halesworth

A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.

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Volume 2



chaucer



Pilgrimages

                        When in April the sweet showers fall
                        That pierce March's drought to the root and all
                        And bathed every vein in liquor that has power
                        To generate therein and sire the flower;
                        When Zephyr also has with his sweet breath,
                        Filled again, in every holt and heath,
                        The tender shoots and leaves, and the young sun
                        His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run,
                        And many little birds make melody
                        That sleep through all the night with open eye
                        (So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)
                        Then folk do long to go on pilgrimage,
                        And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
                        To distant shrines well known in distant lands.
                        And specially from every shire's end
                        Of England they to Canterbury went,
                        The holy blessed martyr there to seek
                        Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak

These words are from the start of a long poem called 'The Canterbury Tales' which was written by Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400) and who was grandfather of Alice de la Pole. She was daughter and heir of Thomas Chaucer, and she had married William 4th Earl and 1st Duke of Suffolk. The family is connected with both Ewelme in Oxfordshire and at Wingfield in Suffolk, which is 13 miles west of Halesworth, with tombs and effigies in both places. Alice is also remembered by the initials A.P. which are carved on one of the bench-ends at the church of Fressingfield.

One of the ways in which the religious revival of the 14th century was celebrated was in the great increase in the popularity of pilgrimages. These took pilgrims to the great shrines of the country, especially to Canterbury where Thomas Becket was buried. Their foot-steps also led to shrines in East Anglia which had become celebrated in several ways. Some, such as the Abbey at Bury St. Edmund, were the burial places of a popular saint. In other cases, such as Walsingham in Norfolk, a shrine was created in response to a vision, and there a replica of the House of Nazareth was built in 1130. While in other cases, such as Thetford and at Broomholm some relics were worshipped. At the Priory of Broomholm in Norfolk, a shrine was built to contain what was believed to be a portion of the True Cross.

The medieval ports of Ipswich and Southwold were licensed for pilgrim voyages, but although Dunwich was not so licensed, it seems probable that pilgrims sailed from its port. Over the years several pilgrims badges, made of lead have been discovered there, which indicates some of the shrines they visited. Nicholas Comfort in his new book 'The Lost City of Dunwich' believes that they travelled to Mont St.Michel which is off the Norman coast, and to the shrine of St. James at Compostella in Spain, and even onwards to the Holy Land. He pictures the scene ...'Pilgrims thus flowed out of the town (Dunwich) most taking King John's Road for Bury, stopping overnight at Fressingfield. Others struck north for Norwich and the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham'.

Guest houses have survived on three of the roads leading west from this area. At Leiston Abbey the former guest hall has recently been restored to be used as a meeting and small concert hall, at Peasenhall, the guest house which was built by Sibton Abbey has also been restored by The Landmark Trust; while at Eye in the grounds of Priory Farm, is the early 16th century brick building believed to have been the guest house of the Benedictine Priory there.

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