Personal Piety or Priestly Persuasion: Evidence of Pilgrimage Bequests in the Wills of the Archdeaconry of Sudbury, 1439-1474
Champion, Matthew (Heritage Consultant and Project Manager, MJC Associates)
Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture, Vol. III/No. 3 Summer (2012)
Despite the complex contemporary arguments surrounding the legitimacy of pilgrimage as a concept, it is clear that during the later Middle Ages popular pilgrimage was an accepted and acceptable part of the lay religious experience. Whilst serving a number of personal functions, from the highly spiritual search for enlightenment to the provision of “holy day” entertainment, the physical and religious act of pilgrimage has become the subject of an entire discipline of study. Drawing upon multiple sources of evidence, which include everything from the architectural and archaeological to the purely literary, such studies have led to the recognition of pilgrimage as a fascinating insight into the spiritual and religious beliefs of the age.
However, despite the diversity of the sources, and the quantity of material available, one area of pilgrimage
studies remains largely in the shadows. The ultimate objects of medieval pilgrimage, the saints, shrines and buildings that housed them, have been studied in depth by numerous scholars. Likewise the account rolls and finances of individual shrines, ranging from the internationally famous sites such as Canterbury down to the localized and short-lived sites such as St Leonard’s outside Norwich, have been examined and scrutinized in painstaking detail. The routes of pilgrimage have been mapped, the logistics studied and even their souvenirs have been analyzed to such a degree that, alongside observations on artistic and stylistic content, we can now be certain of the metal composition itself and, in some cases, its likely source.