TODAY there are more travel books published than ever before. I have discovered that the first travel book ever to be published concerned the famous medieval journey to Santiago de Compostela.
Pilgrims began journeying to this beautiful city in north west Spain over 1,000 years ago. In the middle ages, in fact, it was the most famous journey in Europe and part of it will be traversed again this summer in unusual fashion.
The pilgrims will be Paul Graham and Charles Paterina and their mode of transport will be "Penny Farthing" bicycles. Paul will set out from Bordeaux, a traditional starting point for English pilgrims, while Charles will join him later in the Pyrenees.
The joint chairman of Help the Hospices, the Duchess of Norfolk, writes: "Anyone setting out for 'The Field of the Stars' (Compostela) does so because the idea of 'pilgrimage' seems to touch a chord in human nature and serves as an allegory that life itself is a journey."
That "life is a journey" is a particularly appropriate theme in this case. For while these particular young people are on their travels, others, in hospices, will be on the "home straight" of the greatest journey of all life itself.
The pilgrimage, in other words, hopes to attract sponsors for Help the Hospices (100 Cannon Street, London EC4) and a total of £100,000 is being aimed at.
AS far as England was concerned, the most famous of medieval pilgrimages was to Walsingham which occasions mention of a somewhat sad anniversary. Exactly 450 years ago, in June, 1538, the original statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was taken away to London, there to be burned along with other notable statues to which special pilgrimage had been made.
The burning is said to have taken place at Chelsea in the presence of Thomas Cromwell, the Lord Privy Seal. A couple of months later the whole Priory of Walsingham was handed over to the King's Commissioners.
As for the route of the medieval road to Walsingham, this became one of England's main highways. It was marked by pilgrim chapels and hostelries.
The cluster of stars called the Galaxy or Milky Way was renamed the Walsingham Way and was said to point across the heavens the route to England's Nazareth in the "Holy Land of Walsingham."
The most frequent medieval royal visitor to Walsingham was probably Henry III who made about a dozen pilgrimages there between 1226 and 1272. It was he who provided the money (20 marks) for a golden crown for "St Mary of Walsingham."
It was this statue that perished in 1538.
Happily, today, Walsingham is once more a flourishing pilgrimage centre with ecumenical dimensions. One of the most welcome recent developments has been the construction of special facilities for the handicapped under both Catholic and Anglican auspices.
The Knights of Malta have their own Hostel of St John as they did in the Holy Land from the 12th century onwards. In those far off days they catered for "riding pilgrims" regardless of race or religion.
1538 is important for another reason. It was the year in which copies of "The Great Bible" were placed in every church in the land for all to read (who could).
This was the translation made by William Tyndale, distribution of which was made easier by the newly invented printing press. Previously the bible had been in Latin only and available only to the clergy and the rich.
The Welsh, however, were temporarily forgotten, until, in 1588, William Morgan made a translation into Welsh of the Bible. He presented a copy to Queen Elizabeth I who had declared "To no power whatsoever is my crown subject save to that of Christ the King of Kings.
The phrase was uttered at her Coronation and provides a link with words used at the Coronation of her illustrious namesake, our own Queen Elizabeth, as describing the Bible: "This is the most valuable thing this world affords. Here is wisdom. This is the royal law. These are the lively oracles of God." It has been said that part of Queen Elizabeth l's genius was that she knew her people so well. Perhaps part of our own Queen's genius is to be known so well by her people who love what they see.
I DON'T often write to newspapers but happened to send a line the other day to the Editor of the Daily Mail regarding an historical error made by gossip columnist Nigel Dempster. He stated that Princess Margaret was the first royal personage to be born in Scotland for over 300 years. But this is incorrect.
I pointed out that Princess Ena of Battenberg, the future Queen of Spain, was born at Balmoral on October 24, 1887. Indeed the fact that hers was the first royal birth in Scotland since that of Charles I in 1600 caused quite a sensation at the time.
I got a note from Nigel Dempster containing the astonishing assertion that Princess Ena "cannot possibly be described as a member of the British Royal Family"! He was obviously unaware that Princess Ena was Queen Victoria's granddaughter, even though I had mentioned that she was the daughter of Princess Beatrice (Queen Victoria's youngest daughter).
The ignorance of some gossip columnists can be quite amusing as most such writers often have rather grand ideas about themselves. They don't like being caught out.
But there are notable exceptions. A famous American columnist once wrote a book called Gossipist's Gaffes Including my Own. But he was a rare bird among the species he had a sense of humour.
IT is true, of course, that use of the name Battenberg sometimes confuses people, as the history of that family is complicated.
Ena's mother, Princess Beatrice, had married Prince Henry of Battenberg, who, like his brothers, had become a naturalised Britisher. But his mother-in-law, Queen Victoria, had insisted on his and Beatrice's living with her. It was for this reason that Ena was born at Balmoral.
Prince Henry chafed under imposed inactivity but ultimately gave his life for his adopted country in the Ashanti expedition to the Gold Coast whereby that part of what is now Ghana became a British colony in 1902.
The most illustrious member of his generation was of course the father of the late Earl Mountbatten of Burma. He had been first sea lord when the Great War broke out in 1914. Unfortunately, however, he was thought to be "too German" by jealous colleagues and was forced to resign in the October of that year.
The style and title of Battenberg was soon dropped and the former Prince Louis of Battenberg became, in 1917, Louis Mountbatten, first Marquess of Milford Haven. He was made an admiral, but not, unfortunately, until the war was over.
His famous son was then 19 and vowed that he would avenge the dishonour to which he felt his father had been subjected and make the name Mountbatten as illustrious as possible. In this he certainly succeeded.
THE success of last Sunday's musical experiment at Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral encourages the hope of repeat performances in the future.
As pre-announced in this paper last week, one of Bach's Cantatas was performed as part of Evening Prayer. This was made possible by the joining up with the regular choir of a talented amateur orchestra formed about six years ago which performs at the cathedral on some feast days and gives occasional concerts.
There will be no lack of material from which to choose for future presentations on, as is hoped, at least three or four more occasions this year. For when Johann Sebastian Bach was in charge of St Thomas's Church, Leipzig, in the 1700s, one of his duties was to compose music for the main service each Sunday. For this purpose he almost always wrote a cantata a series of thoughts taken from the scripture readings appointed to be read on the particular Sunday. These were then set to music for soloists, choir and orchestra.
At one period Bach wrote a new cantata each Sunday for no less than three years. In all he is credited with about 200 cantatas. One of his 20 children, incidentally, Johann Christian, was invited to London in 1762 and stayed for 20 years as music master to the royal family.
Congratulations meanwhile to Mr Philip Duffy for yet another music triumph at Liverpool. He has now been Master of the Music at the Cathedral for more than 20 years, having been appointed just before the Cathedral was consecrated in 1967. His success and popularity have been prodigious.