The word 'peregrinatio' was used by Augustine of Hippo 354-430AD , who was considered to be the writer of some of greatest theological works of all time, to describe a Christian spiritual journey as a kind of estrangement and exile - a wanderer. The earliest surviving references to Christian pilgrimage date back to the 4th century.
The Concept of Pilgrimage
Augustine of Hippo wrote about the concept of the pilgrimage and other religious leaders such as Saint Jerome also encouraged it in their religious writings. The idea or the concept of Pilgrimage was eagerly accepted by Medieval people from all walks of life, young or old, wealthy or poor. The concept of pilgrimage was and important religious belief in the Middle Ages both in terms of religious activity and as a way of Medieval life.
Christian Pilgrimage - Destinations
The concept and practise of Christian pilgrimage was first made to holy Christian sites which were connected with the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The destinations of the first Christian pilgrimages were therefore in the Holy Land notably Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth - 3000 miles distant from Europe. Soon it became common for Medieval people to make a pilgrimage closer to home visiting sites associated with Christian Saints and martyrs, holy relics and to places where there had been apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Pilgrimages were the first holidays enjoyed by Medieval people. Groups of Christians would set off together on a spiritual journey to visit a holy place or shrine where they would pray together.
Christian Pilgrimage - The Crusades
As previously stated the first Christian pilgrimages were made to the Holy Land. The journey from destinations in Europe to the Holy Land covered 3000 miles - a massive undertaking which was undertaken by thousands of people during the Crusades. Although the city of Jerusalem was held by the Saracens the Christian pilgrims had been granted safe passage to visit the Holy city. But in 1065 Jerusalem was taken by the Seljukian Turks, a prominent Tartar tribe and zealous followers of Islam. The Medieval Christian community were horrified. They believed that as it was a sacred undertaking to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem that it would be a much more pious act to rescue the sacred spot from the profanation of infidels. This was the conviction that changed the pilgrim into a warrior and a pilgrimage into a military campaign.
Pilgrimage to Walsingham
One of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in the Medieval era of the Middle Ages was to Walsingham in England. It was believed to be beneficial for women to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham to pray for children. Walsingham became famous in 1061 when a Saxon noblewoman called Richeldis de Faverches had a vision of the Virgin Mary. He subsequently built a replica of the humble dwelling in which Jesus was born. Among its relics was a phial of the Virgin's milk. An Augustine Priory was built there but Priory this was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries instigated by by King Henry VIII in 1538 at the start of the Protestant Reformation in England. However, even today there are still Roman Catholic and Anglican shrines to Our Lady of Walsingham.
Pilgrimage to St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
The most popular places of Catholic pilgrimage apart from the Holy Land are St. Peter's Basilica in Rome where Saint Peter, a disciple of Jesus, was martyred and believed to be buried.
Lourdes Pilgrimage, France
The most recent destination for Catholic pilgrimage is Lourdes in France. Lourdes was the place where, in 1858, a young girl called Bernadette Soubivous had a vision of the Virgin Mary. The spring waters that flow from the fountains at Lourdes are believed to bring miraculous healing from God.
Pilgrimage to Canterbury
Many people undertook a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral which was the site of the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170. Thomas a Becket was declared a martyr, and in 1173, he was canonized by Pope Alexander on July 12, 1174. The subject of the Canterbury pilgrimage was used by the Medieval author, Geoffrey Chaucer, in his book the Canterbury Tales.
Pilgrimage - the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales was written c. 1390. It tells stories about a group pilgrims who had undertaken a pilgrimage to Canterbury. Each pilgrim had their own 'Canterbury Tale'. The route of the pilgrimage was along Watling Street and the Old Kent Road in London which led to the ancient "Pilgrim's way" from Rochester to Canterbury.
The Pilgrimage of Grace
The Pilgrimage of Grace was the name given to an uprising in England at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the break with Rome in 1536. The uprising was led by a man called Robert Aske and started in York, in the North of England. The objective of the men who joined the 'Pilgrimage of Grace' was to protest and air their grievances against religious, political and economic changes in England. The uprising or rebellion that was the 'Pilgrimage of Grace' ended when King Henry VIII agreed to consider the grievances and pardon all of the participants. He lied. The leaders including Robert Aske were all executed and King Henry VIII continued his break with the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant Reformation.
The End of the Pilgrimage in England
The Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Protestant Reformation effectively ended the custom of the pilgrimage in England.