Why Pilgrimage?
                              

Why do people go on Pilgrimage?  Why is it that the idea of pilgrimage features in all religions indeed in the folklore and stories of all cultures and civilizations?  Where has the idea and practice of Pilgrimage originated from?  Has it originated in the inquisitiveness of the human mind the need for adventure, the need to discover?  Has it arisen simply out of human curiosity, or has the practice evolved as part of some form of inner searching or spiritual quest; in other words is the outer journey always symbolic of a need to journey inwards in the quest for meaning, for happiness, for self-knowledge and self mastery?  These questions are part of the mix that we will need to recognise, if not sift through, in seeking to answer the question that I have posed for the title of this talk. 

As I begin I am reminded of a little verse that is believed to have come down to us from the early Irish Church exploring, within its Christian context, the question: why pilgrimage?  It reads as follows:

Who to Rome goes,
Much labour, little profit knows.
For God, on earth though long you sought him.
You’ll miss in Rome unless you brought him.

In posing the question it offers a challenge to would be pilgrims.  It sees the quest for God as being central to the exercise of pilgrimage; yet it makes it very clear that people, who think they can find God by travelling to some holy place or sacred site while failing to find God within themselves, or while lacking in faith, are deluding themselves.   

Pilgrimage an Inherent need?
The verse implies that Christian pilgrimage must above all be seen as an act of faith, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to enhance and enrich the pilgrim’s relationship with God, as well as, to give glory to God.  However, if I was to take this understanding as my criterion and sole principle in defining pilgrimage I feel that I would be narrowing down considerably its practice as it has evolved down through the centuries and even as it is exercised at the present time.  Therefore it is important in seeking to answer the question: Why Pilgrimage? that I should, first of all, take a look at the subject of pilgrimage in the more general and broader sense of the word in order to gain some insight into the psychological and social, as well as, the spiritual and religious factors that have motivated and driven people since time immemorial to embark on the outer journey, which we know in different forms and guises has extended far beyond the Judeo-Christian traditions that we are mainly concerned about here. 

Pilgrimages have featured throughout the ages; from the most ancient tribal to the most modern present day societies.  From the “walk abouts” of the Aborigines, the immramhs of Celtic mythology and the voyages of Greek and other mythologies to the exotic and mystical “lands of promise;” from the pilgrimages to, and gatherings at, the Holy Shrines and sacred places of all the major religions down through the ages to the New Age gatherings at the Stone-Age monuments and megalithic tombs today. 
All this would seem to indicate that there is an inherent need in people to move out whether it is to identify and align themselves with the lives, the deeds, indeed the spirits, of their biological ancestors or their ancestors in the faith; or whether it is simply the need to explore beyond the horizons of the natural world into unknown and uncharted territory; or whether it arises from a need to explore beyond the intellectual and spiritual horizons of the human soul and psyche, into the unknown and mysterious regions of human consciousness to get in touch with the inner forces and sources of knowledge, of wisdom and of life itself, is not easy to ascertain but I would have no doubt that all these questions are part of the complex mix and all these factors and influences will be at play, although, for the most part, at a deep and unconscious level, within our more organised notion of pilgrimage as we know and exercise it today. 

From this we can see that people’s motives for going on pilgrimage are many and varied and indeed so complex that it isn’t easy to give a simple straight forward answer to the question: why pilgrimage?   For that reason it is important, and obviously it is appropriate within the overall theme of this seminar that I take as the main focus of this talk a unique form of pilgrimage, known as “Peregrinatio Pro Christo,” as it developed in the Early Irish Church; then from that perspective I will briefly go on to look at the idea of pilgrimage in the wider sense as it developed within the Church over the centuries. 

Christian Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland - Pilgrims for Christ
Pilgrimages to holy places, to sites, churches, monastic settlements, burial places, wells and mountains associated with the early Irish saints were without doubt, in common with Churches throughout the Christian world, a feature of the early medieval Irish Church.  However, the idea of pilgrimage as Peregrinatio Pro Christo or “Wanderings for Christ” would seem to have appealed to the Celtic imagination and to have suited the Irish character and temperament.  The idea of the pilgrim becoming a “wanderer for Christ” might seem to suggest a haphazard, undisciplined way of life and it was a way of life that was looked on with suspicion and misunderstood by those who did not share the Irish world view and especially this form of religious expression and spiritual exercise.

