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What is Christian Pilgrimage?
A Christian pilgrimage is a pilgrimage or journey made by Christians to places which has to them a moral or spiritual significance.
Christianity has a strong tradition of pilgrimages, both to sites relevant to the New Testament narrative (especially in the Holy Land) and to sites associated with later saints or miracles.
The first pilgrimages were made to sites connected with the ministry of Jesus. Aside from the early example of Origen, who “in search of the traces of Jesus, the disciples and the prophets”, already found local folk prompt to show him the actual location of the Gadarene swine in the mid-3rd century, surviving descriptions of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Jerusalem date from the 4th century. The Itinerarium Burdigalense (“Bordeaux Itinerary”), the oldest surviving Christian itinerarium, was written by the anonymous “Pilgrim of Bordeaux” recounting the stages of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the years 333 and 334.
Pilgrimage was encouraged by church fathers and established by Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. Pilgrimages also began to be made to Rome and other sites associated with the Apostles, Saints and Christian martyrs, as well as to places where there have been apparitions of the Virgin Mary. Pilgrimage to Rome became a common destination for pilgrims from throughout Western Christianity in the medieval period, and important sites were listed in travel-guides such as the 12th-century Mirabilia Urbis Romae.
In the 7th century, the Holy Land fell to the Muslim conquests, and as pilgrimage to the Holy Land now became more difficult for European Christians, major pilgrimage sites developed in Western Europe, notably Santiago de Compostela in the 9th century. Political relationships between the Muslim caliphates and the Christian kingdoms of Europe remained in a state of suspended truce, allowing the continuation of Christian pilgrimages into Muslim-controlled lands, at least in intervals; for example, the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, only to have his successor allow the Byzantine Empire to rebuild it. The Seljuk Turks now systematically disrupted Christian pilgrimage routes, which became one of the major factors triggering the crusades later in the 11th century.
The crusades were at first a success, the Crusader states, especially the kingdom of Jerusalem, guaranteeing safe access to the Holy Land for Christian pilgrims during the 12th century, but the enterprise of the crusades was ultimately doomed to failure, and the Holy Land was entirely re-conquered by the Ayyubids by the end of the 13th century.
Under the Ottoman Empire travel in Palestine was once again restricted and dangerous. Modern pilgrimages in the Holy Land may be said to have received an early impetus from the scholar Ernest Renan, whose twenty-four days in Palestine, recounted in his Vie de Jésus (published 1863) found the resonance of the New Testament at every turn.
In the past, pilgrims would leave their homes, families, and comforts to walk for hundreds of miles with nothing but what they could carry on their backs. Just as the pilgrims from the early centuries, we modern pilgrims also leave our homes, families and comforts in order to journey to sacred places.
The motivations which draw today’s visitors to Christian sacred sites can be mixed: faith-based, spiritual in a general way, with cultural interests, etc. This diversity has become an important factor in the management and pastoral care of Christian pilgrimage, as recent research on international sanctuaries and much-visited churches has shown.
Where do Christians do and go for pilgrimages? Here are some examples of Cristian pilgrimage.
Rome has been a major Christian pilgrimage site since the Middle Ages. Pilgrimages to Rome can involve visits to a large number of sites, both within the Vatican City and in Italian territory. A popular stopping point is the Pilate’s stairs: these are, according to the Christian tradition, the steps that led up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem, which Jesus Christ stood on during his Passion on his way to trial. The stairs were, reputedly, brought to Rome by St. Helena in the 4th Century. For centuries, the Scala Santa has attracted Christian pilgrims who wished to honour the Passion of Jesus.
Check out our Christian tours to Rome, Italy.
After the murder of the Archbishop Thomas Becket at the cathedral in 1170, Canterbury became one of the most notable towns in Europe, as pilgrims from all parts of Christendom came to visit his shrine. This pilgrimage provided the framework for Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century collection of stories, The Canterbury Tales. Canterbury Castle was captured by the French Prince Louis during his 1215 invasion of England, before the death of John caused his English supporters to desert his cause and support the young Henry III.
The first pilgrimages were made to sites connected with the ministry of Jesus. Aside from the early example of Origen who, “in search of the traces of Jesus, the disciples and the prophets”, already found local folk prompt to show him the actual location of the Gadarene swine in the mid-3rd century, surviving descriptions of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Jerusalem date from the 4th century. The Itinerarium Burdigalense (“Bordeaux Itinerary”), the oldest surviving Christian itinerarium, was written by the anonymous “Pilgrim of Bordeaux” recounting the stages of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the years 333 and 334.
