“Let the Most Blessed be my guide,
If ‘t be his blessed will,
Unto his gate, into his fold,
Up to his holy hill.
And let him never suffer me
To swerve or turn aside
From his free grace and holy ways,
Whate’er shall me betide.
And let him gather them to mine,
That I have left behind;
Lord, make them pray they may be thine,
With all their heart and mind.”
Mercy, speaking to Christian
The Pilgrim’s Progress
When you think of pilgrims and pilgrimage, what images come to mind?
There are, of course, the pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower, fleeing religious persecution. However, the ideas I am most interested in regarding pilgrimage are twofold: the notion of pilgrims in the Biblical sense, and a particular pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.
There are several examples, both in the old and new testaments, of God’s people being called and calling themselves pilgrims, though some translations use different terms. The word pilgrims, in the spiritual sense, implies that they are on a journey and that their eternal destination is a heavenly realm. Pilgrims pass through this world and they live in a way that places more value on the everlasting than the temporary.
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
1 Peter 2:9-13 NKJV
As followers of Jesus, we should all consider ourselves pilgrims. And as such, we have a different perspective about our short lives here on earth, so we look different than others who do not share our faith. This life is temporary and fleeting, but eternity with God is forever. We set ourselves apart to point others to Christ, and ultimately, so God may be glorified and that others will worship Him.
In Spain, there is a pilgrimage route that dates back to the ninth century called the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, or the Way of St. James. The most popular route, Camino Francés, is almost 500 miles long. The destination is the Cathedral de Santiago, which is the burial site for St. James. Like many other pilgrimage destinations, the tomb, relics, and the surrounding cathedral inspired believers to travel hundreds of miles in order to see them. The journey itself was also an important element of the experience for the pilgrims. Going on this pilgrimage is on my personal bucket list. I studied Spanish art in graduate school, and since studying the art from Spain, I have felt a pull on my heart to make this journey for both the spiritual and artistic experiences I know it would add to my life. There’s something really special about walking the Camino, traveling for spiritual purposes, and engaging with art and architecture.
If you’re interested in more information about pilgrimage, check out these resources:
John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
Patrick J. Geary Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages
The Way, 2010, directed by Emilio Estevez