A pilgrim is someone who goes on a journey to find personal religious or spiritual enlightenment. This was a much more common occurrence in the Middle Ages than it is now. Generally, going on a pilgrimage meant leaving behind home, family, friends and possessions and wandering, either to a specific destination – like Jerusalem or Santiago de Compostela – or until Divine Providence sent an insight. This aimless kind of pilgrimage helped to spread Christianity and also led to the foundation of many of today’s abbeys.
Pilgrimages were sometimes sponsored by powerful nobles. Here in Scotland, Queen Margaret paid for a free ferry to take pilgrims safely across the Firth of Forth on their way to St Andrews. To this day North and South Queensferry are named for Margaret’s pilgrim crossing. The same is true of Earlsferry, where a ferry was sponsored by Macduff, who owned the land at both sides of the Forth at the narrowest crossing point, so he donated what became known as the ‘Earl’s Ferry’.
Traditionally, people often went on pilgrimage for very specific reasons. They had a burden of guilt that could be lifted by visiting a shrine and receiving remission for their sins. Or people were afflicted with some form of illness and pain that might be relieved by the prayers of the Saint connected with a holy shrine. Or again they wished to intercede for someone else, living or dead, whom a particular Saint might aid, physically or spiritually.
Today, all of these reasons may still apply in different ways and in different regions of the world. But in the developed west, pilgrimage may be a more reflective and internalised pastime. The journey seems as important as the destination, and people often undertake a pilgrim route as a form of ‘time out’ or refreshing, without a specifically religious objective.
In a sense, like so many aspects of contemporary culture, pilgrimage is what you choose to make of it. People travel individually, as couples, families or groups, and shape their own experience within the archetypal patterns of journey and place.
Graham Johnston has produced a video explaining more – CLICK HERE
For more information about the Fife Pilgrim Way – CLICK HERE