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Comparing the dynamics of pilgrim experience of English cathedrals past and present

27-117 | Thursday, 9 a.m. | 213
Panel Chair: Marion Bowman

Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, the 3-year-project Pilgrimage and England’s Cathedrals, Past and Present is researching pilgrimage and engagement with sacred sites in England from the 11th to the 21st centuries, and assessing the growing significance of England’s cathedrals as sacred/heritage/tourist sites today. It examines the intersection between the material and representational (buildings, works of art, devotional objects etc) and belief, practice and experience. It also explores the interface between sacred and secular practices, in what are both sacred places and sites of local and national heritage. In this panel, we draw upon both historical research and contemporary fieldwork data to compare and contrast the motives, materiality, sensory experiences, expectations and interpretations of those participating in contemporary English cathedral focused pilgrimage with what can be known of the medieval milieu.

Simon Coleman

Finding a Space for Pilgrimage: The Roots and Routes of English Cathedrals

English cathedrals represent a remarkably under-researched area, yet they are growing in popularity in terms of numbers of visitors. Based on preliminary data from an interdisciplinary study, I ask how both researchers and visitors locate cathedrals in religious, spiritual or cultural terms. How do the 'roots' of history and architectural style relate to 'routes' formed by contemporary varieties of mobility and urban regeneration? If one analysis of British religion argues that a powerful trajectory is from ‘cathedrals to cults’ (Bruce 1996), I suggest a trend may be moving equally in the reverse direction—a direction that allows us to juxtapose the roles of cathedrals with those of other pilgrimage sites but also multi-faith rooms, chaplaincies, and engagements with heritage and religious landscapes. The phrase ‘finding a space for pilgrimage’ represents the exploratory character of this paper: based on preliminary data from an interdisciplinary study still in progress, I ask how both researchers and visitors locate cathedrals in intellectual, religious, spiritual or cultural terms. How do the 'roots' of history and architectural style relate to the 'routes' formed by contemporary varieties of mobility and urban regeneration?

Dee Dyas

Creating a context: using the senses in shaping a pilgrim environment

In the fourth century, as Christian pilgrimage to holy places was coming into being, Cyril of Jerusalem wrote jubilantly 'Others only hear, but we see and touch'. The subsequent growth in ‘sensory piety’, linked to relics, sacred sites and shrines, has shaped Christian pilgrimage experience ever since. Though potentially theologically problematic, the profound human instinct to invest place with spiritual significance and shape spiritual experience through the tangible and material has persevered. Despite the Reformation suppression of pilgrimage in England and other Reformed contexts, it has re-emerged recently with a new force, and the lure of holy places has been reasserting its power, though often without the rich and complex sensory stimuli of earlier centuries. This paper will examine the dynamics which drive 'sensory piety' and role of art, architecture, liturgy and other factors in creating a sensory environment which shapes pilgrim experience and responses.

John Jenkins

The dynamics of medieval and contemporary pilgrimage at Canterbury and Durham cathedrals

The pilgrim experience in medieval cathedrals was carefully controlled. Paths and access points around the building were clearly demarcated, and visitors could expect a range of sensory cues to instruct them in how to behave. Canterbury and Durham were both remodelled around the imposing golden shrines of their saints, Thomas Becket and Cuthbert, providing a focal point for pilgrimage and for the cathedral itself. Drawing on historical research and contemporary fieldwork, this paper presents case studies of pilgrim/potential pilgrim and visitor experience at two major English pilgrimage sites. The authors examine various sensory interactions with the cathedral and its practices, and question whether the lost dynamics of the medieval experience continue to subtly shape, positively or otherwise, that of the present.

Marion Bowman

”Containers of the Sacred”: From Pilgrim Badges to Magnets, Ducks and Selfies

Pilgrimage centres traditionally have been, and continue to be, places rich in material culture. Such special or sacred places were and still are sites of commercialism, with artefacts on sale and a long tradition of pilgrims imbuing objects and substances found there with significance on account of their connection with a sacred site. Coleman and Elsner refer to the souvenirs that pilgrims take home as ‘containers of the sacred’ (Coleman and Elsner 1995: 100). Concentrating on material culture at English Cathedrals which function as places of contemporary pilgrimage, and focussing on the dynamics of relationality and materiality, this paper explores the range of pilgrimage memorabilia available to pilgrims and visitors, their motives in purchasing such items or creating their own pilgrimage mementos, and the rationale of providers. Can small rubber ducks dressed as bishops or ‘selfies’ taken on mobile phones be taken seriously as containers of the sacred?