Pilgrimage in the Middle Agesby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
Discuss the evolution of pilgrimage in the middle ages.
Western culture has not always been built so wholly on a basis of travel and communication as it is now. In the middle ages, around the turn of the millennium, people in Europe rarely migrated, and the world for most people consisted only of the town they lived in and maybe the next closest town. Then, in the 12th and 13th century, for a variety of reasons, people began to move about and visit other locations in Europe. This change affected everything in the medieval lifestyle, and actually spurred itself on until travel became deeply imbedded into Western culture. The rising importance of pilgrimage was one of the biggest changes in this period of western history, which led up to the Renaissance. Until people regained communication and travel, the “rebirth of learning” could not take place.
Many things caused the rise of travel and pilgrimage. Many of the things that spawned pilgrimage were encouraged because of it, so the effect compounded itself. During the 12th and 13th century, Europe saw of frenzy of Cathedrals being built. Gothic cathedrals, with their endless details, are still some of the most beautiful human architecture today. In the middle ages, these would have been so awesome that it’s no wonder they induced pilgrimage. In addition, the religion of the time endorsed a theology of association, causing people to relate saints or heroic actions with places and things. Unfortunately, this spawned the tendency to worship objects instead of God. However, it greatly encouraged pilgrimage, because shrines with relics and tombs were being erected all over Europe. People thought that by just visiting a relic, shrine, or famous battlefield, some of the holiness or cleansing would “rub off on them.”
In addition, after sitting in one place for hundreds of years, people may have begun to feel wanderlust, and the need to explore. This desire for adventure encouraged many to go on pilgrimages. Often, war, and particularly the crusades were forms of pilgrimage that many took part in. Often, the desire to go on the crusades was sparked by promises from the pope or other leaders – promises such as exemption from taxes, forgiveness, or holiness. Others went as an alternative to going to jail. The stories and items that people brought back from the crusades sparked further interest in travel, multiplying the effect. After a few hundred years, travel became as prevalent as it had been scarce before!
Because of the importance of pilgrimage and the theology of association, relics ran rampant. It’s been said that if all the “splinters of the true cross” from the Middle Ages were gathered together, there would be enough timber to build Noah’s Ark! Every local church would keep some relic or shrine of one of their earlier saints. People would visit these local sites, as well as historical sites, even battlefields. Of course, the ultimate pilgrimage destination was Jerusalem. Regaining Jerusalem was one of the reasons the crusades began. Unfortunately, all this luster of association led to the superficiality and hollowness of Roman Catholicism.
Going on a pilgrimage in the middle ages was not anything like one of our modern-day vacations. The venture took much longer, demanded much more physically, and could be quite dangerous. Roads were not kept up, and might be little more than paths. Because of this, many people used the caravan routes, which came with their own set of dangers - the traders could be pretty rough people! Taxes along the routes (often abused and quite adjustable, depending on the apparent affluence of the traveler) were deterrent to many travelers. Often, marauders and highwaymen would ambush traveling parties along major routes. Other dangers would have included the Muslims and Persians. These dangers led to tendency to travel in larger parties, for increased safety, and to lessen the likelihood of being taken advantage of. Much of the early literature of Europe was travel diaries or traveling stories told during pilgrimages, such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories told by pilgrims traveling together.
Pilgrimage led to many changes in Europe. The crusades, a form of pilgrimage, caused an awareness of eastern culture. Pilgrimage spread language, culture, and ideas. Since people usually stayed tied down to one occupation their whole life, guilds were formed, which were mutually beneficial to all members of a trade, but relied greatly on travel. A negative effect of Pilgrimage was the rise of pirates and highwaymen, who deceitfully gained from those going on pilgrimages. Many of the things that caused pilgrimage were also compounded by it, leading to more Cathedrals, and more relics and shrines. Communication became more important and quicker. Travel became important to higher education and knowledge and ideas were spread much more quickly. Without Pilgrimage, the development of the 2nd millennium would have been delayed.
1. Which was a factor that induced pilgrimage?
a. Sense of vocation
b. Theology of association
d. Magnificent Cathedrals
e. All of the above
2. What was never promised to people who went on crusades?
b. free stock in middle east trading companies
c. freedom from jail or punishment
e. exemption from taxes
3. What was not a result of pilgrimage?
c. proliferation of relics
d. cathedrals being built
e. more trading
4. Who wrote Canterbury Tales?
Answers: 1 – e 2 – b 3 – d 4 – b
Internet Medieval Sourcebook IMS 22 January 2004 <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook1k.html>
Chaucer, Geoffrey “The Canterbury Tales” Penguin Classics, 2003
Dowley, Tim. “The History of Christianity” Fortress Press, 2002
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