03. Early Europe & Colonial Americas, Art & Humanities, Christianity, Religion

Student Series! Medieval Pilgrims

Student Series! Medieval Pilgrims

In the Middle Ages, many people went on journeys called a pilgrimages. “A pilgrimage is a journey a pilgrim makes to a sacred place for the purpose of venerating it or to ask for heavenly aid, and ultimately to come to know God better” (World Youth Day).  Although you did not have to be religious when going on this journey, many people were. There were also people that would also go on this journey to be cured from sickness or wounds because it was believed that if you completed a pilgrimage, God would heal you.

Read more: Pilgrimage in Art History

Why Go On a Pilgrimage?

Around the year 1000, pilgrimages became a common and popular thing that many people did. There was a general fear that the end of the world was coming very soon. As the believed end of the world was approaching, everyone wanted to renew their salvation so they could be prepared for when Jesus came back to Earth. The church during the Middle Ages also urged their people to complete a pilgrimage and encounter a holy shrine. A holy shrine is a place, typically found at the end of the pilgrimage, that contained relics, or body parts and objects that are often linked to a saint. Some examples being teeth, bones, shoes, cloth, or anything else that belonged to the saint. Everyone was convinced that if you prayed among these shrines you would be wiped clean of your sins and have a better chance to get into heaven.


How to Do a Pilgrimage

A pilgrimage that hundreds of people still venture on today is Santiago de Compostela. At the end of this journey lies the tomb of Saint James. Many people, present day and in the Middle Ages, walk on foot across northern Spain to go see this shrine. The most common path is around 500 miles from start to finish, crossing about four different regions of Spain. When taking this path you will walk over the Pyrenees Mountains, walk through beautiful forests as well as vineyards. There are also many minor pilgrim churches among this path and places to stop to either eat or sleep.

My accidental pilgrimage to see the body of St. Anthony of Padua

When traveling on any pilgrimage route rich people had tended to ride on horseback (today they go via car). Some even paid others to go on the journey for them. And in the other extreme cases, some people walked barefoot to show God they were truly sorry for their sins. At the shrines, the faithful people would ask for forgiveness from God and the saints to purify their soul. Going on any pilgrimage is a life changing trip where many people get to encounter the world and become closer and stronger in their faith.

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