18 August 2016, The Tablet

When you wish upon a star


The holiday season owes its origins to holy days and the pilgrimage tradition. Today, even in the most unlikely of escapist destinations, more than a hint of ancient ritual survives

I  was brought up in Guildford, where the Pilgrims’ Way winds gently through the landscape on its way from Winchester to Canterbury and the shrine of St Thomas Becket. Dotted along its route are the ruins of chantry chapels constructed with local flint dug up from the chalk Downs, attesting to the faith of our forefathers. Today, you are more likely to meet dog walkers than holy wayfarers on these tracks, where the echoes of past travellers hang but lightly in the air. The tales Chaucer told belong to a bygone age.

I recently travelled with my two daughters to Disneyland Paris and discovered that the pilgrimage instinct is alive and well, albeit interpreted afresh in this secular age. The journey to the Disney shrine is an intrinsic part of the pilgrimage and, while not as arduous as that of our medieval counterparts, it is no less taxing, involving marshalling young children through the intricacies of the airport system and the boredom of “cattle class” on a budget airline. Pilgrims come from all over the world and there is a levelling of status as all partake of the fantasy extravaganza.

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