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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Pilgrimages

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are exercises of religious discipline, which consist in journeying to some place of reputed sanctity, frequently in discharge of a vow.

Christian Pilgrimages. The idea of any peculiar sacredness being attached to special localities under the Christian dispensation was very strikingly rebuked by Christ in his conversation with the woman of Samaria, as recorded in John 4; and nowhere is the principle on this subject more plainly laid down than in the Lord's statement on that occasion: "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him." In proportion, however, as Christianity receded from the apostolic age, it gradually lost sight of the simplicity and spirituality which marked its primitive character, and availed itself of carnal expedients for the purpose of elevating the imagination and kindling the devotion of its votaries. Hence, in the 4th century, many, encouraged by the example of the emperor Constantine, whose superstitious tendencies were strong, resorted to the scenes of the Savior's life and ministry for the nourishing and invigoration of their religious feelings and desires. Helena, the mother of Constantine, set the first example of a pilgrimage to Palestine, which was soon extensively imitated; partly, as in the case of Constantine, with a desire to be baptized in the Jordan, but still more from a veneration for the spots which were associated with the events of the history of Christ and his apostles. Thus a superstitious attachment to the Holy Land increased so extensively that some of the most eminent teachers of the Church, as Jerome and Gregory of Nyssa, openly disapproved these pilgrimages. The most frequent resort of pilgrims was Jerusalem, but to this were afterwards added Rome, Tours, and Compostella. As to the last-named place, we find that in the year 1428, under the reign of Henry VI, abundance of licenses were granted by the crown of England to captains of English ships for carrying numbers of devout persons to the shrine of St. James; provided, however, that those pilgrims should first make oath not to take anything prejudicial to England, nor to reveal any of its secrets, nor to carry out with them any more gold or silver than would be sufficient for their reasonable expenses. In that year 926 persons went from England on the said pilgrimage. In our own times the greatest numbers have resorted to Loretto (q.v.), 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! or to Paray le Monial (q.v.), to pay homage to the Virgin Marie à la Coque (q.v.).

In the Middle Ages pilgrimages were regarded as a mark of piety, but, as might have been expected, they gave rise to the most flagrant abuses. We find accordingly pope Boniface, in a letter to Cuthbert, archbishop of Canterbury, in the 8th century, desiring that women and nuns might be restrained from their frequent pilgrimages to Rome. The second Council of Chalons also, which was held in A.D. 813, denounces in no measured terms the false trust reposed in pilgrimages to Rome, and also to the church of St. Martin at Tours. "There are clergymen," complains this ecclesiastical synod, "who lead an idle life, and trust thereby to be purified from sin, and to fulfill the duties of their calling; and there are laymen who believe that they may sin or have sinned with impunity because they undertook such pilgrimages; there are great men who, under this pretext, practice the grossest extortion among their people; and there are poor men who employ the same excuse to render begging a more profitable employment. Such are those who wander round about, and falsely declare that they are on a pilgrimage; while there are others whose folly is so great that they believe that they become purified from their sins by the mere sight of the holy places, forgetting the words of St. Jerome, who says that there is nothing meritorious in seeing Jerusalem, but in leading a good life there." It was between the 11th and the 13th centuries, however, that the rage for pilgrimages came to its height. About the commencement of the period now referred to the idea extensively prevailed throughout Europe that the thousand years mentioned in the Apocalypse were near their close, and the end of the world was at hand. A general consternation spread among all classes, and many individuals, parting with their property and abandoning their friends and families, set out for the Holy Land, where they imagined that Christ would appear to judge the world. While Palestine had been in the hands of the caliphs, pilgrimages to Jerusalem had been encouraged as offering them an ample source of revenue; but no sooner had Syria been conquered by the Turks, in the middle of the 11th century, than pilgrims to the Holy Land began to be exposed to even species of insult. The minds of men in every part of Christendom were now inflamed with indignation at the cruelties and impositions of the Mohammedan possessors of the holy places; and in such circumstances the Church enthusiasts found little difficulty in originating the Crusades (q.v.), and for two centuries vast armies of pilgrims poured into the Holy Land. It was easier for the Crusaders, however, to make their conquests than to preserve them; and accordingly, before the 13th century had passed away, the Christians were driven out of all their Asiatic possessions, and the holy places fell anew into the hands of the infidels.