In the Continent of Europe from the late 6th century Irish monks witnessed opposition from within the Church as they were being accused of aimlessly wandering in their peregrinations throughout Europe, and, even at times, it would seem that they were regarded as a nuisance and embarrassment to those who lived and worked within the diocesan and more structured Roman model of Church.  This I believe was very much the hidden agenda behind the Synod of Whitby in 664 which sought to bring the Irish Church in England into line with the Roman more structured diocesan and monastic model.  Eventually in the early 9th century Irish bishops and monks were banned from entering the mainland of Europe, which was especially due to pressure put on Rome by Boniface, the English apostle to Germany who in the 8th century vehemently opposed their lifestyle and constantly complained them to Rome.

I have no reason to doubt, however, and there is plenty of evidence to support this, that the idea and practice of Peregrinatio Pro Christo as it developed in the early Irish Church was well thought out and effectively adapted to suit the Celtic spirit and character.  This form of pilgrimage for Christ if not unique was certainly distinct in the way that it was enthusiastically embraced and aligned to current practices within the Irish legal system, i.e. the Brehon Laws.  Within this legal system individuals found guilty of serious crimes were banished, either driven from their native land to live as wandering exiles for the remainder of their lives; or, in the case serious tho’ lesser crimes, were driven from their own district or local kingdom to live as exiles, as strangers and outcasts in Ireland without the support of their families and without the protection of any tribal or civic authorities.  

Eventually this legal practice unique to Ireland was adopted and adapted to suit the more ascetical nature of early Irish monastic life to form the basis for a new way of responding to the call to discipleship as monks voluntarily accepting exile either from their own beloved country or within it to become Pilgrims for Christ; to set off on a journey into the unknown for the sake of the Gospel. This form of pilgrimage became central to both the mission and spirituality of the Early Irish or the Celtic Church as it has become known.   These monks, although they were regarded as Vagi or wanderers for Christ, had, as already suggested, very clear and well defined objectives based on Sacred Scripture and on Gospel values as they sought through the medium of pilgrimage to respond to the call in the Gospel to: “go out and proclaim the Good News to all nations.”  Pilgrimage for them whether to a distant unknown location beyond the sea or within the country itself was very much an open ended journey of faith rather than a journey to a specific holy place or a journey in search of a specific experience. 

Journey in Faith
This form of pilgrimage, which for the monks entailed leaving behind, in obedience to the call of the Gospel, the country they loved and the family they cherished, without any desire or even hope of returning, was regarded as being the superior form of pilgrimage.  These men were prepared to leave behind what was comfortable and familiar for an unknown destination; thus opening their lives totally to the will and indeed to the mercy and providence of God; so that God’s purposes could be more perfectly accomplished in their lives and in their mission.  To embark on this form of pilgrimage was to choose a life of martyrdom known as ‘white martyrdom.’  In the early Church martyrdom, the shedding ones blood for Christ was regarded as the highest form of Christian witness; In Ireland, however, as there is little evidence of martyrdom by blood the Peregrinatio pro Christo was accepted as a comparable form of martyrdom and Christian witness.   Like Abraham, their father in faith, these monks were prepared to set out for a land which they believed God was calling them to and would lead them to. (Genesis 12: 1)  They were prepared to go out as Christ did having no place on which to lay his head; going out as he had admonished his disciples to do (Luke 9: 1-6,) without money or possessions, simply trusting in divine providence.  As an expression of, and witness to, their faith many of these Pilgrims for Christ left the shores of Ireland in boats without oars and with the minimum of food; carrying, however, in their hearts the ideals and values of the Gospel; and in that sense they were equipped for mission, leaving the country with a leader, who was usually a consecrated bishop and 12 disciples; zealous to proclaim the Good News of salvation to unbelievers but even more zealous to live their own lives by the spirit of the Gospel and in imitation of Christ their Master, Lord and Saviour.  Best known among those, who became “wandering” apostles were Columba, Columbanus, Brendan, and Aidan, who became the founding fathers of a tradition that lasted for many centuries and has left a wonderful legacy of a unique form spirituality and of Christian witness that we are only beginning to rediscover and fully appreciate today. 

