A Fursey-Tide Pilgrimage

I’d left it until the day after the Feast of St.Fursey, planning to walk from Great Yarmouth. Then, I wimped out! There was snow in the air and the Queens Head was not serving food at lunchtime. When I arrived in the afternoon the weather had moderated but it was still cold enough to imagine the scene recorded by the Ven.Bede. Long before Dante’s other wordly journey had resulted in his famous Inferno, St. Fursey had visions of the hereafter and the Fires of Hell that would burn up Evil.

An ancient brother of our monastery is still living, who is wont to declare that a very sincere and religious man told him, that he had seen Fursey himself in the province of the East Angles, and heard those visions from his mouth; adding, that though it was in most sharp winter weather, and a hard frost, and the man was sitting in a thin garment when he related it, yet he sweated as if it had been in the greatest heat of summer, either through excessive fear, or spiritual consolation. (Ecclesiastical History Bk. 3.19)

It was the visions led Fursey to become an evangelist. Yes, he would warn his hearers of the fires of hell, his repeated mantras were :-

The saints shall advance from one virtue to another


The God of gods shall be seen in Sion

Fursey the Visionary

St.Fursey by Nigel Canham

From Book 3. Chapter 6 of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation
An ancient brother of our monastery is still living, who is wont to declare that a very sincere and religious man told him, that he had seen Fursey himself in the province of the East Angles, and heard those visions from his mouth; adding, that though it was in most sharp winter weather, and a hard frost, and the man was sitting in a thin garment when he related it, yet he sweated as if it had been in the greatest heat of summer, either through excessive fear, or spiritual consolation.

Feast of St.Fursey 16th January

East Anglian Pilgrimage Network


The saint,  who is associated with Burgh Castle,  was a 7th C evangelist and hermit and visionary in the Kingdom of East Anglia, who travelled on to France.
You can read  Dr. Nick Groves translation of his Vita here .
Find more info at Fursey Pilgrims here
And bless yourself with his lorica prayer as you journey on:

The arms of God be around my shoulders
The touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,
The sign of Christ’s cross upon my forehead,
The sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,
The fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils,
The vision of heaven’s company in my eyes,
The conversation of heaven’s company on my lips,
The work of God’s church in my hands,
The service of God and the neighbour in my feet,
A home for God in my heart,
And to God, the Father of all,

View original post 2 more words

St. Nicholas, Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth is the most easterly point on the Norfolk Saints Way. The place where the Angles and Wherryman’s Ways meet.

The Minster Church can be seen from afar.

St. Nicholas presides over the doorway. It is a warm place with open doors. 

A church – this version replaces one destroyed by bombs in 1942 – has been on this site since a cell of Norwich Priory was established here in the year 1101.  Since when it has been at the heart of this port/town/seaside place that grew up around it.

At the far end of the Acle Straight to modern travellers Great Yarmouth  might seem to be the end of the world but for most of its history it has been Norfolk’s doorway to the world!   In 1154 the Islamic geographer Al-Idrisi was acquainted with England and East Anglia.  He writes it “is an island resembling the head of an ostrich, and contains flourishing cities, lofty mountains, flowing rivers, and level ground. There is abundant fertility in it. Its inhabitants are hardy, resolute, and prudent. The winter there is of long duration… ” And describes Great Yarmouth “Gernemutha is a handsome town beside the sea… From the town of Gernemutha to the town of Norwicca [Norwich] is ninety miles.” (Dr.Caitlin R Green).

Until the railway came to Great Yarmouth in 1844,  the easiest way to get to London from Norfolk was by passenger ferry from Great Yarmouth. Great Yarmouth and Norwich were connected by a passenger ferry too.  In recent memory Thames Barges and other coastal vessels were regular visitors to Great Yarmouth and Norwich beyond.

A graffito on a pillar in Norwich Cathedral – a wife or a merchant’s prayer for ship overdue perhaps – depicts a 16th Century cargo ship. 

