The figure of the pilgrim was a ubiquitous and unifying presence in southern Italy during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the region's so-called Norman period. While the territories of southern Italy and Sicily hosted a variety of different religious and ethnic communities – Greek Christians, Latin Christians, Muslims, Jews – and featured numerous socio-ethnic, religious and political boundaries, these same lands and boundaries were traversed by an ever-increasing influx of pilgrims which created comparable, shared exchanges all over the region. Some were drawn to any number of the region's renowned shrine centres, perhaps to Saint Nicholas’ at Bari, Saint Benedict's at Montecassino, Saint Michael the Archangel's at Monte Gargano, Saint Matthew's at Salerno, or Saint Agatha's at Catania; others were passing through en route to the Holy Land, as devotional travel to Jerusalem increased in conjunction with the crusading movement. At the centre of Mediterranean shipping routes, connecting movement between the sea's eastern and western coastlines, and linking Rome to Jerusalem, medieval southern Italy was a veritable hotspot for pilgrimage activity. It should be no surprise then that, in a variety of ways, the pilgrim drew the attentions of the ruling elites of southern Italy, which, from the mid-eleventh century onwards, were dominated by immigrant Norman lords. Indeed, descendants of one of these incoming Norman kin groups, the Hautevilles, established a royal dynasty when in 1130 Roger II drew together Sicily and the mainland into a unified monarchy. The elites of Norman Italy, and all manner of other groups in the region, regularly showed themselves keen to articulate a relationship with the pilgrim, and it would be one which brought a plethora of benefits. Pilgrims were useful, and, in what follows, I propose to examine just some of the many ways that they were indeed used and at times abused.
The very origins of the Normans in Italy are founded on an inter-play between power and pilgrimage. It represents an unusual case in which the first protagonists of a military conquest were pilgrims; the nearest echo, though profoundly different in many ways, is of course the crusader conquest of the Holy Land during the First Crusade.