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In Hebrew the term aliyah (lit. "going up") has been used since ancient times for pilgrimages to Jerusalem on the three festivals known as *shalosh regalim). The Torah prescribes that all males must go up to Jerusalem "three timesa year" on the three festivals – Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot (Ex. 23:17; 34:23; Deut. 16:16; ii Chron. 8:13).

For pilgrimages in the biblical period see *Passover; *Shavuot; and *Sukkot.

Second Temple Period

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from within Ereẓ Israel, as well as from the Diaspora, streamed to the Temple at each of the three festivals. The pilgrimage affected the life of every Jew, who might have to prepare for the occasion, and the journey and the accompanying sacrifices involved a not inconsiderable financial outlay. The inspiration derived from "the sojourn in the Temple courts," and from attendance at the rabbinical academies in Jerusalem, remained a powerful stimulus to the pilgrim after his return: "His heart prompts him to study Torah" (tj, Suk. 5:1, 55a). Many of the new trends in Jewish spiritual life were ventilated in Jerusalem, and the pilgrim served as the vehicle for disseminating the ideas that were in constant ferment during the period. The pilgrimage had a considerable influence upon the life of the capital in a number of spheres; in the social sphere, from the presence there of Jews from every part of the Diaspora, and in the economic, from the vast sums spent by the thousands of pilgrims both for their own needs and on charity. It also had a national-political influence. The aliyah from all parts of Ereẓ Israel and the Diaspora strengthened the consciousness of national and social solidarity (Jos., Ant. 4:203–4). This national consciousness reached a new peak with the presence of the throngs of pilgrims in Jerusalem and made them even more sensitive to the humiliation entailed in their subjection to a foreign yoke. As a result of this sensitivity disorders and revolts were of frequent occurrence in Jerusalem during the festivals (Jos., Wars 5:243–4; Ant. 13:337–9).

The biblical injunction on the subject states: "Three times in the year shall all thy males appear before the Lord God" (Ex. 23:17; 34:23, Deut. 16:16). These passages were apparently not construed as mandatory, requiring aliyah thrice yearly, but as meaning that on these occasions it was a meritorious act to make the pilgrimage and in so doing offer up sacrifices, "and none shall appear before me empty" (ibid.). The tannaitic sources speak of the obligation of aliyah le-regel but not of a commandment to go up on every festival (Ḥag. 1:1, 6a). In any event it is clear that not all the male population of Ereẓ Israel, and certainly not of the Diaspora, made the pilgrimage three times yearly. Although both from the Talmud (Pes. 8b) and from Josephus (Wars 2:515) one might infer that the whole population of a city would participate in the pilgrimage, it was not general that the cities, even those near to Jerusalem, would be entirely emptied as a consequence of their Jewish population going on pilgrimage. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that a considerable number went up, especially from Judea (Wars 2:43). There is ample evidence of aliyah leregel from Galilee, and it may be assumed that the number who came from the Diaspora was not as great as those from Ereẓ Israel. Philo mentions that "countless multitudes from countless cities come to the Temple at every festival, some by land, and others by sea, from east and west and north and south" (Spec. 1:69). Sources in the Talmud, Josephus, and the New Testament yield a long list of places, including Babylonia, Persia, Media, Alexandria, Cyrenaica, Ethiopia, Syria, Pontus, Asia, Tarsus, Phrygia, Pamphylia, and Rome, whose residents were to be found in Jerusalem during the festivals (arn2, 27, 55; Meg. 26a; Jos., Ant. 17:26; Acts 2:9–10). Both the inscription of Theodotus found in Jerusalem and the literary sources indicate that sometimes the inhabitants of a particular city would establish synagogues in Jerusalem and hospices for the pilgrims who required such facilities (Tosef., Meg. 3:6; Acts 6:9; M. Schwabe, in Sefer Yerushalayim, ed. by M. Avi-Yonah, 1 (1956), 362).

The Pilgrimage

The pilgrims often traveled in caravans which mustered in the cities of Ereẓ Israel and the Diaspora. The ascent of the joyful throng of celebrants to Jerusalem is already mentioned in a number of Psalms, such as Psalms 42, 84, and 122, which are songs of the pilgrim companies, and it is reflected in many rabbinic passages (cf. Lam. R. 1:17, no. 52). The procession on the occasion of the first fruits of Shavuot was particularly impressive: "Those who lived near brought fresh figs and grapes, but those from a distance brought dried figs and raisins. An ox with horns bedecked with gold and with an olive crown on its head led the way. The flute was played before them until they were near Jerusalem" (Bik. 3:3). Josephus relates that the pilgrims from Babylonia used to assemble in *Nehardea and *Nisibis and accompany the convoys transporting the annual half-shekel Temple dues on the journey to Jerusalem (Ant. 18:311–2). Women also took part, the biblical passage "all thy males shall appear" being understood merely as referring only to the duty of the men who alone were obliged to bring the obligatory sacrifices (Ant. 11:109; Luke 2:41–43).

The Rituals

The pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem several days before the festival; this was especially true of those from the Diaspora who had to undergo purification for over a week from the defilement incurred in alien lands (Jos., Wars 1:229; 6:290). The essence of the pilgrimage was the entry of the individual, or the group, into the Temple to worship there on the festivals, and the offering of the obligatory sacrifices enjoined in the precept that, "None shall appear before me empty." The tannaitic tradition expounded that the celebrant was obliged to offer the pilgrim's burnt offering, the festal offering which is counted as a peace offering, and the offering of rejoicing (Ḥag. 6b). The sacrifices were offered both on the first day or during subsequent days of the festival.

The Stay in Jerusalem

According to the halakhah, not only did the scriptural verse, "and in the morning you shall turn and go to your tent," enjoined with regard to the Passover pilgrim, oblige him to remain overnight in Jerusalem, but "in the morning" was interpreted as the morning after the last day of the festival. The pilgrim was thus obliged to stop over for the entire Passover week, and for the eight days of Sukkot (Zev. 11:7 and 97a; Tosef. Ḥag. 1:5). The celebrants used to stay in the capital itself, or in the adjoining villages, or encamp in tents erected in the surrounding fields (Jos., Ant. 17:217; Wars 2:12). During their sojourn in Jerusalem the pilgrims engaged in study of the Torah and participated in the common festive meals at which they ate the permitted sacrificial food – the peace offering, as well as the second tithe which had to be consumed in Jerusalem (Jos., Ant. 4:205). Greater leniency was applied to the law appertaining to ritual defilement during the festival, in order that the laws of ritual purity would not prevent social intercourse. Jerusalem was regarded as the common possession of the entire Jewish people, and householders in the capital were forbidden to take rent from the pilgrims, who however left them the hides of the sacrificial animals as a token of gratitude (Tosef., Ma'as Sh. 1:12 and 13; arn1 35, 1 and 3). The sources indicate that a convivial atmosphere prevailed in the capital during the days of pilgrimages: "Nobody ever had occasion to say to his neighbor 'I have been unable to find a stove for cooking the paschal meals in Jerusalem,' or 'I have been unable to find a bed to sleep in Jerusalem'" (arnibid.).