St.Nicholas is patron saint of sailors and has had a ministry to seamen of all nations many of whom are buried in the churchyard. He is also patron of children. In the stories told about him he rescued 3 poor lads from a nasty situation and three poor young women from a life of prostitution.  Great Yarmouth’s sandy beaches cannot be bettered, but in a,  sometimes gritty,  port/town/ seaside place  like Great Yarmouth , there are similar challenges to be faced.

A Continuing Argument

After the Lollard Trials of 1428-1430, the arguments around the value of ordained ministers and the sacraments of the Church went underground.  Only to emerge again with the various events of the Reformation culminating in the removal of  religious statues, stained glass and images of every sort.

The process seems to have been completed in Loddon in 1642  at the beginning of the Civil War when a glazier was employed to deface the images in church.  The relief images from around the font were chiselled off and plastered over. In Victorian times, when the plaster was removed the rich colouring was revealed.

The font was relatively new, bought with a bequest from William Berrys in 1428. It was the latest 

Loddon Lollards

The sight of a respectable middle class town’s woman stripped to her underwear, bare footed and head uncovered,  humiliated and from time to time flogged as she processed around church and market place was meant to be an example to the population.  It was a common sight in Loddon during the years 1428-1430!

Certain town’s men and women and, on market days, others from the surrounding villages, were forced to undertake these rituals of public penance:  the price of their heresy.   

However much like punishment it appeared, penance is what the Church called it!  It was harsh but preferable  to  being burnt at the stake!   The penitents, who had all appeared before William Alnwick, Bishop of Norwich were Lollards whose beliefs were more radical than those of John Wycliffe and the earlier Lollards!  They were disciples of Hugh Pye and William White preachers who had their base in Loddon.

The heresy of which they were accused, and freely admitted,  had  little or no respect for the authority of ordained ministers,  nor for the sacraments of the Church.  To the 21st Century mind Bishop William’s decisions to burn Hugh Pye and William White at the stake (in Lollards’ Pit in Norwich) and to impose harsh punishment/penance on their disciples,  is  a clear admission of the weakness of his arguments! 

Burning heretics, in practice those who opposed church rulers,  had begun long before Pye and White were executed and continued for years after.  Catholics burned Protestants and Protestants, Catholics and both burned witches!  I  disagree with the Loddon Lollards  about the value of ordained ministry and the sacraments, but still revere them as martyrs for the free speech and the freedoms we enjoy today.

Of course, the argument about orders and sacraments has not gone away!  It is current still, but after the trials of 1428-1430 it went underground, where it already enjoyed a long history.  Bare footed friars, such as those who supported John Wycliffe (alongside John of Gaunt and Henry Percy)  when he was called to appear before the Bishop of London in 1377, had long challenged the opulence of prince bishops by their radical poverty.  Mother Julian, writing in Norwich a generation earlier, stressed the courtesy of Christ. This was an image at odds with that presented by Henry Despencer,  the Fighting Bishop of Norwich, whose army routed the peasants army at the Battle of North Walsham in 1381. None of this went unnoticed .

The Despenser Retable By J An – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, 0

In the St.Luke’s Chapel of Norwich Cathedral there is a rare survival from the pre-Reformation Church,  an altar piece known as  Despencer Retable.  Said to be commissioned to celebrate Henry Despenser’s North Walsham victory, it shows Christ’s public humiliation and flogging, dozy soldiers and military types join in the humiliation and then totally miss the Resurrection!   No prizes for guessing where the artist’s sympathy lay.

 News of John Ball’s sermon at Blackheath and his subsequent death would had travelled up the east coast from London and all the way up the Norwich river!  John Ball had been in Norwich during the time of Black Death.   People knew about him.

Like Pye and White,  John Ball was  labelled and then executed as a Lollard. The same fate awaited the leaders of the Norfolk uprising.  As Langley Abbey was among those places  attacked by the mob, it would have included folk Lodden in its ranks.   Unlike the Lollards of 1428-1430 these Lollards had little interested in religion. They simply wanted to burn the legal documents that proved they were serfs and  tied to the land. 

John Ball at Blackheath. 1470 manuscript of Jean Froissart‘s Chronicles in the British Library.

