The Pilgrim Journey: A History of Pilgrimage in the Western World
Since the Magi journeyed to bring gifts to the Christ child two thousand years ago, pilgrimages have served religious, disciplinary, and social functions of Christianity in the western world. James Harpur’s compact detailing of the early Irish ‘escapes from Christ’ to the ‘virtual pilgrimages’ of today vigorously embraces the mainstays and changes.
The staple of Roman Christianity, journeys to view the ever-increasing number of relics of the holy family and early saints later became so commercialized that their integrity became questionable. In Medieval times pilgrims traveling to major shrines like St. Peters in Rome found services like dentists and cobblers supplementing the essential food stalls. Medieval penitents were obliged to travel far to receive indulgences unless it was deemed more practical to stay home and receive severe floggings.
The Eastern Orthodox focus on icons, and evolving practices brought about by the Crusades and subsequently the Reformation are woven into the history of pilgrims, along with the search for miraculous cures for the incurable sought with the help of votive offerings at shrines that have emerged on the landscape over the centuries until as late as the twentieth century. In some instances, a secular motivation is replacing the spiritual purpose. For whatever reason, pilgrims continue to tread the path
The numerous aspects of Christian pilgrimage are revealed in clearly organized, gracefully written pages. Even readers previously unaware or disinterested in the scope of pilgrimage, will likely be fascinated by this neither sanctimonious nor irreverent book.