As part of the BPT’s work developing the Old Way, we are working to provide sanctuary to pilgrims along the path: low-cost accommodation with a high-impact experience. Once this project is up and running on the Old Way, we see the provision of Sanctuary upon pilgrim paths opening out across Britain: welcoming pilgrims into the heart of communities across the UK. We encourage people to take it on in their local area, all around Britain.
For many centuries in Britain, those making pilgrimage would have relied upon churches to provide shelter along a pilgrim path. When the tradition of making pilgrimage in Britain came to an end with the Dissolution of the Monasteries (the pilgrim sanctuaries of the time) in 1538, so too did the practice of welcoming pilgrims into the heart of the community through which they were travelling – at that time, always a monastery or church.
Regardless of one’s faith or non-faith, churches are extraordinary keepers of collective memory: they bear witness to a community’s lives, loves, and losses. They are vibrant places that hold communities together. They come alive through our use of them.
Inspired by this ancient tradition of welcoming pilgrims into social and spiritual centres, we have been working with a growing number of churches along the Old Way to put this concept into practice once more. We will also be exploring how to expand this project: social and spiritual centres of community in modern Britain are not, of course, always churches.
From March 31st 2020, contact details of churches and church halls – and over time, other centres – which have agreed to welcome pilgrims overnight, will be listed on this page.
Pilgrims will contact sanctuaries directly in order to organise accommodation along the Old Way.
All offers of sanctuary are made in exchange for a donation – at each church’s discretion, between £5-£20 per pilgrim, dependant upon facilities offered, or with a sliding scale based on a pilgrim’s income.
This project is in its infancy: we are working to gauge the level of interest in Sanctuary, which will help us to improve this offering. To register your interest, click here:
Pilgrims: What to expect
Each sanctuary site will provide, at the very least, basic sanitary facilities, and in some cases, the facilities provided will be considerably more developed. You should always expect to provide your own bedding: as always, you should carry a sleeping bag with a comfort temperature rating appropriate to the expected temperatures for when you are travelling, and an (inflatable) rollmat to insulate you from cold stone floors. Details of facilities for each sanctuary will be given on this webpage.
Sanctuary centres may provide accommodation in various locations – for example, a Sanctuary Church may offer shelter within the church itself, within an affiliated building (for example, a church hall), or simply give permission to camp on allocated areas of church grounds. This information will be stated alongside a sanctuary’s contact details.
Sanctuaries will outline the notice they require in order to accommodate pilgrims, and this must be adhered to: the offer of sanctuary is not provided on an ad-hoc basis, but must be booked in advance. You will be required to make a donation, and provide proof of ID, in advance of your arrival. The BPT will provide pilgrims with an information form, to be filled in and sent to churches alongside a booking request.
Any restrictions or regulations outlined by each sanctuary must be respected, and you should always leave a sanctuary promptly in the morning, respect the space – and leave it as you found it.
This is a project in its founding stages: it is up to you to make sanctuaries glad you came!
Other pilgrims may be taking sanctuary during the same evening as you: you should expect to be informed of these details ahead of time. While each sanctuary will have its own safeguarding provisions in place, it is also important that you are given such information as to be able to make your own decisions regarding your own safeguarding.
You should expect to feel welcomed! The sanctuary project has been set up to re-root us to an ancient tradition that has connected those making pilgrimage to the communities through which they travel for many hundreds of years. Taking up sanctuary at the heart of a community has proved, for many, to be an eye opening – even life changing – experience.
“The beauty and significance of the church, in contrast to the informal acts of unrolling a sleeping bag, brushing my teeth and settling down for the night, proved a powerful tool for contemplation. I felt that through sleeping within its walls, I came to know that church, not simply as a beautiful building of significance, but as a place where I had been welcomed, and made to feel at home. ” – Alice Attlee, Sanctuary Project Lead
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