[Shmuel Safrai]

Post-Temple Period

Pilgrimages to Jerusalem continued after the destruction of the Temple (cf. Ned. 23a). However, the joy that previously characterized these events was now combined with sorrow. When the pilgrims encountered the site of the ruined Sanctuary they rended their garments as a sign of mourning and recited the verse, "Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised Thee, is burned with fire and all our pleasant things are laid waste" (Isa. 64:10; mk 26a). Some even abstained from meat and wine on the day they saw Jerusalem in its destruction (Shevu. 20a). The rabbis, commenting on the verse, "These things I remember, and pour out my soul within me" (Ps. 52:5), compared the pilgrimages before and after the destruction. Previously, the Jews went up to Jerusalem along well-kept roads, the trees forming a covering over their heads, and under the protection of a government committed to God. Now they went through thorny hedges, exposed to the sun, and under the sovereignty of oppressive governments (Lam. R. 1:52). Nevertheless, the Jews continued their pilgrimages to the Temple site, and in 333 "the traveler of Bordeaux" described Jews pouring oil on a stone. In 392 Jerome related that Jews came to lament the destruction of the Temple, after paying for a permit to enter the Temple grounds (commentary on Zeph. 1:16). A fifth-century testimony reported a pilgrimage of over 100,000 Jews, made possible as a result of the sympathetic attitude of Anthenais Eudocia, wife of the emperor Theodosius ii.

These pilgrimages continued throughout the Middle Ages, although on many occasions the Jewish pilgrims were subject to taxes and discriminatory regulations which were enacted against them by the Christian or Muslim overlords of the holy places. The ninth-century pilgrimages of Rabbi *Ahimaaz the Elder, of Venosa, Italy, are well known. The Persian traveler Nāṣir Khosraw (1047) stated that he saw Jews from Roman lands (Byzantium) coming to visit their houses of worship. The testimony of a pilgrim from Babylonia, Phinehas ha-Kohen (c. 1030), has also survived.

After Ereẓ Israel was conquered by the Muslims under Saladin (1187), the Jews were once again permitted to visit their holy places freely. Numerous pilgrims came from Damascus, Babylonia, and Egypt, and they remained in Jerusalem over Passover and Shavuot. Naḥmanides, in a letter to his son, wrote: "Many men and women from Damascus, Babylon, and their vicinities come to Jerusalem to see the site of the Holy Temple and to lament its destruction." The commandment of pilgrimage was also a factor in motivating the journeys of *Benjamin of Tudela and *Pethahiah of Regensburg in the 12th century, and *Jacob b. Nethanel and Judah *Al-Ḥarizi in the 13th. In his writing, Benjamin referred to the Dome of the Rock, standing "opposite the place of the holy Temple which is occupied at present by [a church called] Templum Domini… In front of it you see the Western Wall, one of the walls which formed the ancient Temple… and all Jews go there to say their prayers near the wall of the courtyard."

The number of pilgrims was greatly increased by the many exiles who settled in Turkish territory following the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain. The tomb of Samuel the Prophet at Nabi Samwil (thought to be the biblical Ramah) was also a goal of their pilgrimages. Here they held annual celebrations similar to those which were instituted in Meron on *Lag Ba-Omer, a century later. In 1634, Gershom ben Eliezer Ha-Levi of Prague visited the Holy Land, and later recorded his experience in Gelilot Ereẓ Yisrael (Prague, 18244). The most famous pilgrimage made to the Holy Land by early ḥasidic leaders was that of *Naḥman of Bratslav. His visit (1798–99) left such a profound impression upon him that, when he later returned to Poland, he remarked, "Wherever I go, I am still in Ereẓ Israel."

In modern times, the pilgrimages most beneficial to the Holy Land were those of Sir Moses *Montefiore. He made his first visit in 1827, and returned in 1838, 1849, 1855, 1866, and 1875. He made his last pilgrimage when he was 91 years old, and after each visit he intensified his financial support for the new yishuv. With the continuing development of the Jewish resettlement in Ereẓ Israel and the improvement in the means of long-distance transportation, Jews continued in ever-increasing numbers to visit the Holy Land.

With the conclusion of the armistice agreement following the Israel War of Independence (1949), it was agreed between Jordan and Israel that talks would follow immediately to enable "free access to the holy places" in Jerusalem, and the "use of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives." However, nothing ever came of this and Jerusalem remained a divided city. This caused difficulties for pilgrims who desired to visit the shrines in both countries. While Jordan finally did make some arrangements for Christian pilgrims to enter or leave through one of the crossing points (the main one being the Mandelbaum Gate in Jerusalem), Jewish pilgrims were not allowed into Jordan at all. Most distressing to Jews was the denial of access to the Western Wall. The main goal of the pilgrims then became the traditional Tomb of David on Mount Zion, from where they viewed the Old City of Jerusalem. Following the Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem, the Western Wall was again reopened to Jews and became a magnet of pilgrimage.

Christian Pilgrimages

Christian pilgrimages to Ereẓ Israel became an established institution from the fourth century on and have continued almost uninterruptedly to the present day. The reports of the pilgrims had a wide influence, stimulating religious piety and curiosity about the Holy Land. They also provide an important source of information for the history of Ereẓ Israel, the political situation in various periods, its communities, sects, settlements, and social life. Despite its occasional anti-Jewish bias, the pilgrim literature also gives a general picture of Jewish settlement in Ereẓ Israel, supplementing and augmenting the Jewish sources in many details.


Ereẓ Israel became the Holy Land to Christians asthe cradle of Christianity and because of its associations with the life of Jesus and the apostles. Nevertheless the Church never aspired to make Jerusalem the center of Christianity, and its symbolic significance was in its mystic-heavenly sense (see Gal. 4:24–26 and Rev. 21). The primacy of the mystical, heavenly Jerusalem in Christian thought on the one hand, and the concrete association of the Holy Land with the life and death of Jesus on the other, resulted in an ambivalent attitude to pilgrimages (see *Jerusalem, In Christianity). While popular piety and devotion naturally tended toward a veneration of the *holy places, many writers warned against the danger of a "carnal" and material misunderstanding of essentially spiritual realities. In fact, many early Church Fathers at first discouraged pilgrimage. Jerome declared that the gates of heaven were open to believers equally in Britain as Jerusalem (Ep. 58 Ad Paulinum). He mentions that St. Hilarion, who lived in the Holy Land for 50 years, prided himself on the fact that he had visited the holy places only once. However the ardent wish of Christians to visit the Holy Land was eventually accepted by Jerome, who settled in a cave near Bethlehem. In practice pilgrimage was first stimulated under Constantine (306–337), with the announcement by his mother *Helena of the discovery of the cross in Jerusalem, and the erection by Constantine of the magnificent rotunda at the traditional sepulcher of Jesus with an adjacent basilica (the martyrium). Christians thereupon readily identified other places mentioned in the New Testament associated with Jesus and the apostles. The sites were immediately sanctified, and shrines or churches built near them (cf. E. Robinson, Biblical Researches in Palestine [1841], 371). Some of these sites contained holy relics which also attracted an increasing stream of pilgrims, interrupted only by political insecurity or pestilence, and reaching huge proportions in the Middle Ages. The *Crusades were preeminently a pilgrimage of armies, aimed at liberating the holy places from the Muslims, whatever their accompanying political motives. The duty of caring for the protection and needs of pilgrims gave rise to the influential hospitaller orders, such as the Knights Templar and the Knights of Malta. In the later Middle Ages the religious factor diminished, to be replaced increasingly by commercial motives. Even in the ninth and tenth centuries the Muslim rulers had encouraged trade there, and Jerusalem became a large entrepôt between East and West. One result of the trading contacts between Europe and the East was the extension of the maritime power of the Italian republics, especially Venice and Genoa, during the Fourth Crusade (1202–04).

character of the pilgrimages

Jerusalem and Bethlehem remained the main centers of Christian pilgrimage, but there were others, especially in Galilee. However places in Galilee such as Nazareth, Capernaum, Magdala, or Kefar Kanna are not mentioned by early pilgrims, such as the Bordeaux pilgrim whose Itinerarium Burdigalense (written before 333) is the first pilgrim guide extant. This was probably because Galilee then still had a mainly Jewish population.

