Devotional or penitential journeys to visit the center of Christendom, with its tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul (ad limina apostolorum ), its catacombs, and other famed sanctuaries and churches. Pilgrimages are a natural phenomenon in most ancient religions, and Rome itself in pagan times had sanctuaries that were the object of religious visits and celebrations by devotees from afar.
The first recorded Christian pilgrimage to Rome was made by abercius, Bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia. On an epitaph written before 216, he left a record of his visit to Rome as the center of the Church, whose community was marked by the seal of Baptism (sphragidion ). During the pontificate of Pope zephyrinus (198–217), origen visited Rome "to see the ancient Church of the Romans" (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.10). While the graves of the Apostles Peter and Paul were marked by monuments called trophies (ibid. 2.25.17) and were honored in the second century, there is no record of visits by specific strangers before the late third century, although graffiti inscriptions witness to the devotion of visitors at the tomb site beneath the main altar in St. Peter's and in the catacombs, particularly in the triclia of St. Sebastian's, which go back to the start of the cult of martyrs.
Peace of the Church. With the Peace of the Church (313) and the construction of the Constantinian basilica to St. Peter (c. 325–354); of the Sessorian basilica of the Holy Cross called "in Jerusalem," as well as of the Lateran basilica; of St. Paul's on the Via Ostiensis; of St. Lawrence; and of St. Agnes, new impetus was given to devotional visits to the Eternal City. Pope damasus (366–384) provided for the proper care of the catacombs and decorated them with verse inscriptions that served as sign posts for pilgrims, from the fourth to the eighth century. The depositio martyrum preserved by the chronographer of 354 records the names of 52 martyrs whose feasts were commemorated annually by the Roman Church; almost a century later, the calendar of Pope boniface i (d. 422) registers 300. St. jerome has described the crowds of visitors to the catacombs and martyr churches in Rome (c. 365) that he witnessed as a youth (Comm. in Gal. 2; Comm. in Ezech. 45.5). In a hymn ascribed to St. Ambrose (d. 397), mention is made of three roads by which devotees arrived to celebrate the feasts of the martyrs: Via Aurelia for the Vatican; Via Ostiensis for St. Paul's; and the Via Appia for St. Sebastian's (Hymn 13.21–32). St. john chrysostom, writing in 387, spoke of the emperors, generals, and consuls who visited Rome to venerate the tomb of "a fisherman and of a tent maker" (Cont. Jud. et gent. 9), and deplored his own inability to visit the tomb of St. Paul (Hom. in Rom. 32.2–3).
Paulinus and Prudentius. While Rome was the scene of constant comings and goings by Church and imperial officials engaged in ecclesiastical and public affairs, there is no record of their pilgrim interests. At the end of the fourth century, paulinus of nola informed St. augustine of his annual visits to the shrine of the Apostles (Epistolae 17.1; 18.1; 20.2; 45.1) and mentioned visits to Rome in 400 and 403 by nicetas of remesiana (ibid. 29.14). Palladius, the monk, came from Palestine to Rome about the same time and mentioned a visit of the Galatian monk Philoromus (Hist. Laus. 45). During the fifth century, frequent visits were made by bishops, monks, and ecclesiastics, such as John Cassian, hilary of arles, and prosper of aquitaine. The Spanish poet prudentius (348–405), in his Peri Stephanon, or verse in honor of the martyrs, spoke of the awe with which he beheld the places where the martyrs shed their blood and left innumerable relics (Hymn. 2.541–548; 11.1–2), and he described the catacombs and churches he visited, including the crypt of St. hippolytus. There, for the saint's feast (Aug. 13), vast crowds assembled, having marched from the city in processions and been joined by men, women, and children, arriving on the roads from the Alban hills, Abruzzi, Etruria, Capua, and Nola (Hymn. 11.199–216).
Despite the sack of Rome by the barbarians in 410 and 452, gregory of tours described pilgrimages made by St. brice (Hist. Franc. 2.1) and Bp. Aravatius of Tongres (ibid. 2.5); sidonius apollinaris was there in 456 and 467 (Acta Sanctorum Aug. 23: 603), and King Sigismund of Burgundy toward the end of the century. Sigismund had to write to Pope symmachus (498–514) for a further consignment of relics, having distributed all he himself obtained in Rome (Monumenta Germaniae Historica [Berlin 1826–]) division: Auctores antiquissimi, 6.2.59). Fulgentius of Ruspe (c. 500) described the custom of making regular rounds of pilgrim visits to the catacombs and churches, including St. Peter's, St. Paul's, St. Agnes', St. Lawrence's, St. Sebastian's, and SS. John and Paul's (Vita 13.27). cassiodorus (d. 583) spoke of the universitas of Christians who desired to visit the confessions or shrines in Rome (Viv. 11.2); and Gregory of Tours reported the return of his deacon (c. 590) from Rome with many relics (Hist. Franc. 10.1).
