Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe

Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe

Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe

Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe


Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe is a commanding exploration of the importance of religious shrines in modern Roman Catholicism. By analyzing more than 6,000 active shrines and contemporary patterns of pilgrimage to them, the authors establish the cultural significance of a religious tradition that today touches the lives of millions of people.

Roman Catholic pilgrimage sites in Western Europe range from obscure chapels and holy wells that draw visitors only from their immediate vicinity to the world-famous, often-thronged shrines at Rome, Lourdes, and Fatima. These shrines generate at least 70 million religiously motivated visits each year, with total annual visitation exceeding 100 million. Substantial numbers of pilgrims at major shrines come from the Americas and other areas outside Western Europe.

Mary Lee Nolan and Sidney Nolan describe and interpret the dimensions of Western European pilgrimage in time and space, a cultural-geographic approach that reveals regional variations in types of shrines and pilgrimages in the sixteen countries of Western Europe. They examine numerous legends and historical accounts associated with cult images and shrines, showing how these reflect ideas about humanity, divinity, and environment.

The Nolans demonstrate that the dynamic fluctuations in Christian pilgrimage activities over the past 2,000 years reflect socioeconomic changes and technological transformations as well as shifting intellectual orientations. Increases and decreases in the number of shrines established coincide with major turning points in European history, for pilgrimage, no less than wars, revolutions, and the advent of urban-industrial society, is an integral part of that history. Pilgrimage traditions have been influenced by -- and have influenced -- science, literature, philosophy, and the arts.

Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe is based on ten years of research. The Nolans collected information on 6,150 shrines from published material, correspondence with bishops and shrine administrators, and interviews. They visited 852 Western European shrines in person. Their book will be of interest to many general readers and of special value to historians, cultural geographers, students of comparative religion, anthropologists, social psychologists, and shrine administrators.


The priest stood firmly erect, his black robes blowing in the mountain breeze as he recited his prayers. At his feet knelt five young women, some with heads bowed while others stared intently toward a sacred image high in the branches of an old pine. It was one of several pines in a small grove nestled into a slight hollow on the hillside. On a rise just beyond the grove, three women knelt with arms outstretched as they prayed aloud. Leading their chorus, a fourth woman knelt beside a patch of muddy earth at the roots of the image-bearing tree. Water seeped from the ground, and among the rivulets and clumps of grass was a stone. Under the stone were soggy slips of paper and soaked pictures left by pilgrims seeking favors or giving thanks. Higher on the heather-clad hillside two women sang. Their voices mingled with the murmur of prayers rising from the grove.

The scene, with its aura of sacred interaction between place and people, could have been set in many different times and locales during the past several thousand years. This particular incident was witnessed on the heights above the village of San Sebastián de Garabandal in northern Spain on July 18, 1981 (Figure 1-1). the kneeling pilgrims were Germans. Judging from their dress and the cars parked in the village, they were reasonably affluent. the singers were French. Prayers included the liturgy of the rosary, although this site of claimed Marian apparitions in the 1960s has not been recognized by the Roman Catholic church as a proper place of pilgrimage.

Garabandal and other new, but ecclesiastically unrecognized, sites of religious pilgrimage in Western Europe represent part of a spectrum that extends from obscure, locally visited chapels and holy wells to world-famous, church- approved shrines such as Rome, Lourdes, and Fátima. At present, Western Europe's more than 6,000 pilgrimage centers generate a conservatively estimated 60 to 70 million religiously motivated visits per year. Total annual visitations at these shrines--including casual tourists, curiosity seekers, and . . .

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