Hey, what kind of bird is this? An eagle! Close. A hawk! Close again. A vulture! Good grief no, try again…it starts with an F. Falcon! Yes. In particular it’s a peregrine [on the board] falcon. I’ll drop dead if anyone knows what peregrine means. It’s a French word, and we have an English word that comes from it…guesses? No? Y’all know the Mayflower, right? Yes, the Pilgrims took it to America. Well, while the Mayflower was sailing to America a baby boy was born. On the ship? Yes. Like, on the ocean? Yes, imagine that. The Pilgrim baby boy was named Peregrine…so what word do we have in English like peregrine? Umm…Pilgrim? Yes, genius! And why’d his parents name him that? Because he was a Pilgrim? Yes. What does a pilgrim do? They go somewhere? Yes, they travel to some particular place. So why would we call this falcon a peregrine falcon? ‘Cause it’s going somewhere? Yes, we might also call it a pilgrim falcon; and what do we say birds do when they go somewhere each year? They migrate! Yes, do they go to different places each year? I think they go to the same place. Yes they do. So a peregrine falcon…migrates. Yes. It travels to…a particular place. Yes.
New topic: where was Jesus crucified? On a hill. Yes, in what city? Beth…Jerusalem! Yes. Well, ever since Christianity got started, people have been going to Jerusalem to see the places where Jesus did things. In the old days people had to travel on foot and by boat to get there. A person traveling from England might be gone from home for a year. Were those people just roaming around, or were they headed somewhere in particular? Somewhere in particular. Yes, which somewhere? Jerusalem. Yes, in the Holy Land. So they were like the falcons. Yes? The falcons went to Jerusalem too? No, I mean both the people and the birds had specific destinations; they didn’t just start walking or flying and see where they’d wind up. So if the migrating falcons were called peregrines, what would you call people making a religious trip to Jerusalem? Umm…pilgrims? Yes, pilgrims. But I thought the Pilgrims just came to America. Yes, but those English people called themselves Pilgrims because they were on a religious journey, too. They thought of America as a New Jerusalem. But the older meaning for ‘pilgrim’ is a Christian going to the Old Jerusalem.
But for most Englishmen, Jerusalem was too far away; so they might make a pilgrimage to Canterbury, a city in England. St. Thomas à Beckett was the Archbishop of Canterbury, and was martyred right in the cathedral. Yes? What’s an arch-bishop? It’s a bishop who has a higher rank than a regular bishop. St. Thomas, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was in charge of all the Catholics in England. By the way, who is our bishop? Macaroni! Uh-uh- it’s Guglielmone, you can learn to say it right. Where’s he live? In Charleston. Yes, so we are in the Diocese of…Charleston. Yes. But we’re also in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, which is headed up by…an…archbishop! Yes, Archbishop Gregory. So who’s a bigger deal: an angel or an archangel? An Archangel! Yes, such as…Gabriel? Yes, and…Michael? Yes, good.
Anyway, people would walk to Canterbury to see where St. Thomas was killed, and pray at his shrine. Yes? What’s a shrine? It’s a special place, usually a chapel or building which contains the body or bones of a saint. Traveling wasn’t safe back then, so pilgrims would journey in groups. There’s an old set of poems about a group of those pilgrims, called the Canterbury Tales. I studied them in high school. I had to memorize the first poem about the people getting ready in the Spring to make the pilgrimage to St. Thomas’ shrine. It says:
“And smale fowles maken melodye, That slepen al the night with open ye…” What’s that? It’s an older kind of English. It says the small birds make melody all night because it’s Springtime, and they are excited. Yes? It sounds weird. Yes, but it sounded normal to the people who spoke that way.
“Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages” Then folks long to go on pilgrimages: they are energized by Spring just like the birds. And how do Catholics call Springtime? Lent! Yes, because the Spring days...lengthen! Yes! Y’all are so smart.
“And specially, from every shires ende of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende…” Many people would plan a pilgrimage to Canterbury. But a few pilgrims might make the big trip…to…Jerusalem! Yes. The Canterbury Tales call those Holy Land pilgrims palmers: “And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes. To ferne halwes, kouthe in sondry londes/ and palmers for to seek strange shores. To distant saints, known in other lands.” Why would they be called palmers? ‘Cause they got palms there? Yes, genius, they’d bring back palms as souvenirs…why? Because of Palm Sunday and all. Yes. Often the palms would be formed into a particular shape…any guesses? A cross? Yes, how did you know? ‘Cause people in church make their palms into crosses. Yes, that’s a pilgrim tradition that we still observe.
Palm Sunday kicks off Holy Week, the biggest week in the Catholic year. Yes? Is it bigger than Christmas? Oh my yes. Holy Week is the last week of...Lent! Yes, and what’s the Sunday after Holy Week? Easter Sunday! Yes. Even today pilgrims to the Holy Land like to be there for Holy Week because it’s such an important week for Christians.
Somebody tell me about the Friday of Holy Week. It’s Good Friday. So tell me about it. Jesus was crucified. Yes, but that was later; start in the morning…he had a nice chat with a Roman guy…Pontius Pilate! Yes, and…well, he said Jesus would get crucified. Yes, more or less. Then the Romans put Jesus and his cross in a jeep? No he had to carry it. Yes, more please. It was heavy and he fell down going up the hill. Yes, what hill? Umm…Calvary. Yes. What’s the other name for the hill…starts with a G…Gethsemane! Good guess, but no. That’s where Jesus prayed on Thursday night. Another hill that starts with a G…O…L…Golgotha! Yes. Doesn’t that sound dreadful? Gol-go-tha. Anything else happen before Jesus got to the top? A lady washed his face with a rag and his picture got on it. Yes, St. Veronica. And then…he was crucified. Yes, and then...he died. Yes, and…no guesses?…they took Jesus down, and then…they buried him. Yes. Well on Good Friday especially, pilgrims, palmers in Jerusalem walk along the streets that Jesus probably walked on that first Good Friday. It’s called the Way of the Cross in English; in Latin we say Via Crucis. People walk a bit, then stop, pray, and remember one of these events that happened to Jesus. Then they walk a bit more, and stop, pray and remember again. Yes? That’s like in church we…stop! Don’t say it yet, genius! You’ll get your chance.
Now how do palmers get to Jerusalem nowadays? They fly? Yes, most of them. It takes a day or two, tops. But centuries ago, many Englishmen might not have the health or money to travel for weeks or months to Jerusalem and walk the Way of the Cross. So they might go to…Canterbury? Yes. But suppose you were too poor or old to even leave your village, but you still “longed to go on pilgrimage”- what could you do instead? OK, genius, tell us. You could go to Stations of the Cross in the church! Yes, why? Because the Stations are like where the people walk in Jerusalem! Yes! Going to Stations during Lent is a way to go on a little pilgrimage. It’s not a physical pilgrimage ’cause we stay in town, but it’s still…a spiritual pilgrimage! Yes!
So if you go to Stations with your parents and you get bored with all the reading, and tired of all the kneeling & genuflecting, think about palmers walking the Via Crucis in Jerusalem. Think about the pilgrims walking to Canterbury. And think about all the other Catholics around the world making a spiritual pilgrimage by attending Stations just like you.
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