Pilgrimage to Chartres

FRED DE SAM LAZARO (guest anchor): Earlier this month in France an annual event took place that has been described as perhaps the largest public expression of traditional Catholicism in the world. It is a three-day, 72-mile pilgrimage from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris to the cathedral at Chartres. A history professor from New York City who has made the pilgrimage several times describes the experience.

Dr. JOHN RAO (Associate Professor of History, St. John’s University, New York): My name is John Rao. I’m associate professor of history at St. John’s University. I’ve done the pilgrimage to Chartres about six or seven times. The regular preparations involve making sure you’ve got the right footwear more than anything else. Being a New Yorker and not owning a car, I walk a lot.

You’ve started from a point, Notre Dame, which has this extraordinary impact on you because of its beauty and because of the fervor of the people praying and singing in it. And what the architecture of the cathedral and the light passing through the windows does is it makes it clear that God, the Father of lights, provides us a world which was incredibly more diverse and beautiful than anyone might think.

The route to Chartres begins the first morning mostly in Paris and the surrounding areas.

When we’re talking about the people who make up the pilgrimage, the first thing to note is that probably about 70 percent of them are young people — people in their late teens and in their early 20s. There are people from all over Europe. The majority are French, of course, but from every country that I can imagine, from Africa, from Asia, from the United States.

A lot of these chapters are groups that stick together at home, and they have a lot of their own particular songs, which are not specifically religious but more focused on just subjects involving history and culture of the country as well.

It’s so clear, it’s so sunny. By the afternoon people are going to start suffering from heat. The big thing for people who haven’t done it before is to get them to drink water.

The Mass on the first day is usually in a field. The Masses that are held during the pilgrimage and at Chartres itself are the traditional Latin Mass. In other words, the liturgy before the reforms that are associated with Pope Paul VI.

You have, perhaps, certainly at least 100 priests who are hearing confessions during all of this, and they’re scattered all through these lunch scenes and in the woods and in little deserted areas.

Their Catholicism is a fervent Catholicism, traditional in the sense that it’s very much focused on a spirituality that uses the traditional liturgy of the Church, takes that very seriously, the traditional devotions, the traditional Latin liturgy. And then they have to give communion to as many as 10,000 people.

The pilgrimage began in the Middle Ages. Chartres was always an important place and had great meaning in the life of the Christian world in the kingdom of France in the Middle Ages. Joan of Arc made this pilgrimage. Louis XIV, I believe, made the pilgrimage. After Vatican II there were — there was a lot of confusion that developed in Catholic believers’ minds about what they ought to be doing, what they ought not to be doing, whether they were putting too much of an emphasis on particular practices that somehow or other had become outmoded, and as a consequence things like pilgrimages ended up suffering. It resumed precisely due to the concerns of groups that, by this point, were calling themselves traditionalists who wanted to commit themselves to maintaining practices which they felt to be, spiritually, extremely beneficial.

The second day of the pilgrimage, the Mass is in the woods — same kind of Mass, beautiful music, priests hearing confession.

MICHAEL MATT (speaking to pilgrims): My name is Michael Matt. I’m the head of the American contingent, the American chapter for the Chartres pilgrimage.

It’s definitely a youth movement. They very easily, in many instances, can really tap into this whole tradition, the foundation of the Catholic faith. It doesn’t matter that they don’t understand every word of the Latin. They’re attracted to the centrality of the liturgy. They’re attracted to the rubric and the ritual and to the idea of suffering for what you believe in.

PILGRIM: Can you smell the grass? Can you feel your feet? This is the real world, especially when you put rosaries into it, traditional Masses, allegiance to the Holy Father. This is the real world that we’re all seeking for.

Dr. RAO: The entire pilgrimage is of an impact that’s hard to describe. A pilgrimage is a microcosm of what life is. Life, from a Catholic standpoint, is a pilgrimage—from birth to death, from our birth to our ultimate, eternal experience with God—and what the pilgrimage does is it takes you, for a short space of time, to a time out of time. You’re out of your ordinary daily experiences. All of the ordinary things that bother one during the course of a day just disappear, even to the point in a physical way that, after a couple of days, you don’t care what you look like.

