Forthcoming publication September 2013

The Pilgrimage to Our Lady of White hill: Antiquaries, local historians and the formation of a historical tradition, by Jonathan Spain, RiverRhee Publishing. Price £6.

16-08-2013 075805

Extract from introduction:

‘There is little by way of hard historical or archaeological evidence for a medieval pilgrimage to a shrine to ‘Our Lady’ in a chapel on top of the hill which separates the villages of Haslingfield and Barrington, in South Cambs. We can point to a description from oral evidence written down in the mid 17th century, a few 15th century deeds and a Bishop’s Indulgence, some place-name evidence and circumstantial details. Around this a historical narrative has developed over the centuries to the point where the pilgrimage site has become a settled and established fact. There was a medieval shrine. This site was a centre of popular devotion and pilgrimage before the Dissolution of the Monasteries; a site of regional, even national importance (some have argued), which later became the focus of a local Marian revivalist movement in the mid-late 20th century.

What is interesting about this local tradition is not simply the analysis of the evidence and the consideration of its veracity but the way in which that narrative has been preserved and its subsequent development and modification. Or to put it another way, the tradition of a pilgrimage to a site which no longer exists could only be maintained because of the credence which successive generations of local villagers, antiquaries, historians and archaeologists have given it.

To understand this process we must understand who the ‘players’ were and what motivated them. Ultimately this is a narrative about local people preserving, indeed creating their own history. It speaks to the innate ‘antiquarianism’ of the English caste of mind – the love of antiquity and its preservation, be that ancient buildings or institutions, manuscripts or local myths and legends. It also illustrates the universal and enduring (timeless) appeal of the idea of pilgrimage; particularly in this case in association with popular devotion to the religious figure of Mary. The survival of the tradition of this pilgrimage site can be seen as testament to the endurance of pre-Reformation religious customs and practice, lying hidden beneath the reformed Protestant Church.

To add a final layer of meaning and interpretation, the research and writing of this essay has been a pilgrimage for this writer – as one who has a keen interest in the local landscape and its history – into the close inter-connected world of Cambridgeshire’s antiquarians and historians, the guardians of our past.’

If this extract sparks your interest you can order a copy of the booklet by leaving your contact details in the comment box and I will get in touch. (Your details will not be published – they will be for my reference only.)

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About jonathanspain

My blog reflects my interests in local history in South Cambridgeshire, growing your own food, and walking in the district and elsewhere
This entry was posted in South Cambridgeshire local history, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Forthcoming publication September 2013

  1. I have ancestors from Cambridgeshire, in the Ely area and it is an area that deserves more research and publication. However, as a qualified book indexer I’d like to ask whether the book has an index or not. It is very helpful in local history books to include an index as people do like to look up specific place names, personal names and to browse the themes. Take a look at my blog, and if you need any help in future, do let me know.

  2. Pingback: Supporting Growth and Innovation in Local SMEs. RiverRhee Consulting Newsletter, September – October 2013 | Newsletter

  3. Thanks Alan I will be in touch

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