As 2020 is the Year of Cathedrals and Pilgrimage, here a number of remarkable cathedral sites that make a great group day trip.
The Assocation of English Cathedrals has marked 2020 as the Year of Cathedrals and Pilgrimage, recognising many important anniversaries and events taking place throughout the year. A number of museums are getting involved, too.
Here are just some of the goings-on that might inspire a group trip to the area:
1. Canterbury Cathedral
Arguably Britain’s best known pilgrimage destination, the city of Canterbury will host a Thomas Becket programme to mark 850 years since the Archbishop was murdered inside Canterbury Cathedral on the order of King Henry II.
From 22nd to 24th October, visitors can in fact experience the pivotal event with Murder in the Cathedral, an adaptation of T S Eliot’s play that will be performed in partnership with the Marlowe Theatre.
There’s a behind-the-scenes tour at the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library, which will take in printed books and manuscripts related to Thomas Becket and the medieval period, on two days in August (3rd and 14th); and the Eastern Crypt will feature a Pilgrimage Chapel in honour of the anniversary, from April to October.
The British Pilgrim’s Trust is launching the Old Way Pilgrimage this year, which is a historic route from Southampton to Canterbury first discovered in the 1300s. Ancient routes like this offer walkers the opportunity to tap into local stories and an area’s religious heritage.
2. Durham Cathedral
Durham is embracing the theme of pilgrimage this year with the launch of six new Northern Saint Trails to its cathedral. The long-distance routes are inspired by ancient trails and popular saints, positioning the north east of England as the Christian Crossroads of the British Isles. Groups can check www.northernsaints.com for more information when the initiative fully launches in March.
At the cathedral itself, visitors will find unusual installations including Museum of the Moon by Luke Jerram, running from 12th September until 6th November, showcasing a seven-metre moon sculpture.
While there, groups shouldn’t miss Open Treasure, the cathedral’s award-winning interactive museum. Better still, groups can organise a joint visit taking in both the cathedral and this exhibition space. The Pilgrimage and Community Galleries, one of the Open Treasure areas, includes a virtual map and messages from pilgrims both past and present, as well as displays of pilgrim badges.
For a relaxing end to a day’s visit, groups can now book afternoon teas in the Chapter House, which was used as a filming location in the first two Harry Potter films. The themed experience follows a cathedral-on-film tour specially curated for visitors. This package runs monthly, so keep an eye on the website for details.
Cathedrals at Night
A new nationwide project for 2020 is Cathedrals at Night, which will see every Church of England cathedral welcome visitors of all ages for at least one evening, offering them an insight into cathedral life with music, lectures, prayer, walks and light shows (including plenty of candles). All Cathedrals at Night activities will be free, designed to bring new audiences into the cultural and spiritual spaces. You can find out more here.
3. Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Cathedral’s 2018 refurbishment restored a number of its features to its medieval magnificence, and also saw the opening of more group-friendly events. If you’ve yet to see the Kings and Scribes exhibition, you can still explore its four galleries sharing the cathedral’s 1,000-year history.
Fitting in with the pilgrimage theme, Canon Mark Byford will be making the 136-mile walk along the Pilgrims’ Way, connecting Winchester and Canterbury. People are invited to join him along the route during the month-long event. He sets off on 16th April.
Plus, there’s a great number of specialist guided tours designed for groups (we counted 36) that focus on themes from Jane Austen and the cathedral’s art to military memorials and William Walker, the diver who ’saved the cathedral’.
4. Lincoln Cathedral
A major anniversary will also take place at Lincoln Cathedral, which will commemorate 800 years since the canonisation of St Hugh. In fact, his life and work will be celebrated with Vision, the cathedral’s summer flower festival running from 29th July to 3rd August. The lively event will cover visionaries in the fields of poetry, theatre, film and fashion through more than 130 floral displays inside the cathedral.
Another standout activity for groups this year is the Historic Graffiti Tour, occuring on select days until June. Visitors will see medieval graffiti marking the walls of Lincoln Cathedral during the 90-minute tour, suitable for groups of ten. Top tip: Keep an eye out for the Lincoln Imp, a stone grotesque with his own folk story.
5. Salisbury Cathedral
The religious site is celebrating its 800th birthday this year, within its walls as well as beyond them - for example, at Old Sarum, an Iron Age site that originally housed the cathedral before it was rebuilt two-and-a-half miles away.
The cathedral’s story has inspired the theme of ‘movement’ this year, which can be seen through various events. Spirit and Endeavour (25th March-25th October) is an art exhibition that will feature new commissions and works from the cathedral’s permanent collection, while Confluence will introduce the work of more than 500 flower arrangers from 15th to 20th September. Amidst the building’s medieval architecture, groups can see more than 30,000 stems designed in beautiful themed displays.
Home to the Magna Carta and the country’s tallest spire, Salisbury Cathedral makes for a great group day out. There are specialist tours available year-round for smaller groups, including the new Stained Glass Tour, which studies the stories presented in the cathedral’s stained glass windows.
6. Hereford Cathedral
This cathedral boasts some impressive features, namely the largest surviving medieval chained library and the Mappa Mundi - the largest medieval map known to exist (it measures 1.59 by 1.34 metres!). Groups can combine a tour of the cathedral’s treasures (perhaps its conservation projects, stained glass or artworks) with a visit to both of these features: the 1,000-plus drawings and inscriptions on the Mappa Mundi, and the 225 illuminated manuscripts encased in the library.
It’s a particularly good time to visit Hereford Cathedral, given that 2020 is 700 years since the canonisation of St Thomas of Hereford. Saints in the Making is an exhibition running until the end of June, exploring the significance of saints through books and historical objects. Plus, spring is a great time to see the seasonal opening of the Chapter House Gardens, Cloister, College and Dean’s Gardens at the cathedral.