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Samlesbury Hall - Lancashire - London

The purpose of this pilgrimage was to learn more about my family's history by following in the footsteps of my paternal ancestors. My maiden name is Southworth, and my family lineage dates back to the 13th century and Sir Thomas Southworth, who was a descendant of the bloodline of kings from England, Scotland, and France. The family's homestead, Samlesbury Hall, was built in Lancashire, England in 1325, and is still open to the public.


The Southworths were staunch Catholics, and suffered persecution after the Church of England split from Rome in 1534. The home contains a private chapel with secret passages in the fireplace so that priests could hide from the authorities. My pilgrimage followed the journey of my great uncle, Saint John Southworth, a Catholic priest who was arrested for administering the sacraments to the sick and dying during a plague outbreak at the time of Oliver Cromwell. He was imprisoned at Lancaster Castle, and was later sent to The Clink in London. He was tried at the Old Bailey, and was hung, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn in 1654. His remains are on display in Westminster Cathedral in London. 

Family lore also tells the story of how Sir John's son Christopher turned against two of his sisters, Jane and Dorothy, for showing an interest in Protestantism. Jane Southworth was tried for witchcraft in 1612, but was later acquitted after a judge uncovered her brother's plot to falsely accuse her. Lady Dorothy was not so lucky, having fallen in love with an Anglican man of the nearby de Hoghton family. On the night of their planned elopement, Dorothy watched as her brother murdered her lover. She was sent to a convent where she is said to have died of a broken heart, and her name was apparently stricken from the family records. Many people believe that Lady Dorothy's spirit still haunts the grounds at Samlesbury Hall, and there have been numerous modern-day sightings of the "White Lady."

Lady DorothyKristen Leigh
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In 2010, I wrote a song for Lady Dorothy, which is on my album Making Friends with Ghosts. I was grateful to have had the opportunity to perform this lament on the piano in the Old Hall at Samlesbury during my visit.

Iona - Isle of Staffa - Isle of Mull - Trinity College - Eaglais Mhuire - Kildare - Jerpoint Abbey - Kells Priory - Kilree - Ring of Kerry

In 2014, after giving a paper at an arts & theology conference at Heythrop College in London, I made a solo trek across Scotland and Ireland to explore the history of Celtic Christianity and to experience for myself the beauty and wonder of these isles "at the ends of the earth." From Glasgow, I hopped a train to the port town of Oban, and took the ferry to the eastern end of Mull, where I met a local historian at the pub who had spent his life studying ancient rock formations. He drove me around the island showing me his latest discoveries, before dropping me off just in time to catch the last boat to Iona. I remained on Iona for a week, staying with a local sheep farmer at the north edge of the island. Every day, I would walk the length of the small island, praying in the abbey and spending time getting to know the land, the people, and the sheep. Thanks to a very kind boatman, I was also able to take a day trip to the Isle of Staffa, where I hung out with puffins on the jagged cliffsides, and sang into the eerie echoes of Fingal's Cave. 

Wayfaring Stranger from inside Fingals CaveKristen Leigh
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The remainder of my journey was guided by my interest in Celtic art and monasticism, particularly the high crosses and illuminated manuscripts that were heavily influenced by Coptic monks who had traveled from Egypt to Ireland in the fifth and sixth centuries. Having studied images of the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow for many years, it was wonderful to see these ancient pages for myself at Trinity College, and see the high crosses at ruins of ancient churches and abbeys all across Scotland & Ireland. I visited several castles as well, listened to and learned some excellent traditional Irish music, and ended my trip with a solo drive around the Ring of Kerry, which included a lovely view of the Skelligs and a visit to Staigue, a stone fort dating back to the Iron Age.  


For those interested in learning more about Celtic art, spirituality, and the influence of the Egyptian monks on Irish monasticism, check out my workshop on Celtic art & spirituality, or see below to explore the option of a guided pilgrimage.

