1000 Years of Poetry and the Contemplative Tradition
Join Dr. Michael Griffith, in an exclusive pilgrimage that explores the many creative expressions of the sacred and allows you to connect with them in their historical setting.
This journey is open to all. There is no faith requirement – simply an openness to impressions of the sacred in poetry, art and nature. Each day starts in a prayerful, meditative manner with ample additional time to share our understandings and experiences.
The adventure begins in London on the site where Chaucer’s pilgrims set out in 1390. Next comes Canterbury, with its Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey, and its legacy of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. From here we move to Norwich Cathedral and the tiny St Julian’s Church. The focal point of our pilgrimage is Little Gidding, made famous by T.S Eliot, home to a small, Anglican community in 1626 as a sanctuary in an age of religious turmoil. We also visit the stunning Salisbury Cathedral, home to Britain’s tallest spire. From there we travel to Tintern Abbey, via the small village of East Coker where T.S. Eliot’s ashes are interred. There will also be an opportunity to engage with Wordsworth’s quest for stillness and its links with monastic practices and the sacredness of nature. The climax of our pilgrimage occurs at St Bueno’s College set in rural North Wales. This is where Gerard M. Hopkins wrote his greatest poetry. Via Stratford, Shakespeare’s birthplace we return to London, and will view the art works in Tate Britain and the National Gallery that inform the poets we have studied.
Michael Griffith has been teaching English, Australian and American Literature at Universities since the 1970s. He began at Sydney University and has recently retired as Associate Professor at Australian Catholic University. His deepest interest is in the way that literature and the arts can deepen an understanding and experience of the sacred. His PhD (1981) was on the Australian poet Francis Webb within the context of mid twentieth century culture. This was published by Harper Collins in 1991 as God’s Fool, The Life and Poetry of Francis Webb (still available on-line).
He was awarded a Teaching Excellence Award in 2016, a Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award in 2017 under the category of Mission Excellence; in 2017 he was also awarded an ACU Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning. Michael has for decades been the lead organizer of many international conferences on the Sacred in Literature and the Arts. His most recent conference held, before covid, in Sydney in October 2019, was entitled “Sacred Silence in Literature and the Arts” with Fr Laurence Freeman OSB as keynote speaker. Michael has also been a regular tour leader for students completing The Literature and Drama of New York.
I am truly excited to have this opportunity to take a group of like-minded pilgrims to some of the most significant and enduring expressions of contemplative traditions in England. I have been teaching, researching and writing in this field for nearly half a century and it is a gift to be able to share my enthusiasm for the ways our spiritual journeys can be deepened through contact with the arts, speaking to us from their historical environment and natural settings. I intend to share with you what I have found, and learn from your insights. My wish is for us on this journey to deepen our collective understanding of the many creative expressions of the sacred- in poetry, prose, art and architecture. I plan to provide a prayerful, meditative start to each day with ample additional time to share our understanding and experience. This journey is open to all. There is no faith requirement – simply an openness to impressions of the sacred in poetry, art and nature.
Dr. Michael Griffith
Founder of the “Sacred in Literature and the Arts” network (Sydney Australia)
Welcome to London! Your pilgrimage begins with an important welcome meeting at 6 pm. After the meeting, we will head out for a welcome dinner for you to get to know your fellow pilgrims.
Today includes a short overview of the sacred limbs and roots of the contemplative English literary tradition (Virginia Woolf, Kathleen Raine, Christina Rossetti, William Shakespeare and William Blake). As a wonderful introduction to the inner world of London, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is a great place to start.
Following in the footsteps of Chaucer (1342-1400), we will be having lunch at the Medieval George Inn located next to the site of the Tabard Inn in Southwark where the Pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales set off from London. This will be followed by a guided tour around the South Bank Southwark Anglican Cathedral (first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086), closely connected to the times of Chaucer, Shakespeare and to sacred English literary traditions.
Today we will contexualize Shakespeare through a guided tour of the Globe Theatre and consider his contribution to the contemplative tradition. Lunch on the South Bank will be followed by brief inductions to two religious traditions grounded in Contemplative practice: The Benedictines and the Quakers. In the afternoon we will visit the Meditatio Centre (Centre for the World Community of Christian Meditation) for an introduction to the English Contemplative Tradition. Then we will visit the Westminster Quaker Meeting house.
Today, in the footprints of the original Pilgrims, we journey to Canterbury.
This morning you will visit Canterbury Cathedral (A.D. 597 / rebuilt 1070), England’s oldest Cathedral, and St Augustine’s Abbey (A.D. 598). Here we will explore Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, especially the tales of The Parson and The Plowman & The Wife of Bath & the Conclusion. We will also visit the shrine of Thomas à Becket (1119- 1170) and connect this with T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral”.
Norwich has a central place on our pilgrimage as the home of one of the greatest English women mystics, Julian of Norwich (1343-1416). After a guided tour of Norwich, we will visit Julian’s anchoress’s cell in a corner of the churchyard of St Julian’s Church and the Anglican Norwich Cathedral, begun in 1096. Norwich is also the site for a number of poems by one of Australia’s greatest religious poets, Francis Webb. Today and early tomorrow we will explore a few of his reference points: The Church of St Peter Mancroft, The Stranger’s Hall and Costessey with Our Lady and St Walstan’s Roman Catholic Church in the Wensum Valley.