Pilgrims with a Mission
While it was Columba, who was reputed to have begun this practice, I would suggest that the seeds were already sown in the life, the witness and writings of St Patrick.  As a slave he lived in exile, in an alien land among a hostile people.  Then later as a Bishop he chose freely, against the wishes and advice of his own people, because he felt called to return to the same land and live among the same people to preach and witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ.  A century or so later Columba was believed to have been banished from his country as a form of punishment, as set down in the Brehon Laws, imposed upon him because he had become embroiled in a controversy that led to a bloody battle.  Many scholars believe that, in imitation of St Patrick, Columba voluntarily chose exile to live his life as a pilgrim for Christ and soon this way of responding to and living out the call of Jesus in the gospel: “to go forth and proclaim the Gospel to all nations,” became a popular practice in the early Irish Church.

The Inner Journey
What was interesting about those Pilgrims for Christ was the fact that in the midst of their missionary endeavour in proclaiming the Gospel they managed to find time to be still, to live as hermits devoting long periods of time to prayer, to study and contemplation; where the monks would also engage in a variety of ascetical practices, like fasting and exposing themselves to harsh weather conditions, to engender inner purification thus continuing their inner journey and spiritual quest in opening their lives up to the Lord in the quiet and intimate prayer of contemplation.   Here they were being renewed and refreshed and strengthened for the ongoing journey but, in searching out these places of quiet they were also believed to be seeking out what they called their “place of Resurrection” that is the place that they would eventually die and meet God face to face.  One could say that the energy, the inspiration and spiritual nourishment for the outer journey and mission was being provided by a corresponding and accompanying inner journey, into the presence of God, the giver of life and the source of all good gifts, hidden within the depths of the human soul and heart.   There is evidence of the harmony between the inner and outer achieved in the life of the pilgrim Columba in a well known hymn attributed to him; where in the first verse he shows that a personal and intimate relationship with God was central to his life and mission.

Alone with none but thee, my God,
I journey on my way;
What need I fear, when thou art near,
O King of night and day?
More safe am I within thy hand,
Than if a host did round me stand.

I mentioned earlier about Aidan and the ruling of the Synod of Whitby after which many of the Irish monks in Northumbria returned to Ireland.  Yet, in spite of the fluid and independent nature of the missionary outreach of the Irish monks, the nature of which Bede could not quite understand or appreciate himself, yet in his commentary on the Synod he pays tribute to the orthodoxy of their teaching and preaching and the exemplary nature of their Christian witness.  Speaking about Aidan the apostle of Northumbria Bede has this to say: He left his clergy a most salutary example of abstinence or continence; it was the highest commendation of his doctrine, with all men, that he taught not otherwise than his followers lived.  Writing just over 50 years later Bede compares the witness of Aidan with the witness given by his own contemporaries in the post Whitby Anglo-Saxon Church in the following words: His course of life was so different from the slothfulness of our times. Also, in the mainland of Europe we have evidence of both the orthodoxy of the Irish monks in their teachings and their loyalty to the Pope of Rome in the writings of St Columbanus; and the legacy that he and his wandering monks bequeathed is still acknowledged and celebrated in different parts of Europe fourteen hundred years later.  In fact the theme of journey and pilgrimage features prominently in Columbanus’ sermons.

The Brendan Voyage
To what extent those Irish pilgrim monks were influenced by the great voyages and voyagers of Celtic mythology is not easy to ascertain.  No doubt the urge to move beyond the horizons of the physical world and transcend the horizons of human consciousness to make contact with the world of the spirit or the underworld, the existence of which the Celt took for granted, was at work, consciously or unconsciously as a motivating factor in the practice of Peregrinatio pro Christo.   To my knowledge, however, the only pilgrim who would fit into the category of the immramhs of the great voyagers of Celtic Mythology would be Brendan the Voyager.  Being associated with Chorca Dhuibhne, Brendan has always been my hero, and the story of his voyage for Christ narrated in the Navigatio is a fascinating story that has inspired others, even the great explorer Christopher Columbus, to set out on voyages of discovery either as explorers or a pilgrims for Christ.   Tim Severn some years back, with a team of experienced seamen decided to follow the route, suggested in the Navigatio, in a boat that was built as a close replica to the one in which Brendan and his fellow monks travelled, just to prove that Brendan in his voyage could have and probably did reach America. 

