On the 13th of February, 1413, Henry Ogilvy returned to St Andrews after a long, arduous journey from Peñiscola, Spain.

There he had met with the Avignon Pope, Benedict XIII, and in August 1412 collected the 6 Papal Bulls that would found St Andrews as the first university in Scotland.

On his return, Ogilvy was met with ‘universal festivity’ and joy pervading the city (Grierson: 1838, 160).

Almost 600 years later, this relay commemorates this foundational moment and echoes the arduous nature of his task, approximating his route from Peñiscola to St Andrews.

6 teams of 10 individuals, drawn from across the University, cycling in relay across 2000 miles and 600 years of history in 6 weeks.


The Ride

Our task was to coordinate a bicycle relay following the most historically accurate route that could be found.

The route was to encompass as many landmarks with historical connections to the University of St Andrews and its history as possible.  In particular, Avignon, Paris, and London were to be included in the route.

We also established that this is not a race, and that the tempo of the relay should be such that cyclists of all ages and abilities are able to take part.

The Papal Bull Cycle Relay is set to take place during the summer of 2013, with the final leg finishing in time for Orientation Week 2013.

The stages of the relay are:

  1. 9th – 13th August, Peñiscola, Spain – Le Boulou, France
  2. 15th – 19th August, Le Boulou, France – Tain-l’Hermitage, France
  3. 21st – 25th August, Tain-l-Hermitage, France – Troyes, France
  4. 27th – 31st August, Troyes, France – Boulogne-sur-Mer, France
  5. 2nd – 6th September, Dover, England – Lincoln, England
  6. 8th – 13th September, Lincoln, England – St Andrews, Scotland


1413 Route

The first task was to track down Henry Ogilvy and discover his whereabouts between 1411 and 1413, and to try to find his name in documents of safe conduct.

Thanks to Dr Norman Reid and Dr Isla Woodman at the University’s special collections department, it was found that in 1411 Ogilvy, like many educated Scots, completed his Bachelor of Arts degree at Paris.

Unfortunately, his name was not found on any documents of safe-conduct, and the trail is lost until 1424 when his name is mentioned in a meeting of the Arts Faculty at St Andrews.

A member of the aristocratic Ogilvy family, it is possible that Henry accompanied his relative Alexander Ogilvy to London in 1412 when a delegation was sent to James I and his captive-court.

From London, Henry Ogilvy could have taken several routes to Peñiscola. These include: crossing to the Low Countries, or La Rochelle, and even routes that involved sailing from Scotland thereby bypassing England entirely.

From our own research and correspondence with academic experts in the fields of late medieval and early modern history, it appears that the most likely route for Ogilvy would have been to follow the well trodden trade and pilgrimage route, through France, towards Narbonne, and from there to Peñiscola.

Ogilvy took six months to return to St Andrews, suggesting delays either with the papal chancery or en route. The comparatively short return journey suggests a winter sea crossing from the West coast of Spain straight to Scotland.


2013 Route

There are clearly variances between the historically accurate route and the route the teams will be cycling.

We decided that, while Ogilvy’s route should be followed where possible, the spirit of Ogilvy’s mission should be incorporated into the new route in something of an equitable interpretation.

For this reason the 2013 route follows his outward journey to Spain in reverse.

This compromise means that large parts of the expedition follow a historically accurate path, whilst enabling bicycles to be the primary mode of transportation, and the final leg will end in St Andrews as Ogilvy’s journey did 600 years ago.

Although some of the stopping points on the 2013 route are probably not historically accurate, the majority of these points were chosen because of their significance to the history of St Andrews throughout its history.

The riders stop in Paris and Cambridge, for example, to visit the universities there, while other stopping points were necessitated by the need for keeping daily rides manageable.

Many of the stopping points also try to maintain historical connections to Ogilvy and his companions, such as those in Canterbury and Durham.  Pilgrimage sites such as these would have been of extreme importance on such a long and difficult journey, and giving thanks would have been important.

Matthew Paris, an English medieval traveller, and his notes on his journey from London to Rome between 1248 and 1259 is used as a basis for much of the route taken through France.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *