Pilgrimage: The Way of the Soul

A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone’s own beliefs. Many religions attach spiritual importance to particular places: the place of birth or death of founders or saints, or to the place of their “calling” or spiritual awakening, or of their connection (visual or verbal) with the divine, to locations where miracles were performed or witnessed, or locations where a deity is said to live or be “housed”, or any site that is seen to have special spiritual powers. Such sites may be commemorated with shrines or temples that devotees are encouraged to visit for their own spiritual benefit: to be healed or have questions answered or to achieve some other spiritual benefit. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim. As a common human experience, pilgrimage has been proposed as a Jungian archetype by Wallace Clift and Jean Dalby Clift.

The Holy Land acts as a focal point for the pilgrimages of the Abrahamic Religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to a Stockholm University study in 2011, these pilgrims visit the Holy Land to touch and see physical manifestations of their faith, confirm their beliefs in the holy context with collective excitation, and connect personally to the Holy Land.

Judaism

While Solomon’s Temple stood, Jerusalem was the centre of the Jewish religious life and the site of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, and all adult men who were able were required to visit and offer sacrifices (korbanot) at the Temple. After the destruction of the Temple, the obligation to visit Jerusalem and to make sacrifices no longer applied. The obligation was restored with the rebuilding of the Temple, but following its destruction in 70 CE, the obligation to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and offer sacrifices again went into abeyance.

The western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, known as the Western Wall or “Wailing” Wall, remains in the Old City of Jerusalem and is the most sacred and visited site for Jews. Pilgrimage to this area was off-limits to Jews from 1948 to 1967, when East Jerusalem was under Jordanian control.

There are numerous lesser Jewish pilgrimage destinations, mainly tombs of tzadikim, throughout the Land of Israel and all over the world, including: Hebron; Bethlehem; Mt. Meron; Netivot; Uman, Ukraine; Silistra, Bulgaria; Damanhur, Egypt; and many others.

Christianity

Christian pilgrimage was first made to sites connected with the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Aside from the early example of Origen in the third century, surviving descriptions of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land date from the 4th century, when pilgrimage was encouraged by church fathers including Saint Jerome, and established by Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great.

Pilgrimages were, and are, also made to Rome and other sites associated with the apostles, saints and Christian martyrs, as well as to places where there have been apparitions of the Virgin Mary. A popular pilgrimage journey is along the Way of St. James to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, in Galicia, Spain, where the shrine of the apostle James is located. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales recounts tales told by Christian pilgrims on their way to Canterbury Cathedral and the shrine of Thomas Becket.

During the Middle Age there were three important pilgrimage routes. The first leads to Rome (Via Francigena), and was defined the Way of the Heart, the way of Love, but not refere human love, but Divine Love.
The second path is called the Way of the Soul, and it leads to Jerusalem the Holy City.
And the third, the Way of St. James leads to Santiago de Compostela, in Portugal. Tradition holds that St. James‘s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain, where he was buried in what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela. (The name Santiago is the local Galician evolution of Vulgar Latin Sancti Iacobi, “Saint James”.) and a pilgrimage route on which a plenary indulgence could be earned; other major pilgrimage routes  and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Islam

The main pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) is one of the five pillars of Islam and a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence. The gathering during the Hajj is considered the largest annual gathering of people in the world.

Another important place for Muslims is the city of Medina, the second holiest site in Islam, in Saudi Arabia, the final resting place of Muhammad in Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (Mosque of the Prophet). The third most holiest site in Islam, Dome of the rock was a major site for pilgrimage where muslims gather to pray and visit the structures of the holy mosque especially the footprint of Muhammad before he ascended to paradise to meet with deceased prophets. However due to conflict and disputes between Israel and Palestine the site has been less popular amongst muslims to go to pilgrimage to in recent years.

The Ihram (white robes of pilgrimage) is meant to show equality of all Muslim pilgrims in the eyes of God, that there is no difference between a prince and a pauper. Ihram is also symbolic for holy virtue and pardon from all past sins.

 

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