A pilgrimage is a term primarily used in religion and spirituality of a long journey or search of great moral significance. Sometimes, it is a journey to a sacred place or shrine of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith. Members of every religion participate in pilgrimages. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim.
I remember my Gran, when I was a kid, going every year or two on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. She would get the bus from Glasgow in Scotland and it would take three days to reach Lourdes. They would spend two days there and another three days on the bus home. I really didn’t get it – until I walked the Camino de Santiago, now I do.
Secular and civic pilgrimages are also practiced, without regard for religion but rather of importance to a particular society. For example, many people throughout the world travel to the City of Washington in the United States for a pilgrimage to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. British people often make pilgrimages to London for public appearances of the monarch of the United Kingdom.
Pilgrimages were first made to sites connected with the life, birth, and crucifixion of Jesus. Surviving descriptions of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land date from the 4th century, when pilgrimage was encouraged by church fathers like Saint Jerome. Pilgrimages also began to be made to Rome and other sites associated with the Apostles, Saints, and Christian martyrs, like Santiago de Compostela, as well as to places where there have been alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
The second largest single pilgrimage in the history of Christendom was to the Funeral of Pope John Paul II after his death on April 2, 2005. An estimated four million people traveled to Vatican City, in addition to the almost three million people already living in Rome, to see the body of Pope John Paul II lying in state.
World Youth Day is a major Catholic Pilgrimage, specifically for people aged 16-35. It is held internationally every 2-3 years. In 2005, young Roman Catholics visited Cologne, Germany. In 1995, the largest gathering of all time was to World Youth Day in Manila, Philippines, where four million people from all over the world attended.
Famous Christian Pilgrimages
The major Christian pilgrimages are to:
- Jerusalem. Site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
- Rome on roads such as the Via Francigena. Site of the deaths of Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and other early martyrs. Headquarters of the Catholic Church.
- Santiago de Compostela in Spain on the Way of St James (Spanish: El Camino de Santiago). This famous medieval pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James is still popular today.
Other important Christian pilgrimage sites include:
- Ávila, Spain, St Theresa of Avila, relics
- Bethlehem, in Israel, Birthplace of Jesus and King David.
- Canterbury associated with Saint Thomas à Becket.
- Cathedral of Chartres, France.
- Csíksomlyó, Transylvania, Romania. Whit Sunday gathering of (mostly ethnic Hungarian) Catholics.
- Croagh Patrick, Ireland. Saint Patrick.
- Conques, France
- Cologne, Germany. Relics of the Three Kings.
- Częstochowa, Poland. Virgin Mary image.
- Glastonbury, England. St Joseph of Arimathea.
- Goa, India. St. Francis Xavier
- Guadalupe, Spain.
- Kapel in ‘t Zand, Limburg
- Kevelaer, Germany
- Knock, Ireland
- Lisieux, France. Saint Therese of Lisieux, burial place.
- Lourdes, France. Apparition of the Virgin Mary. Place of healing.
- Mariazell, Austria. Marian Shrine to Austria and Hungary
- Mount Athos, Greece. Orthodox monastic centre.
- Mount Nebo, Jordan. Traditional site of the death of Moses.
- Mount Sinai, Egypt, holy mountain to the ancient Hebrews, the traditional site has been commemorated since the time of Constantine
- Nazareth, Israel, the hometown of Jesus
- Fatima, Portugal. Apparition of the Virgin Mary.
- Sea of Galilee, Israel, site of Jesus’ early ministry.
- Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City. Apparition of the Virgin Mary.
- St. Patrick’s Purgatory, Donegal, Ireland
- St. Thomas Mount, India. Place where St.Thomas was martyred
- Taizé Community, France, a modern monastery that actively encourages pilgrimages to it
- Nidaros, Norway
- Turin, Italy. Holy Shroud.
- Vailankanni, India. 16th Century Mary apparition site.
- Vierzehnheiligen, Germany.
- Walsingham, England. Virgin Mary apparition site.
- Wittenberg, Germany. Church of Martin Luther and center of the Protestant Reformation.