Rorate Caeli

More about Chartres

The Chartres Pilgrimage is complete for another year, and the pilgrims have a chance to recover, upload their photographs, and blog about it. Counter Cultural Father was there; the official photos are available; I've had a problem with most of mine (cough), so I'll be pinching other people's; these are from Notre Dame de Chrétienté, the organisers.

It is quite simply the biggest event of the traditional Catholic calendar. Depending on where you start from, the Camino to Compostella is likely to be a lot longer, but the Chartres Pilgrimage is a single, huge movement of people on the same pilgrimage, attending the same Masses, blessed together at the beginning and the end. The sense of solidarity with so many thousands of other pilgrims is extraordinary. We fill every inch of Notre Dame de Paris at the beginning, and overflow into the square in front of Notre Dame de Chartres at the end.

For various reasons (including economic ones, I suspect) numbers have fallen in recent years; I think this is an event which should be supported with more vigour internationally. One of the founding organisers of the Australian 'Christus Rex' pilgrimage said to me that the it was valuable to have an event each year which acted as a 'gathering of the tribe' for the Traditionalist community in Australia. The Chartres Pilgrimage does that for France, but also for the whole world. Traditional Catholics need an opportunity to meet others from other parishes and nations, served by different orders or dioceses, and sustained by distinct traditions of popular piety, to sing together, to share experiences, to grow in mutual understanding and respect.

There is something uniquely and wonderfully Catholic about the pilgrimage. The different national flags and banners in honour of the patron saints of the different groups, the variety of songs and devotions, all united in one great religious act. In what other context, than a Catholic one, could one see a German flag the size of a football pitch (so it seemed) march across the French countryside, not only in peace, but in solidarity with a French pilgrimage and for the conversion of France?

I seem to have a particular kind of luck with the Chartres Pilgrimage: I've been twice, and it has been exceptionally hot each time. In between, last year, it rained. So my abiding memories of the Pilgrimage remain tinged with baking heat, interspersed with the blessed shade of the woods, which we walk through a lot, but not all, of the time. The keynote of this year's pilgrimage was exhaustion: I didn't strain my muscles, or get lots of blisters, or even heat stroke, but I just felt, and in fact to an extent still feel, too tired to move. By the second afternoon I started to notice groups of pilgrims dropping out at each medical post, manned by the Order of Malta first aid teams, where they could be picked up and ferried onwards. The pilgrimage may be demanding, but they are there to help if you really need it.

The self-inflicted suffering of the Pilgrimage is a guarantee of its seriousness. Yes, it is hugely rewarding, even at the human level, it is great fun, you meet lots of great people, learn lots of songs, and have really earned a nice meal and a drink by the end. But few people would do this to themselves for those kinds of benefits. It is a spiritual event for a spiritual goal, and the suffering, which is perfectly real, and shared, is part of what we can offer to 'le bon Dieu' in gratitude and in supplication, in union with the sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion. This is the most important kind of solidarity, after all: solidarity with Him.

For (I think) only the second time ever, we had Mass in Notre Dame in Paris, and not just the Pilgrims' blessing; the blessing by an auxiliary bishop of Paris followed Mass. This makes sense in terms of the itinerary, and in every other way, and I hope it becomes a permanent feature of the pilgrimage, even though we used the strange modern altar instead of the historic High Altar, and had a Missa Cantata rather than a Solemn Mass (in the presence of 200 priests!): the organisers have proved themselves masters at incremental rapprochement with the hierarchy, and this is something to build on. Before the Mass for all the pilgrims, priests say private Masses in the side chapels from a very early hour; I saw some finishing last time I was there.

Mass on the second day was a Solemn Mass in a field, with the very impressive portable sanctuary which they use. This year my group was outside Chartres Cathedral for the final Mass - we filled the square as well as the Cathedral with people - and saw the Solemn Mass, celebrated by Fr John Berg, Superior General of the FSSP, on an enormous screen outside. As in Paris, the local Bishop seems to be participating in the proceedings with increasing enthusiasm, blessing us as he went in and came out again.