The chief incentive to pilgrimage remained religious. Pilgrimages were organized to gain remission of sins, as set penances, in fulfillment of vows, for atonements for crimes, for cures, and for the acquisition of relics. However they also fulfilled other purposes: the desire to see foreign lands, people and customs, love of adventure, and commercial profit. Thus, besides the thousands of the pious, the pilgrim movement attracted a bevy of adventurers, sick persons, and paupers. The journey of the pilgrim was fraught with danger. He faced local wars, attack by pirates or brigands, epidemics, bad sanitation, or arbitrary imprisonment by the local authority. In Venice in the 15th century he was given facilities to make his will before embarking. The departure of a pilgrim also posed a problem for the Church. It meant disruption of family life and the absence of a breadwinner or worker, while the conditions of the journey frequently brought a lowering of moral standards. The Church therefore insisted that pilgrims should obtain written authorizations from the bishop or abbot for their journey. If he met the Church's requirements, the pilgrim received its blessing and assistance.

the literature

Once home, the pilgrim reported the glories of the holy places and the wonders he had seen and heard. These accounts circulated both by word of mouth and in written records or itineraries for the guidance of future pilgrims. Although until the end of the Middle Ages the oral accounts were predominant, as the vast majority of pilgrims were uneducated, a growing number of travelers recorded their journey and impressions. Roehricht's bibliography of Palestiniana in the main European languages lists 38 authors between the years 333 and 1000, 517 up to the year 1500, and nearly 2,000 between the years 1800 and 1878. Subsequently there has been an inordinate increase of such records.

The record usually followed a set scheme, providing a description of the Holy Land and the spiritual experiences of the pilgrims for those who had never been there. From the end of the 17th century, much was written for the purposes of religious propaganda. The authors frequently catered to their audience and supplemented their descriptions with embellishments and imaginary adventures, where reality and legend intermingle. However, many present an accurate if limited record, often closely resembling one another. The records fall into several different categories. Some are on-the-spot accounts of events as they occurred. Many were written down after the pilgrim's return, often on the basis of notes taken on the journey, which contained details omitted from his book. A large number were written on the basis of previous works, including many passages merely copied from them or with deliberate variations. The German cleric Ludolf von Suchem (1336–41) states that he did not see all that he wrote with his own eyes, but drew on ancient history books. The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (in the Holy Land, 1336) is a collection of earlier sources. Some writers quote their sources, and some copy them without acknowledgment. A number, especially in the early period, related their accounts to a third person who recorded them in turn. The account of the French bishop Arculfus (670) was recorded by an abbot in Iona, off Scotland.

Educated pilgrims and scholars later made independent investigations, instead of accepting everything they were told. Many, who reveal wide learning, relate the old traditions, but with reservations. Fynes Moryson (16th century), although criticizing the credibility of the tales told by the monks of the Latin monastery, was still deeply impressed and moved by what he saw. The pioneer of modern researches was the U.S. theologian, philologist, and geographer Edward Robinson (1838), who voiced a much stronger and well-founded criticism of the credulity accorded by the pilgrims down the ages, who had always seen the holy places through the eyes of their monastic cicerones. He considered that many sites had no historical basis and even contradicted the evidence of the New Testament. He also cast doubt on the traditions associated with Eusebius and Jerome, from which others had originated. Robinson therefore carried out his pioneer researches independently of the Christian orders in Ereẓ Israel.

[Yvonne Glikson]

Information on the Jews

Much of the information available on Jewish life in the Holy Land in earlier periods comes from the Christian pilgrim accounts. Thus, Jacobus de Verona (1335), an Augustinian friar, speaks of Jewish guides. Ludolf von Suchem states that Jews, but not Christians, were allowed on payment to enter the cave of Machpelah in Hebron, where the Patriarchs are buried. An anonymous Englishman (1345) tells of Jews living in caves near Jerusalem. Arnold von Harff, a German nobleman from Erft, though as prejudiced against the Jews as most of the early pilgrims, showed a more intelligent interest in them. Among "the very many" Jews in Jerusalem, with some of whom he entered into learned discussion, he found several natives of Lombardy knowledgeable about Christianity, three from Germany, and also two monks who had converted to Judaism. He learned some Hebrew, and his book reproduces the alef-bet and also a number of words and phrases in common use, from his transliterations of which it is clear that he learned them from people of central European origin. Pierre Belon (1547), a French physician of Mans, saw in Galilee Jews engaged in fishing; and he reports on newly established villages, where, he notes, they were converting wasteland into fertile areas.

Much is reported about Safed as a flourishing Jewish center. A Franciscan from Spain (1553–55), whose name is not known, found a Jewish population of 8,000–10,000 there. William Biddulph (1600), an English priest, mentions the Hebrew that was taught there (as well as in Salonika).

John Sanderson (1601), an English merchant, traveled with a Jewish merchant who hid his money in his clothes, some 12,000 ducats, of which 3,000 was for charity and for books in the Holy Land. The Franciscan Eugenius Roger (1629–34), who estimates 15,000 Jews in the country, including 4,000 in Jerusalem, divides them into two groups: the old-established Oriental Jews and the newcomers from Europe, particularly Spain, Germany, and Italy. There was little intermarriage between the two groups, the first being particularly doubtful of the authenticity of the Jewishness of those from Spain, "for they had been baptized, had for long lived as Christians and ate foods and drank drinks forbidden by the Law of Moses." Other communal troubles are reported by the Jesuit Michael Nau, who visited the land in 1665 and again in 1674. He found the Jews divided into the Rabbanites, who accepted the Talmud, and the Karaites and the Samaritans, who accepted only the Bible. Each complained to him about the other: "They hate one another with an unparalleled hatred. But there is one thing about which they must agree in Jerusalem, that is, that they must pay heavily to the Turks for the right to remain there."

A vivid description of the unhappy condition of the Jews in Jerusalem is given by Chateaubriand (1806–07): "isolated from the other inhabitants, abandoned to every kind of shame…, he suffers every humiliation without crying out against it, without a sound turns his cheek to him who strikes him," and Chateaubriand adds sympathetically that there is nothing more remarkable in the history of the nations than the survival of the Jews – a miracle "even in the eyes of a philosophe."

Another sympathetic observer is Alfonse de Lamartine (1832–33) who writes: "This land, if settled by a new Jewish people… is destined once again to become the Promised Land… if He who watches from above will return the people to it and give them the political privileges of peace and security." Robert Curzon (1834) states: "It is noteworthy that the Jews who are born in Jerusalem are completely different from those we see in Europe. Here they are of a blond race, light in movement, and, especially, refined in their conduct." At the same time John Lloyd Stephens (1835) tells of the fear under which the Jews lived in Hebron and Safed.

Edward Robinson remarks about Christian missionary activity among the Jews: "So far the efforts of the English mission have had only the most meager success." He also describes the devastation wrought by the great earthquake of 1837. Another visitor was William Bartlett (1842 and 1853) who gave exact descriptions of Jerusalem.