Check out our Christian tour packages to Holy Land.
The commune of Taizé in France, home of the Taizé Community, sees over 100,000 Christian pilgrims each year. As the Taizé Community is an ecumenical Christian community, the pilgrims belong to various Christian denominations, including the Reformed, Catholic, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, Methodist, Anglican and Oriental Orthodox traditions. Christian pilgrims engage with the brothers and sisters of the Taizé Community in prayer, worship, the study of Sacred Scripture, the promotion of ecumenism, and communal work.
At some point between 818 and 842, during the reign of Alfonso II of Asturias, bishop Theodemar of Iria (d. 847) claimed to have found some remains which were attributed to Saint James the Greater. Around the place of the discovery a new settlement and centre of pilgrimage emerged, which was known to the author Usuard in 865 and by the 10th century was called Compostella. The cult of Saint James of Compostela was just one of many arising throughout northern Iberia during the 10th and 11th centuries, as rulers encouraged their own region-specific cults, such as Saint Eulalia in Oviedo and Saint Aemilian in Castile.
Marian apparitions are also responsible for tens of millions of Christian pilgrimages worldwide. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima, in Cova da Iria, Fátima, Portugal, became the most visited sanctuaries in the world with between 14 and 18 million pilgrims per year, for this reason Fátima is often compared to Mecca in terms of pilgrims that visit the holy site in May and October.
According to believers, the Virgin Mary appeared to Maria Bernada Sobirós (in her native Occitan language) on a total of eighteen occasions at Lourdes (Lorda in her local Occitan language). As a result, Lourdes became a major place of Roman Catholic pilgrimage and of miraculous healings. Today Lourdes receives up to 5,000,000 pilgrims and tourists every season. With about 270 hotels, Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels per square kilometer in France after Paris. Some of the deluxe hotels like Grand Hotel Moderne, Hotel Grand de la Grotte, Hotel St. Etienne, Hotel Majestic and Hotel Roissy are located here.
Oberammergau is a town located approximately 96km from Munich. The town is beautiful, surrounded by majestic mountains and picturesque meadows. The village is known for woodcarving and is famous for its Bavarian themes painted alongside many of the homes and buildings. What made the town famous, was its performance of the Passion of Christ every decade. A play of life and death, promised in a moment of mortal threat, and so began the history of the Oberammergau Passion Play in 1633. During that time, the Black Plague was sweeping through Europe. The villagers of Oberammergau vowed that if their town was spared, they would perform the Passion of Christ every 10 years. The town was spared, and it is amazing that they have been honoring this pledge from generation to generation. The Passion Play performance follows Christ from His triumphant entry into Jerusalem through His Trial, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension.
Check out our Christian tours to Oberammergau, Germany.
Combined septennial pilgrimages in the Dutch-German towns of Maastricht, Aachen and Kornelimünster were held at least since the 14th century. The German word Heiligtumsfahrt means “journey to the holy relics”. In all three places important relics could be seen: in Maastricht relics of the True Cross, the girdle of Mary, the arm of Saint Thomas and various relics of Saint Servatius; in Aachen the nappy and loin cloth of Jesus, the dress of Mary, the decapitation cloth of John the Baptist, and the remains of Charlemagne; and in Kornelimünster the loincloth, the sudarium and the shroud of Jesus, as well as the skull of Pope Cornelius. In Maastricht some relics were shown from the dwarf gallery of St Servatius’ Church to the pilgrims gathered in the square; in Aachen the same was done from the purpose-built tower gallery between the dome and the westwork tower of Aachen Cathedral. The popularity of the Maastricht-Aachen-Kornelimünster pilgrimage reached its zenith in the 15th century when up to 140,000 pilgrims visited these towns in mid-July. After a break of about 150 years, the pilgrimages were revived in the 19th century. The Aachen and Kornelimünster pilgrimages are still synchronised but the Maastricht pilgrimage takes place 3 years earlier. In 2011 the Maastricht pilgrimage drew around 175,000 visitors; Aachen had in 2014 around 125,000 pilgrims.
Are you looking for Christian tour packages from Malaysia? Check out our list of Christian pilgrimage tours that you might want to join. Most of our tours include the following:
E.D. Hunt, Holy Land Pilgrimage in the Late Roman Empire AD 312-460 1982.
Wickham, Inheritance of Rome
Pringle, Architecture in Latin East, Oxford History of the Crusades
Robin Lane Fox, The Unauthorized Version, 1992
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