current vicar, the Revd Bob Kenway, celebrated the extraordinary life of St Edmund by organising this pilgrimage to coincide with the start of his own sabbatical after 15 years continuous service in the parish.

During the five-day journey, the 30 pilgrims shared morning, midday and evening worship, sometimes in slightly unusual circumstances; at Canterbury Cathedral, outside a remote French Church at Soisy-Bouy (with nature and birds singing), in a small chapel in Sens cathedral, and on the bus in the Channel Tunnel!

The pilgrims’ spiritual journey saw them share many wonderful experiences. An angelic boys choir at Canterbury Cathedral, an enchanting concert at Pontigny Abbey by De Caelis (a group of five women who interpreted works from 13th and 14th Century plainchant), and a service at the Abbey of Le Bec Hellouin in Diocese of Evreux.

It was a moving experience for all the pilgrims, but especially Jean Downham, whose late husband Ray helped arrange the last Calne pilgrimage to Pontigny in 1996. 

“Returning to Pontigny Abbey is bittersweet for me as it is a reminder of my dear Ray”, said Jean, “but so many wonderful friendships are made on these trips as we all follow St. Edmund’s journey. It was a lovely pilgrimage.

“I feel the eating (and drinking) together in our own dining room was an important part of the pilgrimage too!”

The tour of Pontigny Abbey was given by Professor Terryl Kinder, who spends half the year in Pontigny, and the rest in the USA. During the tour the Professor demonstrated (vocally) that the abbey was built for singing, not preaching!

The true kindness and friendship of Christianity was perhaps most evident when the pilgrims met Madame Foisard. St. Edmund’s final earthly journey led them late on a Sunday afternoon to a remote farm in the village of Coulours. There they met an elderly French lady who instantly greeted 30 Christians from Calne and welcomed them into her property so they could conclude their journey.

At this final and poignant moment the Pilgrims stood beside the final resting place of St Edmund, a moving moment for all, and especially for the Revd Bob Kenway. As they returned to their hometown of Calne, the Pilgrims reflected on their journey and the life of St Edmund. A courageous man, who in his lifetime stood up to the monarch in his continuous endeavour to reform Church practices, which he thought were corrupt. He is valued, not only in England but also in France and the USA, and by both Roman Catholics and by Anglicans. He is the type of leader still needed in the Church.

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