Encyclopedia of Medieval Pilgrimage

Get access Subject: History
Edited by: Larissa J. Taylor et al.

The Encyclopedia of Medieval Pilgrimage is an interdisciplinary reference work, giving wide coverage of the role of travel in medieval religious life. Dealing with the period 300-1500 A.D., it offers both basic data on as broad a range of European pilgrimage as possible and clearly written, self-contained introductions to the general questions of pilgrimage research.

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(1,287 words)

Author(s): Sarah Blick
Souvenirs were avidly collected by pilgrims on their journeys. They became coveted objects. Although usually made of inexpensive base materials such as lead, tin, and paper, popular belief elevated them from the mundane to the magical. (See also Ex votos). Their close link to the sacred place where powerful relics were held led to associative miracle stories where they too were credited with curing illness, ensuring one's salvation, and warding off evil. The power credited to pilgrim souvenirs was a result of their connections, spacial or otherwise, to shrines and r…

Spanish Gothic Architecture

(882 words)

Author(s): Jenifer Ní Ghrádaigh
Gothic architecture in Spain is as various regionally as chronologically. Reconquest and episcopal pretensions, shifting monarchical burial centers, and the introduction of new orders - Cistercians, Franciscans and Dominicans - were the key factors that provided the impetus for significant building projects from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries. Pilgrimage and the accommodation of shrines played a role, but not a key one, and often at second hand in the use of important French reliquary churches as models. Piecemeal technological advances, usually associated with the G…

Spanish Romanesque Architecture

(871 words)

Author(s): Jenifer Ní Ghrádaigh
The eleventh to twelfth centuries in Spain saw a building boom driven by the needs of increasing hordes of pilgrims traveling from France to Santiago de Compostela, coupled with the architectural ambitions of Spain’s powerful Christian rulers. Liturgical requirements of the Christian population in reconquered lands, and necessary rebuilding after devastating campaigns by Almanzur, provided further impetus. Catalonia is among the birthplaces of the First Romanesque, where, in the tenth century, Mozarabic building expertise fused with Mediterranean trad…

Spanish Sites

(886 words)

Author(s): Jorge Abril Sánchez
Apart from the most important Way of Saint James (see also Santiago de Compostela), Spain is a nation of other great devotions to relics and statues with strong ties in the popular tradition. In the Middle Ages, burial sites and churches in the Kingdom of Asturias even competed with Santiago de Compostela for the attraction of pilgrims. This religious importance was specifically due to the treasure guarded at the Holy Chamber of the cathedral of Oviedo, the second most venerated sanctuary among …

Spiritual Pilgrimage

(1,537 words)

Author(s): Lutz Kaelber
Spiritual pilgrimage (also known as imaginary or mental pilgrimage) refers to a devotional practice by which a pilgrim went on a mental journey to one or several holy places. While Christian practices of commemoration and veneration in the mind by way of using mental pictures existed throughout the medieval period, religio-cultural developments in the late Middle Ages, such as the spiritualization of religious practices, a greater sense of individuality, the expansion of indulgences, and skeptic…

St Aemilian

(938 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The Saint Aemilian reliquary was created in the last half of the eleventh century to house the saint's remains at the monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla near the city of Logroño in northern Spain. As the earliest extant example of a reliquary decorated with a hagiographic cycle, it is based on and directly cites the Vita Sancti Aemiliani by Saint Braulio, the seventh-century bishop of Saragossa. The reliquary was meant to promote Aemilian's cult, with recent scholarship arguing that it focused mainly on local pilgrims rather than those traveling to S…


(515 words)

Author(s): Emily Price
The pilgrim’s staff ( baculus) was a heavy wooden walking stick ending in a metal spike or foot.  Similar staves had been used by the itinerant monks of Egypt as early as the fourth century, as well as by ordinary travelers. Medieval pilgrims, however, often had their staves and scrips blessed before beginning their journeys, a ritual comparable to the ordination of priests and the dubbing of knights (see also Pilgrim Prayers and Knighting of Pilgrims). The earliest record of these blessings occurs …

St Albans

(905 words)

Author(s): Kathryn Gerry
St Albans never attained the status of major pilgrimage centers like Canterbury or Walsingham, but the cult of Alban and Amphibalus was actively maintained and promoted. Much was lost during the Reformation, but descriptions and fragments of the shrines survive, along with wall paintings and a unique loft overlooking the shrine chapel. In the 1120s, Abbot Geoffrey (r.1119-1146) commissioned a new reliquary shrine; it does not survive but is described in the Gesta Abbatum Monasterii Sancti Albani as being covered with gilded silver plates, with figures in high relief. Ab…

St Alban, Shrine of

(516 words)

Author(s): Jean Hamm
One of the earliest pilgrimage destinations in England was the shrine of St Alban, who was executed  in 304 CE. Tradition says Alban was a native of Britain, but this is not certain. He was, however, employed as a Roman soldier in the town of Verulamium. The Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-302 CE) revoked the rights of Christians in the Empire and required participation in pagan rituals.  When priests were required to make sacrifices to pagan gods, many went into hiding. In England, Alban sheltered a…

Sta Maria Maggiore

(642 words)

