The rain from earlier in the week cleared and the sun shone as more than 400 people headed to Oxford’s Christ Church Cathedral for the inaugural St Frideswide Pilgrimage on Saturday (October 19).

The event celebrates the Patron Saint of the city and the University of Oxford. As the walks began pilgrims sang hymns and said prayers from their respective starting points before setting out for the cathedral. They all arrived by one of four routes representing the four points of the compass. They followed a mix of footpaths and the Thames Path and varied in length from 17 miles from Dorchester Abbey (over two days) through to the more family friendly 1.5 miles from Iffley Lock on Saturday afternoon. The Rt Revd Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford joined the pilgrimage at Iffley Lock. He said: “Our vision is to be a more Christ-like Church.” He said the first of the three Cs within that vision calls for churches to be contemplative. (The other Cs call for churches to be more compassionate and courageous.) “Pilgrimage is a wonderful way of being contemplative together.”

“Pilgrimage is a wonderful way of being contemplative together.”

Wendy Muggeridge, from the Wallingford Deanery had been surprised by how much she had enjoyed saying prayers and singing hymns by the side of the River Thames. “”I thought it would be embarrassing and it might be if you did it on your own but as you are there and it’s a pilgrimage it takes the edge off and I was really quite moved.”

David Benskin, an ordinand based in the Cowley Team Ministry, said his feet were hurting after the walk but he had had a great time. “It was a nice time to get to know each other, to journey and walk and explore God with each other,” he said.

Beryl Maw, Jeanette Lock, Jane Burr and Mieke Gaynor are friends who thoroughly enjoyed getting together for the two-day pilgrimage from Dorchester. “It’s been lovely to walk alongside other pilgrims and have a time of walking in silence after lunch and to be aware of the flow of the river. It was lovely having time to pray and walk alongisde God. The river is so beautiful as well, even if it’s fast flowing, there were times of stillness,” they said.

The pilgrims arrived at 2pm to reflect and pray using Prayer stations based around the Beatitudes, a set of Jesus’s teachings from The Sermon on the Mount. They were also invited to pray at the Shrine of St Frideswide in the Cathedral’s Latin Chapel.

The reflective service at 4pm inlcuded an anthem by the St Frideswide Consort, the older memebers of the Cathedral’s girls’ choir. Both the Dean, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, and the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft helped to lead the service.

Martyn told the pilgrims: “It’s a particularly special blessing for us to have you here. Long before Christ Church was a college and a catheddral, it was a site of pilgrimage. Some of you have been trekking across some of those holy trails to be here this afternoon.”

Bishop Steven added: “I walked from Iffley Lock this afternoon. I did a short walk.”

He added that many people had walked a lot further, including some pilgrims who set off on Monday and covered 80 miles over six days. The congregation gave those pilgrims a round of applause.

“It’s wonderful that they slept in churches along the way and it’s also wonderful to welcome so many children who have been part of the walk this afternoon.”

Words: Jo Duckles

Photographs: Jo Duckles and Jacob Downey