Having coped very well, physically, with the rigours of the pilgrimage, with a mere few blisters to show for it, I awoke on Tuesday morning feeling very rough, after a somewhat disturbed night. I am still not quite sure why; I suspect I had dehydrated a bit, and seen a bit too much of the sun on the previous afternoon, during the Mass. It had not been bright or hot, so I had not covered my head or ensured I drank lots of water. And then it may have been the addition of having a (small) beer before dinner and two (small) glasses of wine with dinner. Whatever the cause, I felt pretty dreadful and had an upset stomach to boot. What was worse was that I had also wrecked my voice by over-singing in the final miles. The reason that mattered was that I was meant to be teaching and leading the chant for our final High Mass in the crypt of Chartres Cathedral.
Fortunately James Belt and Brother Rosario were quick to learn the double Alleluia, and we all already knew the sequence. We started to learn the Introit (I have a keyboard app on my phone, which was helpful, as I couldn't sing a note to guide them) but ran out of time. For the Mass we were joined by Jamie Bogle, and between us we made a reasonable go of it (though we managed to start the Gloria at the wrong time and had to stop and wait for the Mass to catch up with us - still not quite sure how that happened).
The Mass was sung by Fr Ian Verrier, with Fr Mark Withoos as Deacon, and Fr Gerard Byrne as Sub-Deacon. Fr Withoos preached a powerful sermon on Christ as the Door. A wonderful and fitting end to the pilgrimage.
The crypt at Chartres has some claim to be the oldest Christian shrine, as it is a pre-Christian one! Apparently the Druids had had a revelation and had inscribed an altar with the words virgini pariturae: the virgin who will conceive.... This is one of the wonders of Chartres, and we were very blessed to have a Mass there. (Amongst the other great treasures of the Cathedral are Our Lady's veil and the statue of the Black Madonna, both of which we had time to visit. ) We concluded the Mass, of course, with the Regina Caeli and the great French Marian Hymn, Chez Nous.
After Mass, we were privileged to receive First Blessings from Fr Ian Verrier, one of our chaplains, who was ordained in the FSSP just under a year ago.
Then, it was back on the coach, and back to London, via a train that runs under the sea (What will they think of next?). I have to confess that I slept for a lot of the journey, after my rather restless night; but that did mean I was able to bowl up at my London friends' house in a fit state to be a reasonable guest for the night...
And so ended my eighth (I think) Chartres pilgrimage.
The true highlights, of course, I have not, and cannot, describe: my confession; the reception of Our Lord in Holy Communion; some of the reflections arising from the meditations; some of the conversations with fellow pilgrims. For these, gentle reader, you will have to come to Chartres yourself.
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