William Holt Yates (1843), London physician and Orientalist, exemplifies an attitude toward the country radically different from the pilgrims of the earlier centuries. He thinks that Palestine (and Asia Minor and Syria) would benefit by the mingling of the "natives" with Britishers, especially Scotsmen, and with Jews: "Although the Jews as a people have never particularly distinguished themselves in literature and science, they nevertheless have excellent qualities, if only these were properly recognized…" William Francis Lynch (1848), the U.S. naval officer celebrated for his account of his voyage of discovery to the River Jordan and Dead Sea, saw the only hope for Palestine in the dissolution of the degenerate Ottoman Empire and the settlement of the Jews.

Active in assisting Jews to settle was James *Finn (1853–56), who as British consul in Jerusalem made himself their protector. His own book and his consular reports are prime sources for knowledge of conditions. Among other events he describes the blood libel raised against the Jews.

Henry Baker Tristram (1863–64), English theologian, fellow of the Royal Society, and among the founders of the Palestine Exploration Fund, finds place in his important works on the flora and fauna of Palestine for descriptions of the Jews. But the most interesting of all for that period is the diplomat and statesman Laurence *Oliphant (1883–87), who gives a first hand account of the earliest pioneers of the modern resettlement, whom he greatly assisted.

Subsequently there are accounts of historians, theologians, journalists, surveyors, and archaeologists, from all over Europe and the United States, reference to which may be found among the records of the various scientific institutions. Visitors of literary fame who wrote of their impressions include W.M. Thackeray, Mark Twain, George Moore, G.K. Chesterton, Pierre Loti, and Herman Melville.

The flood of books by pilgrims of all kinds and all intentions and pretensions in recent times is overwhelming. As with the earlier pilgrims, the accounts of many of them are colored by their preconceived opinions. Other contemporary writers convey their experiences in the form of novels, detective stories, and thrillers, experiences which are often observed more authentically than in more solemn works.

[Semah Cecil Hyman]


second temple period: I. Elbogen, in: Bericht der Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums, 46 (1929), 27–46; S. Safrai, in: Sefer Yerushalayim, ed. by M. Avi-Yonah, 1 (1956), 369–91; idem, in: Zion, 25 (1959/60), 67–84. post-temple period: K. Wilhelm. Roads to Zion (1948); S. Assaf and A.L. Mayer, Sefer ha-Yishuv, 2 (1944), 25–29; A. Yaari, in: ks, 18 (1941/42), 293–7, 378–80; idem, Iggerot Ereẓ Yisrael (1943); idem, Masot Ereẓ Yisrael (1946); Ya'ari Sheluhei, index; M.A. Shulvass, Roma vi-Yrushalayim (1944), passim; idem, in: Zion, 3 (1938), 86–7; S.A. Horodezky, Olei Ẓiyyon (1947); S. Assaf, Tekufat ha-Ge'onim ve-Sifrutah (1955), 91–7; R. Mahler, Divrei Yemei Yisrael (1956), 117–31; Ben-Zvi, Ereẓ Yisrael (19673); S. Safrai, Ha-Aliyyah le-Regel bi-Ymei ha-Bayit ha-Sheni (1966); Ta-Shema, in: Tarbiz, 38 (1968/69), 398–9. christian pilgrimages: R. Roericht, Bibliotheca Geographica Palaestina (new ed., 1963); P. Thomsen, Palaestina-Literatur (1908, 1956, 1960); T. Wright (ed.), Early Travels in Palestine (1948); M. Ish-Shalom, Masei ha-Noẓerim le-Ereẓ Yisrael (1966). add. bibliography: E.D. Hunt, Holy Land Pilgrimagein the Later Roman Empire ad 312–460 (1982); J.E. Taylor, Christians and the Holy Places (1993); G. Stemberger, Jews and Christians in the Holy Land. Palestine in the Fourth Century (2000).


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The practice of journeying to locations of special significance is a common feature of many religious traditions and it has played a formative role in the history of Buddhism. Given this rich pilgrimage tradition, there are several ways to approach the subject of pilgrimage in Buddhism. These range from analytical perspectives that highlight the distinctive histories and social dynamics of individual pilgrimage sites in the diversity of cultures shaped by Buddhism, to perspectives reflecting a broader comparative framework. These latter approaches emphasize features common to a number of Buddhist pilgrimages, and to religious pilgrimage in general. This entry examines Buddhist pilgrimage from several angles and is organized in three sections: historical overview, pilgrimage practices, and contemporary perspectives.

Historical overview

We cannot say with assurance when pilgrimage first became a part of Buddhist tradition. However, the fact that the canonical collections of several early Buddhist schools include a sūtra in which Gautama Buddha himself exhorts his followers to visit sites associated with his life indicates the centrality that pilgrimage came to have in the early centuries of the Buddhist movement. This passage occurs in the MahĀparinirvĀṆa-sŪtra, which narrates the Buddha's last days before his final passing away. In the Pāli version, four places identified with pivotal events in his life (birth, enlightenment, first teaching, and final passing away) are described as worthy of being seen and productive of strong religious feeling, and the passage concludes by promising that anyone who dies while undertaking such a journey with serene joy will be reborn in a blissful heavenly realm.

The earliest archeological evidence of Buddhist pilgrimage comes from inscriptions commissioned by the Indian emperor AŚoka in the third century b.c.e. There are also later textual traditions that give Aśoka a formative role in the creation of a Buddhist sacred geography through the enshrinement of Gautama Buddha's relics in eighty-four thousand relic monuments throughout his empire. According to the Rummindeī pillar edict in Nepal, Aśoka visited the site of the Buddha's birth and erected a commemorative pillar there. Another inscription may refer to Aśoka's pilgrimage to the site of the Buddha's enlightenment at Bodh GayĀ, and a third, located at Nigālī Sāgar in Nepal, tells of Aśoka's visit to and enlargement of the relic monument of the former Buddha Koṇāgamana, suggesting that a devotional cult centered on the lives of previous buddhas had also emerged at this time.

The history of Buddhist pilgrimage becomes clearer during the Śuṅga period (second to first centuries b.c.e.) with the relic monuments at Bhārhut and SĀÑcĪ, where we also find extensive donative inscriptions. These remains suggest the existence of well-developed regional pilgrimage centers supported by a wide range of donors, including lay and monastic men and women. Significantly, neither Bhārhut nor Sāñcī is identified with the presence of Gautama Buddha during his lifetime. Instead, the sites have been rendered religiously powerful through the enshrinement of relics, and through vivid artistic representations of scenes from the Buddha's biography, including his past lives.

The sites attested in the Aśokan inscriptions and in the Śuṅga-era monuments point to the two primary means through which particular locations became the focus of special religious devotion: claims that the Buddha himself visited them during his lifetime and later enshrinements of physical objects that represent him, either through alleged historical continuity (bodily remains or objects he used) or visual evocation (sculptures and paintings). These were not mutually exclusive options, as many sites were associated with events in the Buddha's life and with later relic and

image enshrinements; some were associated with the presence of previous buddhas, as well. As many scholars have noted, there was a close relationship between the development of a comprehensive Buddha biography, which was not a part of the earliest tradition, and the emergence of pilgrimage sites.

Buddhism was first transmitted into China around the beginning of the common era. Beginning around 400 c.e., we find the earliest surviving accounts of Chinese Buddhist pilgrims to India. These testify to the emergence of major pilgrimage routes, extending through Central Asia and northwest India into the Ganges basin, which attracted pilgrims from distant lands. Among the most prominent of these monkpilgrims were Faxian (ca. 337–418) and Xuanzang (ca. 600–664), each of whom traveled to India through Central Asia and spent many years collecting texts and visiting important religious centers throughout the Indian subcontinent and beyond. Faxian's account testifies to the great proliferation of places that had come to be associated with events in Gautama Buddha's life, particularly those of a miraculous character, and to the number of relic monuments attributed to Aśoka's great relic distribution.

