A Magna Carta Pilgrimage

The heart of the year is a busy time for walking – especially for pilgrimages with a powerful focus.

There’s the Refugee Tales, a walk from Dover to Crawley telling the tales of modern Refugees. We’re singing for them on Tuesday 16th at Charing Church Barn.

And there’s the Road to Peace Pilgrimage Walk from London to Glastonbury, a journey in honour of the Dali Lama’s 80th birthday and his rumoured ‘final’ visit to Glastonbury Festival. This group is walking 200 miles without any money, and we (the BPT) have been advising on routes and kit.

From 13th – 15th June, Hayward and Parsons are also making a meaningful stroll. It’s a three-day Magna Carta Pilgrimage from the London Stone on Cannon Street, via Magna Carta at the British Library, to the 2000 year old Yew tree at Ankerwyke by Runnymede, where Magna Carta was probably “really” sealed. We shall arrive on the 800 year anniversary of Magna Carta.

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It’s a songful walk in honour of Magna Carta, telling the story of what happens when British leaders don’t keep their word.

Our pilgrimage begins on Saturday 13th at the London Stone  – a mysterious ancient lump of Limestone alleged to be a Druidic or Roman central “Palladium” for the City of London. This central governing landmark was known by Shakespeare, William Blake, Dr Dee, John Dryden and Sir Christopher Wren.

The famous saying goes: “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish”.

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Against this stone the Lord Mayor of London would traditionally strike their staff as a symbol of authority on Lord Mayor’s Day, the second Saturday of November, before leaving the safety of the City to travel to Westminster and swear allegiance to the King.

This tradition dates back to 1215 when Magna Carta granted Londoners the right to choose their own Lord Mayor. We don’t know if Boris Johnson ever struck the London Stone with his staff of office, but it seems likely.

From here we walk to the British Library, to see two of the four surviving 1215 Magna Carta documents – and also the American Declaration of Independence (based largely on the liberties of Magna Carta).

One of four surviving copies of the 1215 Magna Carta. This copy is one of two held at the British Library. It came from the collection of Sir Robert Cotton, who died in 1631. In 1731, a fire at Ashburnam House in Westminster, where his library was then housed, destroyed or damaged many of the rare manuscripts, which is why this copy is burnt.

We sleep by Caesar’s Camp on Wimbledon Common, where a holy well still flows.

On Day Two we visit Kingston’s eponymous “King Stone”, a tenth century coronation stone, to connect it with yesterdays’ mayoral stone.

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We also visit the “King Clump” of Richmond Deer Park, a man-made hill which is either a Bronze Age long barrow – or a twentieth century conifer plantation.

Next we walk to Diana’s memorial fountain in Hampton Park, a holy venue of great significance for the modern British monarchy.

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Then we follow the River Thames to Chertsey Bridge, from where we branch out toward St Anne’s Holy Well, an ancient chapel overlooking Thorpe Park and the M3/M25 junction. We hope to find a strange and deep peace in such busy waters.

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We then walk to the Ankwewyke Yew Tree,  a venerable giant estimated to be 2000 years old. The sacred nature of this tree and the Nunnery that once stood beside it, as well as the more practical protection afforded by the river from a surprise ambush by horse or bow, makes Ankerwyke Island a far more likely venue for Magna Carta than the traditionally mooted Eastern meadows. We guess this very Yew tree was the true venue of Magna Carta being sealed by King John and the Barons.  We hope to sleep here – what dreams of may come…

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On the third day we complete our pilgrimage by singing at the Eastern meadows of Runnymede, where the modern memorial stands, before walking through Windsor Deer Park to St George’s Chapel, where many of Britain’s Kings and Queens are buried. We hope to arrive in time for the 3pm Garter Service.

Evensong

Like all our walks, this pilgrimage will be powered by song. As an offering of reconciliation and thanks for all who have struggled to make the peace and liberty we enjoy today – and for those who struggle on still – we’ll be singing a contemproary Magna Carta devotional song at every destination en route.

It’s a song written by the legendary English singer/songwriter Saint Godric, who ‘channelled’ his inspiration into popular songs of the late 12th century. It is entirely possible a sacred song of his was sung here 800 years ago. We have consulted manuscripts to find the perfect choice – “Sante Marie Viergene” – taught to Godric by the Virgin Mary and two angels, as a song of consolation to overcome grief and temptation. So this shall be our offering of thanks for the Liberty of Magna Carta.

 

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