On the way to our next destinations, Cambridge and Little Gidding we will stop at Ely Cathedral, regarded as one of England’s most beautiful, set in agricultural land next to the small city of Ely. This is one of the most ancient sacred sites in England, first established in AD672 when St Eheldreda, daughter of the Anglo Saxon King Anna, built an abbey church here.
Today we visit the tiny Anglican church in the manor of Little Gidding, home to a small informal spiritual community of believers in the mid 1600s led by Nicholas Ferrar, close friend of poet George Herbert. This church and the legacy of its community was the inspiration for “Little Gidding”, the cornerstone of T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets, one of the greatest English contemplative poems of the 20th Century. It is here that we will participate in the Annual T.S. Eliot festival with distinguished speakers and readers.
Today we will revisit London for a day. We will visit Saint Stephen’s Anglican Church in Gloucester Road, where T.S. Eliot was church warden for 25 years. Then we will spend some time in Tate Britain, viewing Constable and Turner’s famous Salisbury Cathedral paintings, William Blake’s “Chaucers Canterbury Pilgrims” and the new exhibition of poet/ artists Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. We will then explore the physical landscape of some of William Blake’s poems. This will include a viewing of Blake’s house in Molton Street and the environment where he lived around Lambeth, where a group of young contemporary mosaic artists honour the continuing presence of Blake’s vision.
Today we will visit St Andrews Church, Bemerton Parish, and The Old Rectory . This was the Parish Church of George Herbert (1593 to 1633) one of England’s most revered 16th Century mystical poets and priests of the Church of England. It was on his deathbed that Herbert sent Nicholas Ferrar the manuscript of his book The Temple, asking him to publish the poetry if it might “turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul.” “If not, let him burn it; for I and it are less than the least of God’s mercies”. Ferrar published the book in 1633 and it has remained in print ever since.
Today there will be a guided tour of Salisbury, followed by a visit to England’s 800 year old place of worship, Salisbury Cathedral, completed between 1220 and 1258. We will view its famous George Herbert window and other current exhibitions. Here you may also climb the tallest spire in England. Afterwards you may take part in the George Herbert Walk from Salisbury Cathedral to Lower Bemerton. Herbert walked this path regularly to listen to the music in the Cathedral.
Today we will visit the village of East Coker, from which T.S. Eliot named the title of the second of his Four Quartets. This is also the village from which Eliot’s ancestors emigrated to America in the 1660s and is now the place where T.S. Eliot is buried. We will then travel on to Tintern Abbey, the inspirational source for William Wordsworth’s contemplative poem “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798”.
Today is a rest day with an optional walk from Tintern Abbey along the river Wye into Wordsworth country. Today will also be an opportunity today to prepare ourselves for our 2 day retreat focusing on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins at St Buenos in North Wales, which starts on Friday evening.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), England’s most innovative contemplative poet of the 19th Century, lived and studied at St Buenos from 1874 to 1878. Here Hopkins wrote some of his finest poems in response to the landscape and history around St Buenos. These include “The Wreck of the Deutschland”, “Pied Beauty”, God’s Grandeur” and “The Windhover”. This will be a wonderful opportunity to connect with the sources of Hopkins’s inspiration, both in the environment and in the contemplative practices he was studying at St Buenos. The retreat is described as follows:
‘A retreat for those interested in prayerful exploration of the relationship between the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The retreat consists of a conversation between the retreatant and God. It involves periods of silence, a general introduction to the Spiritual Exercises together with their overall structure and dynamic, with specific attention to key meditations and contemplations. Selected Hopkins poems will be suggested as a kind of lectio divina for each stage of the Exercises. This is not an individually guided retreat but an opportunity will be available to meet with a spiritual director’.
These retreat days are an opportunity for us all to digest and connect more deeply with all the rich impressions that our pilgrimage has brought to our spirits.
This is the third retreat day which will finish after lunch at St Buenos. In the afternoon, we will travel to Stratford on Avon to deepen our appreciation of William Shakespeare’s part in the English contemplative tradition. Our journey will briefly by-pass the house Burnt Norton the title poem of the first of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. This house is now in private hands so can only be viewed from the outside.
National Gallery: Artistic Closure of 1000 years of Contemplative Tradition; guided tour of the contemplative highlights of British and European art from 1023-2023, highlighting core themes of our literary pilgrimage. There may be a concluding visit to The Meditatio Centre either today or tomorrow. Depending on availability the evening will be given to a concert at St Martin in the Fields.
This is the last day of the Pilgrimage. Enjoy an unstructured day in London, but join us for lunch again at the George Inn in Southward if that suits your plans. We trust you have had a wonderful experience.
13 nights in 4 star hotels
2 nights at St Beuno’s Silent Retreat
Includes hotel taxes, tips, porterage and service charges (where applicable)
1 welcome dinner with wine
1 farewell dinner with wine
Touring by private, air-conditioned coach.
Free Wi-Fi (where available)
CATHEDRALS: Southwark Anglican, Salisbury, Ely, Norwich, Canterbury
CHURCHES AND ABBEYS: Bemerton Parish Church, Tintern Abbey, St John’s Church, Little Gidding, Lady Chapel, Canterbury St Augustines, Quaker Meeting House, Meditatio Centre