Turning Tourists into Visitors and Visitors into Pilgrims

15th November 2019

However you arrive at a cathedral next year you will be able to come on foot, thanks to a collaboration between the British Pilgrimage Trust and the Association of English Cathedrals.

The project, to mark 2020 Year of Cathedrals, Year of Pilgrimage, will ensure there is a pilgrimage route for every Church of England cathedral taking in established wayfarer routes, other places of faith, spiritual pathways and lesser known pilgrim ways.

2020 brings together a remarkable number of individual cathedral anniversaries, from the 850th anniversary of Becket at Canterbury to the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Coventry.

It will also see a number of new pilgrimage routes opened and established including the Northern Saints Trails that explores the North East as the Christian crossroads of the British Isles.

It is these initiatives that have inspired the cathedral pilgrimage project launched this month by Dr Guy Hayward of the British Pilgrimage Trust and the ‘Britain’s Holiest Places’ and ‘Naked Hermit’ author, Dr Nick Mayhew Smith, in collaboration with each Church of England cathedral.

Each cathedral will have a route available to its visitors, offering one day options to two weeks and beyond in some cases. Most routes, such as the 35-mile St Alban Pilgrim Way from St Paul’s Cathedral that opened in June, offer “green” public transport options to make them more environmentally sustainable.

All the routes are available to download onto a digital map app and it is hoped more will be added throughout 2020.

Guy Hayward said:

“This project is about creating a whole new way of engaging with cathedrals for everyone, whether or not they have been into a cathedral before.

“It turns cathedrals into more than just tourist places by turning tourists into visitors and visitors into pilgrims.

“And cathedrals are, in some way, holy magnets: they draw you towards them, most obviously in a visual sense as they are often the only thing you can see on the horizon.

“Cathedrals are the ultimate symbols of destination,” he added.

The routes which can be found on the Trust’s website include long established ways such as Salisbury, Winchester, Canterbury, Lichfield, Chester, and Hereford Cathedrals, as well as lesser known pathways: Worcester Cathedral along the river; a pilgrimage to Durham following the final leg of the St Cuthbert’s Community’s 10th Century journey carrying the saint’s body to its final resting place; the six mile route to Guildford following the Old Pilgrim’s Way from Winchester to Canterbury; Liverpool’s route that encounters both the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals.

Routes in Birmingham and Manchester reflect their diverse communities too by encountering Mosques, Jewish Synagogues and other holy places along the way.

Guy said:

“The British Pilgrimage Trust believes that pilgrimage in Britain today should attempt to ‘reinvent the wheel’ to transform the medieval tradition into a modern practice.

“We want to make pilgrimage a spiritual practice available for everyone to bring their own beliefs,” he added.

Year of Pilgrimage 2020 GBP

Photo: copyright William Parsons


Adrian Dorber, chair of the Association of English Cathedrals and the Dean of Lichfield said:

“2020 brings together a remarkable number of individual cathedral anniversaries and initiatives that will help tell Britain’s story – past and present – and offer a creative and positive way to look to the future.

“We want to be able to offer our visitors a new way of arriving, a new way of experiencing and engaging with our cathedrals, highlighting the importance of spiritual, mental and physical well-being,’ he said.

Dr Nick Mayhew-Smith stressed the importance of the project in connecting people to their nearby holy places.

He said;

“A one-day pilgrimage is perfect for people who live locally to approach their cathedral in a new way. All holy places arise from the love and devotion of local people, these are places that bring a community together to celebrate shared values and history.”