Journey to China, Part 6

Now I don’t know about you but I personally, had never given too much thought to the idea of going on a spiritual pilgrimage before this aspect opened up in my life. I really wasn’t prepared and had no clear concept of what I was signing up for. So I did what most people do these days when unsure of a concept – I googled Spiritual Pilgrimages and I discovered that Pilgrimages are gone on in every part of the world.

In fact in Russia in the early 1890’s, taking a pilgrimage was common for Orthodox Russians. Both the rich and the poor set off on pilgrimages. For the poor it was a way to give their lives spiritual meaning. They would set off for the holy places – such as monasteries or resting place of Saints, usually going barefoot, with no more than a knapsack and staff in hand. They would walk from village to village, from town to town, covering hundreds and even thousands of miles. When they needed shelter for the night, they would knock on the window of any house, and would be warmly greeted and offered food and drink and a bed for the night. It was believed that a pilgrim was a man of God, and by helping him you were doing the Lord’s will.

People have been walking The Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) in northern Spain since medieval times. This pilgrimage is still walked by millions of pilgrims and tourists today. The custom began in 819 AD, when an ancient tomb was uncovered on the northwest coast of Spain. The remains were believed to be those of St. James the Apostle, who was martyred in Jerusalem in 44 AD.  According to legend, St. James had crossed the Mediterranean after Jesus’ death and resurrection to preach in Spain. He then returned to Jerusalem, where he became one of the first Christian martyrs. After his death, a group of believers brought his remains to Spain to ensure they would not be desecrated. Today, about 2.5 million people a year visit Santiago de Compostela. The traditional pilgrimage begins in France, is 900 km long and takes about 30 days of walking

In the Islamic culture every adult of the Muslim faith is expected to pilgrimage to Mecca. The ancient home of Mohammed (the Prophet and founder of the Islamic faith) is considered by Muslims to be the holiest of cities and is located in the Sirat Mountains in central Saudi Arabia about 45 miles from the Red Sea. The pilgrimage to Mecca is also called “hajj,” and is one of the Five Pillars of the Islamic faith. This pilgrimage occurs annually between the eighth and thirteenth days of the last month of the Muslim year, Dhu al Hijjah.

In the Christian community, most of the pilgrimage sites are related to events in the life and death of Jesus Christ.  In England in Medieval times, pilgrimage to Walsingham

was a popular destination. It was believed to be beneficial for women to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham to pray for children. Walsingham became famous in 1061 when a Saxon noblewoman called Richeldis de Faverches had a vision of the Virgin Mary. She subsequently built a replica of the manger in which Jesus was born. Among its relics was a phial of the Virgin’s milk. An Augustine Priory was also built there but this was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries instigated by King Henry VIII in 1538 at the start of the Protestant Reformation in England. However, even today there are still Roman Catholic and Anglican shrines to Our Lady of Walsingham.

The most popular places of Catholic pilgrimage apart from the Holy Land are St. Peter’s Basilica, in Rome. This is the site where Saint Peter, a disciple of Jesus, was martyred and is believed to be buried.

In France a common destination for Catholic pilgrimage is Lourdes. In 1858, a young girl called Bernadette Soubivous had a vision of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. Since then countless ill, troubled and/or devoted pilgrims have journeyed there as it is generally believed that the spring waters that flow from the fountains at Lourdes contain miraculous healing from God.

Pilgrimage is a required part of the Hindu faith, and there are dozens of religious sites for Hindu pilgrims. Four Hindu pilgrimage destinations, collectively known as the Char Dham, are the most important or holiest sites. Making pilgrimages to these sites releases the soul from the wheel of Samsara, which is the continuous cycle of rebirths that Hindus aspire to become free from. Other pilgrimage sites are associated with various Hindu gods and goddesses.

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