Posts Tagged ‘pilgrimage’

The following is a letter I wrote to Samuel G. Freedman, author of “Amid the Ashes, a Statue of Mary Stands as a Symbol of Survival,” (New York Times, 16 Nov 2012). See also my previous post Et ventis et mari.

Mr Freedman,

I want to thank you for your recent piece about the Madonna at Breezy Point. Though brief, the article’s clarity presents a brilliant and sublime event now happening amid the chaos of distaster and loss. Most remarkably, you have hinted to the fact that men and women of faith, particular of Catholic Christian faith, of which I am a part, can make pilgrimage to this site of hope, carry with them their prayers and tears, and so commend the souls of those who are lost to the grave (or even unburied, as in the case of some in Hurricane Sandy and 11 Sept 2001) to God in Heaven. Such a focal point, a place of pilgrimage, is necessary for lives to be lived and to be made intelligible in the blood-soaked world in which we all find ourselves today; that though we have been “crushed” we are “not abandoned.”

Thank you again,

Charles McCants
Raleigh, NC
(Mark Lennihan/Associated Press)

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Tourism has precursors in medieval pilgrimage, but there are significant differences.  Although the motives for both may be seen in the search for transformation of the self, medieval pilgrimage was situated in a system of penitence largely absent from the modern world.  The primary motive of pilgrimage was transformation of the self through the forgiveness of sin.  This transformation of the self was not self-transformation as such, because it responded to a discipline that had its source outside the self: God.  Pilgrims traveled to obtain indulgences and to complete penances that had been assigned them, meaning that pilgrimages were not always voluntary and self-initiated.  Indeed, in contrast to tourists, pilgrims did not travel to asset their freedom from necessity but to respond to the necessity of their destiny in God.  Humility, therefore was the essential virtue of the pilgrim.  Pilgrimage was a kenotic movement, a stripping away of the external sources of stability in one’s life.  The pilgrim’s way was the way of the cross:  “In any want to become my followers, let them deny deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).  The journey required a disorientation from the trappings of one’s quotidian identity in order to respond to a call from the source of one’s deeper identity.

The modalities of pilgrimage and tourism also differ.  Pilgrims generally traveled on foot.  The journey was often arduous, not an exercise in leisure, and the perils of the journey were often considered part of corporal penance.  Pilgrimage was not a for-profit industry, and it was available to all members of society, including the poor.  A network of sanctuaries, hospices, and monasteries supported pilgrims with acts of charity and hospitality.  Finally, medieval pilgrimage was a communal journey.  Pilgrimage was a social event, during which many of the ordinary rules of hierarchy and social structure were suspended.

The above account is not meant to idealize medieval pilgrimage.  The point is not that medieval pilgrims were necessarily more authentic and more spiritually sincere than modern tourist.  The point is rather that medieval pilgrims were enmeshed in a communal system of penance, and they brought a common framework to their travels. (79-80)

The Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church, William T. Cavanaugh

A stute of a pilgrim

A statue of a pilgrim, Catedral de Santiago de Compostela

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