Now that all that New Year’s stuff is behind you, you’re probably getting around to planning your pilgrimages for the year. It’s a practice I’ve heartily recommended, for individuals, families, and friends. If you’re willing to travel within these United States, Happy Catholic has a deal for you. (More on that in the days to come.)
All this faithful tourism has deep roots in the age of the Fathers, and receives fascinating treatment in some recent books.
Pilgrimage in Graeco-Roman and Early Christian Antiquity: Seeing the Gods includes essays by seventeen scholars, and a little over a third of the book deals with Jewish and Christian notions of pilgrimage. The book breaks Christian pilgrimage down according to a very helpful typology: (1) scriptural pilgrimage; (2) pilgrimage to living saints; (3) relics; and (4) icons and images. (I think I’ve done all four. I’m waiting for magisterial confirmation on number 2.) For Christians, pilgrimage “is not a sacrament, has no doctrine, and unlike the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an, the New Testament does not make it obligatory.” Yet we’ve always done it, as this book beautifully attests. The patristic quotations and citations are many and generously unabridged. Quite fascinating is the long discussion, late in the book, on pilgrimage as a metaphor for Christian life.
Also very helpful is The Trophies of the Martyrs: An Art Historical Study of Early Christian Silver Reliquaries, by Galit Noga-Banai of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Some of these reliquaries were, of course, the very destination for ancient pilgrims. In addition to the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, these reliquaries — the book includes photos of almost a hundred — are material evidence for the very early presence of the cult of the saints and the cult of relics.
Though neither of these books were composed as works of apologetics, they do serve to help Christians make their case.
And the beat goes on. Diana von Glahn’s The Faithful Traveler videos are an excellent way to plan for pilgrimages here on my little continent. Her first installment takes us to Philadelphia’s Miraculous Medal Shrine. Many years ago, I walked many miles on pilgrimage to visit there with my good friend and colleague David Scott.