Encyclopedia of Medieval Pilgrimage

Get access Subject: History
Edited by: Larissa J. Taylor et al.

The Encyclopedia of Medieval Pilgrimage is an interdisciplinary reference work, giving wide coverage of the role of travel in medieval religious life. Dealing with the period 300-1500 A.D., it offers both basic data on as broad a range of European pilgrimage as possible and clearly written, self-contained introductions to the general questions of pilgrimage research.

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(811 words)

Author(s): Heidi Marx-Wolf
Just as individuals with injuries, illnesses, and disabilities sought the help of saints at their shrines and tombs, so too did people suffering from mental afflictions such as insanity and alleged demonic possession. Although this practice is well attested in sources such as hagiographies and miracle collections prior to the thirteenth century, the most reliable evidence comes from the canonization processes compiled after 1234, when the right to canonize saints was declared a pontifical reserv…


(784 words)

Author(s): Kim Butler
The biblical account of the Magi ("wise men") from the East who followed a guiding star to Bethlehem and paid tribute to the infant Jesus is found in the Gospel of Matthew 2:1-16. The account holds that the foreigners recognized the truth of Christ’s divinity and, after proffering gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh in adoration, evaded Herod’s order to report back in order to protect the holy child. The early Christian exegete Tertullian (ca.160-220) first designated them kings (Adv. Marcion,…

Magi Narratives

(1,142 words)

Author(s): Matthew Wranovix
The Gospel of Matthew (2:1-12) describes the magi as wise men from the East, who, with a star as their guide, arrived first at King Herod's court in Jerusalem and later in Bethlehem, where they presented the child Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Further details concerning the magi's origins and biography developed slowly and piecemeal in apocryphal gospels, biblical commentaries and sermons. Tertullian (160-220) was the first to suggest tentatively that the magi were kings on …

Malefica by Saints

(1,681 words)

Author(s): Adina Goldstein
The expression of anger by saints, both in life and posthumously, is marked by acts of physical violence and by the fearful anticipation of a saint's response to disrespect or disobedience. The righteous anger of a saint mirrors his or her responsibility as a mediator between ordinary people and God. Saints, who live and act in imitation of Christ, are understood as exemplary models of justice. Saints protect their friends, strengthen their cults through miracles, and punish their enemies. In th…

Mamluk Pilgrimage (1250-1517)

(4,094 words)

Author(s): Amalia Levanoni
After defeating the Mongols in the battle of ʿAyn Jālūt (Spring of Goliath) in 1260, the Mamluks' image as protectors of Islam was strengthened and contributed to building popular legitimacy for their rule. The Mamluks established their rule, much as had the earlier Seljuks and the Ayyubids, on two levels of legitimacy: the traditional Muslim order, and the Mamluk one within the military elite. As part of the traditional Muslim order, in 1262 Sultan al-Ẓāhir Baybars (r. (1260-77) revived the Abb…

Manuscript Illumination

(1,034 words)

Author(s): Kathryn M. Rudy
After 1345, the Franciscan friars, who were Keepers of the Latin Quarter of Jerusalem, supervised and organized the pilgrimages and led the travelers through Holy Sites. Franciscans also listed the plenary and partial indulgences available at each site. In the late fifteenth century the preset pilgrim's tour included visits to the Via Dolorosa, the Valley of Josaphat, the Mount of Olives with the Garden of Gethsemane, the place of the Ascension, and the town of Galilee, the Valley of Siloe, the …

Maps and Plans

(2,680 words)

Author(s): Phillip John Usher
The various cartographic documents that survive from medieval Europe, whether textual or graphic in nature, were often considered merely fanciful and inaccurate well into the twentieth century, but they are now recognized to be an important resource for understanding Christian belief in general and pilgrimage in particular. Central to their appreciation is remembering that medieval European cartographers were much more concerned with mapping the beliefs, history, and traditions of Christianity t…

Margery Kempe

(1,393 words)

Author(s): Jessica Savage
Margery Brunham Kempe (c.1373 - c.1439) was born into a prominent family in Bishop’s Lynn (Now King’s Lynn) Norfolk, England. Margery’s early years were spent in this prosperous trading center as the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Her father, John Brunham, was a politician and five times the mayor of Lynn. She married well and gave birth to fourteen children. Virtually everything we know about Margery comes from her autobiography , known as The Book of Margery Kempe. At the approximate age of sixty, Margery, who was illiterate, dictated the Book to two commissioned scribes some time…


(1,115 words)

Author(s): Wendell Johnson
Medieval pilgrims depended on markets to feed themselves. During their travels, pilgrims could stop at local markets to obtain a wide variety of food, including wine, bread, fish, venison, fruit, and cake.  Markets met once a week in rural areas and more frequently (three to six times a week) in towns and cities.  The production and distribution of food was the most important aspect of the medieval economy, and it is estimated that the majority of medieval people spent at least 60% of their annu…

Mark the Evangelist

(1,054 words)

Author(s): Thomas E.A. Dale
According to biblical accounts, Mark was born in Jerusalem and joined Paul and Barnabas on missions to Pamphylia, Antioch, and Cyprus. Papias adds that Mark wrote his Gospel for Peter in Rome. Fourth-century sources (e.g. Eusebius and Jerome) further record that Mark founded the church of Alexandria and suffered martyrdom there ca. 65/68 CE (April 25 in the Roman calendar, May 8 in the Coptic calendar, September 23 in Eastern Orthodox calendars). Buried, according to Coptic tradition, in the nec…