Roman Relics. Already in the early fifth century, so many pilgrims passed Spoleto on the Via Flaminia bound for Rome that Bishop Achilleus (402–418) thought it proper (on the inscription in his cathedral) to warn against possible superstition in the cult of relics; but later, another inscription in the same church informs pilgrims that the cathedral possessed a splinter of the true cross and a link of St. Peter's chain (De Rossi, Inscript. Christ. 2.8.114). Justinian I had written to Pope hormisdas (514–523) for sanctuaria b. Petri et Pauli or pieces of cloth that had touched the stone in the "second cataract" or level in the shaft that led down to tombs beneath the altar in St. Peter's and St. Paul's, as well as a piece of Peter's chain and, if possible, of the grill of St. Lawrence (Hormisdas, Epist. 77). In 595 the Bavarian Princess Theodelinda, as queen of the Lombards, asked Pope gregory i (590–604) for relics for the new church of St. John, which she had built at Monza, and received a consignment of ampules filled with oil that had been burning before the tombs of some 65 martyrs. Each ampule was marked with the location whence the oil was drawn (Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie. ed. F. Cabrol, H. Leclercq and H. I. Marrou [Paris 1907–53] 1.2:1737–39). Contrary to Eastern practice, at Rome during this period bones were not distributed as relics, but openings were made above the tombs, and articles could be let down to touch the interior.
Schola Saxonum and Irish Pilgrims. The sixth and seventh centuries saw a great influx of monks and visitors from Byzantium, encouraged by the founding of a Greek monastery in Rome by anti-Monophysite monks. Likewise bede reported the visits of Danish and Anglo-Saxon princes and princesses who had put aside their diadems to visit the shrine of the Apostles, as well as visits of clerics and laity, men and women (Ecclesiastical History 5.7). benedict biscop (628–689) made five journeys to Rome; Wilfrid of York (634–709) made two; and King Caedwalla of Wessex (d. c. 709) abdicated his throne, made a pilgrimage to Rome, was baptized in St. Peter's, and later was buried there (bede, Ecclesiastical History 5.7). matthew paris credited King Ina of Wessex (689–726) with the foundation in Rome of the schola Saxonum, or pilgrim hostel, with the church of St. Mary, which burgeoned into an Anglo-Saxon colony and gave its name to the borgo, or neighborhood, in Trastevere, and was soon imitated by the hostels and churches of St. Savior for the Franks, St. Michael for the Frisians, and St. Justin for the Lombards (Matthew Paris, Chron. Mai., ed. Luard, 1:331). Pope leo iii (d. 816) established a hospital for pilgrims in Rome, dedicated to St. Peregrinus of Auxerre.
From Ireland, so large an army of pilgrims followed Columbanus across the Continent on the road to Rome that in the vita of St. Gall, Gozbert remarked: "Of late so many Scots [Irish] are pilgrims that it would appear that the habit of traveling is part of their nature." In the Irish lives of the saints, hardly a one does not mention peregrinans pro Dei amore, or pro nomine Christi —"on pilgrimage for the love of God" or "in the name of Christ"—thus the vitae of SS. Agilus, Kilian, and Fintan (J. Mabillon, Acta sanctorum ordinis S. Benedicti [Venice 1733–40] 2:324). St. Molua (d. c. 608), setting out on pilgrimage, said, "Unless I see Rome, I will die soon."
Pilgrim Guide Books. The itineraria, based evidently on the Roman military maps and tax records, such as the Anonymous of Piacenza and the itinerarium of Einsiedeln, indicate that a number of private pilgrim guides existed for directing pilgrims on the Roman roads and conducting them to the various sites when they got there. A notitia ecclesiarum urbis Romae existed in the time of Pope honorius i (625–638); it directed pilgrims from the church of SS. John and Paul on the Caelian Hill in a circle round the city from the Via Flaminia on the north, to the churches and cemeteries on the east and south, then west, and finished with a description of the wonders of St. Peter's. In the De locis sanctis martyrum quae sunt foris civitatis Romae, the pilgrim visits began with St. Peter's and made a round of the sanctuaries outside the city. The book was full of legends; it pointed out a kind of altar in St. Peter's constructed by Peter himself; on the road to Ostia was an oratorium on whose altar was a stone used in the stoning of St. Stephen; in the vestibule of St. Lawrence's, the rock used to drown St. Abundus was on exhibition; in St. Maria in Trastevere was a picture of the Blessed Virgin painted by herself; and the chains of St. Peter and St. Lawrence's grill, as well as other such relics, were carefully pointed out. In his History of the English Kings, William of Malmesbury (d. 1142) preserved a much older itinerary of Rome, which led the pilgrim out of 14 gates in the Aurelian Wall to visit all the cemeteries between the Porta Cornelia and the Porta Flaminia.
Dimissorial Letters. On the road to Rome, guest houses were constructed, and many monasteries, such as that at Rebais in northern France, were frequented by the Irish and offered free lodging overnight. Usually the pilgrims traveled in groups to ward off robbers; and they carried dimissorial letters supplied by the bishop with the acknowledgment of the civil authorities. In 514 caesarius of arles obtained the Formulary of Marculf (Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne [Paris 1878–90] 87:755) from Pope Symmachus granting the pilgrim safe-conduct and freedom from customs and other taxes. Pilgrims also made offerings to local churches or monasteries for prayers for their safe return; or made over their property to the bishop for safekeeping.
