A pilgrimage is a journey religious people take to a holy place or a place of religious significance. Pilgrimage can be a physical journey but it can also represent an individual’s journey of faith.
For Catholics, pilgrimage to Rome can be very important as this is the centre of their faith. Catholics may also visit sites linked to famous or important saints to help them connect with their faith’s history.
Pilgrimage has been an important aspect of Catholic faith since AD 328. It is recorded that, in this year, Saint Helena travelled to the Holy Land. During the Middle Ages, pilgrimage to the Holy Land became very popular. Most pilgrims travelled by foot, meaning these pilgrimages took years. There were many special sites and shrines along the pilgrim route. Pilgrimage was seen as a way to show true commitment to God and a way to be forgiven of sins.
Lourdes has been an important pilgrimage site since 1858 when a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous claimed to see a vision of the Virgin Mary. After the vision of Mary appeared, a sacred spring with healing powers appeared. Many Catholics travel to Lourdes hoping that they will be healed.
Rome is significant as it is the location of Vatican City, which is the home of the Pope. There are seven basilicas as well as many relics and sites that commemorate different apostles and saints. Catholics from all over the world travel to Rome to receive blessings.
Walsingham is a village in Norfolk that became a pilgrimage site in 1061 after Richeldis de Faverches had a vision of the house in Nazareth where Mary lived. A copy of the house was made, and thousands of people visit this site each year.
The Catholic Catechism recognises the value of pilgrimage as a chance for Catholics to work on their faith. The Catechism states:
Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey towards heaven and are traditionally very special occasions for renewal in prayer (Catholic Catechism 2691).
While pilgrimage has always been accepted and supported by the Catholic Church, not all Christians agree on the value of pilgrimage. Historically, there has been great opposition to pilgrimage from the Protestant Church.
John Calvin was a famous Protestant reformer. He believed that celebrating relics or creating shrines at certain sites was not a true form of worship and distracted people from the purpose of worship. Additionally, Protestants have often considered worshipping figures such as the Virgin Mary a form of idolatry, as it goes against the commandment that only God can be worshipped.
Today, many Protestants visit sites such as Jerusalem in order to feel connected to Jesus and reflect on their faith. However, they do not worship saints or visit places like Walsingham.