Martin of Tours

(1,347 words)

Author(s): Christopher K. Gardner
The life of Martin as a Christian ascetic must, perforce, be viewed through the filters of the various hagiographers who wished expressly to laud his actions and his faith and implicitly to present a Martin who could serve their own concerns (see also Hagiography, Local History, Theology). Therefore, the reputation of Saint Martin of Tours in the Christian tradition, though always exceptional, has periodically been transformed to serve contemporary needs. Born into a military family in the northeastern regions of the Roman Empire, Martin sought a traditional, mid-…

Martin of Tours in Spain

(1,195 words)

Author(s): Alberto Ferreiro
St Martin of Tours (c. 316-c. 397) who was born in the Roman province of Pannonia (present-day Hungary) became one of the most venerated saints of the Western Latin Church. By the end of the Middle Ages, on the eve of the Reformation, his cult had spread into every corner of Europe. His shrine became one of the most popular for pilgrimage -- second only to Rome in the West until the rise and popularity of Santiago de Compostela. Even with the 'new' pilgrimage sites, his veneration never waned. M…


(2,352 words)

Author(s): John Howe
Martyrs and their cults stimulated much of the pilgrimage traffic to Rome and other destinations. The Greek word "martyr" ("witness") designates in canonical scriptures one who could testify to or bear witness to Christ (e.g. Luke 24:48, John 1:15 and 5:36-39, Acts 1:22); in Revelation it has the additional sense of one who is killed for witnessing the faith (Rev. 2:13), the usage which gradually became a standard term. How enthusiastically Christian communities commemorated such witnesses is revealed by the mid second-century passio of Polycarp when it praises its hero for a…

Mary Magdalen

(2,969 words)

Author(s): Katherine L. Jansen
One of Jesus's most faithful disciples, Mary Magdalen is mentioned only twelve times in the four Gospels. The most extended and indeed the final treatment of the Magdalen is found in John 20:18, which describes the moment when Christ bestows on her the paschal privilege of announcing the good news of the Resurrection to the other disciples. The evidence of the New Testament, however, was continuously refashioned throughout the Middle Ages. In 591 Pope Gregory I preached a sermon in which he grafted onto the figure of the Magdalen the identities of two…

Mary’s Wedding Ring

(616 words)

Author(s): Anna Drummond
The relic of the Virgin Mary's wedding ring, supposedly used at her marriage to St Joseph, is a large circlet of onyx adorned with an indecipherable pictorial inscription. While similar onyx rings were used in first-century marriage ceremonies, the object has an unclear provenance and its authenticity is dubious. The gospels mention Mary and Joseph's marriage only in passing, and the more detailed apocryphal accounts of the event make no mention of a ring. Little can be ascertained about the rin…

Matthew Paris's Maps

(888 words)

Author(s): Daniel K. Connolly
Matthew Paris (d. 1259) was an artist and chronicler at St Albans, one of England's largest and most prestigious Benedictine abbeys. Although best known for his copious but chauvinistic chronicles of historical and contemporary events, Matthew is also famous for his illustrations. Included amongst the prefatory materials to his main opus, the Chronica majora, (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Ms. 26) is an itinerary map ( ca. 1250) that takes the form of a strip map and depicts a journey beginning in London and ending, seven pages later, in Jerusalem. These…


(824 words)

Author(s): Leigh Ann Craig
For pilgrims who undertook their journeys specifically in the hope of miracle of healing, their ritual interaction with a saint often began well before they arrived at their desired destination. Instead, the process often started with a vow of pilgrimage which bound the pilgrim to the journey, and sometimes to certain penitential rituals (see also Vows and Penitential Practices). Pilgrims might vow to undertake pilgrimages on a yearly basis, to undertake them barefoot, or to provide specific gif…


(1,071 words)

Author(s): Brannon Wheeler
Islamic law stipulates that all free, sane, mature Muslims who are financially and physically able are to make a pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) once in their lifetime. It is also stipulated that travel to Mecca must be safe, and it was customary for the Caliphs to lead the pilgrimage processions each year from Baghdad or elsewhere to Mecca. Pilgrims often visit other sites in the vicinity and outside of Mecca, including the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Medina. Islamic exegesis and history records that the sanctuary at Mecca was first established by Adam as an earthly substi…

Medieval Pilgrimage Writing and its Manuscript Sources

(11,263 words)

Author(s): M. Alison Stones
Writing about pilgrimage took many forms in the medieval and early modern periods, just as pilgrimage was undertaken for a variety of purposes. Many people made pilgrimages and did not write about their experiences, while pilgrim accounts were composed by authors who had not themselves made a pilgrimage. The manuscripts tell much about how these written accounts were disseminated and received: about who wrote them and who read them. While most pilgrimage was to local shrines, the three major pil…


(1,154 words)

Author(s): Ian Straughn
Medina is the second most holy site for Muslims after Mecca with its sacred precinct housing the ka’ba. According to the Muslim tradition the founding act for Medina was when the Prophet Muhammad consecrated a vacant lot as the site for building a congregational mosque for the Muslim community. This was one of his first acts after having arrived following his escape, hijra (literally "emigration") from Mecca. Prior to the arrival of the Prophet and his Meccan followers in the year 632 CE (year 1 of the Islamic hijri calendar) Medina consisted of a loosely integrated oasis settlemen…
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