Notre Dame - Chartres Cathedral - Cluny - Taize - Avignon - Barcelona - Montserrat - Bingen - Assisi

I was honored at my graduation from Union Theological Seminary to receive their Traveling Fellowship Award, which enabled me to embark on a post-seminary solo pilgrimage across Western Europe. I began in France with visits to Notre Dame Cathedral, Sainte-Chapelle, Saint-Denis Basilica, and Chartres Cathedral, where I finally got to walk the famous Chartres labyrinth. I also visited the Musée de Cluny to see the famous tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn, before traveling to Cluny, the medieval village known for its Benedictine abbey, which was a major center for European monasticism during the 10th and 11th centuries. I then took a bus to the nearby village of Taizé, where I spent a week living in community with the monks there, along with fellow travelers from all over the world. During my stay, I was able to take advantage of several workshops, lessons, and conversations with the brothers about their unique chant tradition and their ecumenical approach to monastic life.

Taizé Chant (live recording)Kristen Leigh
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From the village of Taizé I made my way down to Avignon, the site of the infamous Palais des Papes, where the seat of the Roman papacy was relocated during the 14th century. My journey continued south to Barcelona, where I visited Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia, the Gothic Quarter, and the Labyrinth Park of Horta, before making my way into the mountains of Montserrat, which is one of the stops along the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route.  I took a cable car up to the cliffside abbey to see the famous Black Madonna, before hopping a flight over to Germany where I visited Ebingen Abbey on the Rhine near Frankfurt, founded by Hildegard of Bingen in 1165. While in northern Germany, I also visited several castles and small medieval villages.

In 2011, I spent a week on pilgrimage in Assisi following a month-long academic research trip to Rome. During my time there, I stayed with the kindly Benedictine nuns at the Monastero San Giuseppe. Because I was there in January, the streets were practically empty. It was a wonderfully contemplative time to visit the holy city of St. Francis and St. Clare.

Athens - Crete - Patmos - Ephesus - Corinth - Mystras - Meteora - Delphi

In 2018, my husband and I made a two-week self-guided pilgrimage across Greece, drawing on his extensive historical knowledge of ancient Greece and my own research into the early church in its cultural-historical context. We visited number of historically significant sites from both classical Greece and the early Christian period, beginning our journey in Athens with the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, Aristotle's Lyceum, Areopagus Hill, the ancient Agora, and the Byzantine & Christian Museum, which contains thousands of Byzantine icons from across the centuries. From there, we traveled to the villages of Oia and Fira on the island of Santorini, Knossos Palace on the island of Crete (home to the famous labyrinth of Greek mythology), the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey (including access to the Secret Grotto of Paul & Thecla), the remote island of Patmos and the Cave of the Apocalypse, the ancient ruins at Corinth, the ancient city of Sparta, the medieval Byzantine city of Mystras, and the clifftop monasteries of Meteora, We ended our trip with a brief visit to Thermopylae and the ancient site of Delphi. Click below to read our travel blog from Greece:

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With a background in academic research, worship, and spiritual direction, I can plan and facilitate spiritually-enriching pilgrimages for small groups to a variety of holy sites and popular pilgrimage destinations, avoiding the expense, inflexibility, and generic approach of most major tour companies. My experiences with international travel and my own vast network of international contacts has made me adept at connecting and coordinating with locals on the ground, which always leads to a much more rewarding travel experience. Let's work together to imagine and customize a trip that has the pace, focus, and price range that fits your group. Where do you want to go? What would you like to learn about? Where is your soul calling you? See below for a list of possibilities:


Celtic Christianity:

Iona - Trinity College - Lindisfarne - Kildare - Skelligs - Glendalough - Clonmacnoise

Medieval Europe:

Canterbury - Notre Dame - Chartres - Cluny - Avignon - Barcelona - Montserrat - Avila - Assisi - Bingen

"Footsteps of Paul" & The Early Church:

Athens - Thessalonica - Phillipi - Ephesus - Patmos - Corinth - Rome 

The Labyrinth:

Paris - Chartres - Reims - St. Quentin - Amiens - Crete

Guided Pilgramges
Greece Pilgrimage
Western Europe Pilgrimage
Celtic Pilgrimage
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