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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Sacred Girdle of the Virgin

(698 words)

Author(s): Flavio Boggi
The girdle that the Virgin is believed to have bestowed on Saint Thomas at the moment of her Assumption is Prato’s most important relic. It was supposedly bequeathed to the town’s Pieve of Santo Stefano in around 1174, but the earliest surviving secure references to its existence date to the 1200s. By the fourteenth century it was the object of one of northern Tuscany’s most popular cults with its own feast day on September 8 (the day of the Nativity of the Virgin), established by public decree …


(723 words)

Author(s): James Bugslag
The shrine reliquary known as the Sainte-Châsse contained the principal relic of Chartres Cathedral during the Middle Ages, the Sainte-Chemise, or Holy Tunic, a seamless garment believed to have been woven by the Virgin Mary and worn by her at the birth of Christ. From the late thirteenth century, there are also occasional references to a second relic, the Virgin's Veil. Creation of the shrine was attributed to a craftsman named Teudon, in about 962. Although destroyed during the French Revoluti…

Saint Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume

(944 words)

Author(s): Whitney Leeson
On December 9, 1279, the monks of St Maximin, acting upon the advice of Charles of Salerno, Louis IX's nephew and count of Provence, searched their crypt and joyfully discovered the body of Mary Magdalen in the sarcophagus of Saint Sidonius. A parchment, which conveniently disintegrated once read, detailed the transfer of the saint's body on the night of December 6, 710 from her tomb to Sidonius' sarcophagus for safekeeping during the Saracen attacks. The ruse not only fooled the invading Sarace…

Salvation Themes

(700 words)

Author(s): Anastasia Keshman
The Christian doctrine of salvation refers to the deliverance of the human race or an individual from original sin by granting redemption, made possible through the sacrifice of Christ. For the worthy, the internal liberation from all evil will be fulfilled with the second coming of Christ at the End of Days, and entering paradise. Theologically, the use of salvation iconography on reliquaries points to the belief that God awards the saint preasentia, a double presence: the saint's body rests on earth inside the reliquary, yet his soul has already joined God in glor…


(855 words)

Author(s): Anja Grebe
Appropriate footwear was of utmost importance to every pilgrim. Medieval guidebooks and popular songs advised the pilgrim to take comfortable and durable shoes -- ideally two pairs -- with him. (See also Music and Pilgrimage). The texts give no precise information on form and material of the footwear, which depended on various premises, such as the itinerary and destination of the pilgrimage, the season, the mode of travel, the social background and the financial means of the pilgrim, his or her personal tastes, and prevailing fashion. Pictorial representations show pilgrims with…

Santiago de Compostela

(1,563 words)

Author(s): Phillip C. Adamo
Santiago de Compostela was the third most popular pilgrimage site of the Middle Ages, following Jerusalem and Rome. Its significance is an entirely medieval invention, albeit one that even today draws great crowds of pilgrims and tourists. The site is located in modern-day Spain, in the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, in the province of Galicia, roughly thirty miles inland from the Atlantic coast. After the Visigoths left Galicia, the Muslims occupied it in the early eighth century, followed by Christians in the early ni…

Santo Domingo de Silos Abbey

(932 words)

Author(s): Francisco de Asís García García
Santo Domingo de Silos is a Benedictine abbey located in the Spanish province of Burgos named after its most charismatic abbot, Domingo Manso (†1073), former prior of San Millán de la Cogolla. King Ferdinand I sent Domingo to Silos in 1041, when the abbey was still dedicated to Saint Sebastian, in order to stop the decay of the institution. Even though the origins of the monastery could be traced back at least to the tenth century, it was after the arrival of Domingo and his successors that the …

Satiric or Parodic Views of Pilgrimage

(1,722 words)

Author(s): Stella A. Singer
Pilgrimage was primarily understood as a penitential practice: motivated by contrition, it was supposed to follow confession. Motivation, however, might be mixed (see also Motivations for Pilgrimage). Geoffrey Chaucer, amongst other authors, recognized this ambiguity of intent. Chaucer's concern with "entente" throughout The Canterbury Tales reflects suspicion about pilgrims' motivations - which could respond to commercial and recreational opportunities provided by pilgrimage rather than to a truly penitential impulse. The dubious reputat…

