Medieval Christian pilgrimage had deep pre-Christian roots in the cultures of the Mediterranean and ancient Near East. Indeed, most cultures have developed traditions of sacred travel centered on numinous landscapes, objects, and bodies. Christian pilgrimage grew in prominence following the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century. Drawing inspiration and justification from Jewish and Christian texts, pilgrims flocked to the graves of the patriarchs and prophets, traversed the sites of Biblical battles, and reveled in sacred landscapes marked by the life and passion of Christ.
Rome too, with its claim to the bodies Peter and Paul (both doubly sacred as apostles and martyrs), emerged as a key center of pilgrimage. The conversion of large portions of the former Roman Empire between the fifth and tenth centuries further augmented Christendom’s holy geography. Through both popular acclamation and official declaration, new sacred landscapes emerged in Gaul, Germania, the British Isles, and the Iberian Peninsula. In some cases powerful local sentiment drafted pre-Christian holy sites into the service of Christendom. At the same time, long venerated bodies of the earliest disciples and martyrs were translated to the West. Among these were said to be the bodies of St. Dionysius, St. Mark, St. Andrew and, most important for our purposes, Saint James. Elaborate translatio narratives described the miraculous final pilgrimages of these saintly bodies and provided textual verification of their legitimacy and efficacy. Through pilgrimage narratives, literature, poetry, music, and direct participation in the Camino de Santiago, UNF students explore the importance of pilgrimage within medieval society, as well as the contemporary importance of pilgrimage and the Camino from historical, cultural, and religious perspectives.
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage) —
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage.
— Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales