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  european culture of pilgrimage  
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A part of European culture was built around rituals common to all pilgrimage sanctuaries. Where they are, pilgrims address God by requesting the same interventions, by venerating the same relics in pieces scattered throughout kingdoms. The structures of brotherhoods appear to be similar from north to south, with variable densities. As for the places of reception, their tripartite structures with similar principles mark out all the roads, meeting the fundamental needs of all pilgrims.

what is a pilgrimage for an european?

From his birth, Man was acutely aware of the Sacred, which appeared, in the most primitive religions, in the observation of rituals including displacement towards necropoles, which were at the same time cult monuments. This human feeling of belonging to a world whose components exceeded comprehension involved the birth of prayer, prayer to obtain grace, prayer of contrition, prayer to meet this power that, above men, holds them in his hand. These places could be springs or rivers where one comes to purify and regenerate oneself, mountain tops where one meets the sky, sacred stones and trees that one believed to have life, places marked by the presence of a saint character.

a dolmen close to Namur in Belgium

For some believers, prayer gains in intensity if done in a place more remote from one's residence, after a voyage in which they were foreigners, far from their usual landmarks. But this is valid for a minority only. The majority of pilgrimages happens close to residence, in a range of maxiumum a few days' walk. In the Middle Ages many arose from the possession of relics whose trade was flourishing and which enabled many negociations from one end of Europe to the other.

reliquary foot in Namur

They exert a powerful attraction and can become a political asset: each sovereign or prince must support their existence in his territory. Before the end of the fifteenth century, no pilgrim, even on the way to Compostella, is astonished to find on his way a body of saint James (Aix-la-Chapelle, Verona, Angers...) here, a head there, another one here, a jaw there, several arms elsewhere, any more than he wonders about the two heads of saint Denis (Paris and Saint-Denis) or the three of saint Jean-Baptiste (Amiens, Saint-Jean d'Angély, Nemours). Large amateur of ex-voto offerings and of souvenirs, he generates a whole trade around the sanctuary: candles, signs of pilgrimage, shells, etc.

brotherhoods, structures of sociability common to europe

procession of the fellows of Santiago, stained glass disappeared from the Santiago church in Lisieux - France - Photo Historic Buildings

pilgrims of today

A very strong confraternel movement appeared in the Middle Ages and was prolonged to our days, in very diverse forms. The framework of brotherhood greatly exceeds devotional demonstrations in falling under much broader social practices and policies, offering a "supplement of union" added to the family and the community of inhabitants. A brotherhood is a group bound (by solemn oath) by a common objective and especially placed under the protection of a saint. This common objective can be the maintenance of the cohesion of the same social group or the exercise of the same trade. It would thus be pointless to reduce brotherhoods to regroupings of former pilgrims to Compostella, Rome, Jerusalem or Mount Michel, even though they did exist. Some of them contributed to animating local pilgrimage sanctuaries and to disseminating the worship of their patron saint. They organise solemnities and accomodate pilgrims; they also said the masses. One of the common objectives can be a community of political ideas centered on a desire for political autonomy of inhabitants wishing to take part in the management of their cities or villages. Their importance is often revealed by the rank they occupy during grand processions or royal visits. This was not without involving suspicions of collusion with communal movements, even prohibitions by the existing power, examples of which can be found in Provence, in Switzerland, in Paris...

Accout book of the brotherhood of Chalon sur Saône - France
Photo archive. dept Saône et Loire

Within each group, but only within this group and never elsewhere, brotherhoods are concerned about peace, morality and mutual assistance, which does not prevent them from often taking part in the most insane festivals during Carnivals. From the sixteenth century trade brotherhoods multiply; they regulate the exercise of such or such profession. The selected saint sometimes has a relationship with this trade: saint James, patron of travellers, is sometimes the protector of merchants, inn-keepers, hat makers. Protector of harvests, gardeners put themselves under his stick both in Germany and in Switzerland or France.

an architecture of itineraries

hospitality in Sienna, reproduction of a fresco from the 15th century

Throughout all Europe, the increasingly numerous travellers generated a hospitality network more particularly intended for them, in total symbiosis with the road which, for pilgrims, is a kind of prolongation of each sacred place. There appeared for them, merchants or pilgrims on the way to a multitude of sanctuaries, a strange tripartite architecture perfectly adapted in its most complete form.

It appears in the twelfth century near cities, but outside the walls: on both sides of the road, a chapel and a hotel building linked by a horse bridge thrown over the way. These hospitality buildings offer common characteristics intended to meet the fundamental needs of the travelling man: they are easy to find, since they line the road, the chapel looks after the soul and the hostel lavishes on the body the care it needs.

The chapel offers a shelter and a bench to the passer-by and counters often allow the distribution of food. No modern lodging is this functional. Some vestiges of these buildings condemned in mass by the widening of roads still remain, all the more invaluable as they are rare, disfigured and, even today, ignored and thus threatened: Pons, Pradelles or Cadéac in France, Piperno in Italy, Puente-la-Reina or Castrogeriz in Spain, the cathedral of Lausanne in Switzerland.

A splendid example of what such a refuge in a particularly hostile environment represents for man is still offered on the old way from Bayonne to Burgos, in Cegama, in Guipuscoa. Almost on the top of the mountain a cliff closes the horizon and seems to prohibit any passage. Some steps away, it is miraculously opened by a stone tunnel (is it completely natural?), Saint-Adrien tunnel. Below and opposite, one finds the door of a tiny chapel and the equally small one of an inn. This formidable and protective cave, this beneficial giant is often described by travellers, and all pilgrim songs speak about it.

the hospital porch in Pons - France
photo DPM

entrance to Saint-Adrien tunnel, on the old road from Bayonne to Burgos - Photo LM

 
 
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 more infos ...
 other web sites
 the great pilgrim's song
  There are at least five versions of this famous song
   
 articles
 Following the way
  A fundamental need
   
 Saint-Simon and Compostella
  Already in 1836 people envisaged pilgrimage as an european basis
   
 documents
 Tourism and religion
  Pope Paul VI at the UNO
   
 Associate EICR - FERPEL
 
   
 media library
 A modern concept of pilgrimage
  Pilgrimages in Scotland and Norway.
   
 In the footsteps of Saint Jacques
 
   
 


 

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