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False Pilgrims

(984 words)

Author(s): Martin Leigh Harrison
In an era that considered almost any sort of spiritual travel, literal or figurative, to be a pilgrimage, it is hard to imagine what a false pilgrim could be. Early modern reformers such as Desiderius Erasmus, Martin Luther, and Thomas More were quick to call pilgrimages 'false,' given the distasteful adoration of relics and pecuniary benefit to shrines that such journeys seemed to entail, solidifying into a more widespread view the unease with which some in the Middle Ages had viewed pilgrimage…

St Giles

(905 words)

Author(s): Martin Leigh Harrison
Though the date ranges given for the life of Saint Giles do not coincide with those of various historical figures mentioned in his vita, tradition fixes the date of his death to the first day of September in an unknown year -- perhaps in the seventh century -- in present-day France. Giles was said to have been born of noble stock, however, in Athens, where, according to the Legenda Aurea, he was raised in the Christian faith and demonstrated a life of miraculous holiness from a comparatively early age. Wishing to separate himself from the world following the deat…

Cluniac Promotion of Pilgrimage

(965 words)

Author(s): Martin Leigh Harrison
Monks belonging to the Benedictine Order, as at the monastery of Cluny (est. c. 910) represented the widest attested form of regular (or rule-based) religious life in the Latin West. The rule under which the order chose to operate (set down by Benedict of Nursia, abbot of Monte Cassino in the sixth century) made firm provisions for almost all aspects of monks’ daily spiritual and practical lives, including travel. It explicitly enjoined them to maintain stabilitas loci - a concept to which the idea of pilgrimage might seem antithetical - avoiding the emulation of those …


(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…

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…