Anne Marie Smith and I are just back from a wonderful Columban pilgrimage to Cornwall (21st – 24th September) organized by Frs Bernie McDermott and Pat Sayles. We were a group of 41 people coming from Stockport, Manchester, Birmingham, London and Anne Marie from East Kilbride.

Map of Cornwall

This was a group of Columban supporters, friends and relatives. There were five Columban priests: Dennis Carter, Bernie McDermott, Declan McNaughton, Tom O’Reilly and Pat Sayles and two Columban Sisters: Anne Marie Smith and Kate Midgley. A very lively and friendly group!

Sisters Kate Midgley and Anne Marie Smith

It is now commonly thought that St Columban must have passed through Cornwall on his way from Ireland to mainland Europe. This would have avoided the dangerous route round Land’s End. In the pilgrimage we wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Cornwall – Land of Saints

While on the pilgrimage we realized just how many missionaries from Ireland, Wales and Brittany evangelized and passed through Cornwall.  As somebody said, reading the place names in Cornwall is like reading a litany of the saints – St Eval, St Pirin, St Merryn, St Dennis, St Stephen, St Blazey, St Austell, St Agnes, St Day, St Just, St Mawes – to name but a few…..

Place names – St Columb Minor, St Columb Major, St Columb Road

There are three place names in Cornwall that are believed to be associated with St Columban: St Columb Minor, St Columb Major and St Columb Road.

Mass in St Columb Minor church

The first morning of the pilgrimage we had Mass in the ancient church of St Columb Minor. This was a moving and meaningful experience at many levels.

We were most warmly welcomed by the young Anglican vicar who in a wonderful ecumenical spirit stressed all that unites us when confronted with all the problems the world is facing today.

He also said, this is your church anyway, do whatever you want – and produced some Pre-Reformation communion vessels. It was possibly the first Catholic Mass celebrated in the Church since the Reformation.

  SAM_1251           SAM_1211

Fr Bernie who was the main celebrant of the Mass was also very inclusive. We were joined in the Mass by some of the Anglican congregation, who afterwards served us tea, and some local Catholics.

SAM_1255 Banner received by priest in Bodmin church
Banner received by priest in Bodmin church

St Columban’s route through Cornwall:   River Camel (Padstow) – Bodmin Moor – River Fowey (Fowey – pronounced Foy to rhyme with JOY)

It  is thought that St Columban would have arrived from Ireland to Cornwall’s north coast, to Padstow. In his day there wouldn’t have been any roads so he would have travelled by boat along the Camel river, then walked a bit over Bodmin Moor until he reached the Fowey river which would take him to the south coast of Cornwall and from there to mainland Europe.

SAM_1246 Mouth of River Fowey - next stop Brittany!

Mass in Catholic church of St Mary and St Petroc, Bodmin.

It is thought that Columban would have stayed in the ancient monastery of St Petroc in Bodmin on his journey through Cornwall. In fact the very name Bodmin is derived from the Cornish for “the house of monks”

Again local Catholics joined us for the Mass and a big group served us tea afterwards. Someone said they felt connected with the rest of the country as today there are very few Catholics in Cornwall.

While much has changed in the 1400 years since Columban passed through Cornwall the basic contours of the land remain the same. Being present in the places he once was – imagining him sailing up the River Camel after arriving from Ireland, and  gazing out to sea at the mouth of the River Fowey as he faced his journey to mainland Europe, gave a deeper insight into what must have inspired him to undertake such a journey.

I would like to end with an extract of a final prayer in our liturgy before we left the hotel to return home:

“O God, having come together from our various walks of life and celebrated our shared faith journey these past few days. We wish to praise you for this magnificent world of creation in which you have placed us. To each one of us you have given the precious gift of life. You have given us the power to observe the order, beauty and grandeur of your handiwork. You provide us with the air we breathe, and the food we eat. Unable to understand all that you have done, we marvel at them …….”

By : Sr. Kate Midgley

Served in the Central Leadership of the Missionary Sisters of St. Columban and was missioned in Chile, Peru and China. Kate is presently missioned in Britain.

Categories Reflections