Pilgrimage and Embodiment: Captives and the Cult of Saintsin Late Medieval Bavaria

Pilgrimage and Embodiment: Captives and the Cult of Saints in Late Medieval Bavaria

Cassidy-Welch, Megan

Parergon, 20:2 (2003), 47-70  


Historians have traditionally suggested that the cult of saints underwent two main transformations during the later Middle Ages. First, it is frequently argued that saints’ bodies became less necessary at shrines as cults became more delocalised. Second, as Lionel Rothkrug has asserted, the act of pilgrimage became more about ‘looking forward in hope’ than ‘looking backward in gratitude’. This article explores the nature of late-medieval pilgrimage in the light of these assertions. I concentrate on the cult of St Leonard, patron saint of prisoners, and the promotion of his cult in the small Bavarian town of Inchenhofen from the thirteenth century. My argument is that the cult of St Leonard reveals that bodies remained a focal point of devotional practice at this shrine, and that the act of pilgrimage itself might usefully be seen as a generative act or process of embodiment. 

Honest matrons, good men, young women, adolescent boys – they all came to the small Bavarian town of Inchenhofen during the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to tell of their encounters with St Leonard, a medieval miracle worker associated variously with healing the sick, saving infants from drowning, comforting women in labour, and liberating prisoners. Inchenhofen was one of a number of places in Germany devoted to St Leonard, but it was this small Markt just north-east of Augsburg which grew to be one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Bavaria from the mid to late thirteenth century. This was in no small part due to the active promotion of Inchenhofen as a pilgrimage site by the monastic community of Fürstenfeld, a thirteenth-century Cistercian foundation which administered the pilgrimage church.


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