History of pilgrims

Mankind has always travelled to places of wonder, seeking strange formations in nature, springs and mountains, or places where something out of the ordinary and predictable has happened. Our search for wonder is a primitive feeling – we carry an inner longing for holiness.

From the very start temples and churches were built in places of wonder. In the Christian tradition, soon after the death and ressurection of Jesus, people started to look for places that had been importan in Jesus’ life. And churches were built at the birthplace in Bethlehem and at the grave in Jerusalem. In a book of travel from the 380’s, the Spanish noblewoman Egeria describes her pilgrimage to the Sinai mountain in Egypt and to the Holy Land.

In the Middle Ages the act of pilgrimage increased in Europe. People travelled to Jerusalem, but also to Peter’s and Paul’s graves in Rome, to the apostle James’ grave in Santiago de Compostela in Spain, to St Olof’s grave in Nidaros in Norway and to St Birgitta’s grave in Vadstena in Sweden. In addition to the great holy shrines, there are smaller places of pilgrimage in every country.

In the 12th century, bad harvests and the Black Death haunted Europe. This was also a century when one third of the European population were on pilgrimage. There is a connection between destitution and looking for help from the saints at the holy shrines.

During Reformation in the 14th century, pilgrimage was banned for theological and political reasons. Not until in the 1990’s pilgrimage became a popular movement all over Europe.