TravelPilgrimage with the soul: spiritual journeys in the Middle...

Pilgrimage with the soul: spiritual journeys in the Middle Ages


Can we travel without getting up from the seat? Is it possible to see new lands first hand without leaving the room? In our days we all seem to agree that yes; In a deeply interconnected world, increasingly global, getting closer virtually to the most remote places in the world, relating to them, is within everyone’s reach.

Anyone with access to a network connection (95% of the world’s population today), or simply a National Geographic documentary, can instantly travel to those places that open before their eyes, at least in a figurative sense.

But there were other times when these virtual trips had nothing figurative: traveling without leaving the room had exactly the same value as traveling thousands of kilometers. We are talking about the peregrinatio in stabilitate spiritual pilgrimages.

We are in the Europe of the fourteenth century. A diligent monk, secluded in the cold walls of the isolated monastery in which he develops a life dedicated to God, knows of the spiritual benefits that a pilgrimage to the most important city in the world would bring him: Jerusalem.

But how to do it? How to combine the need to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the prohibition to leave the monastery? The solution, accepted and acceptable in the eyes of the Church, is reduced to two words: spiritual pilgrimage.

In this case it is not the body that travels, but the soul. A spiritual journey through sight, in which the detailed and conscientious observation of a certain map, or a certain image, is equivalent to long, expensive and long-suffering pilgrimage trips.

Thousands of kilometers from that monastery, a devout pilgrim walks on his knees along part of the pavement of the French cathedral of Amiens. At first glance, his trajectory is strange; he does not walk in a straight line, he does not seem to have a fixed course.

And it is that what this pilgrim is going through is a labyrinth. A labyrinth represented on the ground. Both characters are separated by thousands of kilometers, but in reality they are in the same place. Jerusalem. His spiritual goal.

The center of the labyrinth is Jerusalem, as Jerusalem is the visual goal of the monk’s journey. An imaginary trip, yes, but perfectly real. That “journey” brings them comfort, security (a security that they would never have doing the real journey) and, what is most important, expiation.

According to various researchers, the role of medieval maps was, in many cases, to offer a tool for spiritual travel. In this way, the famous Hereford world map presents us with a world full of images with an evident mystical aspect.

The geographical references that are represented on the map are related not only to biblical memories, but also to the different destinations of the pilgrims during their trip to the Holy Land, in a kind of virtual parallelism with the real trip.

According to historian Sandra Saenz-Lopez Perez, maps such as the well-known world map belonging to the Burgo de Osma Beatus could also be a pilgrimage tool.

But let’s not go that far. Currently we are offered a modern and comfortable option: what is known as the Virtual Pilgrimage Experience. A concept that, after reading the previous paragraphs, may be familiar to us.

Thanks to this initiative, believers have the possibility, through technology, of living the experience of the pilgrimage to Lourdes from a distance, through projected images, the music that physical pilgrims listen to in Lourdes, a blessing Eucharist comparable to the one received at that destination, etc.

Virtual pilgrimages today

According to its presentation website, the Virtual Pilgrimage Experience “guarantees, for the first time in the history of the Catholic Church, a plenary indulgence for a virtual pilgrimage as well as for a physical one.” Perhaps a brief look at the past makes us a bit wary of that statement.

Another initiative similar to the one in Lourdes offers us a unique opportunity: a virtual trip, through slides, to nothing more and nothing less than Israel and Galilee. But not only that: it offers us a virtual journey through the Israel and Galilee that Jesus knew.

Their website states that, logically, the buildings and the geographical context have changed, but we can recreate the steps of Jesus thanks to the pilgrimage of faith. The pilgrimage of faith.

The same faith that the 14th century monk had who had to respect his seclusion, but wanted, needed, to make a pilgrimage. The same faith that that devotee from Amiens had who faithfully followed the path of the labyrinth that led him to a virtual Jerusalem.

The means are totally different, and the tools radically different. But the objective, after 700 years, remains the same: to make a pilgrimage with the soul.

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