Making my way from home to Lichfield on my pilgrimage in 2019, I went through the city of Worcester where I visited the ancient cathedral; there I was surprised to meet another pilgrim, albeit one who lived in a very different age to our own.
A cathedral guide explained to me how, when repairs were being made to the floor of the nave in the 1980s, the grave had been found of a man who had been buried there in the fifteenth century; interred fully-clothed with a warm cloak and sturdy boots, he also had his long staff alongside him and even the broken pieces of a pilgrim badge, this being made of bone in the shape of a cockle shell.
Research into this remarkable find has led to the suggestion that the grave might have been that of Robert Sutton, a dyer and Bailiff of the city, who also may have been a member of one of its pilgrimage fraternities; Robert died in 1454 and who is known to have requested in his will that he should be buried within the cathedral.
However, what especially fascinated me was that the skeleton had been examined to determine the age and physical condition of the person buried. He had been in his early 60s at the time of his death- quite an achievement for the fifteenth century-but forensic analysis of his bones revealed that he had walked long distances in his life; in particular his shoulder, elbow and hand indicated that the musculature of the right side of his body had been particularly developed, presumably through the action of repeatedly planting his staff as he made his way on his pilgrimages.
As I had also reached my early 60s when I came across The Worcester Pilgrim, as this man has come to be known, I found myself wondering whether my skeleton might also bear the marks of the thousands of miles I had covered? I decided this was surely be the case!
Now, as I prepare for my eighth annual pilgrimage and entering my mid-sixties, my overwhelming emotion is one of being grateful of what I am able to do what I do. Average life-spans have lengthened considerably since the fifteenth century but I am still aware that I am very blessed to enjoy such levels of health and strength.
I also know that I am never alone; the Worcester Pilgrim is, somehow, always at my side. We walk together companionably, he firmly planting his staff close to my modern walking pole, enjoying our pilgrimage together.