Faxian also spent two years in Sri Lanka, and he mentions the tradition that Gautama Buddha visited the island in order to pacify the nāgas residing there, a tradition narrated in detail in the monastic histories of the island (e.g., Dīpavaṃsa, Mahāvaṃsa). On one of his sojourns, the Buddha is said to have visited and consecrated a number of different locations around the island and these form the nucleus of what was eventually defined as an authoritative list of sixteen Sri Lankan pilgrimage sites. Narrative traditions of a similar character later developed in Southeast Asia, linking the movement and enshrinement of relics and images with locations in the region already sacralized by legendary visits of Gautama Buddha.

As Buddhist traditions spread throughout Asia and became institutionalized through royal patronage and popular support, the network of Buddhist pilgrimage expanded in two senses. On the one hand, monks and nuns throughout the Buddhist world traveled back to the Buddhist heartland for access to texts, to places of religious power associated with buddhas and other powerful religious figures, and to centers of Buddhist learning (thus a centripetal force). An analogous, centrifugal movement drew Buddhist relics and images (and in some cases, Gautama Buddha himself, as recounted in later texts) outward to create new centers of pilgrimage in what had been the territorial margins of Buddhist tradition. In many cases these new devotional centers were established in places long regarded as religiously powerful because of the presence of local or regional deities, places often marked by striking natural features such as mountains, lakes, and caves. Typically, these "pre-Buddhist" beings were not simply replaced, but instead subdued and converted into guardians of Buddhist sacralia. Such centers of pilgrimage undoubtedly brought together devotees with diverse religious identities and forms of practice, thus facilitating the integration of Buddhist ideas and practices into broader religious milieux.

The fluidity of interaction that pilgrimage so effectively orchestrates has contributed greatly to the expansion and adaptation of Buddhist traditions outside the land of its origins. Buddhist pilgrimages are generally voluntary undertakings motivated by a range of individual concerns, including the acquisition of merit, the need for purification and expiation, and hopes for healing, increased prosperity, fertility, and so on. They also commonly bring together people from diverse social and religious groups. As a result, they have frequently encouraged the interplay of different symbolic systems and behaviors, thus facilitating the adaptation of Buddhist traditions to new historical circumstances. In the case of Chinese pilgrimage sites, for example, it is difficult to determine what defines a "Buddhist" pilgrimage, since popular beliefs and practices were drawn from Daoism and Confucianism, as well as Buddhism, and these seemingly exclusive religious designations are meaningful only when referring to professional elites. Thus these sites have commonly enabled a multivocality of meanings and a diversity of practices to flourish side by side with varying degrees of integration.

Pilgrimage practices

Certainly the most salient feature of pilgrimage is movement. A minimal definition of pilgrimage is a journey to a place of special religious significance, and movement here means the movement of individual bodies away from the places where they typically reside and toward a center of intensified religious power. A pilgrimage is usually an exceptional undertaking, often involving significant disruption of the pilgrim's ordinary life and frequently entailing some element of physical discomfort or ordeal. Among the more striking examples are the protracted journeys of the early Chinese pilgrims to India; Faxian was away for fifteen years, Xuanzang for sixteen. The degree of difficulty and danger faced by the pilgrim obviously varies widely; in addition, specific Buddhist pilgrimage sites have been more or less accessible at different historical periods. The availability of cars, buses, and planes has clearly transformed the pilgrimage experience for many modern participants.

As was the case for the early Chinese pilgrims, the goal of the journey was often not a single site of religious significance, but rather the completion of a pilgrimage route punctuated with a succession of sites, each with its distinctive associations. Japanese Buddhist pilgrimages, such as those to Shikoku and Saikoku, typically involve the clockwise completion of an extensive pilgrimage circuit; these reflect the common Buddhist practice of circumambulation (Sanskrit, pradakṢiṇa) in which one ritually honors a person or object of religious authority by circling them clockwise, thus keeping the right side of the body facing them. Circumambulation of sacred mountains is a prominent feature of Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimage, with some pilgrims going so far as to complete an entire circuit, sometimes hundred of miles long, with a succession of full-body prostrations.

Other forms of ritualized devotion include various forms of offering, such as flowers, incense, light in the form of candles or lamps, gold leaf, and so on, as well as the recitation of appropriate chants or mantras. Offering rituals are often not limited to the Buddhist figures represented at Buddhist shrines; as noted above, other supernatural beings and forces are commonly believed to reside in pilgrimage sites and these are also venerated, sometimes in fulfillment of a special vow to honor the deity in return for a specified benefit. Finally, a broad range of Buddhist figures are deemed worthy of veneration by pilgrims, including buddhas, bodhisattvas, and arhats. In some Chinese Chan Buddhist communities, the miraculously mummified bodies of deceased teachers became the object of pilgrimage.

One of the fundamental organizing principles of pilgrimage is the contrast between the heightened power and purity of the pilgrimage site and the space around it, and this is reflected in special modes of bodily

deportment. Many pilgrims wear special clothing that clearly distinguishes them from non-pilgrims. The hierarchical classification of the body according to standards of purity, with right favored over left and higher over lower (head/feet), structures much devotional behavior, such as circumambulation and offering rituals. Social hierarchy is present, as well, in the authority exercised by experienced pilgrims over novices, and by local officiants and guides who mold the behavior of the visiting devotees. Hierarchies of purity and sacrality are also commonly reflected in the spatial and architectural organization of pilgrimage centers; this may explain why mountains and other elevated locations are so frequently the "natural" settings for pilgrimage. Pilgrimage traditions in some cases also define time, as well, by their connections with calendars of religious observance. Many Tibetan pilgrimages operate on a twelve-year cycle, while visits to a number of Sri Lankan pilgrimage sites are organized around a calendar of full-moon-day observances.

Contemporary perspectives

Considerable scholarship has been devoted to pilgrimage, much of it focused on Christianity. Victor Turner's theory of pilgrimage as a "liminoid phenomenon" has been the most influential general theory of pilgrimage. Turner asserts that pilgrimage places its participants in an ambiguous social status that frees them from some of the dominant social structures of their regular lives and enables particular kinds of personal transformation to occur. In part this transformation takes the form of a heightened group identification among people who would normally be socially distinguished. The "betwixt and between" character of pilgrims' social status also renders them more emotionally vulnerable to the powerful symbolic systems that dominate pilgrimage sites, a vulnerability often heightened by physical ordeal. This model, which knits together social and psychological factors, and which attempts to take into account both the cognitive and affective dimensions of pilgrim's experiences, is sufficiently flexible to illuminate many specific pilgrimages from various religious traditions. As many scholars have noted, however, this approach also emphasizes the commonality of pilgrims' experience, and may mask the divisive social and political forces that often constellate around pilgrimage centers.

In Sri Lanka, for example, Buddhist pilgrimage tradition played an important role in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Buddhist revival in response to British colonial rule; it has also heightened conflict between Sinhalas and Tamils. In Tibet, the pilgrimage tradition centered on Mount KailĀŚa (Kailash), which identifies it as Mount Meru and Śiva's abode, has long drawn pilgrims from Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions who venerate it with circumambulation. In the wake of the Chinese occupation of Tibet, however, pilgrimage was prohibited for nearly two decades beginning in 1962; since the early 1990s restrictions have been relaxed somewhat, and increasing numbers of Western practitioners of Buddhism are making this arduous pilgrimage to the "center of the world" as new Buddhist communities are established in Europe and North America.

