Hundreds expected on St Robert pilgrimage

HUNDREDS of pilgrims will be flocking to Morpeth this weekend to honour Saint Robert of Newminster.

The special event has been organised by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle as the second in a series of pilgrimages across the region during a Year of Faith, which began in October.

Around 300 people attended the first such pilgrimage in Hartlepool in tribute to St Hilda, and St Robert’s Church in Oldgate is expecting to play host to similar numbers on Saturday.

Parish Priest Fr Lawrence Jones said: “There is a Year of Faith, which was inaugurated by Pope Benedict for the whole church, and local churches and dioceses are putting on different events. We are celebrating the local saints.

“There was a day for St Hilda in Hartlepool and there will be one to St Bede later in the year, and of course St Cuthbert. This one is for St Robert of Newminster, to look at his life and his example, to celebrate our tradition and the history of Newminster Abbey, as well as the Cistercian monastic life and what it teaches us.

“The first pilgrimage in Hartlepool had about 300 people so if the weather is ok we would expect at least 200 people in Morpeth.”

St Robert of Newminster was born in Yorkshire and after studying at the University of Paris, he became parish priest in his home town of Gargrave.

He then joined the Benedictine community at Whitby, before becoming a Cistercian and founder member of Fountains Abbey.

He came to Morpeth around 1138 with a small group of monks and founded the Abbey of Newminster, becoming its first Abbot.

He was also responsible for founding monasteries at Pipewell, Roche and Sawley.

The Morpeth pilgrimage will begin with Mass at St Robert’s Church at 10am. Afterwards a new icon of St Robert by John Bagnell will be blessed and will be presented to the parish.

There will also be short talk about the saint by historian George Thornton.

Weather permitting, the pilgrims will walk to a field overlooking the ruins of Newminster Abbey for prayer.

There will be four workshops about prayer and faith to choose from and there will be activities for children to learn more about St Robert.

Pupils from St Robert’s First School will play a part in the festivities by leading prayers, and students from St Robert of Newminster secondary school in Washington will also attend.

Fr Jones said: “It will be great. I don’t think we make enough of St Robert so to have so many people here will be good. We are trying to honour St Robert and remember his contribution to the life of the church.”

The pilgrimage will also serve as a wider celebration of the local parish and restoration of the church following a fire in June.

The church re-opened in time for Christmas after repairs, refurbishment and careful cleaning of its stained glass windows, statues, artwork and Stations of the Cross, as well as work to install a new heating system and lay a carpet.

Fr Jones said: “It will be a kind of thanksgiving for the fact that we all got through the trauma of the fire, nobody was hurt when the fire happened and we have got all the work done to give us this nice church.”

During the repairs, parishioners were invited to use St George’s United Reformed Church for services and a thank-you event was held at St Robert’s on Monday to show their appreciation and continue the strong relationship built up between the churches.

Around 50 people attended the event, tucking into snacks and wine.