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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Pagan Pilgrimage

(1,136 words)

Author(s): Nathaniel P. DesRosiers
Pagan pilgrimage was a relatively ubiquitous phenomenon in the ancient Mediterranean. However, some scholars have questioned whether the term 'pilgrimage' may be applied to the pagan world at all, citing that the range of practices lumped together into this category are too broad to be classified under a single rubric. Furthermore, one also can posit that such terminology is ultimately influenced by more modern world religions, including, most notably, Christianity. In spite of these criticisms …

Painted Columns in the Church of the Nativity

(381 words)

Author(s): Lisa Mahoney
In the nave of the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem are twenty-seven polished columns containing paintings of holy figures (c. 1130 and 1169). Discerning the intended function of these painted columns is complicated by a layout that is not easily explained, the range of holy figures represented, the repetition of certain figures, and a variation in figural pose and style. The apparent lack of cohesion in design suggests they may have been ex voto icons (see also Votives) commissioned by pilgr…

Palestine Pilgrims’ Text Society

(353 words)

Author(s): Daniel P. Terkla
The goal of this ambitious publication project, as conceived by the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, was to "place within the reach of English readers the most important of the records which the early mediæval pilgrims have left of their pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Holy Land." As such, in purpose the Library fits into a tradition epitomized by Thomas Wright's 1848 Early Travels in Palestine. Wright believed that these records provide "no little insight into the history of […] intellectual improvement" which readers acquire by accompanying "these early …


(1,410 words)

Author(s): Martin Leigh Harrison
There is some confusion in a previous era’s scholarship, and silence from much contemporary scholarship, as to whether 'palmer' is a common or a proper noun (as is the case with many categories of person in the Middle Ages). Yet from the current vantage point, at least, 'palmers' seem not to deserve a coherent group identity. Sidney Heath’s 1911 claim that palmers were "a class of foreign pilgrim" (in a brief discussion borrowing almost word-for-word without attribution from Thomas Staveley’s virulently anti-Catholic Romish Horseleech of 1674) should not imply a solid, permane…

Papacy and Pilgrimage

(1,422 words)

Author(s): Elvio Ciferri
From its beginning, Christian pilgrimage has been a manifestation of worship about which the popes were concerned. The papacy intervened in pilgrimage practices to regulate orthodoxy and avoid the wholesale acceptance of customs that arose from pagan cults. The Papacy and the Pilgrimage to Rome The first Christian pilgrimages were those to the tombs of martyrs; this custom arose spontaneously in the first centuries of the Christian era. In Rome, there was a close link between the papal building projects and pilgrimages. The influx of pilgr…

Papal Penitentiary

(844 words)

Author(s): Jennifer Lane
The office of the papal Curia known as the Apostolic Penitentiary, beginning in the later Middle Ages, represented the pope and his plenitudo potestatis in administering pardons and indulgences. This "well of grace" came in the form of dispensations, absolution from excommunication, as well as licenses or permits affecting all the faithful. By the early thirteenth century the papacy had decreed that dispensations for certain crimes were reserved to the pope. Likewise the doctrine of the treasury of merit was also bein…


(1,718 words)

Author(s): Jessalynn Bird
Throughout much of the Middle Ages, pardoners or fundraisers ( quaestores) displayed relics and/or publicized indulgences to obtain alms for various charitable projects, including the building and maintenance of churches, pilgrimage shrines, monasteries, bridges, harbors, roads, and hospitals. The practice originated with tours of relics, increasingly common from the eleventh century onwards, intended to raise funds for the building or repair of churches and monasteries. Various religious and military ord…

Parish Clergy and Pilgrimage

(1,068 words)

Author(s): Heather Thornton
The secular or parish clergy had a multitude of associations with medieval pilgrimages and pilgrims. The medieval church was a place of ritual and routine, from the great pageantry at St Peter's in Rome, to the most humble parish priest in the smallest chapel. The rhythms of daily life in the Middle Ages were mirrored by the rituals of the liturgical calendar and marked by the ringing of the church bells. The Church had a great deal of interest and power over the spirituality of Christendom in g…

Patron Saints

(1,615 words)

Author(s): Diana Webb
Many saints functioned as the patrons of medieval communities: guilds, monasteries, and cities among them. Some belonged to that community in life and were believed to watch over it after death; others were adopted or imported. In the cities of medieval Italy, which tried to eschew princely rule, patron saints played a distinctive political role as symbols of the divinely-sanctioned authority that their rulers claimed to exercise, although they were not crowned or anointed. Here a bishop-saint s…


(927 words)

Author(s): Kirstin Noreen
Paul, known as the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7), is celebrated in a feast shared with Peter on June 29, as well as in one marking the day of his Christian conversion on January 25. His tomb, located outside the city walls of Rome, was a major medieval pilgrimage site. The church that marks the location of his relics is counted among the four patriarchal basilicas of Rome. Born in Tarsus and raised as a Pharisee, Paul was a Roman citizen originally named Saul. He persecuted Christians and was present at the stoning of the protomartyr Stephen (Acts 7:58-60; 8…

Paulinus of Nola

(741 words)

