How cathedrals can get involved

The BPT has collaborated with the Association of English Cathedrals for the Year of Cathedrals and Pilgrimage, and we have made a 1-day pilgrimage route for 45 cathedrals in England, Wales and the Isle of Man!

Apart from the 1-day cathedral routes that already appear on our routes directory, please can you let us know about any other pre-existing routes to cathedrals? And if you would like to create a new one, BPT’s Guy Hayward has written a template to assist you.

Or if you would like to volunteer… not all of the cathedral day pilgrimage routes have been test walked yet, and whilst the routes have been remotely devised and plotted to the best of our ability, we are looking for volunteers (local or not) to test walk these remaining routes and feedback to us ASAP, using this guide.

Pilgrims can also arrive in time for Choral Evensong – a 45-min service of music sung by world-class choirs, for free.

For any questions, please email Guy using the Contact page.

Cathedral Pilgrim Ideas

There might be simple ways to shift the culture of cathedral visits, as reflected in what people do and experience when they get to cathedrals. A visit becomes a pilgrimage with little extra effort. An approach based on experiences could help bring about a cultural shift towards spiritual practices in cathedrals.

Holy Water stoups or Font water – encourage pilgrims to engage directly with font water. 

Candles given on entering along with ticket, and an accompanying leaflet letting pilgrims know which stations around cathedral at which to light them.

Anniversary/birthday visits to cathedrals – encourage people to make an occasion of it!

Cairns of Pebbles/Stones/Shells – at the beginning of their pilgrimage pilgrims could be encouraged to pick up a pebble or shell or some sort from their starting holy place, and carry it with them on the journey having ‘charged’ it with something they personally want to let go of, and give it to a cathedral ‘cairn’ on arrival at their destination. 

Lying down in the nave – look up at ceiling of cathedral lying on a prayer rug – without craning your neck standing up, or looking at a mirror. The converse is putting forehead to ground as well as looking up at ceiling, heaven and earth. Outside, people can lie down and look at the sky, and call it a sky meditation. 

Feel the space – pilgrims can try standing in different places in the cathedral, e.g. nave vs. quire vs. altar, close their eyes, and feel how they feel in each place.

Healing – Have spaces dedicated to healing demarcated within the cathedral, and advertise when healing sessions are available.

Guiding spiritual experience – through audio guides and training cathedral volunteer welcomers, visitors could become pilgrims by engaging directly with the cathedral in many of the ways suggested above, as opposed to ‘historical’ tours.

Other related ideas:

Godparent pilgrimages – Takes your godchild on a day pilgrimage to a different cathedral each year, culminating in choral evensong!

Music Festival Pilgrimages – from Glastonbury etc to nearest cathedrals. Even a fraction of pilgrims from festivalgoers would be a very large number. See map of UK music festivals.

School pilgrimages – rites of passage at major transitions like primary to secondary, and A-level to university, children could make pilgrimage to the Cathedral from their school? Maybe they could sleep in the cathedral overnight?

Annual pilgrimage days – all the parish churches in a cathedral’s diocese within walking distance make a pilgrimage to a special patronal festival service for the cathedral on a particular day of the year? Westminster Abbey do this for their National Pilgrimage Day on the Saturday around October 13, its patronal festival. Thousands of people come, and people walk in from all over London. St Alban’s already do this on Easter Monday.

Patron saint-named local charities or institutions– organise pilgrimage days for these new audiences during a cathedral’s patronal festival. For example, St Cuthbert’s Hospice in Durham.

We are seeing a spiritual awakening in society all around us. Cathedrals are already facilitating this awakening, and there is much scope for talking this process further. Pilgrimage and Choral Evensong have a wide appeal. With an experience-based reframing, these traditional practices can become powerfully contemporary.