Whatever your personal religious or spiritual beliefs, there’s something very special about travelling to a place which holds significance for you, especially if you’re fortunate enough to have the health and time to make that journey on foot. Well, mostly on foot: this year’s pilgrimage takes in parts of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, so, as the land bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland has never got past the vague discussions stage, some of it will obviously *not* be made on foot. Anyway, boats, buses, feet, whatever, it’s good to see the BBC 2 Pilgrimage programme back, after a year’s break due to the pandemic.
This year, our pilgrims are sticking close to home – heading for the Scottish holy island of Iona, home of Iona Abbey, founded by St Columba in the 6h century AD. BTW, why are some saints’ names in common usage but others aren’t. How many people do you know who are called George, Andrew or David? Now, how many people do you know who are called Columba, Ninian or Bede? Hmm.
Unlike the previous Pilgrimage programmes, this one isn’t following a traditional pilgrimage route. There is no Camino de St Columba. Instead, they’re visiting various sites associated with Columba’s life. Er, using navigation apps on their phones. And, presumably in the interests of inclusivity – that’s a comment, not a criticism – the emphasis is being put on each participant’s personal “religious journey”.
Incidentally, I always say that I’m a Victorian, but, when it comes to “spiritual” issues, I’m actually very medieval – I look for omens in anything and everything. The Victorians would have been horrified by that!
An interesting point was made, by Scarlett Moffatt, about religious people being seen as uncool. I remember there being quite a bit of discussion on this subject in terms of soap opera characters, some years ago. It was pointed out that the religious characters in soap operas were always old ladies, notably Emily Bishop in Coronation Street, Dot Cotton in EastEnders and Edna Birch in Emmerdale. Not that old ladies are uncool, but you get the idea. And I think the scriptwriters took the point, because we suddenly started to get religious teenagers – Sophie Webster in Coronation Street, Bobby Beale in EastEnders and Amelia Spencer in Emmerdale. Even so, if you were asked to pick which one of the group most identified with formal religion, you probably wouldn’t have picked the young reality TV star. Just a thought!
We also, with the group visiting Derry/Londonderry, heard quite a bit about the Troubles and the efforts that have been made to bring different religious communities together, including an interview with a lady whose husband was murdered by the IRA, and who now works for peace and reconciliation in tandem with a lady who was formerly a member of the IRA.
That had nothing to do with St Columba, but it had a lot to do with our lives today. This is an unusual year: it’s quite common for Passover and Easter to coincide, but it’s unusual for Passover, Easter and Ramadan all to coincide, which is happening this year. Both Easters – Good Friday by the Gregorian calendar coincides with the first day of Passover, Good Friday by the Julian calendar coincides with the penultimate day of Passover, and Ramadan runs through all of it. I know that there are fears that this could lead to a wave of violence in the Middle East, but hopefully it won’t, and anyone marking any of these festivals (OK, I know that Ramadan isn’t a festival as such, but I couldn’t think of an appropriate noun to include all three!), or just enjoying the long weekend, will be able to do so in peace … and make the most of it, after two successive springs mucked up by Covid. If anyone’s read this, thank you, and all the best.