Universe Column August 2002
By David AltonAs a very young child my late mother took me to Croagh Patrick during one of her visits home to Mayo. It made an indelible impression on me; I have been back many times since – most recently climbing it with two of my own children, Marianne and Padraig.
The pilgrim way is a never-ending one – always with another unexpected encounter around every corner. Rabbi Menahem Mendl of Kotsz pithily summed up the never-ending nature of life’s journey when he wrote: “He who thinks he is finished is finished.”
Pilgrimage can be a moment to pass on something of the faith – and the trials, suffering and endurance of those who went before us. During a family holiday there is always a place of Catholic interest nearby.
In Cornwall this year we managed to explore two of the West Country’s Catholic shrines.
St. Michael’s Mount, near Penzance, is home of the St. Aubyn family and is owned by the National Trust. It was originally a Benedictine priory built in the twelfth century and a daughter house of the famous Mont St. Michael in Normandy (which the French intend to restore as a true island). St. Michael’s Mount is a huge granite crag, dominating the skyline, often shrouded in a magical mist, surmounted by an embattled castle, and a pre-reformation place of pilgrimage.
St. Michael’s Mount is an island at high tide but can be reached by a walk over the sands at other times. This trick of geography makes an important point to the modern pilgrim – perhaps recalling John Donne’s verses that “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”
Catholic involvement in contemporary society may well be at a price – and steadfastness can even lead to death (think of Pakistan). A visit to Launceston, Cornwall’s lovely historic county town, will soon remind you that religious freedom has been won at a price.
The dungeon at Launceston Castle was where St. Cuthbert Mayne was held before he was taken to the town square and executed. Born near Barnstaple in 1544, he was educated at Oxford University and was a contemporary of Edmund Campion. He went to Douai to train for the priesthood and on his return to England ministered to the numerous Catholics in the West Country.
Arrested at the behest of Richard Grenville he was executed on a scaffold in the market place on November 30th 1577. His shrine may be visited at Launceston’s Catholic Church.
Not far away is a pilgrim site that has been re-reborn over the past few years: the shrine of Our Lady of Liskeard at Ladye Park.
And at all these places an appropriate prayer might by the Lord’s Prayer – the Pader Agan Arluth -in the ancient Cornish tongue:
Agan Tas-ny, us yn nef, Benygys re bo da Hanow, Re dheffo dha wlascor, Dha voth re bo gwres, y’n nor kepar hag y’n nef. Ro dhyn-ny hedhyu agan bara pup deth-oll; Ha gaf dhyn agan camwyth, kepar del aven-nyny dhe’n re-na us ow camwul er agan pyn-ny; Ha na wra agan gorra yn temtasyon, mes delyrf ny dyworth drok. Rag dhyso-jy yu wlascor, ha’n gallos, ha’n gordhyans, Bys vyken ha bynary. Amen.