Thursday, March 07, 2024

Walsingham Pilgrimage volunteers wanted, 3: singers


Booking is now open for the LMS Walking Pilgrimage to Walsingham, which takes place from Thursday 22nd August to Sunday 25th August. But before we can welcome 200+ pilgrims, we need to be able to look after them. We need volunteers! Today I am going to talk about singers.


Good Music, along with good food, may be said to power the pilgrimage in its natural aspect. But unlike the food, however good, the music has a significance at the supernatural level as well, because it can also be prayer.

It will be no surprise for readers to hear that a lot of prayers are said on the pilgrimage. Pilgrims are divided into 'chapters' which are small enough for people to hear instructions from the front to the back, with the help of megaphones, and also for collective prayer. When we say the Rosary, we sing it: we have settings of the Hail Mary in English, Latin, and French. We also sing the Litanies of Our Lady, of the Saints, of St Joseph, and of the Sacred Heart. In addition, we sing many popular chants, such as the O filii et filiae (though we sing it better than the guys in the link), vernacular hymns, and when the going gets tough, even some patriotic songs.

We believe the singing is very important and go to a lot of trouble over it. We have a book of all the chants and hymns, often with the music (and other useful prayers and information), the Vademecum Peregrini, which everyone has, and every chapter has a cantor.

That's right: every chapter of 20-30 pilgrims has an experienced singer with a megaphone to lead the singing. Someone who can set the pitch, sustain the tune, can sing the litanies while the other pilgrims make the responses, and so on. Otherwise this task falls on the chapter leader, who has a lot of other things to think about.


This has been the practice of the LMS Walking Pilgrimage since the very early years, and it is a huge boon for the pilgrims. It means the singing consistently happens, and is not interrupted every time the chapter leader has to do something or talk to someone. Singing on the road has many challenges, but in the Walsingham Pilgrimage it works very well, is audible, and includes everyone.

Naturally, these cantors also accompany the sung Masses. For these we have an all-male chant schola, supplemented by ladies for the final Mass in the Catholic Shrine to sing polyphony.

What this requires, of course, is a set of 'chapter cantors' who are experienced chant singers, know the repertoire (or can quickly learn it), and have, yes, stamina.

We don't sing all the time. There's no point singing against loud traffic or when the chapter is strung out on a narrow path, and it is in any case good to have breaks for private prayer and, indeed, conversation. Nevertheless, we do a lot of singing, and these cantors have to walk the whole distance with the pilgrims, so this, like other volunteering roles, is pretty demanding. It is also, of course, extremely rewarding.

Cantors able to do this exist, and we have been using them for years. Now, however, we are getting more chapters, and we need more cantors. I am planning to get together with the cantors once or twice before the pilgrimage to cover any gaps in knowledge of the music, but experience of singing chant is necessary in order to grasp the way that chant is sung, its ethos as sacred music.

If you are reasonably fit, and have experience singing chant, you can do it. You'll get a free place on the pilgrimage, and a reward in heaven. So who's up for it? Please email


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