Pilgrimages have been a yearly occurrence since the very earliest days of the church, when many people wanted to visit the lands and people that Jesus knew.
Since then of course, many more religious sites have sprung up as potential destinations for pilgrimages.
This short article will answer the question if people still go on pilgrimages, by looking first at what a pilgrimage is, and secondly what drives people to take one.
What is a Pilgrimage?
So just what is a pilgrimage? Well, to put it in simple terms, a pilgrimage is a journey undertaken by a Christian to a place that has special significance for their faith.
The types of places that attract pilgrims can also be varied. They can have direct connections either to Jesus himself, or to the Bible. They could also be places where miracles have happened at a later time. Or they could be connected to a saint – for example, to where the saint has been laid to rest.
The pilgrimage is also often as much about the journey itself as it is about the final destination. Many pilgrims will choose slower, more traditional methods of proceeding across their pilgrimage – many, for example, will walk a significant distance.
This can give the pilgrim a break from the fast pace of modern life, allowing them time to think, to contemplate their faith and to pray.
Why Do People go on a Pilgrimage?
How long is a piece of string?
Every pilgrim will have his or her own reasons for choosing to go on a pilgrimage. Some of the most common include:
- Making some extra time to allow God fully into their lives.
- To traverse God’s creation – i.e. the Earth, and all the flora and fauna we find upon it. Spending time amongst – and learning to appreciate – all of this helps many to feel closer to God.
- At times of personal difficulty, many Christians can find it beneficial to find the time to try to get closer to God, try to listen to his teachings, discern his guidance and receive comfort from Him.
- To strengthen and renew our faith. This can be hard in our busy lives, often living in bustling cities. Sometimes it can really pay off to take some time to – in this case literally – smell the flowers.
Is a Non-Religious Pilgrimage possible?
Strictly speaking of course, no it’s not. As we’ve discussed above, a pilgrimage is a sacred journey to a place of great religious importance. It is an opportunity for the follower to really connect to their religion on a spiritual level.
That being said of course, there really is nothing to stop a non-religious person from following the established routes of a pilgrimage. Indeed, many pilgrimages are a mixture of people following the route for both religious reasons and for non-religious.
The Camino de Santiago is a perfect example of this. The Camino, a network of ancient pilgrimage routes, has tracks and maps that spread all across North Europe – literally there are trails from Italy, Germany, Austria, France and the UK all leading to the shrine of the apostle St James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
It’s best to take a look at the website of a service dedicated to the Camino (such as Follow the Camino) to get a true idea of the scale of this network of pilgrimage routes. You’ll also see that there is a good mixture of religious and non-religious people all walking – and enjoying – the route.
So to answer the question we set out to investigate – do people still go on pilgrimages – well the answer to this is a resounding yes, though for many and varied, often not even religious, reasons.
So if you feel that a pilgrimage, for whatever reason, would be beneficial to you and your family, the best advice we can give is to simply give it a try.