We are pilgrims on a journey, we’re companions on the road, we are here to help each other, walk the mile and bear the load.
Richard Gillard’s “The Servant Song”
The Pilgrims’ Way is a prehistoric route that runs between Winchester and Canterbury. When the martyred Arch Bishop, Thomas Becket was canonised in 1173 it is believed that Christians travelled along this path from St. Swithin’s shrine in Winchester to St. Thomas Becket’s shrine 119 miles away in Canterbury. Between 1173 and the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, St. Thomas Becket’s shrine was proclaimed as “after Rome, the chief shrine in Christendom”.
There is a direct route of The Pilgrims’ way that runs from Winchester directly to Canterbury but there is another route that takes two detours from the straight path. The deviated path runs from Winchester, along the North Downs to Sevenoaks where the path heads north to Southwark Cathedral. It then returns to the direct path for a short way until it heads through Cuxton to Rochester where it crosses the River Medway to Rochester Cathedral. The Way then passes to the south of Rochester and heads through Borstal to Burham, Boxley and Detling and then continuing on to Canterbury. This route means that when passing through Borstal, The Pilgrims’ Way passes by St. Matthew’s Church.
Originally, going on a pilgrimage was one of the rare opportunities that poor peasants had to travel very far from their home parish. They had to get written permission from their parish priest and would wear typical pilgrims clothes – a tunic, a heavy cloak and a wide brimmed hat. They travelled very light carrying a wooden stick, a water bottle and a bag for food (a scrip). The pilgrims would look for hospitality along the Way and they carried a “safe-conduct” issued by their parish to confirm they were on a pilgrimage and hopefully help them obtain hospitality and have safe passage.
Today, although we do not need permission from our parish priest to travel and we don’t need “papers” to ensure our safe travels, it is possible to get a “Pilgrims’ Passport” which can be used as a record of the pilgrimage and it also possible to obtain hospitality from some places along the way.
Although the original pilgrims would not have been able to visit St. Matthew’s church even if they had of visited Rochester Cathedral, which dates from 1083, todays Pilgrims are very welcome and we will happily stamp your passport for you