SAGITTARIUS – Reflections on the Thames

Pilgrimage to Spirit of Place, Community and Learning

2021-12-18: St Martin-in-the-Fields to St Paul’s

Our fourth Sagittarius Pilgrimage, graced by Three Pilgrims- Roberta Ardern, Prue Whelan and Phyllis SantaMaria, was curtailed by Covid-induced cancellations. Our other Pilgrims sending well-wishes from Cornwall, Somerset and beyond, were with us in spirit along with our other Gatekeeper seekers and connectors.

We started our connection with the Wheel of Life Pilgrimages at the Café in the Crypt at St Martin-in-the-Fields, viewing our Landscape Zodiac map from Peter Dawkins and Wheel of Life Pilgrimage images, beautifully illustrated by Charlotte Yonge’s photo collages.

We began with our Pilgrim’s prayer: Kindly luminous Beings, Guardians of this place, please grant us your hospitality and may God bless us.

We dedicated our Pilgrimage to Learning as Sagittarius symbolises learning and we discussed how this year has been a learning and letting go time, opening the way for new learning.

We usually visit the Whipping Post in the Crypt’s Gallery, closed this year, and we offered healing for the past suffering. We also reflected on the healing work of St Martin’s. The World War I Vicar at St Martin’s, Dick Sheppard, opened its doors to soldiers returning from the front to Charing Cross and homeless people, and it has carried on that tradition of working with homeless and many others as the ‘Church of the Open Door’. The Connection at St Martin’s for the homeless is the largest unit in the UK. During the lockdown 2020-21 Richard Carter, a St Martin’s priest and others from St Martin’s along with Amritpal Singh Maan, owner of Punjab restaurant in Covent Garden served more than 80,000 meals to homeless in Trafalgar Square who didn’t get hotel accommodation. Amrit Maan has just received an OBE for his work and carries on providing meals for our St Martin’s Sunday International Group in our six-year + project at St Martin’s for refugees and asylum seekers.

On our way to Trafalgar Square we spotted a large group of men wonderfully dressed in sky blue outfits with clouds and we felt honoured they were helping us at the start of our pilgrimage of learning.

First stop was the Norwegian pine gracing Trafalgar Square with this wonderful poem, The Fourth King, by Sinéad Morrissey, art work by Marcus Walters, at its base:

They found me high
above the breathing canopy,
tightjacketed prodigy—
interstellar silence
laced through my hair
and frost like a tapestry
nailed to my door.

Such absolute dark
above my tippy-top
spangled crown,
ballooning sky-shot
Arctic greens draped
winter’s finest shawl
about my shoulders.

Unstable starship
of the planet,
your lungs are my fingers—
their feather-thin million
branching endings:
tiny-bright tiny-light
redeemers of air.

Spectacular child
in the barn, who fell
like a comet or windfall,
I also attend—
I also stand, in all
my pine-needle finery,
and shine.

https://poems.poetrysociety.org.uk/poems/the-fourth-king/

We paused with our lantern at the Charles I equestrian statue which marks the original site of the first Charing Cross, Queen Eleanor’s cross erected by King Edward I,. There is a Charing Cross sign on the buildings opposite. We reflected on learning for the four elements we can view from this spot: the Monarchy at Buckingham Palace, the Government at the Houses of Parliament, the Justice at Fleet Street further along the Strand and St Martin’s overlooking Trafalgar Square for spiritual guidance and social justice.

Atop the ‘new’ Victorian era St Eleanor’s Cross outside Charing Cross station there are eight crowned statues of Queen Eleanor. We paused with our lantern to reflect on Queen Eleanor and the eleven crosses from Nottinghamshire to London, the respect and love that Edward I must have had for his wife, mother of 16 children. (Her tomb is along with Edward the Confessor’s in Westminster Abbey.)

Next stop was the garden of the York Watergate where the Thames flowed before the building of the Embankment, mid 19th century. This gate provided easy access onto the Thames, located at the bottom of the mansion. You can see the Buckingham family coat of arms on the top of the gate. At the peak of the Strand, literally ‘shore of the river’, there were 13 palaces lining the south side of the road.

York Watergate, Embankment Gardens

We stopped at Posey’s near Embankment Station to buy three roses for our Pilgrimage. Little did we know that the man taking our photo on Golden Jubilee Bridge would be so delighted with us and our roses. He showed us his phone’s screensaver, a rose. We put our first petals for learning into the Thames

Roberta and I reflected on our learning about doing Gatekeeper Pilgrimages as we have done two Samhain ones at end of October in the City of London, and this is our fourth Sagittarius one. We’ve found it so wonderful to work with Jane Withers who coordinates the Gatekeeper Local Contacts and I’ve been helping with technology.

At the base of the OXO building, Roberta showed us a special viewing place for seeing St Paul’s. Prue’s dancing along the South Bank with her local group of dancers from South London was cancelled, and we reflected on all the learning she does from dancing and her community and the blessings that brings into her life.

We made our way along the South Bank, pausing on the Millennium Bridge to offer rose petals for our learning, our community to the river, our petals going out to the sea. We entered St Paul’s, our lantern still burning brightly, and placed our roses on the candle stand in the Pilgrim’s chapel with gratitude for our Pilgrimage, being with the flow of the River Thames and connection with the spirit of place and community.

We ended with tea at Paul’s near St Paul’s.

At time of writing, our next Sagittarius Pilgrimage will be Saturday 10 Dec 2022, starting at 12.00 for lunch at Café in the Crypt, St Martin-in-the-Fields, with Pilgrimage from 13.00-16.00. We will invite on the Gatekeeper website.

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