Author(s): Alison Fleming
Santa Maria Maggiore on the Esquiline Hill is one of the seven major basilicas of Rome, and its premier shrine of Marian devotion. It is a location particularly associated with feast days of the Virgin, such as the Annunciation, Assumption, her Nativity, and Christmas. The foundation myth says that the Virgin herself selected the site at the "Miracle of the Snow" on August 5, 352. This event is depicted in detail in the mosaics by Filippo Rusuti (1292-97) on the original façade (now within the l…

St Andrews

(775 words)

Author(s): Jon Porter
There were only two pilgrimage places in western Christendom where there were shrines to one of Christ's apostles - St James at Santiago de Compostela and St Andrews on the east coast of Scotland. According to legend, the bishop of Patras, Regulus, was instructed by an angel in a vision to take the relics of St Andrew from their burial place in Constantinople to "the ends of the earth" for safekeeping. Shipwrecked off the coast of Fife, Regulus built a chapel at what is now St Andrews to house t…


(415 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The medieval statue reliquary, sometimes referred to as an imago, could be displayed on a church altar, carried in processions, used in religious services, liturgical dramas, or secular civic ceremonies, and taken to church councils (as were other portable reliquary forms). In early centuries it typically had a wooden core decorated with precious metals and gems, and a hieratic style. One early type, of which Conques's St Foy is an extant example (see St Foy, Statue of), represented a particular saint, a…

St David’s

(840 words)

Author(s): Deborah Vess
St David ( Dewi) is the patron saint of Wales and the only Welsh saint to be canonized in the Roman Church. The cult of David was centered in Pembrokeshire, from which it spread through south Wales. There are few dedications or other proofs of his cult found in the north. His status as patron of Wales dates from the twelfth century. There are no contemporary written records about David, and most of what we know comes from later accounts that include many dubious stories, some of which were manufactured or adapted to fit existing features of the terrain. Birth and Legends David was known in his day as A…

St Elisabeth Church

(823 words)

Author(s): Gerhard Lutz
The widowed countess Elisabeth of Thuringia founded a hospital with St Francis of Assisi as patron in 1228 north of the medieval town of Marburg. After her death in 1231 her body was laid out for three days in the chapel of the hospital. Numerous pilgrims came not only to see her body but to get hold of particles, assuming an early canonization of the former countess. Shortly after the death of Elisabeth, Konrad of Marburg, her confessor and the principal sponsor of her canonization process, initiated the building of an ecclesia lapidea over her tomb. Two altars were consecrated on Aug…


(902 words)

Author(s): Kara Morrow
The story of St Stephen, proto-martyr and proto-deacon, is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. The inclusion of the first martyr’s life in the Bible is unique among saintly vitae, justifying St Stephen’s cult with widespread preeminence. St Augustine also championed St Stephen’s cult in the City of God, testifying to the veracity and efficacy of the martyr’s relics, and thus encouraging pilgrimage to various cult centers. As Stephen’s following spread across Christendom, building plans and architectural decoration announced the places of the proto-martyr’s veneration. According…

St Etienne-des-Gres

(781 words)

Author(s): Nathanael Hauser osb
Saint-Ètienne-des-Grès was thought to be the original cathedral of Paris. Located at the present corner of rue Saint-Jacques and rue Cujas where the library of the École de Droit now stands, it was a stational church for the annual pilgrimage through the city and a stop for the pilgrims beginning their journey to Santiago de Compostela. Known simply as Saint-Ètienne until the thirteenth century, its earliest remnants are of a late fifth century (Merovingian period) simple rectangular church with…

St Foy, Statue of

(1,144 words)

Author(s): Beate Fricke
The statue of Sainte Foy at her church in Conques was probably made directly after her relics were stolen from her tomb in Agen, that is, after 883 CE (see also Church of Sainte-Foy, Conques). By this time her statue consisted of a bust-reliquary that held the relic of her skull. It was completely covered with a golden simple vestment. Around the year 1000, the statue was renovated and gained an entire body as well as throne, a crown and numerous jewels adorning her statue, and her vestment was …

St Giles

(905 words)

Author(s): Martin Leigh Harrison
Though the date ranges given for the life of Saint Giles do not coincide with those of various historical figures mentioned in his vita, tradition fixes the date of his death to the first day of September in an unknown year -- perhaps in the seventh century -- in present-day France. Giles was said to have been born of noble stock, however, in Athens, where, according to the Legenda Aurea, he was raised in the Christian faith and demonstrated a life of miraculous holiness from a comparatively early age. Wishing to separate himself from the world following the deat…

St James and Santiago de Compostela

(2,579 words)

Author(s): Javier Dominguez Garcia
Santiago de Compostela is a small Spanish provincial capital of about 90,000 residents in the northwestern region of Galicia. The pilgrimage to the city of Compostela was acknowledged as the first European cultural itinerary by the Council of Europe in 1987. More than 1,500 religious and secular historical buildings along this itinerary are of great cultural interest since they represent the key role played by the shrine of Compostela and its pilgrimage in early cultural exchanges between the Ib…

St James in Architecture (Compostela)

(867 words)

Author(s): Francisco de Asís García García
The cathedral of Santiago de Compostela shows a wide and varied medieval iconographic repertoire for Saint James, both in its monumental decoration and in the works of art housed there. Two basic iconographical types can be distinguished: depictions of the saint in narrative scenes based on passages from the Gospels or drawn from the hagiographical legends of the Saint, and iconic depictions of the apostle that are independent of narrative cycles, among which are the majestic apostle and the pilgrim type. The first image of Saint James in the cathedral, dated to the early tw…
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