My heart is full and my feet are happy! I’ve been home from France for more than a week now, feeling too inward to write anything for public consumption and allowing myself the gift of time. Pilgrimage changes the pilgrim, so it takes a bit of time to pick up the threads of daily life and to make sense of one’s experiences. I’ll tell my story here, but acknowledge that it will probably come in bits and pieces over the coming weeks.
We departed from Ebbsfleet International at dawn, whooshing into the cross-Channel tunnel before emerging into the French countryside where a fully arcing double rainbow greeted us in an early morning blessing of colour and wonder. By the time the Paris rush hour was ending, we were arriving at Gare du Nord, ready to explore the City of Light before beginning our walk the following morning. Our goal was to seek out the symbols and sites that have inspired hearts and marked the pilgrim’s path down through the centuries, from medieval times onwards.
We began, as pilgrims often do, at the Tour St Jacques, aligning our footsteps with the ancient path and the hearts and souls/soles of those who have made the journey before us. Like many, we filled our water bottles and marked the start of our journey with a moment of quiet contemplation of the path that lay ahead, both physically and spiritually.
We then journeyed by train and foot to the base of Montmartre. Before beginning our walk to Chartres, I wanted to reconnect with a past experience, and to renew a life-changing commitment I made there during a very special visit some years ago. The day was hot and bright, but rather than taking the funicular, we walked all the way up the many, many steps to the Basilica. I felt quietly proud of my ability to climb those stairs, and delighted (as ever) in the spectacular views from the top. The sheer magnitude of the crowds made the going difficult and less than pleasant, but a part of my heart will always recognize Sacré Coeur as as a place of personal pilgrimage and promise.
Returning to our Notre Dame neighbourhood to seek out a cafe for a lunch of salad and fish, we began our quest for the symbols that would help us deepen into the traditions and experiences of pilgrimage. I’ll share our discoveries in a separate post describing our departure from Paris as we followed the old pilgrim route, the rue St Jacques. Our destination the first evening, however, was the lovely Eglise St Gervais, where we attended Vespers, resting in the beauty of the windows and the harmony of the evensong prayers.
We ended our evening by walking and dining in Le Marais, then returned to our hotel where the bells of Notre Dame sang us to sleep.
Interestingly, I dreamed of returning home, sharing stories of my day. I took this as a good sign, an indicator of successful pilgrimage; I would walk secure in the knowledge that I would return safely.