In almost every country where Romanism prevails pilgrimages have been and still are common. In England, at one time, the shrine of Thomas K. Becket, and in Scotland that of St. Andrew, was the favorite resort of devout pilgrims. But even down to the present day there are various places in Ireland where stations and holy wells attract crowds of devout worshippers every year; and many parts of that country are sacred to extraordinary worship and pilgrimage. From the beginning of May till the middle of August every year crowds of popish penitents resort to an island near the center of Lough Fin, or White Lake, in the county of Donegal, to the amount of three or four thousand. 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 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 (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 gimlet-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. But France, even in modern times, remains the special patron of Roman Catholic devotees. Thus the N.Y. Tribune correspondent writes under Aug. 27, 1875, from Paris: "If half a million was a correct estimate the faithful will tell you that it was too low of the number of those who had already this year, at the date of my 10th of July letter, gone on foot or wheels to pay their devotions at this, that, and the other French shrine, by this it should be near a million and a half. We are now in the height of the pilgrimage season. Never in modern times, if in any time, was there another like it for brisk and multitudinous pious peregrination. One day it is 100,000 devotees about Notre Dame de la Garde; on another 20,000 at Canmbrai, 10,000 at Notre Dame de Liesse, at La Salette, and Lourdes, besides great days and extraordinary occasions. The affluence is constant, with a sprinkling of miraculous cures from the thaumaturgic springs of the last-named places. There is hardly a diocese whose bishop does not exalt the merits of some local shrine for convenience of tender-footed or short-winded devotees of his flock." In Belgium also the same priestly management prevails. The chief object is, of course, the attraction of immense flocks of pilgrims from all parts of the world to enrich from their offerings the depleted coffers of the papacy, and to incite the popular mind to renewed ardor in the promotion of all the objects at which Romanism has been wont to aim. (See ROMANISM).

Peculiar usages have prevailed from time to time among the pilgrims of Christianity. Thus the English pilgrim's weeds consisted of a hood with a cape, a low-crowned hat with two strings, a staff or bourdon four or five feet long, made originally of two sticks swathed together, a bottle strung at their waist-belt, and scrip. Those whose pilgrimage was self-imposed walked barefooted, and begged their daily bread, let their beards grow, and wore no linen. The palmer was distinguished by two leaflets of palm; the pilgrim to Mount Sinai wore the St. Catharine's wheel; he who went to Rome came back with a medal, graven with the cross-keys, or vernicle; the pilgrim to Compostella brought home the scallop-shell of Galicia; those who went to Walsingham were distinguished by a badge; and from Canterbury the pilgrim carried, as a memorial, an ampulla full of Canterbury water, which was mingled with one tiny drop of k Becket's blood. Latimer mentions "the piping, playing, and curious singing, to solace the travail and weariness of pilgrims." At Gloucester the pilgrims' door, with its colossal warders, remains in the south arm of the transept. In the holy wars the French Crusaders were distinguished by a red, English by a white, and Flemings by a green cross. Penitents paid Peter's pence as a composition for a pilgrimage to Rome, or commuted it by a visit to Peterborough, St. Alban's, or St. David's. In 1064, persons going to visit a saint had the protection of the Church. At Hereford, a canon might be absent on a pilgrimage in England for three weeks; and once in his life for seven weeks to visit St. Denis; ten weeks, Rome and Compostella; eight, Pontegnes; and one year, Jerusalem. In some Continental countries pilgrims and priests sometimes inscribed their names on the altars which they visited. These were called inscripta, or literata, but must not be confounded with those bearing the dono's name; the first instance of the latter custom occurred in the case of Pulcherius at Constantinople, as Sozomen relates. The pilgrim's tomb sometimes bore the print of two bare feet, as emblematical of his safe return. The pilgrims, having been first shriven, prostrated themselves before the altar while prayers were said over them, and stood up to receive the priest's benediction on their scrips and staves, which he sprinkled with holy water and delivered into their hands. If they were going to Jerusalem, a cross was marked upon their garment; the ceremonial terminated with a solemn mass. In 1322 a priest who betrayed a confession had to go on a pilgrimage as a penance. In 1200 monks were forbidden to become pilgrims. "Divers men and women," said W. Thorpe ill the 15th century, "have with them both men and women that can well sing wanton songs, some other have bagpipes, so that in every town, what with the noise of their singing and with the sound of their piping, and with the jingling of their Canterbury bells, and with the barking out of dogs after them, they make more noise than if the king came there away with all his clarions and many other minstrels." The staff had sometimes a bronze socket, inscribed with these words in Latin, "May this cross direct thy journey in safety."

