‘We Are Pilgrims’ Review

Victoria Preston, ‘We Are Pilgrims: Journeys in Search of Ourselves. Hurst Publishing, 2020

Somewhere – over the rainbow…?

What do Marx, Elvis and the British Museum have in common? They all figured in an earlier book on pilgrimage [Coleman and Elsner 1995]. Victoria Preston’s new book is even more wide ranging, stimulating, and highly recommended. This is about more than pilgrimage in the sense of the Hajj or Kumbh Mela, epic journeys to Tibet Jerusalem or less epically to Knock or Walsingham. Its subtitle is ‘journeys in search of ourselves.’  These include the author’s personal and extensive journeys across the world.  One moment we are with downtrodden women in Bolivia, or imagining nomads in prehistoric Turkey; then with Roma and Buryat Buddhists, on Walden Pond or with Kerouac in the mountains. We move seamlessly from the Pushkar camel fair to Appleby’s horse fair, both religious as well as social events; from the Serapeum in ancient Egypt to Shaolin flying monks. The skill of the author makes for an endlessly fascinating and stimulating read without it becoming a ragbag.

Click the image to link to the publisher’s page on the book

Another subtitle might have been ‘the journey not the arrival matters’ although the experience of many pilgrims cited here seems to have been transformational. We hear from Muslim Britons sharing the overwhelming emotional experience of the Hajj at the time of the BM exhibition, and also of an extraordinary medieval woman in Norfolk who left her abusive husband and 14 children to go to Jerusalem and Rome, and dictated her travels in a book discovered only in the 20th Century. It’s intriguing to think what a 21st Century equivalent of Chaucer’s pilgrims might consist of, in our supposedly secular age of social prescribing, meditation and the search for new meaning in a world apparently off its axis.

John Reeve

Coleman, S and Elsner, J. 1995. Pilgrimage: Past and Present in the World Religions. British Museum Press


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