See also:Merit and Merit-Making; Relics and Relics Cults; Space, Sacred


Coleman, Simon, and Elsner, John. Pilgrimage: Past and Present in the World Religions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

McKay, Alex, ed. Pilgrimage in Tibet. Richmond, UK: Curzon Press, 1998.

Morinis, Alan, ed. Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992.

Naquin, Susan, and Yü, Chün-fang, eds. Pilgrims and Sacred Sites in China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Nissan, Elizabeth. "Polity and Pilgrimage Centres in Sri Lanka." Man (New Series) 23, no. 2 (1988): 253–274.

Reader, Ian, and Swanson, Paul L., eds. "Pilgrimage in Japan." Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 24, nos. 3–4 (1997): 225–452.

Turner, Victor, and Turner, Edith. Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture: Anthropological Perspectives. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978.

Kevin Trainor


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A pilgrimage is a round-trip journey to a site the traveler considers sacred, usually a shrine. At their destination, and along the way, pilgrims engage in religious practices that might include ritualized speech, dress, and gesture. Pilgrimage sites sometimes stand far from the follower's home, and sometimes the length and arduousness of the journey are themselves spiritually significant. Whether or not the destination is distant and the journey difficult, most pilgrims, who are temporarily or permanently changed by the experience, carry something home with them. For contemporary pilgrims that can mean a range of artifacts—from holy cards and T-shirts to postcards and photographs. Upon their return, devotees recall and extend the sacred journey by wearing (or carrying) mementos, giving them to loved ones, or placing them in the home, thereby sacralizing domestic space and linking it with the pilgrimage site.

Approaches to the Study of Pilgrimage

There have been five main approaches to the study of pilgrimage. First, highlighting change over time, the historical approach has emphasized the distinctiveness of each pilgrimage and its embeddedness in the cultural context and the sponsoring religion. Second, a sociological view, inspired by the writings of Émile Durkheim, presupposes that pilgrimages reflect broader social processes; for example, they bolster social status and construct collective identity. Guided by the writings of Mircea Eliade and other religion scholars, a phenomenological approach has identified pilgrimage's common features by theorizing across religions and cultures. Claiming to be more sympathetic to the participants' interpretations, these scholars have seen pilgrimage as an encounter with the sacred. In opposition to functionalist sociological theories, they also have highlighted religion's sui generis character, criticizing those who reduce the phenomenon to social, cultural, or economic impulses. A fourth approach, anthropological, has had the most scholarly influence, and Victor Turner and Edith Turner have produced the most influential anthropological theory. For them, pilgrimage is a rite of passage: The pilgrim begins in the social structure, departs from it during the ritual, and then returns (transformed) to society. During the pilgrimage, the Turners argue, devotees stand in a liminal state, where the usual social hierarchies are suspended and an egalitarian spirit of "communitas" temporarily holds. In the 1991 book Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage, its editors, John Eade and Michael J. Sallnow, directly challenged the reigning Turnerian model. Eade and Sallnow saw contestation where the Turners found consensus. Pilgrimages, in this revisionist anthropological view, do not have a fixed meaning or produce a shared feeling of commonality. Rather, pilgrimage sites are social arenas where devotees negotiate meaning and power. A fifth approach to the study of pilgrimage comes from cultural geographers, who have drawn on the theories of Eliade, the Turners, and (more recently) Eade and Sallnow. S. M. Bhardwaj, C. Prorok, G. Rinschede, and other geographers have produced textured studies of contemporary pilgrimage sites, yet they have not offered a fully developed theory of religious travel. However, a greater sensitivity to the significance of space and place distinguishes the work of geographers, who have charted the flow of pilgrims and mapped the landscape of pilgrimage.

American Pilgrimage

Most scholars of pilgrimage have focused their attention on Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, although round-trip religious journeys also have been an important feature of religious life in the United States. The scholarly neglect is understandable, in part, since the relatively young nation has fewer ancient sacred sites, and the predominant faith of the British colonies, Protestantism, eschewed pilgrimage, which seemed tainted by Catholic overtones. Nonetheless, U.S. Protestants have venerated some sites at home and abroad as spiritually significant, and their journeys—for example, Methodists' travel to the British birthplace of John and Charles Wesley or to American churches where the founders preached—take on some features traditionally associated with pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage has been even more central in other American faiths, and there are as many kinds of pilgrimage as there are types of shrines. The most basic distinction is between foreign and domestic pilgrimage.

Some American pilgrims—those with sufficient time and money—have traveled abroad to sites they considered sacred. A very small proportion of these journeys led to quasi-religious sites, those with civil religious importance such as American war memorials in Europe or other foreign sites with historical connections. For example, Alfred T. Story's 1908 guidebook American Shrines in England introduced American travelers to civil religious sites such as George Washington's and Benjamin Franklin's ancestral homes. Much more commonly, American travelers have visited the traditional pilgrimage sites in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Fast and relatively inexpensive air travel allows thousands of contemporary American Catholics annually to take guided tours of the great pilgrimage centers in Europe, Lourdes and Fatima, as well as newer apparitional sites such as Medjugorje and Mount Melleray. And each year many Christians—Protestant and Catholic—travel to the Holy Land. Some U.S. Jews imagine a trip to Israel, and the sacred sites there, as decisive for identity, even as a rite of passage to Jewish adulthood. During the turbulent late nineteenth century and again during and after the restless 1960s, small numbers of elite American Buddhist and Hindu converts homaged sacred sites in India and Japan, while Asian-American followers who entered the United States after the new immigration act of 1965 also have returned to holy places in their homeland. Pilgrimage to Mecca is a duty for all able Muslims, and by the 1990s approximately five thousand American followers were fulfilling that religious obligation each year.

If some American pilgrims have crossed national borders, others have traveled to destinations in the United States. Some of those destinations, such as battlefields and monuments, are quasi-religious, sharing some of the features of traditional pilgrimage sites. Journeys to the Stonewall Jackson Shrine in Virginia or to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., can blur the lines between tourism and pilgrimage, since those sites have meaning for the celebration of America's civil religion. Visitors to some civil religious sites, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, closely simulate ritual practice at traditionally religious shrines. By the end of the 1990s millions of visitors had left tens of thousands of artifacts and letters at that civic monument, just as Catholic pilgrims leave notes or crutches at healing shrines. As several scholars have noted, similar practices emerge at other U.S. tourist sites that claim secular status, including Graceland, Elvis Presley's Memphis home, where fans from across the country leave messages, flowers, and gifts during candlelight vigils.

But pilgrimage in the United States usually has been explicitly associated with religious traditions. American Indian peoples have long venerated certain natural and historical sites and returned regularly to perform prescribed rituals. As Vine Deloria notes in God Is Red (1992), however, the state's power sometimes constrains Indian peoples' ability to practice their faith because many have been displaced from their traditional homelands or forbidden access to holy places on federal lands. Nonetheless, Indian peoples still make round-trip religious journeys. So do many Roman Catholics, who established their first pilgrimage site on lands that would become the United States in 1620, when Spanish missionaries dedicated a small chapel to Our Lady of La Leche at St. Augustine, Florida. Since then, and especially in the twentieth century, many other shrines to Mary and the saints have appeared. And in the 1990s, Catholic pilgrims continued to visit hundreds of sacred places across the nation, including pilgrimage centers that develop around reports of miracles or apparitions. Some new religious movements also have consecrated sites as holy. For example, Christian Scientists visit the residences of founder Mary Baker Eddy and the monumental Mother Church in Boston, while Latter-Day Saints make journeys to regional Mormon temples as well as key sites of historical significance in Missouri and Utah.

