Whilst visiting Barthomley in Cheshire a few weeks ago I noticed a footpath marker for the Two Saints Way, a route I was unaware of. A bit of research on the LDWA site followed, and the guidebook was ordered. (Incidentally I use Blackwell’s now for ordering online books. They are competitive with Amazon for price and delivery, are still independent and pay their taxes in the UK.) The route has been devised as a 92mile (148K) Pilgrimage between the Cathedral cities of Chester and Lichfield. David Pott’s guide book is well produced and gives all the background information you need on the Saints and Churches. The directions seem precise and are separate from the descriptive information.
The Two Saints are St. Chad, whose shrine is in Lichfield, and St. Werburgh, enshrined in Chester. They were both alive in the kingdom of Mercia in the 7th century and were prominent in introducing Christianity to the region. In Medieval times, pilgrimages were made between the two cities and onwards. I have completed St. Cuthbert’s Way, The North Downs Way and St. Hilda’s way in the past, not to mention the Camino de Santiago de Compostaela, so this route sits alongside them nicely. I am not overtly religious, but the history and sense of purpose behind these ancient and modern pilgrimages appeals to me and gives a theme and focal point to a long-distance walk. In any case, many ancient tracks now followed by our trails were originally used by monks linking their monasteries, and these became trade routes. Wayside crosses are a common sight on our walking trails.
St. Werburgh was the daughter of the Mercian King Wulphere, she learnt the Roman Christian faith from her mother and entered a convent at Ely. Over her life she came to oversee all the convents in Mercia and was respected as a model of Christian virtue. She was buried at Hanbury, Staffordshire, but during a Danish invasion in the C9th her bones were moved to the safety of St. Peter and St. Paul in the walled city of Chester. Her shrine there became a pilgrimage site, and the abbey church became Chester Cathedral. A story links St. Werburgh and a miracle with a flock of geese, and a goose became a symbol of her.
St. Chad was born around 634 to a Northumbrian family and had his early religious training under St. Aidan at Lindisfarne and then in Ireland. In his life, known for humility and Godliness, he took on many monastic positions and came to Lichfield in Mercia where he would baptise the converted in a holy well. Nearby, he founded St. Mary’s church. He was buried there in 672 but when a new church was built nearby in 700 his remains were transferred there, this was superseded by the present day Cathedral started in 1085. At the Reformation some of his bones were removed and hidden by Catholic families in Staffs, they were found at Aston Hall, on the route, and moved to Birmingham RC Cathedral. St. Chads well became a site of pilgrimage. The Gospels of St. Chad, documents from his time, are preserved in the Cathedral and the symbol of St Chad’s Cross was taken from them.
Enough of the history, I am looking forward to walking through traditional English countryside and interesting towns and cities. Hopefully a varied walk. For no good reason I’m starting in Chester and heading to Lichfield. Uniquely the Two Saints Way route is referred to as The Way of St Chad in the Chester to Lichfield direction and waymarked with the symbolic cross of St Chad. The route from Lichfield to Chester is referred to as The Way of St Werburgh and waymarked with a goose, her symbol. So I’ll be following the Way of St. Chad, but paying homage to St. Werburgh whenever I look back.
Since I wrote this I ‘bruised’ my heel bouldering and have delayed the start of my walk. Wish me luck.