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.
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.
- 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.
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
Saint Peter, a disciple of Jesus, was martyred and believed to be
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.
Many people undertook a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral which was the
site of the murder of
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 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
The End of the Pilgrimage
The Dissolution of the Monasteries
and the Protestant Reformation effectively ended the custom of the
pilgrimage in England.