'To Be A Pilgrim : The Medieval Pilgrimage Experience'
- Sarah Hopper, Sutton Publishing 2006

Pilgrimage was a major event of medieval life. Such ‘journeys of faith’ which took men and women thousands of miles from home for months at a time came to be a spontaneous and popular activity for all levels of society. This beautifully illustrated introductory survey delves into the reasons for its popularity and explores the whole medieval pilgrimage experience.

We find that the motives of pilgrims were many and varied : some were moved by genuine piety, whilst others had pilgrimage imposed on them as an act of penance in atonement for a crime. For others still, the journey served to satisfy their restlessness and curiosity for foreign lands. For many also, it was the only chance they would ever have to travel abroad. The top destinations for western Christians are discussed, including the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the important pilgrimage churches of Rome, Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Becket’s shrine in Canterbury and the intriguing, yet hugely popular shrine of Our Lady in Walsingham, Norfolk.

Sarah Hopper describes the efficacy of pilgrimage as it was understood, the endurance of the journey’s hardships constituting a meritorious act and serving to expiate the weight of one’s sin, as well as the ways in which those not on pilgrimage could still benefit from its virtues by offering hospitality and charity to pilgrims. Pilgrims usually travelled in groups for purposes of safety and companionship and made use of the pilgrim hostels along the route. Harrowing though they must have been for the sick and crippled in search of a cure, pilgrimages could also generate a carnival atmosphere and for the wealthy, at least, the journey could look very much like a pleasure trip. The shrines themselves, relics and stories of miracles are discussed, as are the souvenir badges pilgrims collected and worn to show which places they had visited. A final chapter briefly examines the decline of pilgrimage in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and, therefore, the passing of a major part of medieval life.

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