A reenactor dresses as a medieval pilgrim.

Would you take a Medieval Journey? Man recreates Pilgrimage across England with period supplies only

Many speak of observing the Christmas holidays with a return to more traditional or spiritual celebrations, but one man is taking that to heart by going on a medieval pilgrimage across England. He is living and traveling as they did in the 14th century, on foot, using only period clothing and equipment. His mission has even received the blessing of the Pope.

Steven Payne, a former physics teacher is recreating a 700-year-old pilgrim’s journey, and has set off from Southampton's Mayflower Park to Canterbury on foot, carrying with him only the clothing and items they would have had in the 14th century. The journey is expected to take him two weeks, during which he will be crossing England, and sleeping out in the elements or in structures built around 1365, with “only a woolen cloak for protection and a venison pie from a medieval recipe” reports BBC News.

Stephen Payne: Seen here, all Payne’s clothing and equipment have been crafted as they were in 1365.

Steven Payne: Seen here, all Payne’s clothing and equipment have been crafted as they were in 1365. (Photo: Steven Payne)

His path is expected to take him to Canterbury Cathedral on Christmas Day, with the journey ending on December 29.

Retracing Medieval Steps

Payne’s pilgrimage will retrace the route taken by Coluccio de Carrara, a 13th century Italian teacher who started on the same day in 1365 after sailing from Florence and arriving in Southampton by ship.

Part of Payne’s preparations involved writing to the Bishop of Portsmouth and the Vatican, telling them about his journey, reports the BBC. To his surprise, he received a reply from Pope Francis wishing him success.

Payne told BBC, “I was quite surprised, he doesn't write to me often.”

The Pope gives his support to the endeavor.

The Pope gives his support to the endeavor. (Credit: Steven Payne)

Payne says the note from the Vatican may come in handy if he needs a place to stay for the night at holy sites or churches.

Period Clothing, Food and Supplies

Months of research has gone into the planning of this journey.

Everything, “from my underwear to my hat is all mid-14th Century clothing,” Payne said, and the pieces have been recreated based on items found on a bog body in Scandinavia.

He’s said to have packed lightly, relying on period clothing and food. He’s wearing a heavy, waterproof, woolen cloak and period garb. He is carrying with him soap made from wood ash and olive oil, as well as a block of alum for deodorant. He has flint and steel for starting fires. His pack of food includes water, dried apples, honey oat cakes, some cinnamon and nuts, and non-alcoholic ginger wine – all items available to travelers at the time.

The modern pilgrim has packed period-appropriate traveling foods.

The modern pilgrim has packed period-appropriate traveling foods. (Credit: Steven Payne)

For practical safety purposes he’s packing a modern cellphone for emergencies, as well as an iPad for chronicling his journey. A tiny mincemeat pie (a relatively modern Christmas treat) has been included.

Pilgrimages in the Middle Ages

Canterbury Cathedral, pilgrimage site in Kent, England (view from the north west circa 1890–1900.) was founded in 597 AD.

Canterbury Cathedral, pilgrimage site in Kent, England (view from the north west circa 1890–1900.) was founded in 597 AD.  (Public Domain)

During the middle ages people went on pilgrimages, or spiritual journeys, to holy sites. It was believed that prayer at the shrine or church might relieve suffering or absolve sins. History website Spartacus Educational writes, “Wealthy people sometimes preferred to pay others to go on a pilgrimage for them. For instance, in 1352 a London merchant paid a man £20 to go on a pilgrimage to Mount Sinai.”

Pilgrimages were sometimes local affairs, or they could be epic voyages across land and sea. These trips, sometimes dangerous, were taken up as a test of the pilgrim’s faith. Medieval pilgrimages were a way of life, and initially an involved practice that took travelers to Christian sites connected to the life of Jesus—especially Holy Land destinations such as Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem, some 3,000 miles (4800 kilometers) away from Europe. As time went on, pilgrimages were done closer to home to see relics and places of martyrs and saints, becoming the first holidays (holy days) taken by Medieval people.

Pilgrims traveled light, and wore humble traveling clothing that marked them clearly as a pilgrim, including a broad-brimmed hat, a staff or walking stick, a cloak or mantle, and a bag or sack with some sort of religious book. The pilgrim’s ‘uniform’ got them admission to shelters or hospices, or guaranteed a relative safety along the road.  A lead pin or badge from the destination would be worn on the way home to prove the success of their journey.

Lead badges such as these were purchased by pilgrims as mementos of holy sites they had visited. Originally there were loops at top and bottom for the pilgrim to sew the badges onto a hat or cloak.

Lead badges such as these were purchased by pilgrims as mementos of holy sites they had visited. Originally there were loops at top and bottom for the pilgrim to sew the badges onto a hat or cloak. [Left] Badge of Saint Adrian (CC BY-SA 3.0) [Right] An unknown crowned saint (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Pilgrims packed food that was portable and wouldn’t spoil during a trip. Meat was salted or smoked, or even taken along alive, for butchering on the go. Fish, when caught from a river could be eaten when cooked, or was dried and salted ahead, or even made into a portable pie. Everyday dinners might consist of fruits, nuts, cheese, hard breads, and spiced wines.

Painting depicting European pilgrims of the middle ages

Painting depicting European pilgrims of the middle ages (Public Domain)

Living as in the Past

Such recreations are excellent studies into the true hardships and pleasures of living during eras long ago.

Last year, a 24-year-old Russian man spent eight months living alone in the freezing Russian wilderness as a 10th century hermit as part of a social experiment. Pavel Sapozhnikov lived as his ancestors would have done over 1,000 years ago.

Sapozhnikov tends to his farm house.

Sapozhnikov tends to his farm house. (Credit: EAST2WEST)

Sapozhnikov lived in the replica of a 10th century farm house in a forest clearing around 50 miles north of Moscow.  With help from expert archaeologist, the farm was built using only materials and techniques that would have been used by ancient Russians. This included fire lights that burn on linseed oil, wooden beds, animal fur clothes and bedding and a calendar scratched into the wall of the house.  Sapozhnikov was only allowed to leave the fenced-off area of the farm to hunt and gather food, was banned from any kind of communication, and was allowed only authentic tools from ancient Russia.

Such pilgrimages and experiments bring to light the realities of living in times of less convenience and more hardship, and give us a better understanding of the life and times of our ancestors.

Featured Image: A reenactor dresses as a medieval pilgrim. (Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0)

By: Liz Leafloor



I wish you good fortune and a safe journey, Steven Payne

Did he make it the whole way? And, if he did make it the whole way, Did he make it there by christimas? This story is about the start of the journey but, how did his journey end?
-A wicked cook

Yes, he did make it all the way to Canterbury. He's even thinking of writing a book about his journey.

lizleafloor's picture

Yes, Lady is correct – he did make it, and his pilgrimage facebook page with updates is here: 



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