My 2023 pilgrimage took me from my home in south Wales to the ancient cathedral city of Wells and the nearby town of Glastonbury, with its distinctive Tor. I then continued to St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, with Gwennap Pit near Redruth marking the end of nearly five weeks of walking.
All of these locations have a special place in the history of the Christian faith in the south-west of England, as well as in the wider British Isles, with the earliest known Christian foundation at Wells dating to the early eight century. Meanwhile, although Glastonbury Abbey became popular with pilgrims in the later medieval period, there is evidence for a small religious community in the area of the Tor at a much earlier date.
However, the legend that Joseph of Arimathea brought Jesus, as a boy, to Glastonbury has very much formed the view of the town and surrounding area as the cradle of the Christian faith in England.
The scenic tidal island of St Michael’s Mount also has a unique history. It too may have been the location of a simple monastery from the eighth century but by the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 it appears to have been a Benedictine priory under the control of the more powerful religious house at Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy. Today, the Mount’s chapel, which dates back to the twelfth century, continues to attract visitors and pilgrims from around the world.
Meanwhile, Gwennap Pit was probably first formed by the collapse of a tin mine, leading to the creation of a semi-natural depression in the ground. This was used by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, as an amphitheatre for outdoor preaching in the later eighteenth century. With a capacity for crowds of several thousand, it has considerable significance in the religious history of Cornwall as well as in the wider story of mining for tin and copper in this area.