A pilgrimage? Does that sound a little heavy? It doesn’t need to.
You’re right in one sense, however. A pilgrimage means, most often, to go on a journey to visit a place that is religious or has historic significance and, more often than not, it is a journey to a sacred place. Whether you go for strictly religious reasons or for personal satisfaction, a pilgrimage can be a moving experience. It’s a journey inward as well as outward.
This theme came to mind because of our recent trip to Jerusalem. Our trip was just for fun; we didn’t intend to take a pilgrimage. Most people would say we didn’t, but when we were there, we went to all of the most holy sites of all three major religions represented there. It was a moving experience.
Remember that, if you want to take a pilgrimage, there are no hard and fast rules. If it is a long pilgrimage trail like the route through Spain to Santiago De Compostela, you might want to take it in stages. Do a section this year, another section another year. Many people don’t have time to take a whole long pilgrimage all at once, vacation time being what it is.
Or you could do a one week pilgrimage in Jerusalem. We felt we saw all the sights well in that time. We stayed in one hotel for the entire time and ventured out each day to explore the sites. On other pilgrimages, you will be moving around day to day.
Pilgrims in the Middle Ages made long difficult journeys to earn favour, or do penance, or hope for a cure. Your pilgrimage doesn’t have to be long and hard, but part of the satisfaction for taking a pilgrimage comes from challenging yourself or learning something.
Pilgrims do go to specific places for a deeper, more significant experience than the casual tourist might. Although pilgrimages may be spiritual experiences, they all don’t have to be “churchy”. People even go on pilgrimages for somewhat less reverent reasons: a pilgrimage to Elvis’ birthplace for instance.
Whether you go to the Potala in Tibet, the Vatican in Rome, or the Western Wall or the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, you really feel like you’re some place special. A visit to ancient caves like the Font de Gaume in France, which connects you with 25,000-year-old art, can feel like a pilgrimage. You get that connected feeling in places like Stonehenge and Avebury too.
You can choose to just visit a site and stay in a hotel. You can make the long walk like the Way of Saint James to Santiago de Compostela. You can go with a group or by yourself.
However you choose to do it, take a pilgrimage for personal satisfaction to someplace that means a lot to you. It’s a great way to give travel more meaning.