However, in spite of those claims there is a question mark  and I remember how disappointed I felt when, some years back I across the following passage commenting on the Voyage of Brendan: It is no more a geographical account than Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle is an architectural treatise.” (The Celtic Year P.150)  Later this comment was elaborated on by Tom O’Loughlin, when he suggests that the subject of the Navigatio was anything but a sea voyage: The author of the Navigatio, he goes on to say, wants to present a picture of what the ideal monastery should be; he then goes on to say that: there has been so much interest in those pseudo-historical questions and crazy experiments, like a voyage from Ireland to America in a skin boat ‘to show it could be done’, that people forget that the only destination actually mentioned is reached when those in the boat have learned to celebrate the perfect Liturgy of the Hours.   In other words the Navigatio it is about an inner journey and the spiritual quest; even though we do know that Brendan did sail and Adomnán mentions in the Life of Columba that he called to Iona to visit Columba on one of his voyages and that he continued on his journey along the Western Isles of Scotland and beyond and there is evidence of monastic sites along the Scottish coast either founded by Brendan or associated with him.  I must admit that I can identify more with the inner hazardous and ascetical journey of the pilgrim Teresa as she travelled through the inner mansions of the soul to mystical union with God whom she found enthroned in the inner most mansion than I can with the voyage of the author of the Navigation in seeking out the perfect Liturgy or the perfect monastic community.  And here I would like to pay tribute to the great medieval mystical pilgrims like Teresa and John of the Cross for the wonderful legacy they have bequeathed to the Church and to humanity in their writings charting out for us the difficult and perilous way to God’s presence hidden in the depths and inner regions of the human soul.  The message to be learned from all this is that the inner journey is what really matters and the outer journey without a corresponding inner journey has little value.

The Hermit – Pilgrim (Green Martyrdom)
This in a sense brings us to the to the second or “lesser” form of Peregrinatio pro Christo in the early Medieval Irish Church; where it was also accepted that the monk who chose to live the life of a hermit, that is as an exile in his own country, among his own people was also seen to be on pilgrimage for Christ, even within the confines of his own cell.  This form of pilgrimage although it was seen to be inferior to the first form was, none the less, regarded as being far superior to the practice of making pilgrimages to Rome or to the Holy Land or to other sacred places or shrines of the saints both at home and abroad; and it was to those, I believe, that the initial verse I quoted was addressed.   Living an ascetical life of prayer as a hermit in some isolated or secluded spot like the Skellig Rock was to engage seriously on the inner journey through waging war against self-indulgence, gratification of the senses; and against attachment to and dependence on worldly possessions.  These disciplines were seen to be the price that needed to be paid in seeking out and taking possession of the kingdom of God, that pearl of great price hidden deep within the human heart.  They were people who sought, in the words of St Paul, to crucify their old sinful and worldly selves with Christ on the cross in order to experience the transforming power of Christ’s Resurrection in their lives.  Indeed this form of dying with and for Christ was recognised as another form of martyrdom, known as “green martyrdom.”

 

Antony the Hermit – Founder of Christian Monasticism
Anyone who would question the purpose and validity of such an existence need go no further than St Antony the father of desert monasticism.  He was a wealthy young man who was inspired, after hearing the story of the rich young man in the Gospel, to give all his possessions away and then retreated to live a life of intense prayer and extreme fasting within the confines of a tomb outside the city.  Those who were aware of his presence occasionally brought him scraps of bread and water to drink. After living within this “prison” cell for 20 years he emerged to find people flocking to him or rather be drawn to him for counsel, advice and in search of healing because his holiness was such that he simply radiated the love, the peace and the presence of God.  As Antony retreated into the desert for peace and quite people followed him, literally in their droves and soon the wilderness was blossoming, littered with hermitages that eventually developed into active monastic communities. It was a movement that, not only, brought the faith back to Europe after the decimation of the Church in the fall of the Roman Empire but left to the Church a rich legacy of ascetical, spiritual and mystical writings that have provided the Church with spiritual nourishment, guidance and inspiration ever since.

