Pilgrimages may be defined
as journeys made to some place with the purpose of venerating it, or
in order to ask there for supernatural aid, or to discharge some religious
obligation. Although a standard practice in most religions, pilgrimages
achieved central importance in Christianity since early times. Medieval
Christians made pilgrimages to places where saints were born or died
and where miraculous events had occurred, as well as the places where
Christ and his followers had lived. These were often made when the pilgrim
was in need of some divine help or as penitential reparation.
During the time of Margery Kempe’s pilgrimages special clothing
was normally worn to symbolized the mission. The proper dress of a late
medieval pilgrim, such as that worn by Kempe, would have consisted of
a loose frock or long smock, over which was thrown a separate hood with
a cape. A low-crowned, broad-brimmed hat was common, often identified
in writing as a "pilgrim's hat." A pouch or wallet was usually
attached to a walking staff or belt. Similarly, pilgrims wore a sign
to designate the site to which they were traveling. These badges also
protected the pilgrim from assault and enabled them to pass through
even hostile ranks. For example, those traveling to Compostela wore
a scallop shell, to St. Catherine’s tomb on Mt. Sinai they wore
a wheel, and to Jerusalem they wore two crossed palm leaves.
The very popularity of the pilgrimage invited multiple agendas by practitioners,
including social interaction, interest in travel, and a sense of social
standing. Even during the Middle Ages, the use of pilgrimages was criticized.
In 1425 Thomas à Kempis commented in the Imitation of Christ:
Many people travel far to honor the relics of the saints, marveling
at their wonderful deeds and at the building of magnificent shrines.
They gaze upon and kiss the sacred relics encased in silk and gold.
. . . Often in looking at such things, men are moved by curiosity, by
the novelty of the unseen, and they bear away little fruit for the amendment
of their lives, especially when they go from place to place lightly
and without true contrition. (Book 4 Chapter 1)
Bibliography: Pilgrimage to
Cult of the