Although they claim many fewer traditional sacred sites in the United States than in their homeland, post-1965 immigrants, who have transplanted a variety of faiths, have constructed (or renovated) thousands of places of worship. Some larger Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras, and Muslim mosques have functioned as local, regional, or national pilgrimage sites for Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants and their relatives. Although American Buddhist shrines have not appeared—there are no revered relics or sacred sites on U.S. soil—some temples draw pilgrims, often from a single ethnic group and Buddhist sect. For example, in 1996 more than 110,000 devotees, many of them Chinese immigrants, took the guided tour at southern California's Hsi Lai Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the Western Hemisphere. The Jain Society of Metropolitan Chicago, which was the largest Jain center in North America when it opened in 1993, attracts both local Asian Indian immigrants and devotees who travel greater distances. Hindu immigrants from India and elsewhere first dedicated two major temples (in Pittsburgh and Flushing, New York) in 1977, and Hindu devotees have been especially successful in transplanting the ancient and vigorous Indian pilgrimage tradition since then. The first two temples, and the dozens consecrated since the 1970s, have attracted American pilgrims; and, as at many other religious and quasi-religious sites, new pilgrimage routes are constantly emerging in the United States.

See alsoBuddhism; Christian Science; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; Civil Religion; Eliade, Mircea; Elvis Cults; Hinduism; Holy Land; Islam; Jainism; Judaism; Mecca; Rome; Shrine.


Coleman, Simon, and John Elsner. Pilgrimage: Past andPresent in World Religions. 1995.

Eade, John, and Michael J. Sallnow, eds. Contesting theSacred: The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage. 1991.

Hanumadass, Marella L., ed. A Pilgrimage to HinduTemples in North America. 1994.

Higgins, Paul Lambourne. Pilgrimages USA: A Guide toHoly Places of the United States for Today's Traveler. 1985.

Nolan, Mary Lee, and Sidney Nolan. Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe. 1989.

Park, Chris C. "Sacred Places and Pilgrimage." In Sacred Worlds: An Introduction to Geography and Religion. 1994.

"Pilgrimage." In The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, edited by Jonathan Z. Smith. 1995.

Reader, Ian, and Tony Walter, eds. Pilgrimage in Popular Culture. 1993.

Rinschede, G., and S. M. Bhardwaj, eds. Pilgrimage inthe United States. 1990.

Turner, Victor, and Edith Turner. Image and Pilgrimagein Christian Culture: Anthropological Perspectives. 1978.

Thomas A. Tweed


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Pilgrimage. The literal or metaphorical movement to a condition or place of holiness or healing. Pilgrimage may be interior or exterior. Interior pilgrimage is the movement of a life from a relatively abject condition to the goal (ultimate or proximate) in a particular religion: John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress is a classic Christian expression of this theme, particularly as expressed in its full title, … from this World to That which is to Come: Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream, wherein is Discovered the Manner of his Setting Out, his Dangerous Journey, and Safe Arrival at the Desired Country. Life becomes metaphorically a pilgrimage. Interior pilgrimage is stressed by Sikhs. Exterior pilgrimage is a journey to some place which is either itself associated with the resources or goals of a religion, or which is the location of objects which may assist the pilgrim—e.g. relics. The reasons for pilgrimage are extremely varied. They may, for example, be for healing, holiness, cleansing, penance, education, gratitude, in response to a vow, to recapitulate an event which occurred at the pilgrimage centre (as, for example, to see for oneself a reported vision; or, somewhat differently, to re-enact events in the past, as in the Muslim ḥajj, or in the Christian retracing of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem). Pilgrimage frequently, and not surprisingly, takes on the character of a rite of passage; and as such, the stage of liminality exhibits the inversion of values and status; pilgrimages may then take on the character of a holiday, in which everyday life and its values are suspended—as in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.


The major practice is that of making ʿaliyah to Jerusalem, as required in Deuteronomy 16. 16. According to the Torah, all male Jews should go up to Jerusalem three times a year, on Passover, Shavuʿot, and Sukkot (Exodus 34. 23). Since the Six Day War and the reunification of the city, the remaining wall of the Temple (Wailing Wall) has become the centre of Jewish pilgrimage. The tradition of going up to Jerusalem for the pilgrim festivals has been, to some extent, resumed, particularly during the intermediate days of Sukkot. Because there is no temple, no sacrifices are performed.


There is no record of the earliest Christian pilgrimages, but the practice of journeying to the Holy Land received much impetus from the visit of the empress Helena, mother of Constantine, in 326. Peregrinatio Etheriae (The Pilgrimage of Etheria) is a vivid account of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at the end of the 4th cent. Rome became a centre of pilgrimage because of its connection with Sts Peter and Paul; and other centres proliferated through the connection with other saints. Notable was the supposed burial place of St James, Santiago at Compostela in NW Spain: it became the goal of the famous ‘pilgrims' route’ to Compostela (see J. S. Stone, The Cult of Santiago …, 1927). The association of pilgrimage with indulgences and credulity (especially in relation to relics) made pilgrimage highly suspect to the Reformation; but it has revived in the 20th cent., not least as a consequence of the lucrative tourist trade. Devotion to Mary has led to increasing claims of visions of Mary, with consequent pilgrimages, e.g. to Lourdes, Fatima, and Medjugorje.




See TĪRATH; TĪRTHA. Pilgrimage is supremely important in Hinduism, both in an interior and exterior sense. The interior pilgrimage is epitomized in the yogi who ‘visits’ the seven sacred cities while remaining motionless in a specific kind of meditation. The exterior pilgrimage is dramatically obvious in the constant movement of people in every part of India, but especially to the seven cities. Prayāga (renamed by the Muslims Allahābad), Gāyā (i.e. Bodhgāyā to Buddhists), and Kāśi are the major sites on the Gaṅgā (Ganges); and of these, Kāśi exceeds all. Indeed, to make pilgrimage and die in Kāśi means that the burden of karma and the necessity for rebirth are removed by Śiva himself. Places of pilgrimage are called in India tīrthas (‘fords’), and the pilgrimage is tīrtha-yatra. In the Tīrtha-yatra section of Mahābhārata, a description is given of the whole of India as a place of pilgrimage, mapping out an itinerary in a clockwise direction.

Buddhism and Jainism

Buddhist pilgrimage is common, in both Theravāda and Mahāyāna forms. Of particular importance are sites where relics are held, e.g. of the Buddha's tooth at Kandy (in Śri Lankā); or where there are associations with the Buddha, especially the places of his birth, first sermon, enlightenment, and parinibbāna, and of his presence, e.g. of his footprint (notably in Śri Lankā on Mount Siripāda, ‘Adam's Mount’, since Muslims revere the footprint as that of Adam, though for Hindus it is that of Śiva). Equally important are sites where cuttings derived from the bo tree (the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment) are growing. In China and Japan, mountains are extensively sites of pilgrimage. In China, the Five Peaks are thought to be important for the protection of the country. One, Mount Tai, is Taoist, the other four are associated with four bodhisattvas: Emei is linked with Samantabhadra, Wūtai with Mañjuśrī, Putuo with Avalokiteśvara, and Chiu-hua with Kṣitigarbha. A new emperor was required to make pilgrimage to Mount Tai; to the other four mountains (remote though they are) both monks and laypeople make pilgrimage, known as ‘journeying to a mountain and offering incense’. In Japan, the major Buddhist centres are Saikōkū, dedicated to Kannon (Avalokiteśvara) and Shikōkū. For Japan, see also ISE and FUJISĀN (Fujiyama).