The custom of bishops, princes, and kings visiting the Eternal City continued during the eighth to early tenth century; they not only endowed St. Peter's and specific sanctuaries, but saw to the care for pilgrims on the routes to Rome and in Rome itself. They included Bp. chrodegang of metz; Theodo, Prince of Bavaria; Bertrade, wife of Charlemagne; and Charlemagne himself, who visited Rome at least four times.
Penitential Pilgrimages and Abuses. In the nineth century, under Popes Nicholas I (858–867) and Stephen V (885–891), the custom of substituting pilgrimages for ecclesiastical penances and civil or criminal law penalties began; instead of excommunication, banishment, or exile for heresy, murder, arson, or breaking of the peace of God, the culprit was allowed to don pilgrim clothes and was supplied with a safe-conduct to a particular shrine. In the high Middle Ages, with the development of Canon Law, the ordinary penalty for striking a cleric was a pilgrimage to Rome, since the absolution of this crime was reserved to the pope. However, with the rise of the universities in the 12th and 13th centuries, this penalty had to be abolished since so many students were taking advantage of it.
Abuses and Complaints. As early as the fourth century, Gregory of Nyssa (Epistolae 2; 3) and Jerome (Epistolae 58.2–6) complained about the abuses committed by unruly monks and pilgrims in the Holy Land. Yet Jerome justified the veneration of images and the cult of the saints in his Contra Vigilantium. John Chrysostom (Ad pop. Antioch. 3.2.49) and Augustine (Epistolae 155.4.15; Patrologia Latina 33:672) reminded their parishioners that they were to honor God through the saints not by their feet, but in their hearts. The strongest voice raised against pilgrimage abuses connected with Rome was that of St. Boniface (Monumenta Germaniae Historica [Berlin 1826–] division: Epistolae, 3:354), who complained that despite synods and royal prohibitions, the majority of women making such trips to Rome lost their virtue. Claudius of Turin (c. 820) condemned images, relics, and pilgrimages and was answered by the Irish scholar Dungal and Jonas of Orléans, who in his De cultu imaginum (Patrologia Latina 106:305–388) followed the moderate doctrine of the Libri Carolini. Councils at Verneuil (755), Aquileia (796), and Châlons (813) forbade monks to go to Rome and cautioned against other abuses, and a poem in an eighth-century Irish manuscript admits, "To go to Rome [teicht do Roim ] means great labor and little profit; the king you seek can only be found there if you bring him within yourself" [see R. Thurneysen, Old Irish Reader, tr. D. A. Binchyard O'Bergin (Dublin 1949) 41].
Erasmus. The author of the imitation of christ complained: "Those who wander much are but little hallowed," and the 15th-century Dominican John Bromyard observed that many peregrinamur a Domino: pilgrimage away from God and toward the devil. The sharpest critic amid the voices raised against pilgrimages during the Reformation was erasmus, whose Colloquies [ed. E. Johnson (London 1878) 2.1–37] summed up the abuses as (1) neglect of home duties, (2) excessive credulity in relics and legends, (3) insistence on pilgrimages as if necessary for salvation, and (4) wantonness and evil conduct of pilgrims. However, he felt they were justified if entered on freely and with true piety.
Holy Years. Despite the break between the Roman and Eastern Churches, after 1054 relations, including pilgrimages to Rome, continued intermittently. The internal strife with which Rome was afflicted from the nineth to the 15th century had greatly lessened pilgrimages during that period; but the proclamation of the holy year by Boniface VIII (Feb. 22, 1300), and the subsequent celebrations of jubilee years in 1350 under Clement VI, in 1390 under Urban VI, in 1400 under Boniface IX, and in 1423 under Martin V gave the movement new impetus. Paul II (1464–71) decreed the present system of 25-year intervals, which, with the exception of 1800 and 1850, has been followed to the present. Confraternities, such as that of the Holy Trinity established by St. Philip neri in 1548 and those of the Gonfalone and the Holy Cross of St. Marcello, set up hostels and sanitary and hospital services and fed pilgrims down to modern times.
Secular and Religious Pilgrims. In the Renaissance period pilgrims' guide books, such as the De mirabilibus civitatis Romae, by N. Roselli (1314–62); the versified English Stations of Rome; and the Itinerarium urbis Romae (c. 1517), of the Franciscan Mariano da Firenze, provided pilgrims with information and direction in visiting the sites hallowed by the pagan, but more particularly by the Christian, heroes of Rome.
With the rise of the Renaissance, and more particularly during the Enlightenment period, the attention of the secular visitors to Rome, such as goethe on his Wanderjahr, was directed exclusively to pilgrimages to the ruins of ancient pagan Rome. This attitude has changed radically, and, with modern pilgrim movements arranged by the tourist industry, more emphasis is placed on the possibility of seeing the pope and visiting the shrines of the Apostles than on the relics of Rome's ancient glory.
Pope Boniface VIII had prescribed visits to the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul as requisite for the jubilee indulgence; Clement VI added St. John Lateran's; and Urban VI, St. Mary Major's. Visits to these four basilicas have become the custom for all true Roman pilgrimages.
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