Jewish Pilgrimages. Among the Jews pilgrimages to Jerusalem are made by the most devoted only. The Polish and Russian Jews, greatly oppressed in their homes, occasionally seek relief by a journey to the city of Zion, there to pray for the speedy coming of the Messiah. That sect of Judaism known as the Chasidim have their yearly processions to Sandez, the nursery of the most absurd superstition. The time for this pilgrimage is generally on the first days of the month of Elul. As soon as the sound of the cornet proclaims the approach of the new year the Chasidim of Galicia and Russian Poland hasten in large numbers to Sandez, to manifest their adoration and veneration by rich presents to the rabbi working miracles, who presides at Sandez. About that time the city authorities and the rabbi assume a very friendly relation, and the quiet life of the place changes into activity by the increase of strangers. The streets are filled with Chasidim, who come from afar off to open their heart and confide their secret wishes to the wonder-working man.

Mohammedan Pilgrimages. In Mohammedan countries, pilgrimages are much in vogue. The pilgrimage to Mecca (q.v.) is not only expressly commanded in the Koran, but is regarded by the Arabian prophet as indispensable to all his followers. In his view, a believer neglecting this duty, if it were in his power to perform it, might as well die a Christian or a Jew. The Persians, however, instead of subjecting themselves to a toilsome pilgrimage to Mecca, look upon the country of which Babylon formerly, and now Baghdad, is the chief city, as the holy land in which are deposited the ashes of Ali and the rest of the holy martyrs. Not only do the living resort thither, but many bring along with them the dead bodies of their relatives, to lay them in the sacred earth. Pilgrimage is a duty binding upon all Moslems, both men and women. Inability is the only admitted ground of exemption, and Mohammedan casuists have determined that those who are incapable must perform it by deputy, and bear the expense of these substitutes. What is principally reverenced in Mecca, and gives sanctity to the whole, is a square stone building, called the Kaaba (q.v.). Before the time of Mohammed 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, equaling in number the days of the Arabian year. They were all destroyed by Mohammed, who sanctified the Kaaba, and appointed it to be the chief place of worship for all true believers. The Mussulmans 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 Mohammedan who has health and means sufficient ought once, at least, in his life to go on a pilgrimage; nor are women excused from the performance of this duty. The pilgrims meet at different places near Mecca, according to the different parts from whence they come during the months of Shawal and Dhu'lhaja, being obliged to be there by the beginning of the latter; 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 woolen 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 on 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 behooves a man to have a constant guard over his words and actions; to avoid all quarreling 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 consist chiefly in going in procession round the Kaaba, 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 Kaaba, 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 last four; which, it is said, was ordered by Mohammed, 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. The aforesaid quick pace, however, they are not obliged to use every time they perform this piece of devotion, but only at some particular times. As 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 stopping, 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 9th of Dhu'lhaja. 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 and Mina, and there spend the night in prayer and reading the Koran. The next morning by daybreak they visit el-Mashar el-Karam, or the sacred monument; and, departing thence before sunrise, 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 that this rite is 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 10th of Dhu'lhaja, 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 either of the two former kinds, and females if 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 upon as completed, though they again visit the Kaaba to take their leave of that sacred building. The pilgrimage to Mecca was interrupted for a quarter of a century by the Carmathians, and in our own day it has been again interrupted by the Wahabis, and these in turn were defeated by Mohammed Ali, who revived the pilgrimage and attended with his court. In the year 1873. 200,000 pilgrims visited the holy places. But in the present year (1877) pilgrimages to Mecca have been revived in marvelous force, owing to the contest of Turkey with Russia, and it is expected that nearly one half million people, if not more, will bring tribute to the Kaaba, the treasures of which, amounting to over 200,000,000 piasters, or $50,000,000, have been placed at the disposal of the sultan of Turkey, and are to be used in the defense of the Mussulman's faith. Heathen Pilgrimages. Among heathen nations, also, pilgrimages are practiced. In Japan, more especially, all the different sects have their regular places of resort. The pilgrimage which is esteemed by the Sintuists as the most meritorious is that of Istje, which all are bound to make once a year, or at least once in their life. Another class of pilgrims are the Siunse, who go to visit in pilgrimage the thirty-three principal temples of Canon, which are scattered over the empire. Besides these regular pilgrimages, the Japanese also undertake occasional religious journeys to visit certain temples in fulfillment of certain vows. These pilgrims travel alone, almost always running, and, though generally very poor, refuse to receive charity from others (comp. McFarland, Japan, p. 211).

