The History of Pilgrimages

People have been making pilgrimages since at least the third century. Those who embarked on pilgrimages came from every rank of society — the poorest of the poor to monarchs and rulers. Likewise, the motivations of pilgrims varied — some came seeking healing, others for penance, still others out of mere curiosity.


The prolific British author A.C. Benson, son of a late nineteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson, likened life to a pilgrimage. He wrote, “As I make my slow pilgrimage through this world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow.”

Pilgrimages were especially common during the Middle Ages, when the journeys to popular locations such as Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela in Spain (where the Apostle James is believed to have been buried) were arduous. The difficulty of the journey did not decrease the appeal of the pilgrimage. If anything, the hard road functioned as a catharsis. As pilgrims struggled toward holy places, they prayed with groans, offering their sufferings up to God and believing that with each step they took, they were a few steps closer to holiness and transformation.

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