Among Jains, places associated with tīrthaṅkaras or other holy ascetics, or with images of the tīrthaṅkaras, are places of pilgrimage—as indeed may be a living and revered ascetic: particularly revered are places where someone has undertaken sallekhanā (death by fasting). For the Digambaras, the White Lake of the Ascetics (Śravana Belgola), in the state of Karnataka, is of great importance, with its hill on which stands the image of Bahubali, the first person of this world cycle to attain liberation. Of corresponding importance for the Śvetāmbara (see DIGAMBARA) is Mount Śatrunjāya (‘The conqueror of enemies’). It is one of five holy mountains, standing near Palitana in Gujarat. To organize a pilgrimage is an act of great merit for Jain laymen—the equivalent, according to some, of undertaking initiation as a monk. The organizer is called saṅghapati, ‘the lord of the community’ (cf. saṅgha).


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Apilgrimage is a journey to a shrine, or a site that the traveler considers sacred. Renaissance pilgrims made these trips for a variety of reasons. Many pilgrims wanted to feel closer to the divine or to celebrate a particular saint's feast day. Others went to ask for help and to receive indulgences*. Some made pilgrimages for worldlier reasons. A pilgrimage typically involved some sort of sacrifice or hardship, such as walking the entire distance.

Reasons for Pilgrimage. A variety of factors besides religious passion motivated Renaissance pilgrims. For example, a town suffering from a disaster might hire a pilgrim to travel to a shrine and pray for the entire town. Local priests and courts occasionally sentenced offenders to undertake a pilgrimage as punishment for their sins or crimes. Towns sent residents with leprosy, an incurable illness in those days, on pilgrimage. If they did not recover, these sick pilgrims would probably die elsewhere, not infecting anyone else in the town.

At shrines, pilgrims prayed for aid, forgiveness of sins, or improvement in physical health. Pilgrims often left an ex-voto, or memento, as a sign of thanks. Many people who took pilgrimages hoped to witness—or even experience—a miracle.

People wanted to know that their prayers were being answered. Even if they did not experience a miracle, they earned indulgences by going on pilgrimages. During the plague*, the number of indulgences grew rapidly. Excessive indulgences, such as those shortening punishment in the afterlife by 33,000 years, became common.

Pilgrims often timed their journeys so that they would arrive at their destinations in time for particular events. A shrine might celebrate a saint's feast day with special celebrations or activities. If the feast fell on a Sunday, the Church might offer more powerful indulgences to pilgrims. In 1300, Pope Boniface VIII established a practice of holding jubilee years in Rome every 50 years, complete with indulgences. These were extremely popular, drawing millions of visitors to the seat of the Catholic Church.

Making the Journey. A pilgrimage could be a difficult physical ordeal, and at least 10 percent of all pilgrims died on their journeys. Among other dangers, they faced wild animals, thieves, storms, and pirates. A pilgrim who tried to visit the Holy Land might be forbidden to enter Jerusalem or held for ransom. Nevertheless, the Renaissance interest in travel helped to keep pilgrimages popular. The concept of vacation did not yet exist, and pilgrimages offered a rare excuse to see the world. Some people chose not to return home afterward.

Pilgrimages attracted people from all stations in life, from kings to beggars. Compared to the pilgrims of the Middle Ages, a greater proportion of Renaissance pilgrims were poor. They often traveled to take advantage of the charity available to them on the way. However, the system of charity declined during the Protestant Reformation* and the Catholic Counter-Reformation*.

Many pilgrims wrote accounts of their experiences, often as guides to future pilgrims visiting the same sites. The number of guidebooks to the three main pilgrimage sites—Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela in Spain—more than doubled each century after the 1200s. Some pilgrims' accounts became the first travelogues, noting the customs of the regions visited along the way. Pilgrimages also inspired artists. Prayer books for the rich often featured images drawn from or related to these journeys.

Decline of Pilgrimages. Pilgrimages were extremely popular during the Middle Ages. Some shrines could attract more than 100,000 visitors in a single day. However, the number of pilgrims declined during the Protestant Reformation, when early Protestant leaders opposed pilgrimages. Martin Luther objected to the worship of images and the sale of indulgences, both of which played major roles in the tradition. John Calvin mocked the practice as superstitious.

Areas that became Protestant had the sharpest drop in pilgrimages. However, pilgrimages to some shrines in Protestant lands, like that of St. Winefred in Wales, remained popular despite official opposition. Many new shrines were established in Catholic areas, but most of them remained minor. At the same time, Christians in the Spanish New World began making pilgrimages to Guadalupe, Mexico, after reports that the Virgin Mary had appeared there.

(See alsoAmericas; Catholic Reformation and Counter-Reformation; Protestant Reformation. )

* indulgence

in Catholic practice, a means by which a sinner could reduce the punishment for a sin by repenting (being sorry for the sin) and performing a good deed

* plague

highly contagious and often fatal disease that wiped out much of Europe's population in the mid-1300s and reappeared periodically over the next three centuries; also known as the Black Death

* Protestant Reformation

religious movement that began in the 1500s as a protest against certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church and eventually led to the establishment of a variety of Protestant churches

* Counter-Reformation

actions taken by the Roman Catholic Church after 1540 to oppose Protestantism


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pilgrimage Religiously motivated journey to a shrine or other holy place in order to gain spiritual help or guidance, or for the purpose of thanksgiving. Pilgrimages are common to many religions, particularly in the East. A Muslim should make the pilgrimage to Mecca, where devotions last two weeks, at least once in his life. This pilgrimage is known as the Hajj. Since the 2nd century ad, Christians have made pilgrimages to Palestine, to the tomb of the Apostles Peter and Paul in Rome, and to that of James in Santiago de Compostela, nw Spain.


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pil·grim·age / ˈpilgrəmij/ • n. a pilgrim's journey. ∎  a journey to a place associated with someone or something well known or respected: making a pilgrimage to the famous racing circuit. ∎  life viewed as a journey: life's pilgrimage. • v. [intr.] go on a pilgrimage.


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Pilgrimage ★★ 1933

Overbearing Hannah Jessop (Crosman) is horrified when her son Jim (Foster) takes up with the unsuitable Mary (Nixon), so she sends him off to fight in WWI. Jim doesn't know Mary is pregnant and after he is killed, Hannah refuses to have anything to do with her grandson. It's not until she takes a trip to France to visit her son's grave that she realizes her heartlessness and makes amends. Crosman was a grand dame of the theater and well-suited to her part. 96m/B DVD . Henrietta Crosman, Marion (Marian) Nixon, Norman Foster, Heather Angel, Charley Grapewin, Lucille La Verne, Maurice Murphy, Hedda Hopper; D: John Ford; W: Philip Klein, Barry Connors, Dudley Nichols; C: George Schneiderman; M: R. H. Bassett.


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pilgrimage a journey made to some sacred place, as an act of religious devotion.
Pilgrimage of Grace the name given to a series of popular risings in northern England in 1536 and 1537 opposing the dissolution of the monasteries and other features of the Reformation.

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