Finally, one whole week later, I have managed to get round to writing my personal account of the 2015 Pentecost pilgrimage to the magnificent cathedral of Chartres last 22-26 May. It was one of the most blessed pilgrimages to Chartres I have ever been on, and this was due in no small measure to the unexpected and heart-warming presence of Bishop Anathisuis Schneider throughout the three days of our 70 plus mile walk from Paris. He first appeared at the beautiful sung TLM (and blessing of the hundreds of banners) in Notre Dame de Paris early on Saturday 23rd before we set off, then joining us with his entourage at the lunch stops in fields on the way. There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that Bishop Schneider had come to bring encouragement to this flock of staunchly traditional Catholics that take part on this annual holy pilgrimage, bringing his support to those who are willing to defend our Holy Catholic Church and all her teachings in these difficult times of Her Via Crucis in the hostile, secular world. On Pentecost Sunday he celebrated High Mass for the thousands of pilgrims on the lovely erected altar placed on the way for the Church’s great feast, where he gave us a stirring homily that you may read now on our blog. (He gave the homily in clear well-articulated French, that even I with my mere schoolgirl O’level knowledge could understand perfectly.) There were an estimated over 10.000 Catholics making the pilgrimage this year, yet an absolute silence reigned during the whole Mass!
Among the hundreds of banners and flags carried by the different ‘chapters’ along the route, one that takes pride of place is this beautiful statue of Our Lady of Christendom (borne the whole way by some sturdy French boy scouts), a blessed symbol of Christendom on the march behind Our Lady’s Holy Infant Who she holds in her arms with the world, as her eyes are set on the Church Triumphant in Heaven.
The British chapters
For the first time in the 33 years the British contingent has been taking part in the Chartres pilgrimage, this year we travelled to Paris by Eurostar – a real luxury! We had no sooner dumped our bags at the little hotel where we stayed Friday night than a group of us dashed through the maze of the Paris underground (getting a bit lost) to reach the Irish Cultural Centre where we joined our Irish friends for our first of many lovely Traditional Latin Masses we enjoyed over the days of the pilgrimage. Afterwards, a lot of our talk with them was about the Irish Referendum on Marriage ‘equality’ taking place that day in Ireland; the results were not known then, but we knew the fascist tactics of the ‘Yes’ supporters would make a favourable outcome impossible – a very sad fact for us all.
Early the next day, Saturday, we set off after Holy Mass from Notre Dame de Paris for a gruelling 27 miles of walking at a fast pace, first out of Paris, and then through woods and fields. It is greatly helpful to eat up the miles whilst listening to some beautiful meditations, the rosary, songs and talks intermitently given us throughout the day; it takes our mind off the aches and pains, and the increasing tiredness. We also have periods of reflection, plus the possibility of confession en route with the wonderful priests that accompany us. The stops every two hours or so are very short, except for the half hour lunch break, so we are literally walking all day! That night, and after the second day of many miles of walking, we camp in open fields. I always arrive totally exhausted (as do many other pilgrims) and to watch many of the lively youngsters still looking surprisingly fresh as they sing and chat round a big camp fire is amazing.
At the end of our second day of walking 28 miles (and once we have collected our bags from the piles of luggage brought to the campsite every day by big lorries, and we have sorted ourselves out in the tents) a very special Benediction takes place on another little altar beside the camp. Once more Bishop Schneider was with us, and what a joy that was! Many of those present make their Consecration to Our Lady via the 33 day preparation of St Louis Grignon de Montfort. I always find this an extremely moving experience; these weary, footsore pilgrims (nearly all young) kneel in the spikey grass as the sun sets pouring out their fidelty and love to the Blessed Virgin Mary. How blessed we are that there is still (and always will be) such strength and vibrancy in the Church to carry us forward!
The third day of walking is only 15 to 16 miles long, taking us up to the holy and ancient cathedral of Chartres for the final magnificent Mass. At our lunch stop this day, and to our great happiness, Bishop Schneider arrived again to walk among and greet the thousands of pilgrims! When he passed near us I impulsively leapt up and kissed his ring, shyly thanking him very much for joining us; he gave me the sweetest of smiles. He also talked and conversed with many of the other pilgrims who were all delighted to see him.
We stay in a hotel in Chartres the night after the pilgrimage – pure luxury after our three day march and camping out in the open, and there is much chatter and fun at our first proper meal that evening. Before leaving the next morning we celebrated a final TLM in the cathedral crypt just for our group (as do the other foreign chapters), in the very place where the first Christian shrine was built, over the Druid altar dedicated “to the Mother of God as yet unborn”. We were blessed with an outstanding homily on Our Lady by Fr. Bede Rowe who had accompanied the chapter of schoolboys from Chavagnes International Catholic College.
Our final part of our journey by coach to catch the Eurostar back to London was a time of great anxiety (and many hasty prayers) having got delayed in our departure from Chartres and stuck in heavy traffic through Paris’ busy streets! We had to literally run like crazy, whilst carrying all our heavy bags, through the long corridors, security checks, and platforms, where thankfully we just caught the train by the skin of our teeth! Phew! Once we had all flopped down panting on our seats and the train pulled out, Fr Gerard Byrne sang a beautiful Te Deum and we all joined in, … (much to the annoyance of four frowning German tourists who happened to be sharing our carriage!)
So Chartres is over for another year, and during the following days, whilst trying to catch up with lost sleep and nursing my blistered feet and aching muscles, I have spent some busy days visiting family and friends in and around London and the south east. All the while I have been steeped in the joyful graces and blessings this holy pilgrimage always brings me and that I am so profoundly grateful for. I prayed for all the intentions of our Team and those on the ‘Prayer Intentions’ on CP&S, and I thank everyone who sent me messages and encouragement via BB’s ‘Farewell’ post or via e-mail.
“Chartres sonne, Chartres t’appelle”: so if you are able-bodied and free, do think about joining the Chartres pilgrimage at Pentecost next year!
Another pilgrim’s views of the pilgrimage. Rhoslyn Thomas and Joseph Shaw have also written about their experience of the pilgrimage on Facebook, with plenty of lovely photos from Joseph.