Those of you following the international news will know that this is a rough month to be in France, whether as a pilgrim or a tourist. (What is the difference? According to Phil Cousineau in his terrific book The Art of Pilgrimage, it has something to do with the difference between passing through a place and allowing a place to pass through you).
Not only has the weather been wretched, with the Seine river overflowing its banks from Paris to Rouen and beyond due to the heaviest June rainfall since the 1870s, but also because of the French Unions’ decision to stage one of their (in)famous month-long strikes – so far only go-slows – thus holding the rest of Europe’s transportation systems hostage. It’s tempting to complain! But, as usual, France manages to redeem itself through its many charms – its culture, art, history, the variety and beauty of its architecture, ancient and modern, and of course its food and wine.
As a pilgrim one is mindful of those earlier pilgrims back in the 12th-15th century who often travelled barefoot, slept in rat-infested cellars and begged for their food on their way to a sacred shrine, hundreds or even thousands of miles away from home (think England to the Holy Land) facing all manner of perils by land and sea. By comparison our lot is easy – so it took an hour and a half to find our way around the circuitous upended streets of old Rouen to our very comfortable hotel with not a rat in sight!
Well, OK, there were pilgrims in the Middle Ages who traveled in relative comfort, but the operative word is “relative”.
Back in Paris after three days in Rouen, Amiens and northern Normandy preparing to lead our pilgrimage group next week – check out Portals to the Sacred Pilgrimages – we were happy to return to find Paris still afloat, and even displaying the odd ray of sunshine! In addition to the above mentioned cities, our two-week pilgrimage will take us first to Bayeux (home of the famous Bayeux tapestry – a truly miraculous work of art and survival from the 11th century telling the story of the Norman conquest of England in 1066 in 230 feet of woven tapestry weighing 772 pounds!).
Then a day at the Normandy beaches where 72 years ago on June 6th, 1944 the D-Day Landings took place, leading to the liberation of Europe and ultimately the defeat of Nazi Germany. We are here with profound gratitude to those thousands of Allied soldiers who gave their lives for our freedom today.
Returning to our pilgrimage, please follow our pilgrims’ progress through Normandy starting Wednesday June 8th and continuing through the 20th.