A Medieval Pilgrimage in the Modern World

A growing number of Catholics have placed their personal desires aside to step along the paths trodden once by the souls of medieval Christendom. 

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Spiritual pilgrimages were an integral component of Christendom in the Middle Ages. Christianity heavily influenced the lives of people in medieval society. The connection of the soul to the earthly world was closely linked through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, liturgical living, and the observation of feasts and fasts. Faith did not have a subjective nor individualistic nature, as so often seen in modern society. In fact, the spiritual life of the average person in medieval society was intertwined with faith, reason, and religious practices. 

It was through the varying traditions of medieval Christians that the emphasis relied heavily upon a relationship with God that focused not in trusting oneself but an ultimate trust in God. As St. Augustine said, “There can only be two basic loves…the love of God unto the forgetfulness of self, or the love of self unto the forgetfulness and denial of God.” It was this desire to seek and love God in all things that motivated medieval souls to glorify His goodness through the religious practice of pilgrimages. 

This “spiritual journey” undertaken by Christians in the Middle Ages was an integral aspect of their earthly life, as they understood the importance of adoring God on earth in order to bring their souls closer to Him for eternity. After many centuries, there has been a decline in the promotion of pilgrimages among Catholics. However, after a digression from this medieval practice, Catholics of the 21st century have begun to renew this beautiful tradition and begin the restoration of Christendom.

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The renewal of pilgrimages around the world should not be dismissed as a lovely occurrence. In fact, this is a pivotal point of Catholic history. In an age where men and women rely heavily upon individual subjectivity and moral relativism, a growing number of Catholics have placed their personal desires aside to step along the paths trodden once by the souls of medieval Christendom. 

There is no doubt that those souls of medieval society sought pilgrimages for a variety of reasons, whether it was penance, religious revival, a closer unity with God, the adoration of relics, or an act of thanksgiving. Their lives, though several hundreds of years before the modern age, are closely linked to the souls who now attempt similar journeys. Despite the differences between medieval and modern times, the significance of pilgrimages cannot be ignored.

There is more in common between medieval society and modern times than recognized by many Catholics. For as evil rears its ugly head to destroy goodness, there is always a counterbalance to expose the Truth. Even though Christendom flourished during the Middle Ages, it would be imprudent to dismiss the abuses and destructive evil behaviors promulgated during that period. Clearly, there is an argument to be had whether such abuses are synonymous (in their own right) with those exposed in modern society, but such a discussion can be left to the future historians. 

What should be noted is the resurgence of good in the face of evil. And this is particularly prevalent with the recent revival of Catholic pilgrimages not only on a local level but across the world. It is the Catholic world joining forces to fight the current spiritual battles.

There is great beauty in the custom of undertaking a spiritual journey, for the mental and physical hardships of a pilgrimage give the soul an opportunity to remove the individualistic tendencies that detract one from union with God. The modern revival of spiritual pilgrimages should be a cause of great joy for Christendom. Though the magisterium of the Catholic Church has great importance, the works and dedication of the laity should not be dismissed or ignored. The prayers and spiritual efforts of the laity are essential to the Communion of Saints. 

A pilgrimage is an exemplary way to walk together as a suffering Church, willing to sacrifice all for God’s glory. Human beings were created to be social creatures not strictly in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense as well. The road of a pilgrim has the perfect combination of spiritual unification with God and the ability to provide a physical assistance to our neighbors who also walk along the difficult path. These connections are quite apparent among the pilgrimages of Chartres, the Holy Land, the El Camino, the Holy Hill Pilgrimage, the Walk to Mary, and countless others across the globe.  A pilgrimage is an exemplary way to walk together as a suffering Church, willing to sacrifice all for God’s glory.Tweet This

For Catholics desiring tradition and truth, these pilgrimages provide an opportunity to resist the powers of evil that attempt to pull society further down into an abyss of forsaken doom. In a world of modern secularism, there is an eruption of souls who seek to openly profess their faith and hope in God’s goodness and love through the ardent undertaking of these spiritual voyages.

The spiritual journey of the soul in this life remains a mystery as the levels of progression differ for each individual person. By undertaking a pilgrimage, souls toil toward the same end: the unification and glory of Almighty God. As no two souls are the same, each pilgrim has vastly different experiences for the benefit of their spiritual life. There is great beauty in acknowledging the varying paths that all lead to perfect union with God and the graces that flow forth from the revival of this medieval custom. 

It is necessary to remark upon the resurgence and significance of this holy tradition even when the Church is faced with an abundance of modernism within its very own walls. It is quite easy to be frustrated with the current situation in the Catholic Church. So, rather than attempt to change the Church from the top down, there is a greater opportunity to change the Church from the bottom up. With the spiritual revival of the laity toward truth and tradition, so, too, will the Church flourish for future generations. 

A pilgrimage is not a small act. It encompasses an opportunity for souls to grow closer to God through sufferings (physical) and prayer (mental). As the traditions of Christendom return to a world now steeped in moral relativism, it is important to acknowledge the great spiritual strides and graces from God that flow from such rebirths. “Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat!”

[Photo courtesy Lorraine Marie/LifeSiteNews]


  • Danielle Heckenkamp

    Danielle Heckenkamp is a wife and mother. She is a contributing writer for several Catholic media outlets.

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