I got quite excited yesterday when we found the pilgrim shell in the road near the old abbey. It somehow connected the Issoudun experience with the idea of journey of faith, something I have been considering during times of reflection this week. In the language of theology, one went on pilgrimage to seek grace, or a grace, which is ā€” rather ironically ā€” best thought of as God’s gift of love amid compassion, freely given. One engaged in pilgrimage, as Father Jules did, to seek clarity or confirmation around some course of action; and visiting a place made holy by a saint, apparition or miracle was and is a way of honoring the revelations, both large and small, when God’s love and power break into our lives.

We all have holy places, locations that honor powerful memories in our own lives. We revisit the places where we first encountered love with a partner, we visit the graves of our beloved dead or the places where we scattered their ashes. We go to battlefields and memorials to make the past and the present connect. We want to ‘see again’, that idea that is somehow reflected in that great word anamnesis.

It seems to me that place and purpose have a complex relationship in the business of pilgrimage. The goal involves a memory, or a commemoration, that you wish to enact in your own present. O the other hand, going there is not nearly enough. Pilgrimages are journeys of faith not because you hope to gain faith by completing them, but because you journey in faith. The grace at the end comes after the faith filled journey. Each step is contemplative, each day a discernment.

The camino runs through here, as it brought pilgrims to the road south from here to the Pyrenees. I am only just appreciating how this little town, not really rich or powerful, has had a long military, political and ,religious significance. It seems prophetic and providential to find the shell here.