The Earliest Phase of Christian Pilgrimage in the Near East (before the 7th Century)

The Earliest Phase of Christian Pilgrimage in the Near East (before the 7th Century)

By Pierre Maraval

Dumbarton Oaks Papers, No. 56 (2002)

Introduction: In discussing the origins and early development of the practice of pilgrimage within the Christian context, I begin with a brief reflection on the terms pilgrimage and pilgrim. The word pilgrim, derived as it is from the Latin peregrinus, which was used to designate the stranger or traveler, focuses our attention on an aspect of his or her activity that perhaps is not the essential one—the journey undertaken, the peregrinatio.

Yet in practice, even if the term pilgrimage puts the emphasis on this idea of a physical displacement, be it over a great distance or more usually, in the case of the majority of “pilgrims,” no more than a short trip within the locality, what provided the real meaning to this movement was the place that was the object of the pilgrim’s attention, a place he considered as possessing a particular value or holiness and where he went in an attitude of prayer and adoration, as well as with a certain veneration for the object or person whose presence served to establish the reputed sanctity of the place.

It thus follows that to investigate the origins of Christian pilgrimage is first to invite reflection on the existence and eventual veneration of holy places within the Christian world of the first centuries A.D. I may note in passing that it is not my intention to discuss that form of pilgrimage closely associated with the ascetic life, the xeniteia both advocated and lived by certain monks of the early Christian centuries.

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