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Political Pilgrimage in Later Medieval Central Europe: a Case Study of a Hungarian Traveller to Ireland

Political Pilgrimage in Later Medieval Central Europe: a Case Study of a Hungarian Traveller to Ireland

By Attila Bárány

Global Encounters European Identities, edited by Mary N. Harris with Anna Agnarsdóttir and Csaba Lévai (Pisa University Press, 2010)

Abstract: Political pilgrimage was a means of diplomacy in the medieval era. This study aims to illustrate the political character of the pilgrimage of a Hungarian aristocrat, Lőrinc Tari, a member of the government of Sigismund of Luxemburg, King of Hungary, to St. Patrick’s Purgatory in Ireland, which is unique in contemporary Continental pilgrimages. No source has been found that attests to a penitential character in the pilgrimage. The lack of a traditional pilgrimage motive makes Tari’s extremely long journey seem exceptional; there is no real explanation for it. Thus, the aim of the pilgrimage presented was a cover and the reasons he gave for his pilgrimage are fallacious. Tari was deliberately sent to the Primate of All Ireland, since he was a potential ally of Sigismund in the work to convene a General Council and the pilgrim was to secure the vote and co-operation of the Irish delegates in the work of electing a new pope and bringing forward church reforms. The king might have wished to negotiate with the English government, but had to act cautiously and did not even want to send an official envoy but used a ‘pilgrim’ as an agent.

When approached as an aspect of medieval diplomacy, pilgrimage can be viewed as a sphere of indirect encounters, a way of intercommunication. A peculiar political type of pilgrimage is also one of the indirect, covert ways of enhancing dynastic relations. Political pilgrimage is a way to forge closer links, foster mutual interests or prompt concerted actions. It has a political motive, linked to grand policy. A political pilgrim does not set out for his own ‘innocent’ reasons, but has a political stimulus, or is animated by a political cause.

Pilgrimage in royal families has to be seen in the context of dynastic representation. Devotional journeys were the means by which the authority and political power of royal families were manifested. An organic part of dynastic representation was to open pilgrims’ hospices (hospitium peregrinorum), found monasteries at places of worship, or to make donations, gifts that could even include landed estates, to certain shrines.

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