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Celebrating historic links

A group of ten “Pilgrims” from St Paul’s Church in Grove Park returned to Chatsworth House last week to present a picture of the Church to the family whose ancestor had founded it in 1870. The presentation was just one part of the group’s completion of the Peak Pilgrimage over four days from April 29th to May 2nd.

The Peak Pilgrimage was launched in 2015 to commemorate the 350th Anniversary of the sacrifice of the people of Eyam. In 1665 the villagers unknowingly received a consignment of cloth infected with bubonic plague. Led by their Rector, they refused to flee which carried with it the possible spread of infection across the county. This selfless sacrifice, motivated by their Christian faith, saved the surrounding area but cost about a third of them their lives. The Pilgrimage begins in the village of Ilam to the East of the Peak District and meanders its way through Dovedale and Wye and visits a dozen churches in the journey towards Eyam, each of which provides a welcome for visitors – and stamps and verses for the guide book which leads them there!

St Paul’s Church’s interest began two years ago when we noticed an article in a Derbyshire magazine. It was only when we began to research it more fully that we realised the last leg of the Pilgrimage passed directly through Chatsworth House, the ancestral home of the Cavendish family, and builders of Chiswick House. In effect, our journey became two pilgrimages: the pilgrimage to Eyam and to home of the family whose ancestor, William 7th Duke of Devonshire had founded our church. When we realised that Chatsworth was on the route we contacted the Chatsworth Estate. With the Duke of Devonshire’s encouragement, we arranged to present a framed picture of the Church as it is now to Kay Rotchford from his private office at the beginning of the final leg towards Eyam on May 2nd. The picture itself was designed by Catherine Jessop, one of the church members.

All the ten pilgrims were members of the church congregation. It is fair to say that one of the initial attractions had been the idea of a week’s walking in the beautiful spring countryside of the Peak District. Once on the walk, however, the spiritual nature of the experience became apparent. The walk was brilliantly structured to take in a wide range of terrain, some of it challenging – especially for the pilgrim who was completing it on crutches!! By the end of the week, which included everyone staying together at a large farm house in the village of Priestcliffe, everyone felt spiritually refreshed.

Simon Surtees is currently Reader at St Paul’s Church, Grove Park and led the pilgrimage.