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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(865 words)

Author(s): Ljubomir Milanovic
Located approximately 75 miles (121 kilometers) south of Venice on the east coast of Italy, Ravenna contains one of the largest surviving bodies of fifth- to sixth-century monuments. Although currently landlocked, Ravenna remained an important seaport on the Adriatic until the early Middle Ages. Honorius relocated the imperial court there in 402 and the city remained a capital of the Empire until its dissolution in 476, when it became the capital of Odoacer, and then of the Ostrogoths under King…

Relic Keepers

(1,407 words)

Author(s): Robyn Malo
A custodian of relics, or custos, was a cleric or monk whose primary responsibility was monitoring pilgrim behavior at a major shrine. These shrine-keepers, also called custodes tumuli, feretrars, or custodes pignorum, are also literary characters. They appeared whenever a shrine was popular enough to attract pilgrims. Some relic custodians even slept at shrines in order to supervise pilgrims, and may even have watched them from observatory booths, frequently located above the feretory. It has been suggested, by Patrick Geary…


(1,367 words)

Author(s): Michelle Sauer
Relics (from Latin reliquiae) are sacramental objects that consist of the physical remains of saints (often parts of their bodies) or items related to or used by saints. To some degree, the sense of relics also extends to holy sites. They occupied a central part of medieval devotion. As R. W. Southern writes in the Making of the Middle Ages, "when the machinery of government was simple or non-existent, these tangible elements of spiritual power [relics] had an importance in public life which they lost in a more complicated age. The deficiencies in human…

Relics of Christ's Passion

(1,579 words)

Author(s): Holger A. Klein
There were physical remains of objects and substances associated with the suffering, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ during the Middle Ages. The most prominent among them were the blood spilled by him during the crucifixion, the wood of the True Cross, the lance that pierced his side, the vinegar-soaked sponge, and the nails that affixed his body to the cross. Further Passion relics include the column and scourge of Christ’s flagellation, the Crown of Thorns, reed, and purple robe of his derision, the cup blessed by Christ during the Last Supper, the inscribed tablet, or titulus, s…

Relics of the Christ Child

(878 words)

Author(s): William MacLehose
Interest in the childhood of Christ, found early in Eastern Christianity, became more pronounced in the Christian West from the eleventh century onward. A new fascination with the physicality of Christ appears in the rise of the cults of the Virgin Mary (see also Virgin Mary) and the Christ Child, particularly in the desire to explore Jesus’ human experiences through imagining the childhood (see also Child Saints). We find evidence of this trend in the spread and vernacular translations of the s…

Relics of the Virgin Mary

(3,993 words)

Author(s): James Bugslag
The nature of relics associated with the cult of the Virgin Mary is overwhelmingly conditioned by the widespread belief, from an early period, in her Assumption. After her death, Mary was bodily assumed into heaven, removing the usual source of the most important relics from consideration. Bodily relics are thus limited, for the most part, to strands of her hair. Even more popular were relics of her breast milk, which carried theological significance since, as the Mother of God, Mary was instrum…

Religious Pilgrimage

(3,036 words)

Author(s): Jonathan Wooding
In pursuit of Christian monastic, ascetic, or eremitical ideals, people seek God through retreat from the secular world. Whether this retreat necessarily involves an external journey, as well as an interior one, and whether the journey needs to be to a specific place, or can be ongoing, are questions which have been debated across Christian history. (See also Contested Pilgrimage). Was travel appropriate to a monastic vocation? (See also Pilgrimage of Monks, Pilgrimage of Friars, and Pilgrimage …

Reliquaries of Benedict, Scholastica and Maur

(788 words)

Author(s): Andrea Dickens
Fleury was founded in 651, based on extraordinary possessions of several noblemen. Emphases of veneration included both a strong sense of asceticism and a strong cultural influence, which led to  manuscript, art, and relics acquisitions becoming priorities of the monastery in Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, near Orléans, France. The Abbey of Fleury was one of the oldest and most revered monasteries in the region, even before it acquired the remains of Benedict, the father of Latin monasticism. The earliest monastery there had included two churches…

Reliquaries of Charlemagne

(812 words)

Author(s): Laurence Terrier Aliferis
Five reliquaries were made during the Middle Ages to hold the corporeal remains of Charlemagne. Apparently, at the time of his death on 28 of January 814, the emperor was placed in the antique (second-century) sarcophagus of Proserpine, reputed to have been brought by Charles from Rome for use as his tomb. It still exists at Aachen Cathedral Treasury. Around the year 1000, Otto III opened it and removed several objects (an evangelary, a sword and his crown). One hundred and sixty-five years late…

Reliquaries of St Stephen

(902 words)

Author(s): Kara Morrow
St Stephen was the first martyr to follow the example of Christ in dying for the faith. The proto-martyr’s feast day is celebrated on December 26, acknowledging his death in the tradition of Christ’s sacrifice. The invention of his relics merited its own feast day and is celebrated on August 3, the actual day of his martyrdom. According to the Acts of the Apostles, after the apostles ordained St Stephen as the first deacon, he delivered a vitriolic sermon to the Jews of Jerusalem. He was tried f…

Reliquaries of Thomas Becket

(876 words)

