27 September 2015


Locus Focus: Take One Hundred and Twenty-Six

This post is probably the most blatant abuse of the ability to backdate that I have ever done. May those who know what date it really is today join me in begging George Orwell's forgiveness. My crime is compounded by the fact that what follows isn't even the Sightseeing in September post that was genuinely stumping me for weeks, but something that I dashed off today, inspired by a book I finished last night.

I do hope to finish that other draft and to publish the rest that I've been working on while this blog was so "silent"--but I'd better hurry before too many more of 2015's posts have to be backdated to be considered CLEARED!

The Shrine of St. Swithin
Adam of the Road
by Elizabeth Janet Gray

"Does St. Swithin work miracles at his shrine?" asked Adam thoughtfully--"except to make it rain for forty days?"

"Sick people have been cured there. It's said that the first tower of the church fell down when wicked William Rufus was buried beneath it. That's not strictly a miracle, but it shows there is power in the place."

. . . Adam decided to try for a miracle. So he joined a group of pilgrims entering the Cathedral by the round-arched door in the north transept, which was the only door the pilgrims were permitted to use. The monks of St. Swithin's looked on the pilgrims who came to the shrine as noisy, pushing, untidy people, greedy for too easily earned merit, who cluttered up their beautiful church. They made them go from the north door straight to the shrine behind the High Altar, and they set up elaborate wrought-iron gates to keep them out of the rest of the church.

Apparently, before there were pesky tourists, there were pesky pilgrims! Wanderlust seems a constant of human nature, and its "baptised" incarnation in the Middle Ages wasn't necessarily any better than our less religious version today. Indeed, they're similar enough for them to be satires of each other.

At first I was surprised at the monks' adverse reaction to the pilgrims, to the point of restricting them to caged areas in the cathedral. (Compare these to that other oddity of our own time: the cages . . . and the police escorts . . . needed to ensure the safety of the visiting fans at international football matches.) But I soon had to admit that a natural antipathy would have existed among the first two groups: during the Middle Ages, the proverbial "two types of people in the world" would have been the Monks and the Pilgrims. That is, the types who put down roots in order to earn merit and the types who wander the world in order to earn merit. Happily, Christendom was big enough for both of them.

Adam Quartermayne is definitely a Pilgrim sort, while I am more of a Monk type. (It was wonderful for me to follow his cross-country journey through 1240s England from the rooted comfort of my bedroom reading area.) This is probably why he didn't mind being gated off from the rest of the miraculous Cathedral, while I knew I'd be highly annoyed if I actually exerted myself to travel to a distant Catholic church and were treated like touristy rabble upon arrival. (I'm a Trad, you bigots!) But even as I bristle under a totally imaginary insult, of course I get where my fellow Monks are coming from. When you've put down roots in a place, poured your sweat and tears into it, learned to call its other inhabitants your brothers, and even committed yourself to being buried in it with them, you'll have an appreciation of it that a mere visitor can't hope to have.

To which the Pilgrim might answer that there is also true appreciation in leaving one's home, risking a journey over unfamiliar lands, keeping hope alive even as other provisions run low, and finally seeing with the eyes of your body a place you formerly saw only with the eyes of your faith.

Question of the Week: When it comes to holy places, are you a Monk or a Pilgrim?

Image Source: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray


Paul Stilwell said...

But then there were the wandering monks, who, if recall rightly, were ill-regarded by the put-your-roots-down monks.

I'm definitely a "monk" by the way.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Very definitely NOT a monk, I did a pilgrimage. In order to ask God, through the intercession of Saint James, among three things, for marriage.

r said...

I think I'm a rootless monk. Centrally located urban real estate is expensive. I definitely make an effort to belong to communities, even if it's only temporary.

One of the nice things about being a trad that isn't often talked about is that, since there's not too many trads, and it's a very self-selecting group, community is easy. I have never gone to an unfamiliar traditional Mass and not been instantly welcome. It crosses all ethnic, social class, &c. barriers, and all that good stuff, but this is largely only possible because it does have an axis of exclusiveness. If someone suggested replacing the Marian antiphon with Gather Us In or something, the cages would come out...

Enbrethiliel said...


Stilwell -- Believe it or not, after I read your comment, I picked up my old copy of A Wind in the Door by Marguerite d'Angeli, so I could compare it a little to Adam of the Road . . . and one of the main characters introduces himself to the protagonist as "Brother Luke, a wandering monk"!

Hans -- I'm not surprised to see you identify more as a Pilgrim! ;-)

R -- I recently read an article that suggested that the migrant crises of the present are only the most dramatic examples of the rootlessness we all now share. Fewer and fewer people live and die where their grandparents lived and died--some by choice, some not.

A couple of months ago, before traditional Mass one Sunday, one of the older women asked to switch places with me because she needed to be next to a microphone. (???) I obliged, and about forty minutes later, during the Pater Noster, she stood up and started reciting the whole prayer (not just "Sed libera nos a malo") along with Father. Then after Mass, she let everyone know that we were going to be following a different set of rubrics from then on. (I was thinking, "What is this??? The 60s?!") I'm not sure what went on behind the scenes, but that innovation didn't catch on and I've never seen her at Mass since.

If she left in a huff because of politics or felt that she herself (apart from the innovations) were unwelcome, then I'm deeply sorry, because I don't like to think that people who love the old Mass and have access to it are staying away from it. But at the same time, I have to admit that if I had any influence in the community during that conflict, I wouldn't have given any quarter. My attitude would have been, "Of course we want you here at Mass! We've reserved this lovely cage just for you!"

Sheila said...

I used to be a pilgrim (which is how I got to where I live now) and now I'm a monk (which is why I'll never leave). I feel you can't really appreciate anyplace if you don't stay there long enough.

In some of the churches in Italy they really do have tourist cages. If you use one door, you're allowed in the praying area, which is free, but you have to just pray. But if you use the other, you get to see the touristy bits -- the art and floor mosaics and whatever -- only it costs five euro. Some churches I couldn't afford to "tour" so I just did the praying part. Only in the Vatican are all the churches wide open -- but even there, no one prays except in the adoration chapel, and no one is allowed in the adoration chapel except to pray. It's just awkward to let the tourists and the pray-ers mingle.

Enbrethiliel said...


I can imagine that tourists and pray-ers would end up resenting each other greatly if the cages weren't there! And that would include tourists who also genuinely want to pray!

Would you know if the locals in a church's area, who "own" the church in a sense, are allowed to drop by the touristy areas for free? Because they already live there and pay taxes?