Wednesday, 11 May 2011

To Be A Pilgrim

Peter Biddlecombe reports on an extraordinary lifetime of pilgrimage:
"An 83-year-old Seaford resident , who is not only a barrister but also a national gold medal ballroom and Latin American dancer, has just completed his 30th pilgrimage in 30-years in honour of both St Joan of Arc and St Thomas More.

But this time he made the almost 1,000-mile six-day round-trip journey to Domremy in Northern France, the birthplace of St Joan of Arc - by a Newhaven taxi.

Christopher McOustra outside the chapel in the forest at Domremy where,
as a child, St Joan of Arc used to pray every Saturday. With him and his Newhaven taxi are
Mr and Mrs Alain and Martine Olivier, who have spent the last 40-years
restoring it to its original condition.

He is Christopher McOustra, who lives in Crooked Lane.

“In the past,” he says, “I’ve made the trip by train, by coach and by train and coach. This time I thought, Why not by taxi? I rang up Jimmy Moxon at Newhaven Taxis. He said, Yes. Why not? That was it.”

Day one. They crossed the Channel from Newhaven to Dieppe and drove to Rouen where Joan of Arc was burnt to death on May 20 1431.

Day two. They drove from Rouen to Domremy, where Joan of Arc was born in 1412.

For the remainder of the pilgrimage Christopher, who is a Reader at St Thomas More Roman Catholic Church, Seaford, visited all the sites and scenes associated by the French with Joan of Arc’s success in conquering the British during the 100-years war, which dominated Anglo-French relations throughout the Middle Ages.

He visited Reims, today’s champagne capital of France, where on July 16 1429 she virtually forced the Dauphin, Charles, to be crowned King of France as well as Compeigne where, a year later, she was captured by the Duke of Burgundy which eventually led to her death.

While in Domremy Christopher also visited the world famous Basilica dedicated to St Joan of Arc, where he was invited to speak to the French congregation from the pulpit.

Says Christopher, who founded the Association of St Joan of Arc and St Thomas More in 1982 with with Mrs Joan Chidson, who lived in Alfriston until her death in 2008, “Wherever I went people wanted to know why a special society for Joan of Arc and Thomas More. I kept telling them, Because they are such opposites. One’s a woman. One’s a man. One’s French. One’s English. One was a peasant girl. One was Lord Chancellor of England. One was a virgin. One was twice married and had four children. But they are both examples of people who didn’t knuckle under. They were both unjustly condemned and executed because of their beliefs. You couldn’t find two human beings who are so utterly different. I wanted to celebrate that difference.”

The years Christopher was not making pilgrimages dedicated to Joan of Arc, he spent making pilgrimages together with members of the congregation of St Thomas More to places dedicated to Thomas More.

“We visited the place where he was born,” he says. “We visited the house where he lived. We even had a special Mass in his memory in the cell in which he was imprisoned in The Tower of London.

“But now I’m beginning to run out of puff. This will probably be the last of my pilgrimages.”

How much did the taxi cost from Seaford to Domremy and back to Seaford ?

Says Christopher, “About half the price of a hamper from Fortnum and Mason.”

Adds Jimmy, the taxi driver who lives in Sherwood Road, Seaford, “It made a change from going backwards and forwards to Morrisons.”

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting, and well done Christopher from another serial pilgrim. However I was left wondering if it is only in A&B that the Fortnim & Mason Hamper could be considered a unit of currency?!