The British Chapters walked (by arrangement) next to the Australian Chapter, which doesn't come every year, but we had dinner together afterwards, and after spending the night in Chartres we had Mass in the Cathedral crypt. We had the use of the biggest crypt chapel, that of the ancient Shrine of Our Lady Sous Terre ('under ground'), where Our Lady's shirt is also preserved. For the first time we were able to get the singers together (just about!) to make possible a Solemn Mass, celebrated by Fr Mark Withoos of the PCED, which was wonderful.

The British Chapters are very well supplied with priests: we had four (Fr Withoos, Fr Andrew Goodman, Fr Gerard Byrne, and Fr Martin Edwards), not counting the British chaplains of the Chavagnes International College chapter (an English-speaking school in the Vendee), Fr Bede Rowe and  Fr Alexander Redman, plus Fr Anthony Mary of the Sons of the Holy Redeemer, all of whom were nearby most of the Pilgrimage, and Fr Armand de Malleray FSSP, who is based in Reading, England, who joined us from time to time. We also had two FSSP Seminarians with us, Alexander Stuart from Denton and James Mawdsley from Wigratsbad. Surprisingly, many French chapters didn't have their own chaplains, I suppose their priests can't get away from their apostolates at the weekend so easily.

The Chartres Pilgrimage is unique, and I recommend it to everyone. It is something to experience once, if that's all you can do, though many find themselves coming back year after year. This year the Latin Mass Society sponsored ten places, cutting the price by £100; I hope that in this and in other ways we can build up numbers. But we'd like to see more pilgrims from all over Europe, and the world; currently non-French groups make up only about 10% of the pilgrims. So put this in your diary: Pentecost weekend next year, Friday to Monday, is 18th to 20th May 2013. Maybe it'll be a little cooler!

In the meantime, come to 
Walsingham, our walking Pilgrimage is 24 to 26 August 2012

For American readers, you can do the Pilgrimage for Restoration to Auriesville, New York, September 28-30; 

in Australia, the Christus Rex Pilgrimage is 25th to 28th October 2012. 

I know there are others too in other countries (I'd be interested in links to their websites, in fact). In Medieval Europe pilgrims were everywhere; let us restore this tradition, and convert our once-Christian countries back to the Faith.


  1. You have to love Chartres. The revolutionaries wanted to tear it down to use its walls as paving bricks. It was burnt down or torn down as many as 18 times just to rise again.

    I have been there and felt its almost silk-smooth columns from almost a thousand years of pilgrims. It's well is as deep as the spire is high. I met an elderly French man who has spent his entire adult life explaining the rich, almost inexplicable, mysteries and treasures that engulf Chartres.

    It is, without doubt, the most profound Cathedral in the world.

    Too bad they use Bugnini's silly mass in those walls that were built for "The most beautiful thing this side of heaven"!

    Would those builders "on the great plain" (in the words of Bergman), toiled for generations to create a structure for a "banal, on the spot" (in the words of then Ratzinger)? Because the Cathedral was built for the liturgy. We must remember that.

  2. Peterman12:24 PM

    Not only do they use it Malta but on one of the back alters last year when I was there, there was a guy in tights and some sort of boots performing some sort of service. There was a sign that instructed people to be quiet out of respect for whatever it is that court jester was doing back there. C'est bizarre.

    The other thing that jumped out at me was the heads of some of the statues were smashed off I assume by revolutionary vermin

  3. Jason C.3:05 PM

    I understand the urge to get international people involved in Chartres, i.e., it's good to experience the sort of Ur-traditional pilgrimage of the modern age. But shouldn't those who've done it from abroad try to take this pilgrimage back home with them?