Author(s): Nathaniel P. DesRosiers
Paulinus of Nola or Pontius Meropius Anicius Paulinus (c. 354- 431) was a bishop, poet, and saint who is best known for his austere lifestyle and devotion to the cult of St Felix of Nola. Much of our literary evidence discussing early fifth century pilgrimage and ritual at the shrines of the saints in Italy is drawn from Paulinus’ substantial writings. There are nearly fifty letters to many prominent figures and thirty-three extant poems that tell us a great deal about western monasticism and religious life at Nola in particular. Beginning in 395 Paulinus composed annual hymns ( natalicium) …

Pavements, Labyrinths

(1,486 words)

Author(s): Jennifer Lee
The enigmatic and enticing figure of the labyrinth found in medieval churches is much older than Christianity. It first appeared in bronze age petroglyphs from the middle of the third millennium BCE. Labyrinths have appeared in a variety of forms and contexts and have carried a range of associations. The labyrinths most clearly associated with pilgrimage are the pavement labyrinths in French churches of the thirteenth century. The labyrinth should not be confused with the maze. A true labyrinth is unicursal, providing a single path to the center that forces its…


(2,352 words)

Author(s): Jessalynn Bird
Throughout the Middle Ages, the word poenitentia referred to the means by which Christians sought to redress sins committed in order to avoid damnation or suffering in Purgatory in the afterlife, normally by manifesting their internal contrition via some form of oral confession and/or works of satisfaction. Evolving Forms of Penance The forms that penance took varied widely. Early Christians quickly sought to renew the forgiveness of sins obtained in baptism. By the fifth century, some who had committed serious sins (i.e. murder, adultery, etc.)…

Penitential Pilgrimage

(1,366 words)

Author(s): Martin Leigh Harrison
The imposition of pilgrimage for the expiation of sins is thought to date from approximately the sixth century, coinciding with Irish innovations in penitential practice. Penitential pilgrimages nonetheless align (if they do not overlap) with far earlier Christian custom, in so far as the rigorous and non-repeatable ascesis originally directed by the Church for penitent sinners amounted to at least a conceptual distancing from the larger community. Scholastic thinkers and ecclesiastical figures during the High Middle Ages considered penitent…

Penitential Practices

(2,950 words)

Author(s): Garry G. Crites
Pilgrimage as Penance There can be little debate that penitential practices, both within and outside monastic settings, served as some of the most important hallmarks of early and medieval Christianity. From Benedict's insistence that the life of a monk is a perpetual Lent to the controversial handbooks of penance produced in early medieval Ireland, Christian writers advocated penitential practices as the perfect melding of ascetic fervor and the search for personal and corporate holiness. (See als…

Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam

(602 words)

Author(s): Eric White
Bernhard von Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam, first published in a richly illustrated edition at Mainz in 1486, describes the author’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1483-84. A wealthy canon of Mainz Cathedral, Breydenbach (d. 1497) was accompanied by two other nobles, Count Johann von Solms and Philip von Bicken, as well as the artist Erhard Reuwich of Utrecht and dozens of other pilgrims, including Felix Fabri (d. 1502), a Dominican who had written an account of his first pilgrimage to …


(1,305 words)

Author(s): Stephanie Hayes-Healy
'Pilgrim' is the English cognate for the Latin peregrinus, a label with a long and complex history. The word comes from the compound of per + ager, i.e., '[who has gone] through the lands' and thus suggests travel, which in turn implies a sense of foreignness. In the oldest fragments of surviving Roman text, the adjective peregrinus denoted 'foreign' or 'in foreign lands;' it also signified 'strange,' or 'unheard-of,' at times with a distinctly pejorative cast. As a substantive noun, peregrinus meant 'stranger' or 'foreigner,' or at times 'visitor' or 'guest;' in this form,…

Peripatetic Saints

(1,595 words)

Author(s): Judith L. Bishop
The Anglo Saxon Chronicles (891) record that three Irishmen came to King Alfred having drifted ashore on the Cornish coast in a boat made of hides, without oars, and with provisions for only one week. They had 'stolen away' from Ireland for love of God to be on pilgrimage (see also Irish Pilgrimage), trusting both their direction and sustenance to the Lord of the Elements. This account illustrates a style of pilgrimage characterized by a fundamental restlessness that expresses itself in images of e…


(1,723 words)

Author(s): Kirstin Noreen
Peter, the prince of the apostles, is believed to have been crucified upside down in the Circus of Nero and buried in a nearby cemetery on the Vatican Hill in Rome ca. 64 A.D (see also Rome). The construction of a large basilica ca. 324 marked the presence of his relics and became a major destination for medieval pilgrims visiting the Eternal City. His primary feast is celebrated jointly with that of Paul on June 29; Peter is also honored on February 22 (the feast of the Cathedra Petri or Chair of Peter), August 1 (the feast of the chains of Peter), and November 18 (the dedication …

Petrarch's Pilgrimage

(883 words)

Author(s): Evelyn Edson
"Oh, what a blessed journey and enviable sight for a Christian soul!" exclaimed Petrarch at the prospect of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1358, "what pilgrimage more fitting than one to the tomb where He lay buried whose temporal death brought forth immortality for us and eternal life!" With these words he encouraged his friend, Giovanni Mandelli, to set forth while he remained at home. Instead of his companion, Mandelli had to make do with his travel guide, Itinerarium ad Sepulcrum Domini Nostri Ihesu Cristi. Petrarch had been a great traveler in his youth but now, he explain…