Medieval people did much more travelling than we realise. It was relatively common to make a pilgrimage to a holy site to find a cure for a disease or to do penance for committing a sin. In fact, this practice started in the Roman and Saxon periods.
By the medieval period, many people would buy lead or pewter pilgrim badges from the pilgrimage sites they visited to prove they had been there. Each site had its own symbol.
One fourteenth to fifteenth century pilgrim badge in the shape of a crown was found at Walton Court. This may represent the crown of St Edward the Confessor, a Saxon king, whose shrine is at Westminster Cathedral. Another pilgrim token was an ampulla, a miniature phial possibly containing holy water that was worn round the neck. One of these was found in the grounds of Dinton Hall. It had an arrow on one side, suggesting that it came from Our Lady of Walsingham.
Popular pilgrimage sites included the shrine of St Thomas A Beckett (the Archbishop of Canterbury who was killed on Henry II’s orders) at Canterbury Cathedral; Our Lady of Walsingham, a church in Norfolk that was reputed to aid fertility; and John Schorne’s well in North Marston, Buckinghamshire, which was said to cure those who drank its water. A badge from Canterbury might show St Thomas on a mule; from Walsingham the Madonna and Child. The pilgrim badge of John Schorne’s well was the devil in a boot, as this was said to be one of John Schorne’s miracles.
Pilgrimage sites abroad included St James of Compostella in Spain to see the Apostle’s tomb; St Peter’s in Rome as the source of Catholic power; and Jerusalem itself, to walk the road taken by Jesus before his crucifixion. If you had been to Jerusalem you might get a badge in the shape of a palm leaf to symbolise Jesus’ entry into the city; from Rome you may get a miniature Veil of Veronica (which, like the Turin shroud, had Jesus’ face on it); if you had seen the shrine of St James, your badge would be in the shape of a scallop shell.
More information about medieval pilgrimage can be found on the Medievalists website at: www.medievalists.net.
Pilgrimage is becoming more important in the Christian faith now. Pilgrimage is an important part of many religions, such as Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism. There is lots of information on wikipedia about pilgrimage and other faiths: see en.wikipedia/pilgrimage.
Many Muslims try to make at least one journey to Mecca or Makkah in Saudi Arabia, which was dedicated as a place of Muslim pilgrimage by Muhammad. There are other local pilgrimage sites as well.
In Judaism pilgrimage is now made by many to the Wailing Wall, the only remaining wall of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem, amongst other sites.
In Hinduism there are a number of pilgrimage sites, such as Kendarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri and Rishikresh in the state of Uttaranchal in India. Pilgrimage to all these four sites, known as the Chardham, leads to release from reincarnation.
There are pilgrimages to sites of significance in Buddha’s life for Buddhists. His birthplace in Nepal (Lumbini), places in India where he gave his first teaching and reached Enlightenment (Sarnath and Bodh Gaya) and Kusinara in India where he died. Tibetan Buddhists also visit the traditional home of the Dalai Lama, in Lhasa. You could compare medieval Christian pilgrimage to that of other faiths and times.
The British Pilgrimage Trust's website www.britishpilgrimage.org has information about exploring pilgrimage sites in Britain.
Click here for more ideas for Putting Buckinghamshire in context.