Pembrokeshire isn’t pilgrimage country any more. Things were different in the 12th century when Pope Calixtus II made a special case of St David’s – Pembrokeshire’s pocket cathedral – and declared: “Two pilgrimages to St David’s is equal to one to Rome, and three pilgrimages to one to Jerusalem.”
St David’s is still wonderfully remote, perched on the western edge of Wales, only a few miles from the cliffs that provided the cathedral’s purple, pink and grey stone.
I’ve been going to Pembrokeshire several times a year, ever since I was born, in 1971. At first, my family stayed in Manorbier Castle, an enchanting, rambling Norman building wrapped around a low hill that overlooked a pebble and sand beach flanked by a neolithic cromlech.
Then, in the early 1980s, my parents bought a cottage a few miles away, near the village of St Twynnells, and it is round there that, every year, I make my own daily, mini-bicycle pilgrimages to the nearby churches.
My bicycle pilgrimages never take more than an hour. That means churches within a five-mile range – and there are only half a dozen within that range. And yet that handful of churches never bores me. Their familiarity is comforting; much more comforting is their emptiness. In 25 years of these mini-pilgrimages, I’ve found other people in these churches fewer than 10 times.
I begin with the Norman tower churches that crest a ridge overlooking the sea: St Twynnells and St Petrox. Plain, four-square naves plus straight, crenellated towers: the simplest, robust Christianity made limestone.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection