What is a Pilgrimage? - Middle Ages
Quatr.us answers questions
Upgrade /Log in
Options /Log out
Early Europe
Central Asia
Islamic Empire
Native Americans
S./Central America
American History


chartres cathedral
Chartres on the horizon (France)

In the Middle Ages, many people - both men and women - went on short or long pilgrimages. A pilgrimage is a trip you take to a famous religious place. Christians, Jews, and Muslims went on pilgrimages. Most people walked, and others rode horses or went in carts. The people in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are a group of pilgrims traveling together to the cathedral at Canterbury in England.

Pilgrim badge of Thomas Becket, Canterbury
Pilgrimage badge from Canterbury
(of Thomas a Becket), England

Sometimes people went on short trips. From Paris, many Christian people walked for one or two days to Chartres, to see Mary's tunic that was there. Other times, people walked all summer, to get to the shrine of Saint Jacques at Compostela, in Spain. They had a good time, talking to the people they met on the road, and having adventures, as you do when you go on vacation today.

Karbala (ca. 1000 AD, Iraq)
Compostela badge
Pilgrimage badge from
St. Jacques de
Compostela, Spain

When you got there, you prayed at the church, and often people bought souvenirs to take home, to show where you had been. Sometimes the souvenirs were little metal medals you wore pinned to your hat or your scarf. Other times people brought back some holy water or oil from the shrine.

Pilgrims set off to go to Mecca on the haj.

Muslim people traveled on the haj, which was a pilgrimage to Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia) to pray at the place where Mohammed went up to Heaven. Any Muslim who could afford it was supposed to go to Mecca at least once in his or her life. Shiites also went on shorter pilgrimages, to the shrine at Karbala (in modern Iraq), for instance.

In the same way, Jewish people went on pilgrimages to Jerusalem, or to places where famous Jewish leaders like Maimonides had lived.

Bibliography and further reading about pilgrimages:

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales
Medieval religion
Islamic religion
Quatr.us home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

Help support Quatr.us!

Quatr.us (formerly "History for Kids") is entirely supported by your generous donations and by our sponsors. Most donors give about $10. Can you give $10 today to keep this site running? Or give $50 to sponsor a page?

'Tis the season: read all about the history of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. Who invented Christmas trees? Who were the Maccabees? When was Jesus really born? How did people celebrate Hanukkah in the Middle Ages? Plus, some great gift ideas.