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Pilgrimage is an ancient concept; stretching back through history across cultural and religious boundaries, historical and economic spectrums, regardless of race or gender. It has been argued that pilgrimage fulfils a basic human need to reconnect to oneself through the simple process of putting one foot in front of another on the destination to a sacred or special place.
Ancient Connections is rediscovering historic links and ancient stories that connect the communities and culture of North Pembrokeshire with their counterparts on the East coast of Wexford. In particular, it is exploring the link between the city of Saint Davids and the village of Ferns, two significant sites associated with the early Celtic church. St Aidan studied in Wales with St David and after this he journeyed to Wexford where he set up his own monastery in Ferns.
St Davids has been a place of pilgrimage since the middle ages and still is. People are drawn to the area for many reasons for refreshment of body, mind and soul. It is recognised as a special place, a ‘thin’ place in Celtic terms, a place where hearts are opened and emotions are touched.
Modern day pilgrimage isn’t necessarily religious or even spiritual but an opportunity for reflection, connection and discovery; perhaps finding a new sense of purpose, direction and wellbeing. Pilgrimage in modern times is becoming increasingly popular with TV programmes such as Pilgrimage; The Road to Rome and The Road to Santiago. The Santiago de Compostella pilgrim trail, which was boosted through EU funding in 1987, has been a major success story with numbers increasing from under 3,000 per year to over 300,000 now.
2023 will commemorate 900 years since Pope Callixtus II declared two pilgrimages to St Davids equal to one to Rome. This date and the Ancient Connections project could be a launch pad from which to start building a pilgrimage route on both sides of the Irish Sea. Could pilgrimage/transformational tourism be as successful in Wexford and Pembrokeshire as it has been in Northern Spain?
Ancient Connections has commissioned a feasibility study to assess the potential for a new pilgrimage route that links Ferns and St Davids. In May 2021, the trailblazing Creative Camino pilgrimage will take place, an experimental journey led by guides from Journeying based in Pembrokeshire and Wexford Trails. Traveling with them will be a group of artists and community pilgrims, who will be responding creatively to the experience. It is hoped that this combination of stakeholder research and hands on experiential journeying will point to the next steps for building and promoting this new route.