We found ourselves as pilgrims at Govan Old on the 19th of May, exactly 130 years since the current church was dedicated. A wonderful building, the site dates back to the 9th century, an early point of pilgrimage, Govan Old houses a sarcophagus associated with the 6th century Scottish Saint Constantine as well as other intricately carved stones dating from the 9-11th century, commemorating those who ruled the Kingdom of Strathclyde.
The conference – Pilgrims and Pilgrimage: sights and sounds of the sacred, organised by the University of Glasgow – set up a fascinating dialogue between ways that pilgrimage is experienced, interpreted, shared and carried forward. The spiritual element of pilgrimage whether religious or secular was clearly felt, the importance of the inner journey came to the fore, the physical journey became a medium, a space to convene with oneself, with place, with human history. Journeys moved around the globe, from the Celts to the present day, through wellness and illness, through exploration towards enlightenment. It was fascinating to encounter such diverse work, from artists’ installations to a performance of liturgical and historic text set to organ music. Ideas, themes, even phrases, resounded through all the works, and throughout the day.
I was happy to be part of it and to share a new work: a pamphlet-length poem about a journey to the idea of North and the Arctic circle. It is based on a 550km route I cycled in 2015 and incorporates Norse mythology in a contemporary Norwegian landscape. I’m working on a final edit then will send it out to find a publisher. The conference took me back to ideas I was exploring during my art college days, namely physical and spiritual journeys; my thesis was on The Voyage of St. Brendan in the Immrama Tradition (early Irish Voyage tales). Sometimes you need to go back to move forward.