What is a pilgrimage? Middle Ages

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Chartres on the horizon

Chartres on the horizon

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. ChristiansJews, 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.

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

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

Pilgrimage badge from St. Jacques de Compostela, Spain

Pilgrimage badge from St. Jacques de Compostela, Spain

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.

Shiite shrine at Karbala (from the 1800s AD): the tomb of Ali's son Hussein

Shiite shrine at Karbala (from the 1800s AD): the tomb of Ali’s son Hussein

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.

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.

Learn by doing: what souvenirs of trips do you have in your house?
More about the Islamic Haj to Mecca

Bibliography and further reading about pilgrimages:

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

By | 2017-08-04T11:53:32+00:00 August 4th, 2017|Medieval, Religion|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. What is a pilgrimage? Middle Ages. Quatr.us Study Guides, August 4, 2017. Web. December 11, 2017.

About the Author:

Karen Carr

Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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