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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Pilgrimage

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A kind of religious discipline, which consists in taking a journey to some holy place, in order to adore the relics of some deceased saint. Pilgrimages began to be made about the middle ages of the church, but they were most in vogue after the end of the eleventh century, when every one was for visiting places of devotion, not excepting kings and princes; and even bishops made no difficulty of being absent from their churches on the same account. The places most visited were Jerusalem, Rome, Tours, and Compostella. As to the latter place, we find that in the year 1428, under the reign of Henry VI. abundance of licences were granted by the crown of England to captains of English ships, for carrying numbers of devout persons thither to the shrine of St. James's; provided, however, that those pilgrims should first take an oath not to take any thing prejudicial to England, nor to reveal any of its secrets, nor to carry out with them any more gold or silver than what would be sufficient for their reasonable expenses. In this year there went thither from England on the said pilgrimage, the following number of persons: from London 280, Bristol 200, Weymouth 122, Dartmouth 90, Yarmouth 60, Jersey 60, Plymouth 40, Exeter 30, Poole 24, Ipswich 20; in all, 926 persons. Of late years the greatest numbers have resorted to Loretto, in order to visit the chamber of the Blessed Virgin, in which she was born, and brought up her son Jesus till he was twelve years of age. In almost every country where popery has been established, pilgrimages have been common.

In England, the shrine of St. Thomas-Becket was the chief resort of the pious, and in Scotland, St. Andrews, where, as tradition informs us, was deposited a leg of the holy apostle. In Ireland they have been continued even down to modern times; for from the beginning of May till the middle of August every year crowds of popish penitents from all parts of that country resort to an island near the centre of the Lough Fin, or White Lake, in the county of Donegal, to the amount of 3000 or 4000. these are mostly of the poorer sort, and many of them are proxies, for those who are richer; some of whom, however, together with some of the priests and bishops on occasion, make their appearance there. When the pilgrim comes within sight of the holy lake, he must uncover his hands and feet, and thus walk to the water side, and is taken to the island for sixpence. Here there are two chapels and fifteen other houses; to which are added confessionals so contrived, that the priest cannot see the person confessing. The penance varies according to the circumstances of the penitent; during the continuance of which (which is sometimes three, six, or nine days) he subsists on oatmeal, sometimes made into bread.

He traverses sharp stones on his bare knees or feet, and goes through a variety of other forms, paying sixpence at every different confession. When all is over, the priest bores a gimblet hole through the top of the pilgrim's staff, in which he fastens a cross peg; gives him as many holy pebbles out of the lake as he cares to carry away, for amulets to be presented to his friends, and so dismisses him an object of veneration to all other Papists not thus initiated; who no sooner see the pilgrim's cross in his hands, than they kneel down to get his blessing. There are, however, it is said, other parts of Ireland sacred to extraordinary worship and pilgrimage; and the number of holy wells, and miraculous cures, &c. produced by them, are very great. That such things should exist in this enlightened age, and in a protestant country, is indeed strange; but our wonder ceases when we reflect it is among the lowest, and perhaps the worst of the people. Pilgrimage, however, is not peculiar to Roman Catholic countries. the Mahometans place a great part of their religion in it. Mecca is the grand place to which they go; and this pilgrimage is so necessary a point of practice, that, according to a tradition of Mahomet, he who dies without performing it, may as well die a Jew or a Christian; and the same is expressly commanded in the Koran. What is principally reverenced in this place, and gives sanctity to the whole, is a square stone building, called the Caaba. Before the time of Mahomet this temple was a place of worship for the idolatrous Arabs, and is said to have contained no less than three hundred and sixty different images, equalling in number the days of the Arabian year.

They were all destroyed by Mahomet, who sanctified the Caaba, and appointed it to be the chief place of worship for all true believers. The Mussulment pay so great a veneration to it, that they believe a single sight of its sacred walls, without any particular act of devotion, is as meritorious in the sight of God as the most careful discharge of one's duty for the space of a whole year, in any other temple. To this temple every Mahometan who has health and means sufficient, ought once, at least, in his life, to go on pilgrimage; nor are women excused from the performance of this duty. the pilgrims meet at different laces near Mecca, according to the different parts from whence they come, during the months of Shawal and Dhu'lkaada, being obliged to be there by the beginning of Dhu'lhajja; which month, as its name imports, is peculiarly set apart for the celebration of this solemnity. The men put on the Ibram, or sacred habit, which consists only of two woollen wrappers, one wrapped about the middle, and the other thrown over their shoulders, having their heads bare, and a kind of slippers which cover neither the heel nor the instep, and so enter the sacred territory in their way to Mecca.

