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There are several ways of adding visual and dramatic interest to this presentation:
- The point about penitents and criminals going on pilgrimage for pardon could be dramatised - especially the homework punishment analogy.
- A child could be dressed in the clothes of a medieval pilgrim and asked to walk on at the appropriate point in the presentation
What exactly is a 'pilgrim'? What do we mean by the word 'pilgrimage'? Has anyone got any ideas?
St. Brendan wandered about anywhere because for him the only place that he thought could be called 'home' was Heaven. Most pilgrims, though, go on a journey to a particular holy place hoping that, when they return home, they will be, in some way, different. How do you think a pilgrim might be different at the end of the journey from when he started out?
Hundreds of years ago many people were forced to go on a pilgrimage. In the Middle Ages there weren't prisons like we have today, so people found guilty of a crime were sent on long journeys to holy places. They had to collect a signed letter proving that they had completed the pilgrimage, otherwise they weren't allowed back to their homes. For instance, many Scottish criminals were sent - on foot - to St. Cuthbert's shrine in Durham. Murderers had to wear chains and had the murder weapon chained to them. It was hoped that when they came back they would be sorry for their crimes. Imagine that, next time you don't do your homework, you are sent to walk to a school 20 miles away, with your books fastened on a chain around your neck. Then you have to return in the same way with a signed certificate proving that you've completed the journey. If you don't make the journey then the books stay around your neck. Would you ever not do your homework again?
Most pilgrims, of course, went on their journeys freely. Many went because they were ill and they hoped that God would heal them if they prayed at the shrine of a saint. The most famous shrine like that today is at Lourdes in France. Every year, thousands of people travel there and hope that by praying to the Virgin Mary they will be made well. In the past there were many such places like that in Britain where people would walk to find help. Often these places had a holy well nearby. (Do you know if there was a holy well near here?).
In the Middle Ages the most popular places to go to were Rome, Compostela in Northern Spain and Jerusalem. Why do you think people wanted to go to Jerusalem? Next to going to Heaven, it was the place where they could feel nearest to Jesus because he had lived there; they could actually see all the places that they had read about in the Bible.
If you were going to Jerusalem what kind of clothes would you wear? What do you think medieval pilgrims wore? They wore a kind of uniform which consisted of a coarse woollen tunic, a pouch for money, a stout stick and a hat with a broad brim, a bit like a Mexican hat. When they came home they would pin a badge on their tunic to show where they had been. For example, a cockle shell badge showed you had travelled all the way to Spain to the shrine of Santiago (St James) de Compostela.
Jerusalem is a long way away. Today it takes a few hours to fly there, but how would the medieval pilgrims have got there eight hundred years ago?... They would have travelled most of the way by foot. It was hard and very dangerous. You would make a will before you left. Many pilgrims never made it - they were robbed, or enslaved, or killed. If you decided to do the last part by ship then conditions were just as bad. You were given a small space on the deck to sleep on at night, rats ran over you and, if you were lucky, you didn't get attacked by pirates. Life on ship, according to one English pilgrim, 'is right smouldering hote and stynkyng'. Despite all of this many thousands of people did go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
What do you think? Would you have gone on pilgrimage too?
The point was to come back a different - a better - person from the one you were when you set out. Clearly, though, for many, despite the great dangers, the main point of their journey was to have a holiday - to go somewhere new and exciting and have adventures. The word 'holiday' originally meant holy-day - a special day, connected with church festivals - but there's nothing much holy about most of today's holidays. How many people have been on a holiday recently? Or away for a weekend perhaps? Where did you go? Was there anything holy about your holiday?
Let's close our eyes and be quiet for a moment. Think about the best holiday you have ever been on. It might have been somewhere a long way away - or it might have been just to your granny's - or the play scheme in the local park. Think about the place you went to - try and remember the sights and the sounds and the smells and the food you had.
What made the holiday special? Was it the place you went to - was it beautiful? Was it exciting? Was it by the seaside - or in the country? Was it in the north - somewhere wild and mountainous? Or the south - warm and sunny? Say a thank you to God for the good gift of his beautiful world that we can enjoy.
Who were the people who were with you on holiday? Did you meet anyone new? Or did you visit members of your family? Say a thank you to God for all the special people in your life.
As you go about your day at school, try and remember all the good things that you were given by your holiday or visit.
And, finally, say a thank you for having a home too. It is exciting to go somewhere new, but it's also really nice to come back somewhere familiar.
Perhaps as the children go out - and to pick up the festive mood of holiday - you could play the Beatles in exuberant mood, for example Two of Us, the first track on the album Let It Be, with endlessly repeated 'We're on our way home... we're goin' home.' (BUT - play it from a tape, as it begins with some vaguely unsuitable comments by John Lennon!)
This Collective Worship material is used here by kind permission of the National Society and Culham College Institute. For further Collective Worships visit the site at www.natsoc.org.uk or www.culham.ac.uk