    In other words, get your own traditional pilgrimage. Not that it can't be both/and--heck, if you can afford it, do it!--but I would hate to think that all the inspiration Chartres provides year after year isn't flowing over into the other churches of the world. The people that participate in Chartres from abroad are just the sort who could get something similar going in their own country.

    I'm thinking especially of the Pilgrimage for Restoration in New York, U.S.A., which I believe is a direct off-shoot of this.

  4. Wills3:09 PM

    What is the purpose of carrying political-nationalistic banners in the pilgrimage?

    Whether someone is from France, Germany, or the USA is of no interest to me. It seems as though people care more about their country of origin than the Catholic Church, which transcends all peoples, languages and cultures.

  5. Political-Nationalistic banners? Hardly, the are National or regional flags, in fact. Patriotism is still a Christian virtue, as long as it is constrained by our love for our ultimate Patria in Heaven.

  6. Jason C.: yes of course we should be inspired to create our own national pigrimages, and that is exactly what is happening, and that's why I've included links to US, Australian and English pilgrimages. But we must continue to nourish the source of this inspiration. Chartres is a huge, international event, and has a special value for this reason. None of these other pilgrimages is even a tenth of the size. They won't give you the same experience. If people go on being inspired by Chartres, then perhaps one day they will!

  7. porys8:35 PM

    So some impressions and information from the Polish pilgrim. It was my 4th pilgrimage and I think the hardest (I received many intentions before and think it was a reason). Last day - 2 km before the cathedral - when I was so tired due to hot that started to see black dots before my eyes - I decided to go by special van for such out-of-force pilgrims like me in that moment. I was afraid that I would faint.
    President of l'association Notre-Dame de Chrétienté - organiser od pilgrimage - Herve Rolland informed that there were participant from 25 countries - mostly European, and historically catholic - but also so specific: Pakistan (one chapitre with some person), Iraq, Syria (one orthodox!!! man, Palestine, Samoa (one FSSR brother). There ware also chapitres of converted muslins from North Africa (but currently living in France), and French homeless people. During the way it was about 8 000 persons, but in the end came 12 000.
    As to Polish chapiters - there ware as usually two - one consists of high school student and the second for adults. Both with about 15 man and woman. We were assisted by two priests: fr. Marek Grzelak OP - prior of Dominican monastery in Gidle (the only Dominican in Poland who celebrate Dominican rite of Holly Mass), and fr. Andrzej Komorowski FSSP - who went on the Sunday evening (morning he had to celebrate the mass in Namur - Belgium - where in works now).
    At lat I tell you my personal testimony. In the evening of second day (very warm and stifling-hot - we heard the thunders of storm following fast our pilgrimage. I started to Pray to Virgin Mary - Queen of Angels: "Please send your Angels to stop the clouds - till we enter the camp." My prayer were listened - there was no storm in the evening and next day.

  8. Gratias7:08 AM

    What a wonderful experience this pilgrimage must have been. The "official photos" linked by Mr. Shaw are fabulous.
    With international travel becoming cheaper, it seems a good idea for us to congregate annually in one place. We must nurture this.

    I found the large number of traditionalist priests that participated very, very encouraging. I have been to many masses in France and attendance is tiny. Therefore, for French Catholicism 10,000 is a huge number. For Americam traditionalists it is also huge.

    Viva Cristo Rey.

  9. Wills, I think it might be nice for a pilgrim to know by looking at the flag where there are people who speak his language. You can't do an event like this without some practical considerations.

  10. For Canadian (and American) young adult readers, there is Marie Reine du Canada, the Annual Pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Cape, September 1-3. Juventutem Michigan will be bringing a chapter the 12 hours from Detroit and hope to meet other American pilgrims as well.

    In recent years (2010, 2011), some of those who have now founded of our Juventutem chapter have worked with others in our region to organize young adult pilgrimages that include the Traditional Latin Mass - but nothing on the scale or with the focus of any of the other pilgrimages linked to in this post.

  11. Thanks for the link, Paul S, noted!


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