In spite of his death, or perhaps because of it, John Ball’s sermon lives on and would have been known by those who took part in the Norfolk uprising and painted the Despenser Retable.  The coastal trade took ships and sailors up and down the east coast and its rivers and by those who painted the Despenser Retable !   John Ball’s words still echo down the ages and retain the the power to challenge and  inspire   – “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then a gentleman.”  

William Morris’s Dream of John Ball illustrated by Edward Burns-Jones



Pilgrims and Anchorites

At the Norwich end of the Norfolk Saints’ Way, St. Julian’s Church, Mother Julian’s Cell and the Julian Centre (next door) are an obvious way station. How, I wondered, does a 21st Century pilgrim understand the  vocation of an anchorite?  How, indeed, does a 21st Century pilgrim understand pilgrimage?  I have been much helped by a Blog entry by A Clerk of Oxford.

Anchorites were sealed into their cell (actually or symbolically), as if it were a tomb and for the rest of their earthly lives. With one window into the church and another open to the world beyond,  an anchorites was a liminal person. Like the relics of a long dead saint they , themselves, occupied a threshold twixt the here and the hereafter.

In medieval times the pilgrim was also a liminal person.  For the length of their pilgrimage they were excused the responsibilities of everyday life, in order to concentrate on the spiritual.  They were excused the earthly, to pay attention to the heavenly.

St. Julian’s church, next to the docks in Mother Julian’s day, also occupied a liminal space.  As church it was an outpost of the heavenly kingdom here on earth. On the dockside,  it occupied a at a different type of liminal space. The sort common to all littoral (seaside)  and riparian (riverside) places.

A pilgrim on the Norfolk Saints Way (littoral and riparian all the way), walks on the edge, by the water, from Burgh Castle to Norwich.   Sauntering ( I love the word.  It means to muse and I so want it to have been derived from the French sante terre :holy ground and to have been used to describe the liesurely travel of a pIlgrim)   Suntering on this path, the pilgrim is free engage in Galilee Spirituality – fishing and talking to fishermen, walking  by, sharing food and learning , considering flowers of the field and birds of the air, even climbing to a high places and all by the shore.   And when you consider it seems that all of these activities are liminal in one way. or another.

Fursey and his brothers, who chose Burgh Castle as a base, were pilgrims.  They had become pilgrims for the love of Christ leaving hearth and home never to return. Taking the Epistle to the Hebrews seriously, ” they had no abiding city but look to one that is to come.”

This same life long ideal of pilgrimage is promoted in Ancrene Wisse,  a 13th Century handbook for anchorites, where the visiting of relics is contrasted with something deeper

(Some)…. pilgrims travel with great labour to seek the bones of a single saint, such as St James or St Giles, but these pilgrims, who travel towards heaven, go to be made saints and to find God himself and all his holy hallows living in glory, and will live with him in joy without end. They truly find St Julian’s house, which wayfaring men earnestly seek. 
(Translation by The Clerk of Oxford) 

Most 21st Century pilgrims are unenthusiastic about old bones. We like the opportunity to walk through nature, space to sort our heads out and get some perspective on life.  Many of us like to kneel where prayer has been valid and reflect on the experience of earlier generations. Some of us feel God comes close to us in our journeying. Sometimes our hearts burn within us on the road, and we catch a glimpse at the breaking of bread. And yet: more often there is a sense, he has gone before us;  and though still warm, the nest is empty………  Each of our little pilgrim journey’s is sacramental (an outward and visible sign of something deeper, something spiritual),  of our earthly pilgrimage – and here we have no abiding city but we look for one that is to come.

Art Trail?

There are plenty of opportunities to develop the NSW as an Art Trail

Ancient and Modern


Churches in the Landscape are themselves a form of art and they contain works of art too!  Modern works , such as John Dashwood’s gritty Stations of the Cross in Great Yarmouth Minster

or Norwich Cathedral’s recent acquisition, Brian Whelan’s Passion of Edith Cavell




There are also brilliant new stained glass windows at Reedham


Among the ancient works of art Norwich Cathedral is the  treasure chest