(Middle English: pilgrime, traveler)
Journeys made to some shrine for the purpose of worship, or to ask there for spiritual aid, or to discharge some religious obligation.
From the earliest days of Christianity it has been the custom of all nationalities to travel to the Holy Land to venerate the spots made sacred by Our Lord.
History records famous pilgrimages made to Palestine, the routes followed, the peoples met, and the scenes visited.
The Pilgrimage of Saint Helena, c.325, gave the impetus to the numerous pilgrimages that followed.
The famous Bordeaux Pilgrimage, 333, was the first of a long series of pilgrimages which have left us accurate accounts of contemporary conditions in Palestine; even more famous is the Peregrinatio San Silvire.
Saint Jerome, whose personality dominated both East and West, devoted himself to the study of Scripture in the Holy Land, and upon his return to Rome, so enthusiastically spread his love for the scenes of Our Lord's life, that many Romans accompanied him on his return journey to Palestine, where he founded monasteries and convents, and a Latin colony which in later ages inaugurated the Crusades.
The tombs of the Apostles and the resting places of the martyrs became popular centers of pilgrimage.
Since in the early days of the Church dying martyrs had the privilege of absolving from ecclesiastical penalties, their intercession was sought, through veneration of their tombs, and the scenes of their martyrdom, to remove the taints and penalties of sin.
Pilgrimages were set down by the Church also as canonical punishments for certain crimes.
The hardships of the journey, the wearing of the penitential garb, and the begging it entailed, made the pilgrimage a real and efficient penance.
Later, for greater crimes, pilgrimages to the tombs of the Apostles at Rome, to the shrine of Saint James at Compostela, to Saint Thomas's body at Canterbury, or to the relics of the Three Kings at Cologne, were imposed.
In modern times the most frequent centers of pilgrimage are: Rome, Jerusalem, Padua (Saint Anthony), and Loreto in Italy, Bruges (relic of the Holy Blood), in Belgium, Guadalupe, Montserrat and Saragossa in Spain, Einsiedeln in Switzerland, Lourdes, Chartres and Fourvieres in France, Walsingham and Canterbury in England, Knock in Ireland, Guadelupe in Mexico, Saint Anne de Beaupre in Canada, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, and Auriesville, New York (North American Martyrs).
Pilgrimages have done much to advance international communication, and to build up towns and roads.
From the idea of pilgrimages arose the Crusades, and the religious orders founded to care for the pilgrims.
To them, also, is attributed, to a great extent, the origin of miracle plays.
New Catholic Dictionary