While they have this habit on, they must neither hunt nor fowl (though they are allowed to fish;) which precept is so punctually observed, that they will not kill vermin if they find them on their bodies: there are some noxious animals, however, which they have permission to kill during the pilgrimage; as kites, ravens, scorpions, mice, and dogs given to bite. During the pilgrimage, it behoves a man to have a constant guard over his words and actions; to avoid all quarrelling or ill language, all converse with women, and all obscene discourse; and to apply his whole attention to the good work he is engaged in. The pilgrims being arrived at Mecca, immediately visit the temple, and then enter on the performance of the prescribed ceremonies, which consists chiefly in going in procession round the Caaba, in running between the mounts Safa and Meriva, in making the station on mount Arafat, and slaying the victims and shaving their heads in the valley of Mina. In compassing the Caaba, which they do seven times, beginning at the corner where the black stone is fixed, they use a short, quick pace the first three times they go round it, and a grave ordinary pace the four last; which it is said is ordered by Mahomet, that his followers might show themselves strong and active, to cut off the hopes of the infidels, who gave out that the immoderate heats of Medina had rendered them weak.

But the aforesaid quick pace they are not obliged to use every time they perform this piece of devotion, but only at some particular times. So often as they pass by the black stone, they either kiss it, or touch it with their hand, and kiss that. The running between Safa and Meriva is also performed seven times, partly with a slow pace, and partly running; for they walk gravely till they come to a place between two pillars; and there they run, and afterwards walk again, sometimes looking back, and sometimes stoping, like one who had lost something, to represent Hagar seeking water for her son; for the ceremony is said to be as ancient as her time. On the ninth of Dhu'lhajja, after morning prayer, the pilgrims leave the valley of Mina whither they come the day before, and proceed in a tumultuous and rushing manner to mount Arafat, where they stay to perform their devotions till sun-set; then they go to Mozdalifa, and oratory between Arafat, and Mina, and there spend the night in prayer and reading the Koran. The next morning by day-break they visit Al Masher al Karam, or the sacred monument; and, departing thence before sun-rise, haste by Batn Mohasser to the valley of Mina, where they throw seven stones at three marks or pillars, in imitation of Abraham, who, meeting the devil in that place, and being by him disturbed in his devotions, or tempted to disobedience when he was going to sacrifice his son, was commanded by God to drive him away by throwing stones at him; though others pretend this rite to be as old as Adam, who also put the devil to flight in the same place, and by the same means.

The ceremony being over, on the same day, the tenth of Dhu'lhajja, the pilgrims slay their victims in the said valley of Mina, of which they and their friends eat part, and the rest is given to the poor. These victims must be either sheep, goats, kine, or camels; males, if of either of the two former kinds, and females if of either of the latter, and of a fit age. The sacrifices being over, they shave their heads and cut their nails, burying them in the same place; after which the pilgrimage is looked on as completed, though they again visit the Caaba, to take their leave of that sacred building. Dr. Johnson gives us some observations on pilgrimage, which are so much to the purpose, that we shall here present them to the reader. "Pilgrimage, like many other acts of piety, may be reasonable or superstitious according to the principles upon which it is performed. Long journeys in search of truth are not commanded: truth, such as is necessary to the regulation of life, is always found where it is honestly sought, change of place is no natural cause of the increase of piety, for it inevitably produces dissipation of mind. Yet, since men go every day to view the fields where great actions have been performed, and return with stronger impressions of the event, curiosity of the same kind may naturally dispose us to view that country whence our religion had its beginning.

That the Supreme Being may be more easily propitiated in one place than in another, is the dream of idle superstition; but that some places may operate upon our own minds in an uncommon manner, is an opinion which hourly experience will justify. He who supposes that his vices may be more successfully combated in Palestine, will, perhaps, find himself mistaken; yet he may go thither without folly: he who thinks they will be more freely pardoned, dishonours at once his reason and his religion." Johnson's Rasselas; Enc. Brit. Hume's Hist. of England.

See CRUSADE. Poor Pilgrims, an order that started up in the year 1500. They came out of Italy into Germany bare- footed, and bare-headed, feeding all the week, except on Sundays, upon herbs and roots sprinkled with salt. They stayed not above twenty-four hours in a place. They went by couples begging from door to door. This penance they undertook voluntarily, some for three, others for five or seven years, as they pleased, and then returned home to their callings.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Pilgrimage'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/p/pilgrimage.html. 1802.

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