What is a pilgrimage?
A pilgrimage is a journey made for religious reasons to a sacred place. It is a physical journey but also a spiritual journey towards God. Pilgrims may visit holy sites connected to their faith eg Jerusalem where Jesus lived, died and was resurrected and where Christianity began. They may visit shrines associated with famous saints or simply reflect and pray.
Christians go on pilgrimage to:
- Grow closer to God and strengthen their faith
- Express sorrow for sins and to ask for forgiveness
- Pray for something special or thank God for a blessing
- Seek a cure for illness
- Help others who are disabled and ill
- Meet others and share faith
Places of Pilgrimage
Lourdes in France is a place of pilgrimage dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In 1558 a young girl named Bernadette Soubirous experienced visions of the Virgin Mary in a cave near a river. Mary told Bernadette to dig for a spring of water, which was believed to have healing powers. Thousands of pilgrims visit Lourdes each year to pray and many will bathe in or drink the water from the spring. The Roman Catholic Church has proclaimed 69 miracles at Lourdes.
Iona is an island off the west coast of Scotland. In the 6th century AD, St Columba, an Irish missionary who brought Christianity to Scotland, established a small monastic community there. It is now a place of Christian pilgrimage dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Some people speak of Iona as a ‘Thin place’ where the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds is thin. It is very remote, so for pilgrims it feels like a place where nature reveals God’s power.
During their time at Iona pilgrims will attend church services and participate in workshop activities. They help out with daily chores and cook meals while staying there. There is time for silence, for reflection and meditation.