PILGRIM: I’m pretty tired, but other than that it’s invigorating. Spiritually lifted, that’s for sure. It’s amazing to be with tons of Catholics — thousands of them.

Dr. RAO: I find myself thinking about everything that I ought to do in life — everything that I have done wrong. I go back through all of the experiences of my life and where I thought that I should have done something better.

The third day, the last day of the pilgrimage, everyone is exuberant, because if you’d made it to that last day you know you’re going to make it. You know you’re really going to make it. You’re in forests, you’re in fields — endless, endless fields. You at least get to see, after a certain point, the spires of Chartres in front of you. It can become particularly grueling because it takes a long time for that spire in the distance to really get truly bigger.

There was more of a, maybe a penitential spirit yesterday, but today it’s joy. It’s just joy. When you get onto the roads, in the real suburbs of Chartres, then you can see it looming more and more, and then you begin this walk, which is a last torturous walk up this long shaded path that takes you up into the town itself. That’s when you see it there, you know, in all of its glory.

What most stirs me up is the fact that you’ve managed to do it. You’ve managed to do it. You’ve finished it. When we’re at Chartres we have a solemn High Mass, and all of this is surrounded with a great deal of ritual and ceremony.

You could see 10,000, or 15,000 fervent Catholics, most of them young people, deeply committed to this traditional rite of Mass. These people who are part of the pilgrimage, and then who finish the pilgrimage with us as well, their spiritual fervor is accompanied with, again, a great love for music. By the time it’s over, the feeling of exaltation is hard to describe, just hard to describe.

The newer generation found what that old rite had to offer — spiritually satisfying, spiritually uplifting, and in a way that you could see almost in no other event that took place in the annual life of the church. The entire three days is emotional.

What to do in the future? This spirit of pilgrimage should be continued on the day-to-day basis for the rest of your life.

  • Madeline Croy

    Beautiful video. I’ll most likely never be able to go on the Chartres pilgrimage, but Dr Rao does an excellent job explaining why I and so many other traditionalist Catholics want to participate. Thank you for featuring this ancient (and modern) expression of Catholic faith.

  • Ted O’Hara

    How and where do we sign up? Definitely our cup of tea and spiritual soup.

  • Philippe Borgonovo

    No word of the “other” SSPX-driven pilgrimage which went from Chartres to Montmartre Basilica in Paris! They were the first to start the pilgrimage (to Chartres) and were forced to find a new route… We should be careful to add up the numbers since they are both Traditional pilgrimages and both pledge allegiance to the Holy Father. (and they are similar in size)

  • Madeline Croy

    The Remnant newspaper organizes the American Chapter. You can get more info here: http://www.remnantnewspaper.com/remnant%20tours.htm Good luck!

  • David Pietrusza

    A similar pilgrimage is held stateside, in upstate New York, in late September-early October each year, from Lake George to Auriesville, NY and the Shrine of the North American Martyrs (http://www.national-coalition.org/pilgrim/index.html).

  • Michael Tenney
  • Dan Hayes

    It is interesting to compare the level-headed and inspiring fervor of the Chartres participants with the vacuousness of most of their co-religionists!

  • Keith

    Very Powerful. Nice. “takes you to a time out of time.” Time for all of us to refocus.

  • Theresa

    This was amazing for me to see since I will never be able to go. Thank you so much. From this very grateful soul it was very uplifting!

  • Tom Henderson

    Excellent! It demonstrates the growing strength of Tradition in the Church.

  • Stephan Hobbs

    I was on the pilgrimage and I can add that it was moving experience and it was not easy. The temperature made for very hot walking on the second day as well as the third.

    One comment might be that I notice that the French traditionalists although very traditional were not as boisterous as the American traditionalists. They seemed to be mad, whereas the French did not convey this attitude. The Americans seemed to be always shouting or complaining about something which was not the case with the French. It made me think that there is something to be learned from the French traditionalists. They too must be concerned with the state of the church in their country which is not good and with the many disappointments that they have experienced in some dioceses which still do not welcome the traditional mass and the people who want it, yet they did not seem to be so spiteful as I have experienced with Americans. It is a quieter sort of Catholicism. Not so in your face. Something that we can all learn from. Thanks again for the report.