It is, in fact, believed that Irish monasticism was influenced by and probably drew great inspiration from the Life of Antony and from Eastern desert monasticism, especially through the influence of the monasticism of St Martin of Tours and the writings of St John Cassian on the Early Irish Church.  Ian Bradley of Edinburgh University who has specialised in the Medieval Church of the Celtic nations acknowledges the links with Eastern desert Monasticism.  While referring to the Celtic wanderlust he goes on to suggest that: Maybe there was also a conscious echo of the spirit of perpetual exile and wandering which animated the desert fathers and which was emulated by those many Celtic saints who sought their own desert places of resurrection, and in so doing made Dysserth, Dysart and Diseart popular place names in Wales, Scotland and Ireland.   It is in this context that the building in which we are holding this Seminar received its name “An Díseart.”  I am sure in giving the building this name Monsignor Pádraig O’ Fiannachta envisaged it as a place of refuge and refreshment; as a hermitage, not in the wilderness, but at the heart of Dingle town reminding us that in the business of our daily lives, we need to seek out and find that quiet place, that desert within our own hearts, to take refuge there to be refreshed by the spiritual food with which God nourished his people in their desert exile and pilgrimage.

Pilgrimage as a Devotional Practice
So far within the context of the early Irish Church we have looked at pilgrimage as an open ended exercise or journey of faith with no specific place or object in view; these pilgrims, whether as exiles abroad or hermits at home, were motivated, as the penny catechism would put it: by the desire to know, to love and serve God in this world in the hope of being with God eternally in the next.  This would seem to contrast with the idea of pilgrimage, as a devotional practice and there is evidence that, from the beginnings of Christianity, places associated with the life of Jesus, with his Mother Mary, with the apostles and with the early Christian martyrs were being visited regularly as places of special devotion by members of the early Church; tho’ the danger to life because of the persecutions would have limited the exercise while at the same time making the pilgrimage a more daring and heroic exercise.  However, by the early part of the fourth century especially after Constantine’s mother St Helena discovered the true Cross and Constantine himself built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the spot where Jesus was buried, pilgrimages, perhaps as we know them today, became a popular form of devotional practice.  By the late fourth and fifth century it is recorded that pilgrims from Ireland were visiting sacred sites and holy places such as the tombs of Peter and Paul in Rome and even the sacred sites of Jerusalem.  

Pilgrims travelled to these areas over the centuries and continue to do so today for a variety of reasons, in search of healing, in thanksgiving for special favours received, because of indulgences to be gained; some even in the hope that they might die there especially if it happened to be the Holy Land or Rome. Others went on pilgrimage to make reparation for sins committed; and certainly in medieval times the more penitential forms of pilgrimage were imposed by the church and even sometimes by civic authorities for serious wrongs done.  Perhaps, the most common reason for going on pilgrimage came from a desire to be in the places where Jesus, Mary, the apostles and Saints lived, prayed, ministered, witnessed to their faith and died for it. This was a practice that in the Middle Ages gradually spread throughout all parts of Christian Europe, where, as well as travelling abroad, people found within their own country or locality holy sites associated with national or local saints or places associated with some miraculous appearance or event. 

Pilgrimage in Ireland
In Ireland people flocked to churches, to holy wells, to holy mountains and to monastic sites especially on patronal feasts and on Church Holidays.  Obviously the place where a saint died or was martyred and the tomb or the shrine where the remains or relics were being kept and venerated was always a popular centre of pilgrimage.  Usually certain devotions, prayers, religious ascetical exercises were observed as part of those pilgrimages as indeed is still, to a greater or lesser extent, the custom today.  So one could say that pilgrimages certainly in Ireland have and continue to maintain, in the exercises observed, a very definite penitential element in keeping with the ascetical nature of the practice of Peregrinatio in the early Irish Church; this is especially true of the present day pilgrimage to St Patrick’s Purgatory, Lough Derg.  This pilgrimage is unique to Ireland and still attracts thousands of pilgrims each year from all over the world and from different Churches.

