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.

Subscriptions: See Brill.com


(699 words)

Author(s): Sarah Blick
The ubiquitous presence of candles at pilgrimage shrines emerged by the seventh century. As church altars grew from small and austere into larger, more elaborate forms, so too did the number of candles that adorned them. New regulations called for certain numbers of candles to be burning at canonical hours in relation to the Mass. Such rules suggested that tallow or wooden candles (stocks) were to be avoided in favour of beeswax candles that did not smell as bad. This preference, combined with t…


(1,313 words)

Author(s): Sari Katajala-Peltomaa
Pilgrimage was an essential element in the veneration of saints. On the other hand, an existing cult and a group of devotees were indispensable requirements for canonization, the official recognition of person's sainthood. The authority to canonize, to proclaim a person saint, became a papal prerogative in 1234. After this, theoretically at least, the papal curia controlled all new cults, and saints and sainthood had the same ground rules throughout medieval Europe. The candidate needed to have led an impeccable life and perfor…

Canon Law Regarding Pilgrims

(1,969 words)

Author(s): Jessalynn Bird
From the early Middle Ages, both canon (church) and secular law sought to define the status of individuals who had taken pilgrimage or crusading vows and to enable them to fulfill what they had pledged via the grant of special legal and spiritual privileges. Rights promised to pilgrims influenced those granted to crusaders (often described as armed pilgrims) and vice versa (see also Crusades). Little distinction was made between the two until the mid-twelfth century, when the growth and occasion…

Canterbury Cathedral

(1,053 words)

Author(s): Sarah Blick
The magnificent sight of Canterbury Cathedral lingered in the memories of pilgrims such as Erasmus who wrote of "the majesty with which the church rises into the sky, so as to strike awe even at a distant approach; the vast towers, saluting from far the advancing traveler; the sound of bells, sounding far and wide through the surrounding country." Approaching the entrance, visitors saw a sculpture above the door of the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket slain by four knights near an altar. Entering the nave, the pilgrims gathered as some went directly to see…


(914 words)

Author(s): Martin Nguyen
Caravans, derived from the Persian “ kārwān”, generally refer to a group of travelers journeying in a convoy through desert terrain. Initially caravans formed to facilitate travel and provide security in pursuit of trade. However, they also arose in response to the religious impetus of pilgrims. The confluence of commerce and pilgrimage was already underway in pre-Islamic Mecca. With the rise and spread of Islam the ritual importance of the Ḥajj saw to the establishment of regular caravans for the pre…

Casket of Stephen

(614 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The shrine-shaped casket reliquary, or châsse, of Saint Stephen was made around 1165 for the church of Saint-Étienne in Braguse in the Limousin region of France. It features scenes from the life of the church's patron Saint Stephen. It is one of the oldest extant Limoges works with a vermiculé background and displays finely-detailed craftsmanship, particularly in the dynamic range of its blues. Its style reflects the influence of early twelfth-century illuminators and features a dramatic narrati…

Casket of the True Cross

(602 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The casket reliquary of the True Cross at Saint-Sernin, Toulouse, was made in the last quarter of the twelfth century to house a relic of the True Cross. It is sometimes referred to as a staurotheke (staurotheque). A high-quality champlevé enamelwork, it is covered with rich narrative images and inscriptions, which explain Saint-Sernin's acquisition of the relic from the Holy Land. The reliquary is shrine-shaped and sits on feet added in the Renaissance. Its lid depicts Christological scenes while the sides of the body of the casket display the story of t…

Caskets of John the Baptist and Pelagius

(872 words)

Author(s): Francisco de Asís García García
The casket of Saints John the Baptist and Pelagius was offered in 1059 by King Ferdinand I and his wife Sancha to the church of Léon dedicated to these saints. The date of the casket and the names of the monarchs as commissioners were included in an inscription on the lid, which is now lost but was mentioned in the sixteenth century by Ambrosio de Morales. The reliquary was created in the royal ivory workshop to house the jawbone of Saint John the Baptist, an anonymously donated relic which was …

Catherine of Alexandria

(1,506 words)

Author(s): Maud Burnett McInerney
Catherine of Alexandria is supposed to have suffered martyrdom in the fourth century (see also Martyrs). According to legend, she was the daughter of the king of Cyprus, and received an extraordinary education encompassing philosophy and all other branches of knowledge. As a young woman, she converted to Christianity. When the pagan emperor Maxentius began to persecute Christians in Alexandria, she spoke out on their behalf, thus drawing the attention of the emperor, who fell in love with her. S…

Celtic and Welsh Sites

(1,402 words)

Author(s): Deborah Vess
There are hundreds of Celtic pilgrimage sites located in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and Northumbria. Many were originally pagan sites. Irish Pagan Centers A number of pre-Christian sites attract pilgrims interested in Druid or New Age spirituality. These include Newgrange, a circular prehistoric burial ground designed to allow light to enter its passage on the winter solstice; Knowth, a larger monument surrounded by eighteen other structures that houses the largest collection of megalithic art in Europe; and Dowth, the oldest monument, all near the River Boyne. Other Irish Sites Ove…

Certificate of Pilgrimage

(500 words)

Author(s): Jessalynn Bird
Pilgrimage and crusading vows created binding moral and legal obligations (see also Canon Law Regarding Pilgrims) and were associated with significant privileges. By the high Middle Ages, proof of completion of these vows became increasingly common. Authorities sought to prevent individuals from shirking the fulfillment of pilgrimages imposed as penances or court sentences or from taking pilgrimage or crusade vows in order to obtain the financial, legal and spiritual privileges attached to them …