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64 - Pilgrimage

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2019

Mary Baine Campbell
Affiliation:
Brandeis University and 2019 Kennedy Professor of Renaissance Literature at Smith College.
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Summary

The most resonant intersection of travel and religion is pilgrimage, from the Latin peregrinatio, a word capacious enough after centuries of allegorical and metaphoric expansion to take on even the most attenuated ‘spiritual’ motives or responses. In Europe and the Americas, and in most writing in European languages, latter-day pilgrimages of secular people constitute allusions to a form of both travelling and writing that emerged in the Mediterranean littoral in the first centuries of Christian Holy Land travel, though pagan Greeks and Romans had visited shrines and oracles. The Hindu practice of pilgrimage to legendary places in the Indian subcontinent has ancient roots, but like pagan Greek shrine-going did not generate a written corpus (except the genealogies maintained by the Pandits of the pilgrimage city of Haridwar). Modern Jews make aliyah to Israel, the ‘Jewish homeland’, and before the destruction of the Second Temple individual men made pilgrimages from other cities to Jerusalem's Temple (though see Friedman 1996). Expansionist Islam would generate its own spectacular pilgrimage, the mandatory hajj to Mecca's scene of revelation, but again, produce no distinct literary genre. The Chinese Buddhist Xuanzang's solo pilgrimage to the India of Buddha's revelation – also a journey to a sacred spot outside one's native land – did produce a major work of travel writing, which inspired the classic novel, Journey to the West (1592). But the English word ‘pilgrim’ mispronounces Old French pèlerin (Latin peregrinus, stranger), which arose during the crusades, and pèlerinage (the ‘general passage’ that generated chronicles like Jean de Joinville's Vie de Saint-Louis) is first attested in reference to crusade rather than individual journeys. In Europe, pilgrimage was a ritualized, collective, sometimes military Christian activity directed to the foreign landscape of a sacred past – though Gerhard Ladner (1967) (in ‘Homo Viator’) describes the first Christian wanderers as hatless loners, sans destination, homeless and unaccompanied by choice on the peregrinatio of earthly life.

This Latin peregrinatio initially referred to travelling or living abroad. Literally: per-(before, around, through) -agri (fields, ‘acres’). There is a hint in Indo-European etymologies that per-looks back rather than out and beyond, as if a peregrinatio heads towards a lost homeland.

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Chapter
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Keywords for Travel Writing Studies
A Critical Glossary
, pp. 187 - 189
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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