Scala Sancta

(870 words)

Author(s): Alison Fleming
The term "Scala Sancta" refers specifically to the Holy Stairs located in the Lateran Palace, or Patriarchium Lateranese, as well as more generally to the entire building, which includes the private chapel known as the Sancta Sanctorum. This palace is adjacent to the Church of St John Lateran, and was built on the land given to the Papacy by Constantine. It was home to the Popes until their move to Avignon in the early fourteenth century. The Lateran Palace was substantially renovated by Sixtus …

Scandinavian Pilgrimage Narratives

(1,113 words)

Author(s): Rudolf Simek
The most famous of all the Scandinavian pilgrims is an Icelandic Benedictine, alternatively called Nikulás Bergþorsson, Nikulás Bergsson or even Nikulás Hallbjarnarson in various manuscripts, who traveled to Jerusalem and back, returning in 1154 to become abbot of the newly founded monastery in Þverá (or Munka-Þverá) in Eyjaförðr in Northern Iceland (see also Scandinavian Sites). His journey seems to have taken three years, including a probably lengthy stay in the Benedictine mother-house in Mon…

Scandinavian Sites

(853 words)

Author(s): Kirsten Wolf
The foremost pilgrim site in Scandinavia in the Middle Ages was the cathedral in Nidaros (modern Trondheim), Norway, which was built over the grave of King Olaf Haraldsson, patron saint of Norway, and contained his shrine. Nidaros became known as a pilgrim site immediately after the fall of the king at Stiklestad in 1030 and was visited by pilgrims from far and near throughout the Middle Ages. During the restoration of the church in the first decades of the thirteenth century, the octagon was built, which now forms the choir of the church. Although Nidaros was the most important, it was…

Scholarship on Literary Pilgrimage

(985 words)

Author(s): Susan Signe Morrison
It is important to distinguish "pilgrimage literature" from works that describe actual pilgrimages. This article concerns imagined or allegorical pilgrimages. Texts that have been associated with such pilgrimage literature include St Augustine's Confessions, the eighth-century Saxon abbess Hugeberc's Hodoepericon of St. Willibald, various versions of the Quest of the Holy Grail, St Bonaventura's Itinerarium mentis in Deum and Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection, all of which prefigure John Bunyan's seventeenth-century Pilgrim's Progress. Pilgrimage literature domin…


(463 words)

Author(s): Emily Price
The scrip ( pera) was a wallet or pouch, commonly made of leather and attached to a belt, in which a pilgrim carried food, money, relics, and official documents. Along with the staff, the scrip evolved from everyday travel gear into a standard pilgrim attribute (see also Pilgrim Costume). Pilgrims often had their staves and scrips blessed before beginning their journeys, a ritual comparable to the ordination of priests and the dubbing of knights (see also Pilgrim Prayers and Knighting of Pilgrims).…

Sculptural Decoration

(2,079 words)

Author(s): Jacqueline Leclercq-Marx
Analysts of decorative sculptural programs thus far have not managed to define a specific program type for the exterior or the interior of the church. And it is likely that none ever existed. Indeed, both contemporary reports and literary descriptions point to a considerable similarity between the décor of pilgrimage churches, or of churches situated along the pilgrimage routes which lead there, and that of other types of churches. One finds the same great theophanies on the exterior portals, an…

Sexuality and Pilgrimage

(1,632 words)

Author(s): Jessalynn Bird
In return for special legal and spiritual privileges, reformers typically urged pilgrims and crusaders to adhere to codes of conduct previously characteristic of regular and secular religious, such as chastity and poverty. From the early Middle Ages onwards, even married laypersons were exhorted to abstinence during the church calendar's penitential seasons or while performing penances including penitential pilgrimage. Secular and church authorities often imposed penitential pilgrimages on sexua…