An annual event since 1924, the Glastonbury Pilgrimage is a gathering of Christians in the town of Glastonbury, Somerset, England. People gather from all over Britain, and some travel from abroad, to the ancient land of Avalon, Britain's Cradle of Chrisitanity.
Although pilgrims visit throughout the year, the second saturday of July hosts the annual event. It is intended as a personal demonstration of faith - with many pilgrims arriving on foot, but also many churches arrange group travel by bus.
An Orthodox service, venerating Our Lady of Glastonbury, is held in the Lady Chapel ruins. There is entertainment in the form of musicians and actors.
At 12pm, the Sacrament of the Eucharist is received from the bishop. There are many priests and deacons present to assist.
From 2pm, a procession makes its way from St. John's Church through the high street to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey for Evensong.
Sunday sees the Roman Catholic procession from the lower slopes of the tor to the ruins, where a Mass is held.
In 1897, a pilgrimage of 130 bishops was made to Glastonbury, 32 of them having travelled from the USA. They robed in St. John's Church and proceeded to the Abbey. Further large pilgrimages occured between 1907 and 1909.
In 1923, after the First World War, a Mr Salter, Secretary of the Chapter of St Brendon in Bristol, wrote to the vicar of St. John's Church proposing a pilgrimage, and in 1924 it took place. Altogether, 30 priests, 40 vested and 1500 lay pilgrims arrived.
The pilgrimage has been organised annualy ever since, apart from a break during World War Two - when services were held, but no procession took place.
The Roman and Anglican pilgrimages were separate events until 1985 when it was agreed that they would be held on the same weekend to share facilities. Many pilgrims join in the other groups procession to demonstrate Christian Unity.
A Personal View
Being an atheist, and unwilling to subscribe to the views of the Christian church, I was interested to see this event in 2002. We arrived in Glastonbury for the usual hippie-shopping experience, but on exiting the excellent Book Barn, we were surprised by the number of people lining the streets.
We checked a booklet someone was holding, and its cover read "Glastonbury Pilgrimage 2002". I rushed to fetch the camera - I know, always carry your camera - and we took our place by the side of the road.
The first thing we noticed was the happiness and peacefulness of the street. Normally bustling, a calm had descended. Also, there was a large cloud of smoke outside St. John's Church. This would turn out to be incense.
A brass band started up. Not a brash, loud one, but quiet and solemn. The song was "Onward, Christian Soldiers". The whole street began to sing and the procession started. The robes were amazing, and there must have been a good 30 church groups, each with an incense swinger - and boy can they do cool tricks with that incense - a banner, a robed priest, choir and lay members.
Following the procession were around 200 lay followers, and many of the onlookers peeled in behind them as they passed; the procession must have doubled in size as it travelled down the road.
While solemn, there was certainly a sense of humour in the air. Since there was only one band, synchronisation problems occured between different groups with their singing. At one point, as one group finished a hymn, the last line was then repeated by a group further up the road who were a little behind in their timing. At that point, the entire town centre of Glastonbury laughed. I have never heard an entire town centre laugh before. I doubt I ever will again.
A highly recommended event for believers or non-believers alike.