  • Rob Ward

    The SSPX has a 10-mile pilgrimage from Amsterdam NY to Auriesville on the weekend after the Feast of the Sacred Heart. DEO GRATIAS !

  • Paul Slocumb

    Most meaningful religious and spiritual practices seem on the one hand anachronisms, while on the other, Eternal and of G-d.

  • KvK

    Thank you for posting this most inspiring video. God continues to call and let us be thankful that young people are answering that call.

  • Joseph Farenbaugh

    If there is a dvd or vhs on this the Pilgrimage to Chartres, I would like to purchase it. Please advise. Thanks – Joe Farenbaugh

  • Patricia R Farley

    Thank you for this most beautiful report.
    I am 68 years young and have made the pilgrimage to Chartres twice. (actually three time) Counting the first train trip I made from Paris to Chartres. At that time I traveled there with a Baptist. And I can only remember what she wrote on a rain soaked piece of paper which she silently passed to me.
    “God surely lives here at Chartres.”
    I remember the second evening of my first actual pilgrimage to Chartres. The early evening sky was blue-violet, and in the middle of a field of sea green wheat the pilgrims knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, which was placed on an altar under a baldachin of blood red scarlet which blew gently in the breeze. This soft breeze comforted me although my body was racked with pain. As I knelt down on the soft carpet of moist grass before the King of Kings I was transported to a different place in time I was uplifted and felt a peace which I have never known before. The waves of verdant wheat caused me to comtempate the beauty all about me. My body was in pain but my soul was transpired and inspired by the young men who were preparing for their all night vigil before the throne of God in the Monstrance. I realized at that moment that we were like the many pilgrims who had come here before us and I knew I was closer to My God then I have ever been before and I thank God that I was blessed to have made that journey on the roads to Chartres. And that I could celebrate the Birthday of the Church of Christ in such a fitting way.
    Hope and joy sustained me and still does knowing that these young people will continue to carry the Torch of the True Faith of Our Fathers into the future. I also want to commend Michael Matt and his American contingent, all of whom were most kind and gracious to me. I found the Americans always cheerful and kind not afraid to step up to the plate and become leaders of the pack. Although they traveled thousands of miles to make the pilgimage. I pray for all those wonderful people I met on the way to Chartres. May the Queen of Heaven protect them all and may the oldest daughter of Christian Europe become what she once was. May God make France Holy and fertile. Christ be with us.

  • Cecilia

    What an exquisite pilgrimage. I pray that my family and I may travel to France some day to partake in this expression of love for God!

    The situation in America is neither more or less dire than in France. But if I may gently address a comment left by one fellow poster here, I think that the loss of beauty in America that accompanied Vatican II is more evident than it is in France. Yes, the sacraments are relatively scarce in each country, but you are blessed with MANY more UNBELIEVABLY gorgeous churches (take Chartres for example). This external rendering of beauty into shreds was and still is a very painful thing to see. It does not excuse “spitefulness”, but it should be taken into account with grave consideration before passing any judgments.
    Anyway, Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God for the communion of 15,000 fellow soldiers in Christ.

  • Kathleen Shields

    What a wonderful sight to behold… young people embracing the Faith! Praise God … from whom all blessings flow! May these blessings cross the sea to my native land: America!

  • jonah_in_the_whale

    The Traditionalist Catholics going in one direction should meet up with the SSPX-ers going in the other direction and maybe have some kind of tug-of-war or other all-in-fun contest when they meet. The winner could claim ownership of the “Traditionalist Cup” for one year, until they both meet again and repeat the contest the following year.

  • marguerite van der merwe

    greetings!
    I will be in paris for Sep & Oct 2012 and wish to walk from Paris to Chartres ( and return). Are there any such groups arranged during this time?
    Or can someone direct me to any information on doing the route myself – the route itself, where to stay etc etc.
    As a pilgrim .
    Thank you
    Marguerite van der Merwe
    SOUTH AFRICA