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pilgrimages

pilgrimages, visits to shrines or holy places, were undertaken for a variety of reasons—from piety, as thanksgiving or penance, in hope of a cure, or as a form of holiday. The great and mighty could visit Rome, Jerusalem, or Compostella: Ine of Wessex went to Rome to die c.726; the real Macbeth visited Rome in 1050; Henry IV died before he could fulfil his intention to see Jerusalem. Other people visited the great national shrines—Becket's at Canterbury, Cuthbert's at Durham, or the Virgin Mary's at Walsingham. But there were many other shrines with regional or local fame— St Hugh at Lincoln, St Guthlac at Crowland, St Joseph at Glastonbury, St Ninian at Whithorn, St Chad at Lichfield, St David in west Wales. Rather unlikely candidates for veneration included Simon de Montfort, Thomas of Lancaster at Pontefract, and Edward II at Gloucester. The possession of sacred relics was of great spiritual and financial value to religious communities, and to their towns: Walsingham was said by Erasmus to have ‘scarcely any means of support except for the tourist trade’. Monks promoted the cult of their own saints and could write disparagingly of others. The church encouraged the practice of pilgrimages through the imposition of penances and the granting of indulgences, and substitutes could even be sent. As early as the 5th cent., St Augustine of Hippo complained of dubious relics and Erasmus in 1526 launched a strong attack on the vulgarity and commercialism of pilgrimages. Though protestant reformers disapproved strongly of pilgrimages, the concept of life as a pilgrimage survived in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Among catholics, pilgrimages continue, particularly since 1858 to Lourdes and since 1879 to Knock, in Co. Mayo, Eire.

J. A. Cannon

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