Hinduism has its pilgrimages on a grand scale. Thousands and tens of thousands annually repair to the temple of Jaggernaut (q.v.). Equally famed as the resort of multitudes of Hindu pilgrims is the island of Ganga Sagor, where the holiest branch of the Ganges (q.v.) is lost in the waters of the Indian Ocean. To visit this sacred river hundreds of thousands annually abandon their homes, and travel for months amid many hardships and dangers, and should they reach the scene of their pilgrimage, it is only in many cases that they may plunge themselves and their unconscious babies into the troubled but, in their view, purifying waters, offering themselves and their little ones as voluntary victims to the holy river. Among the numberless sacred spots in Hindostan may be mentioned Jumnontri, a village on the banks of the Jumna, which is so famed as a place of pilgrimage that those who resort thither are considered as thereby almost entitled to divine honors. The holy town of Hurdwar may also be noticed, to which pilgrims resort from every corner of the East where Hinduism is known; and of such efficacy is the water of the Ganges at this point that even the guiltiest may be cleansed from sin by a single ablution. The Hindus also attach great importance to pilgrimages to the holy temples at Benares and other sacred shrines. Sometimes these are performed on sandals with small spikes inserted, every step causing pain to the pilgrim. In other cases, the whole distance of hundreds of miles is traveled by the infatuated fakir tumbling over and over, like a wagon-wheel, without ever standing on his feet; for the greater the pain and suffering with which the pilgrimage is accomplished, the greater is the merit attached to its performance. It often happens that poor pilgrims perish on the road for want of food, or in consequence of sufferings arising from the severe penalty which they inflict upon themselves. But instead of this being a warning to others, it is considered highly meritorious to fall in the effort to fulfill a vow made in honor of their idol gods. The Buddhists, though not so devoted to pilgrimages as the Hindus, are not without their places of sacred resort. One of the most noted is Adam's Peak, in Ceylon, where Gotama Buddha is supposed to have left the impression of his foot. The summit of the peak is annually visited by great numbers of pilgrims. The Lamaists of Thibet also make an annual pilgrimage to Lha-Ssa for devotional purposes.

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 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 dishonors at once his reason and his religion" (Johnson's Rasselas). See Encyclop. Brit. s.v.; Gardner, Faiths of the World, s.v.; British Quar. Rev. July, 1875, art. 5; Mediceval and Modern Saints, p. 112, 159; Baptist Quar. April, 1875, art. 7; Cutts, Scenes and Characters of the Middle Ages (Lond. 1873), essay 3; Lea, Sacerdotal Celibacy; Butler, Church History, 1, 410, 447; Riddle, Hist. of the Papacy; Gieseler, Ecclesiastical History; Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, vol. 2; Walcott, Sacred Archceö l. s.v.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Pilgrimages'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/pilgrimages.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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