Chartres is a traditional pilgrimage, where all masses are celebrated in the Extraordinary Form. This is a personal account and view of our pilgrimage to Chartres 2015 by Carol and Ken Reis.
Off once again on the Chartres Pilgrimage! Our hotel in Paris is only 300 metres from Notre Dame so we are able to amble over to the Cathedral at about 6:30 am. The Etranger (Foreigners) lorry is about half full with bags by this stage but within an hour it is almost full to overflowing. We stay outside the Cathedral for Mass, owing to my claustrophobia. Many people are still arriving, the atmosphere is quiet and thoughtful. One thing we do notice is the presence of three armed guards who roam round the site throughout the Mass. They focus on unattended rucksacks and are quick to identify their owners. We have not noticed them in previous years – is this a sign of the times?
|Notre Dame Paris|
By 9:00 am we are on our way out of Paris. We always come under the Normandy region of France. Of the English speaking pilgrims there are about 40 of us in the Adult Chapter (Our Lady of Walsingham) and 30 odd in the Juventutem Chapter (St Alban), chaplain Fr Alexander Redman. This being our 6th Pilgrimage we recognise many familiar faces and it is lovely to meet up again. The Adult Chapter, (Chaplain Fr Martin Edwards) is a wonderfully diverse mix of people, which includes families with young children, pilgrims from Sweden and America plus a core of pilgrim veterans who have been returning for many years. It takes about an hour and a half to reach the outskirts of Paris. We are ushered across roads, marshals and Gendarmes keeping the traffic at bay. Needless to say we are not a welcome sight to the Parisian motorists and there is a constant honking of horns and revving of engines as we cross the roads as frustrated drivers give vent to their impatience!
It is a three hour walk to our first stop – called the 'Apple Stop' because you can help yourself to a welcome apple. It is only a short stop so if the queues to the Portaloos are too long then the chances are your Chapter will have left, so you have to catch up as you go along! We continue walking until lunch and after a 45 minute stop are off again. During the afternoon we walk with the Chavagnes International College Scouts Chapter, the Chaplain being Fr Bede Rowe, who was our Parish Priest at Warminster - we sing a lot about a bear! We walk mainly through woods eventually arriving at the last stop before the climb up to the campsite. It is literally all uphill for the last few miles and it can seem to go on forever, especially when you already feel exhausted! Knowing that the campsite is at the top though is enough to spur you on. This year the weather was just about perfect for walking, generally neither too hot nor too cold. Occasionally we had bursts of sunshine which did make it feel very hot – normally when we were sat having Mass or during breaks. During the day we pray five Rosaries, sometimes singing them, in English, French and Latin. We also listen to meditations and have short periods of silent reflection.
We reach our first campsite – Choisel at about 8:00 pm and then comes the fun of searching for our rucksacks and tent among the pile of Etranger baggage. Luckily this year it doesn’t take too long. As our Chapters are towards the front of the pilgrimage we are able to claim prime spots in the Etranger area for pitching our tents. We soon have our pop up tent erected, (no sleeping in the communal tents for us as like most people we value a bit of privacy at the end of the day) and our sleeping bags and bed rolls laid out invitingly inside. Then it is off to the kitchen area to get some soup and a roll. We are so tired by this stage that we are soon ensconced in our sleeping bags and attempting to sleep – not always easy as all the tents are very close together, and noise carries especially the sound of loud snorers!
We are up at 4:45 am the next day, slightly ahead of reveille time so that we can beat the queues to the portaloos and collect the wonderful hot chocolate and a roll from the kitchen. We are off at 6:30 am – it is a pleasant morning and everyone is in good spirits. As it is early we walk quietly through the villages – no singing or talking through the megaphones allowed. Mass is to be held in the middle of the day and this year it is in a different location. Rumours abound that it is take place in a racecourse and we could even get to sit on proper seats under cover. Alas this turns out to be far from the truth! Sure we are near the racecourse, next door in fact, we can see the grandstand but we are corralled into an open area, probably the car park, where the hard ground is littered with small pieces of broken green glass, we pass the splendid portable alter on the way in but for some reason to us it somehow does not feel like a fitting place to hold Mass. We end up sitting and kneeling under the hot sun as there is no shade available, using bags or items of clothing to protect our knees from the ground. Once the Mass is ended we get time to eat before we move off again.
We continue along country lanes, across fields and some tarmacked roads. The scenery is very rural and open and at times we can see the pilgrimage winding its way as far as the eye can see in each direction. There is more of a penitential feel to the pilgrimage today and we are encouraged by our spiritual leaders to take advantage of the opportunity to go to confession whilst walking along. We pray the five Rosaries and listen to further meditations and talks. There is one point on the second day where, if the weather is good, the two spires of Chartres Cathedral can be seen in the distance. It is an uplifting site especially if you are on the pilgrimage for the first time. Today we are lucky, the weather is kind and eager eyes soon spot them. Eventually we arrive at the campsite at Gas. It is 8:00 pm and as we are further back in the pilgrimage the best camping spots have been taken, so we are reduced to pitching our tent on a slope. This results in us sliding down the tent and hitting our rucksacks so we wake up frequently throughout the night to push ourselves back up! It is the last night in the tent so we do not care too much!
|Camp site at Gas|
We wake up to the pitter patter of rain on the tent roof, it is about 4:30 am. We do not have to get up quite so early as we are not leaving the campsite until near 8:00 am. We have our last welcome drink of chocolate and take down our sodden tent. It is quite a hike from the tent to the kitchen area and back, especially when one feels like cutting off their little toes because they hurt so much! We watch as bleary eyed youngsters, some hobbling, make their way back and forth around the campsite. The rain has all but stopped but there is a light mist in the air.
Having walked about 25 miles on each of the two previous days, today is not so long, being only 15 miles. It is not so much the distance though, it is more about the length of time it takes to complete each day, that takes its toll. 'Only' is probably the wrong word to use with regard to the mileage as our bodies are very tired by this stage. We break the time down into hours and concentrate in just getting through one hour at a time. The bulk of the walking is done before lunchtime and we know that after lunch it is but 5 miles to the Cathedral. The sun is out as we eat our last meal at the last stop and get the opportunity to queue up for the portaloos for the last time, what a thought!
We are now on the outskirts of Chartres and the Cathedral is getting ever closer. The funny thing is that once we get into the town we lose sight of it completely and we only see it again when we actually get there. We walk up the hill to the Cathedral with an air of anticipation, it tends to be a slow walk up, we show our respects as we walk past the war memorial, the men take off their hats and we offer silent prayers. Then the strains of 'Jubilate Deo' start to ring out as we now know that we are almost there, we turn the corner and there are the spires looming above us. Everyone is singing loudly, and we can feel the sense of joy, tempered with relief all around us - we have made it! It is just a short walk now to the square and the Cathedral.
We are outside for the Mass this year partly because we are towards the back of the pilgrimage but also because there is restoration work going on in the Nave and so the seating is restricted. We watch the procession of flags and priests and Bishops make their way into the Cathedral. The Mass is broadcast on a large screen so we are able to fully participate even though we are outside. After the Mass the pilgrimage always traditionally finishes with the singing of 'Chez Nous', sang rousingly with perhaps a lump in one's throat.
So why do we go on the pilgrimage? We would not call ourselves particularly spiritually minded, indeed we tend to be very practical and down to earth. We find it virtually impossible to explain what we experience on the pilgrimage to others as there is nothing really to compare it to in our everyday lives. We just get the sense that taking part in the pilgrimage 'makes our souls happy' and well that is enough for us, so all being well we will be returning again next year.