I would regard the penitential or ascetical aspect of pilgrimage that still prevails in Ireland today as being indicative of a corresponding inner journey for the pilgrim.  The outer journey and exercises being the ground on which the pilgrim’s faith and spiritual life, as well as, the genuiness of the pilgrim’s relationship with God is being challenged, tried and tested in a process through which purification takes place and inner personal growth is being facilitated.  The outer journey and its demands is symbolic of an inner journey that draws the pilgrim into deeper union and communion with God who dwells deep within the human heart and soul.

The worldly or “Human” Dimension
We know that there is a whole worldly and commercial side to pilgrimage; there have been non-religious, political, monitory, commercial interests and indeed other unconscious factors at play in the promoting and exercising of pilgrimage down through the centuries.  I suppose we could look at these as the human, social and worldly factors, which are part and parcel of living in the real world and a reminder that our religious or spiritual quests cannot be pursued in a vacuum.  Those “human” factors were, no doubt, present from early Christian times; it would seem, however, by the late middle ages that a lively and lucrative trade had developed and grown around the practice, especially in the sale of holy objects, souvenirs and even in the trade of relics and of indulgences; at the time, there were even reports of these abuses creeping into St Patrick’s Purgatory in Lough Derg. 

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales would seem to indicate many pilgrims had more than prayer or devotions in mind as they journeyed towards their destinations.  Yet, the Tales also show us that the social intercourse and companionship shared on those pilgrimages helped to create a sense of openness and trust that encouraged and enabled pilgrims to witness to their faith by sharing their stories with their fellow travellers which helped to strengthen the bonds of community among those travellers, as well as, helped them individually to gain a better sense of their personal and Christian identity.  Accommodating pilgrims, providing for and meeting their needs has always been accepted as a requirement providing the necessary support structure for pilgrims, especially when they travel long distances.  However in late medieval times this became a business which must have been comparable to our tourist trade today.  As a result it would seem that the idea of pilgrimage as a religious exercise, as an act of faith, indeed as a test of faith and as a devotional practice found itself in danger of falling victim to the lure of worldly interests and pursuits and even to superstitious practices.   A state of affairs became indicative of corruption within the Church sadly contributed to the Protestant Reformation.

Pilgrimage Today
While the Church in seeking to promote pilgrimage since the Reformation times has tried to avoid the danger of falling into those same traps, there is no doubt that the commercial side stills plays a big part in determining our present day understanding and practice of pilgrimage.  However, popular centres of pilgrimage today like Lourdes, Fatima and Knock and other smaller centres that have established themselves and are recognised by the Church and by public acclaim to be holy places have managed to protect and maintain the integrity of pilgrimage in its traditional sense as a religious exercise, as an expression of faith and as a devotional practice.   Also the fact that, in keeping with gospel values and with the mission of Christ, these and like centres make special effort to welcome and make provision for those who are sick and disabled, mentally and emotionally as well as physically, they become places of healing not necessarily physical healing but certainly places of emotional and spiritual healing; places where burdens are lifted or left behind; where in an atmosphere of love, of compassion and of prayer hurts are healed and pilgrims come to know the peace and joy of being reconciled to the will of God. 

In joining these pilgrimages as nurses, as medical assistants or as young volunteer helpers large numbers of people each year give up their free time or part of their holidays to be fellow pilgrims with the sick, the infirm and disabled and the readiness of many of them to do so year after year is a witness to the blessings they receive, not least from the courage, the deep faith as well as the trust and appreciation they receive from those they accompany.  Of course all pilgrims are welcome to those centres of pilgrimage; many will travel alone or with small family or community groups to pray for some special intention, some personal or family need; for others it may be the opportunity of being part of and experiencing the atmosphere of faith hoping to find peace and refreshment from the experience. 