Author(s): Sarah Blick
The cult of St Thomas Becket, martyred in 1170, spread rapidly throughout Europe and, as legends of his sanctity grew so too did demand for his relics: pieces of his garments, vials of his blood (diluted with water), and more. And because many churches acquired these relics, the reliquaries made to celebrate them became a common sight. The cult was particularly popular in England and western France reflecting the unified English-French Plantagenet rule. This spurred artisans in Limoges, a center…

Reliquary of Elisabeth of Marburg

(847 words)

Author(s): Gerhard Lutz
Less than a year after the canonization the Elisabeth von Thüringen (Elisabeth of Marburg) the elevation of her body took place on May 1st, 1236 in the presence of the archbishops of Cologne (see also Cologne Cathedral), Mainz, and Trier, as well as Emperor Frederick II. This opportunity was used to separate the saint’s head from the body. While her remains were bedded into a leaden sarcophagus which was lined with a purple fabric, her head was prepared for a presentation in its own reliquary. Shortly after this cerem…

Reliquary of Pepin

(845 words)

Author(s): Laurence Terrier Aliferis
The reliquary of Pepin, kept in the treasury of the basilica Ste-Foy of Conques, has had this name since the nineteenth century because it was considered a gift of Pepin the Short (715-768) or Pepin II, the King of Aquitaine (839-852), to the abbey. Before this era, it was known as the Reliquary of the Circumcision because of a legendary tradition according to which Charlemagne gave the relics of the foreskin and the umbilicus of Christ in a capsa magna. This legend appeared at the beginning of the eleventh century as attested by the Liber miraculorum Sancte Fidis of Bernard d'Angers, appea…

Reliquary of St James

(662 words)

Author(s): Flavio Boggi
The gilded silver reliquary of Saint James the Greater in Pistoia (Museo della Cattedrale di San Zeno) was executed in 1407 to accommodate a piece of the head of the apostle and other sacred items. The relic had arrived in Tuscany from Santiago de Compostela in around 1145 and quickly became Pistoia’s most prized possession. The circumstances of its arrival were recorded in local hagiographic writings, including the narratio of Cantarinus of Pisa. They claim that Bishop Atto of Pistoia had procured the precious fragment for the town with the help of Rainerius, m…

Reliquary of St Martial

(869 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The Saint Martial châsse is a Limoges-enamel shrine-shaped casket reliquary made around 1170 and found today in the Louvre in Paris. It is the only extant Limoges casket to display scenes from Martial's life and it provides one of the oldest narratives about the saint. The casket is also noteworthy for its high quality craftsmanship -- particularly its gold vermiculé background -- and its good condition. It demonstrates the Limoges predilection for depicting figures with dynamic gestures, in brilliant colors, and with stylized lines. Martial was a third-century saint famous for…

Reliquary of St Ursula

(1,085 words)

Author(s): Scott Montgomery
The medieval shrine of St Ursula from the church of the Eleven Thousand Virgins in Cologne does not survive, and has been replaced by a nineteenth-century shrine. The original reliquary appears to have been a large house-shrine, similar to that of Ursula's betrothed, St Aetherius, still kept in the same church. As was common, these shrines were placed above and behind the altar in the church's choir. The most lavish extant shrine of St Ursula is the sumptuous painted example, completed in October 1489 by Hans Memling for the Hospital of St John in Bruges. This …

Reliquary of the Virgin

(949 words)

Author(s): Gerhard Lutz
Soon after the shrine of Charlemagne was finished on the occasion of the coronation of emperor Frederick II on July 27, 1215 the cathedral chapter commissioned a second shrine (begun 1230) for the major relics of the church : the dress of the Mother of God (see also Relics of the Virgin Mary), the diapers of Jesus (see also Relics of the Christ Child), the cloth for the decapitated head of John the Baptist and the loincloth of Christ (see also Relics of Christ's Passion). The older shrine was, a…

Rescue from Execution

(1,292 words)

Author(s): Robyn Malo
Baudoin de Gaffier identifies seven possible sub-classifications of miracles (De Gaffier, Etudes: 223). Miracles of rescue from execution consist of two primary types, both of which typically involve hanging. In the first type, the victim is protected from death by the physical intervention of the saint. This protection is frequently immediate and physical, as in accounts of a saint supporting the accused by his or her feet to prevent suffocation and death. (See also Miracles of Justice, Miracles of Rescue…

Retables and Altarpieces

(983 words)

Author(s): Gerhard Lutz
All pilgrimage churches were furnished with altarpieces, panels, sculptures, and other works of art partly referring, illustrating, deepening, and expanding the spiritual experience of the viewer. Some of the major late medieval altarpieces are preserved in pilgrimage churches, such as the famous example of Michael Pacher in St Wolfgang (Salzburg, Austria, after 1471). The completely-opened shrine shows a variation of the Coronation of the Virgin flanked by Saints Wolfgang and Benedict, the inner wings have scenes from t…

Return from Pilgrimage

(1,597 words)

Author(s): Kathryne Beebe
The experience of pilgrimage did not end once the destination had been reached. Despite the relatively perfunctory mention of the way back in many accounts, life after the pilgrimage comprised an important part of the whole. While not so significant in certain patterns of pilgrimage, as, for instance, in the Celtic tradition of "wandering" pilgrimages undertaken by St. Brendan and others, the majority of central and late medieval pilgrimages were assumed to be a "round-trip" practice. "Liminality" and the Return Whether seeking a thaumaturgic cure, spiritual solace, a chang…