Response to Father Christopher Howse’s article in the Telegraph on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

I am pleased to see someone underlining the risk of spiritual pride that a pure works-religion thing like a pilgrimage can bring. If my understanding is not wrong, pilgrimages started in Spain after the moors got cleared out and the common people needed to be appeased as that was one thing they had appreciated under Islam – a bit like the way in East Europe newly westernised states keep the communist holidays but rename them, as the communists did previously in some cases to the religious ones. The charm of pilgrimage in the mediaeval times was that it was the one time the feudal system was cast aside, and both serf and master would tread a road together. Relieved from their onerous chores and welcomed with refreshments along the way, the medieval pilgrimage was the nearest thing they had to the company outing, and the fashion spread out across the Catholic world from Spain.

In other words, Catholics actually got it from the Muslims, and even those which echo crusader routes were islam related. It is not something that Jesus or the apostles ever stated we need to do. The Hajj is a requirement in Islam, and spilt over to Christianity so that Christians didn’t feel any worse off.

But Islam itself got it from the Pagan pre mono-theistic religions of the region. Initially I understand that Mohammed intended scrapping the pilgrimage to the black stone, for being pagan and idolatrous. When confronted with the reality that that would put his friends and neighbours from his own city out of business and seriously affect his support, he reinterpreted the old pilgrimage and made it essential for Muslims to do in their lives. Of course, this wasn’t really ever a requirement of God, as we can see now – God having foreknowledge would not put a requirement to go to a place that physically is unable to accommodate the number of Muslims needing to go their in their lives, and hence only a minority ever actually get to fulfill the terms of their own man-made and poorly-planned religion.

4 thoughts on “Response to Father Christopher Howse’s article in the Telegraph on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela

  1. Yes, it’s surprising just how many religious festivals are borrowings from or adaptations of “pagan” festivals and rituals that pre-date them. I believe It’s reassuring to see the survival of traditional religious pilgrimage in the 21st century when one could be forgiven for thinking that the only remaining pilgrims were the retail consumers and sports fans on their way to the shops and sports grounds respectively.

    1. On the one hand it is reassuring, and it gives us a link to our medieval past. I’ve walked with the pilgrimage to Czestochowa from Warsaw for part of the way, once. On the other, it is something which doesn’t feed the sick, heal the hungry or give audiobooks to the blind, or help anyone much in an active way – in short, other than the exercise and the camaraderie it is pretty much a cult of self indulgence.

  2. Ah, but Christians engaged in pilgrimage long before the appearance of the Muslim religion. It was a very popular practice of Christianity in the fourth and fifth and sixth centuries. That Spanish folk, specifically, were engaging in Christian pilgrimage before the Moors, is indicated by the existence of the famous “Travels of Egeria,” who went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 5th or 6th century and wrote perhaps the first ever travelogue. Well, not travelogue per se (Julius Caesar’s reports from the field to Rome were perhaps the first travelogues), but travelogue of a pilgrimage.

    I would not call pilgrimage a “cult of self indulgence,” since anything which elevates the spirit and broadens the mind, benefits humanity in the end. After all, people who toil day in and day out and get in a rut, are less likely to think of creative solutions for people’s problems, and less likely to have the motive, the spirit, the fire, to “flesh out” those solutions with real actions.

    By the way, I’m here on this vlog to learn about the goldlist method, since my efforts to learn Russian have to date been crowned with, er, failure. (And I’m a convert Russian Orthodox priest who does plenty of prayers in Church Slavonic, which I find much easier.) I look eagerly forward to learning more; thank you, Dr. Huliganov.

    1. Welcome! I’ll look into what you say of pre-Islamic origins of pilgrimage. Would you say there is evidence for an unbroken tradition since then in Spain? And in any event, I did mention that it was pre-Islamic and was subsumed into Islam to keep the inhabitants (especially the hospitality merchants who had benefited from pagan pilgrinages) of Mecca and Medina happy. The same pagan sources could have affected Christianity prior to Islam, but what’s the big deal about having one Mary pilgrimage to a place named after Mohammed’s mother?

Your thoughts welcome, by all mean reply also to other community members!