Eyewitness: Pilgrimage in York, England

In honour of the Martyr Saint Margaret Clitherow, Wife and Mother

Essay by Michael Durnan

Photo Credits:

Michael Durnan

Joseph Shaw


IN RECENT YEARS, THE LATIN MASS SOCIETY OF ENGLAND AND WALES has held an annual national pilgrimage to the northern English city of York, the county town of Yorkshire. The pilgrimage is held in honour of the great English Catholic Martyr, St. Margaret Clitherow. I attended this pilgrimage for the first time in 2013.

AT THE TIME, MY EXPERIENCE AND KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRADITIONAL LATIN MASS WAS SKETCHY and limited, but I had a firm knowledge and grasp of St. Margaret Clitherow’s story.

THE CHOICE OF DAY FOR THE PILGRIMAGE COULD HARDLY HAVE BEEN MORE SUITABLE as it was held on the 4th of May, the Feast of The English Catholic Martyrs.

YORK IS ONE OF ENGLAND’S MOST HISTORIC AND PICTURESQUE CITIES. The Pilgrimage started with Solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form at St. Wilfrid’s, which stands in the shadow of its more-famous, ancient and impressive neighbouring church, York Minster.



EVERYTHING ABOUT THE MASS WAS BEAUTIFUL, DIGNIFIED AND SPIRITUALLY UPLIFTING; from the accomplished singing of The Rudgate Singers, the vestments of the clergy to the perfumed fragrance of the incense liberally wafted and dispensed by the servers.

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TIME SEEMED TO GO QUICKLY, though the Mass was nearly ninety minutes in duration; I rarely found my attention span being fatigued. Even though at times I found following the order of the mass a mystifying and baffling experience — because of my unfamiliarity with the Latin, the difference in structure from the Ordinary Form and it being a longer duration in time — I was still entranced and moved by its beauty and depth.

MY MIND RARELY WANDERED, nor did it become distracted by more humdrum thoughts or earthly cares.

ONE LADY WHO WAS VISITING FROM PERTH, AUSTRALIA, happened to enter St Wilfrid’s Church just as the Gospel was about to be sung, was amazed at the sight of a Traditional Mass, saying that nothing like that ever took place in her home diocese.

THE SIGHT OF PILGRIMS PROCESSING THROUGH THE BUSY STREETS OF YORK past Saturday shoppers always draws people’s attention and is an important public witness to the Catholic Faith.

After Mass, the congregation gathered outside to process its way through the historic streets of York to English Martyrs Church via one of its most ancient and picturesque thoroughfares, ‘The Shambles.’

The procession was headed by young men carrying a statue of St. Margaret Clitherow, and we stopped outside the Saint’s house which is preserved as a Shrine and place of prayer, though we did not enter as our numbers were too large to be accommodated comfortably.

So, we paused outside and prayed out loud amid the curious but respectful shoppers and tourists. I felt rather self-conscious, and not to say out of my comfort zone as a Catholic, to be engaging in such as public act of worship and devotion amidst the crowds on a busy Saturday in a major tourist destination but I suppose that is part of the reason for undertaking a public pilgrimage to bear witness for our Faith.

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ANY CONCERNS OR SELF-CONSCIOUS PRE-OCCUPATIONS WERE SOON DISPELLED when I thought of that last terrible journey that St. Margaret Clitherow undertook, barefoot through the streets of York that would end in a slow and painful martyrdom. My ordeal was nothing compared to hers and anyway, we met with no hostility or ridicule, just puzzled, but respectful, silent gazes and curiosity.

OUR JOURNEY PRESSED ONWARDS ACROSS THE OUSE BRIDGE where a plaque has been placed by York Civic Trust to commemorate the spot where St. Margaret Clitherow was so cruelly martyred in 1586.

WE ARRIVED THERE FOR BENEDICTION and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The Rudgate Singers once again sang and this time it was Adoremus in Aeternum by Gregorio Allegri. The congregation recited the Prayer for England which opens with: O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down upon England, thy dowry, and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in thee… We concluded with the singing of the rousing martyrs’ hymn, Faith of Our Fathers, by Frederick William Faber.

IT WAS A DAY OF FIRSTS FOR ME – attending a Solemn Sung High Mass of The Extraordinary Form and my first walking procession through the streets since I was a young boy. Unknown to me then, the priest who celebrated the mass that day was Canon Amaury Montjean of the Institute of Christ The King Sovereign Priest, who is based at The Dome of Home in New Brighton.  When the ICKSP took over the pastoral care of St. Walburge’s Church in Preston in late September of 2014,  my York pilgrimage would inspire me to attend their opening Solemn High Mass. I have since joined its choir and sing there every Sunday and on major Feast Days.

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