Within all this the world and its allurements present a constant challenge if not a threat and I suppose it is up to the individual or group leader to strike the balance; which is not easy to find, it requires a mature faith and certainly tests the motivation and the reason why one decides to go on pilgrimage.  And while on motives and motivation the, would be, pilgrim should always seek to discern the reasons for embarking on pilgrimage. Often there are unconscious hopes and expectations that are unreal and fanciful, in other words we are always susceptible to move beyond the realm of faith into the realm of superstition. 

Pilgrimage has always been open to and has often fallen victim to superstition and the human tendency to superstition is something that has been always been open to exploitation.  Rumours and questionable claims about mysterious happenings, apparitions, healings and so forth have in the past, and continue today, to draw people often in their thousands to certain locations; these people may be drawn because they are genuinely seeking some sign or hoping that they will find answers or something will happen that will confirm and strengthen their faith.  All I can say is that in the Gospels Jesus isn’t too complementary in what he has to say about those who seek signs. (Matt 12: 39) Instead he warns us about the need to be alert and not led astray; to pray constantly and not be deceived or led into temptation. (Matt. 26: 41)

There are a growing number today who choose a place of pilgrimage as their holiday location or simply spend their holiday time visiting different shrines or holy sites in a particular area.  I know a lot of people who enjoy walking and have gone to Spain to follow the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela piecemeal over a few years or who as part of a walking holiday will go to follow an old Pilgrims Way or Saints Path either at home in Ireland or in the Continent.

Why Pilgrimage?
Having gone on long enough and feeling I have done little more than pose the question Why? and not given much by the way of an answer to it.  As we have seen Pilgrimage is alive and well in Ireland and in the Christian world today, in its most ancient form while at the same time finding expression in a variety of new and at times novel forms.  I would see this development as one of the signs of our times although I am not always sure what the Spirit is saying through it.  Before finishing I would like to acknowledge that there are a large number of Christians who never go out on pilgrimage but who, none-the-less, seriously engage in the inner pilgrimage or inner journey as it is called. And they do so as they seek the kingdom of God in the events of their daily lives; in struggling to take up their cross daily and follow Jesus in response to his invitation, and in seeking to share their struggles and hopes, their pains and joys, their successes and failures with family and friends, with their faith community and especially with Jesus, who, as their faith assures them is a friend and constant companion with them on that journey. In the ancient tradition of Peregrinatio pro Christo this may be regarded as the “lesser” form of pilgrimage yet, according to the verse I opened this talk with and which I will leave you with, it is the “superior” form because nobody can bring the Good News of Christ and of the Father’s love to the world unless they have shared in His Cross and experienced the transforming power of His Saving Passion, Death and Resurrection.  

 

Who to Rome goes,
Much labour, little profit knows.
For God, on earth though long you sought him.
You’ll miss in Rome unless you brought him.

 

(This talk was given at An Díseart during the Pan Celtic Seminar, Easter Week 2010  on Pilgrimage within the Celtic tradition.)


See, Chapter 4: Peregrinatio: Wandering Irish Peregrini on the Continent in Peter Harbison’s, Pilgrims in Ireland: the Monuments and People, (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1991)

T. M. Charles Edwards, Social Background to Irish Peregrinatio. An article in Celtica, Vol. X1;edited by David Green and Brian Ó Cuív, (Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies, 1976)  p.43ff

Ibid

Henry Mayr-Harting, The coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England  (Pennsylvania:  The State University Press, 1994) 182 - 187

Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Surrey: Tiger of the Stripe, 2007) 135

Tom O Loughlin, Journey on the Edges (London:Darton + Longman + Todd, 2000) 91ff;
He goes on to explain that: Liturgy led beyond contemplation, to a state of ecstatic or mystical union Unlike Teresa there are not seven stages, but typically Celtic there are three:  1st what he left behind in Ireland, which was about the everyday active live, marked just by an average temporal liturgy.  2nd what he found in the Island of delights which was a more peaceful contemplative existence which led to the perfect temporal liturgy and 3rd what he found when he arrived at the Promised Land of the Saints, which having arrived at the Perfect eternal.