Free Online Bible Library | Pilgrimages

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Journeys undertaken for religious reasons, usually to shrines or holy places. The concept predates Christianity and is common to several religions, reaching its highest development in Islam.* Although the practice of pilgrimage barely appeared in the earliest Christian centuries, the desire to visit the actual scenes of Christ's earthly life was a natural one. Among the earliest well-known pilgrims to the Holy Land were Constantine* and his mother Helena,* both of whom built churches there. From the veneration of the sites of the Savior's earthly ministry, the concept of pilgrimage was extended to the sites of the martyrdoms of His witnesses, which quickly acquired miraculous associations.

As the cult of martyrs burgeoned, pilgrimages frequently became expeditions to collect relics. For Western Christians, the journey to the East was often out of the question, but Rome, a city associated with both Peter and Paul and many lesser saints, held an irresistible attraction, and pilgrimage was encouraged by the papacy, which eventually stipulated that every bishop must receive his pallium in Rome. Other popular shrines include those of St. Martin at Tours, St. James at Compostella, and St. Thomas at Canterbury. Charlemagne* indicated his concern for pilgrims by erecting a hostel in Jerusalem, with the cooperation of Haroun-al- Raschid.

As life became less precarious in the West, pilgrimages to the Holy Land became more frequent and more organized and included larger numbers of people. Pilgrimages thus formed an impetus to the Crusades, attacks on pilgrims helping to incite the papacy to initiate the movement. The church sought to aid and protect pilgrims by the creation of hostels and by ruling that the person of the pilgrim was inviolate, and that it was a pious act to assist him on his way. Indulgences* were promised to pilgrims to certain shrines, and became general with the crusading movement. This aspect was strengthened in 1300 with the establishment of the Year of Jubilee.* The denunciations of pilgrimages by the Reformers merely echoed the reservations expressed by John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and Boniface, among others. In Protestant areas the movement declined, though the motif reappeared in the great classic, Pilgrim's Progress.

The Library of the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society (13 vols., 1888-97); J.J. Jusserand, English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages (ET 1892); P. Geyer (ed.), Itinera Hiersolymitana Saeculi IV-VIII (CSEL XXXIX, 1898); E.R. Barker, Rome of the Pilgrims and Martyrs (1913); B. Kötting, Peregrinatio Religiosa (1950); A.M. Besnard, Le Pèlerinage chrétien (1959); R. Oursel, Les Pèlerins du moyen ãge (1963).

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