Christian Pilgrimage Centres Around The World
Chimayo, New Mexico
Thousands of pilgrims make their way each year to this simple adobe church in a small village in northern New Mexico, a place sometimes described as the Lourdes of North America. Its fame began around the year 1810, when a local friar saw a light springing from one of the hills near the Santa Cruz River. After following it to its source, he found in the earth a crucifix bearing a dark-skinned Jesus. The local villagers paid homage to the relic and then took it to a church in nearby Santa Cruz. Mysteriously, during the night the crucifix returned to its original location. After this happened two more times, the locals built a small chapel to house the crucifix in Chimayo.
Through the years the story of the crucifix became intertwined with earlier Native American beliefs that the earth here has healing properties. Pilgrims gather dirt from the floor of the Santuario de Chimayo, whose walls are filled with discarded crutches, photographs, and other tokens of those who have received cures here.
Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky
Pilgrims who treasure the writings of Thomas Merton travel to the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Roman Catholic monastery in rural Kentucky. Merton entered the monastic community at the abbey in 1941 and lived here until his death in 1968. A prolific writer, Merton’s works include his autobiography, , as well spiritual classics such as .
The Trappist abbey is home to sixty monks, who welcome visitors for overnight retreats or day visits. Guests may join the monks in keeping the liturgy of the hours (the seven prayer services held each day) and may also attend Eucharist. For added inspiration, visitors can walk the woodlands and fields that surround the abbey.In Thomas Merton’s words, a monastery like this offers a place “to entertain silence in the heart and listen for the voice of God—to pray for your own discovery.”
Hospitality is an essential element of monastic life, for monks are directed to receive all visitors as Christ himself.
St. Paul’s Chapel, New York City
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Spain’s northwestern province of Galicia is home to one of the most important Christian pilgrimage sites, second in importance only to Rome and Jerusalem. The city of Santiago de Compostela contains a massive Roman Catholic cathedral where the remains of the apostle St. James are said to lie.
For centuries, the routes that lead to the city from throughout Europe have been filled with pilgrims walking on foot to reach their destination. The most popular route, the French Way, takes about six weeks to complete and is lined with religious, cultural, and artistic monuments. Pilgrim hostels along the way offer low-cost lodgings, and the cathedral in Santiago offers , a Latin document certifying that the pilgrim has completed at least the last 100 kilometers on foot.
The scallop shell is the symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, probably because the shells are common along the Atlantic beaches just west
Tradition dates this shrine to the year 40 A.D., when the apostle St. James received a visitation from the Virgin Mary asking him to build a church in her honor on this site in northeastern Spain. The pillar of jasper on which Mary appeared to St. James continues to be the centerpiece of the shrine and accounts for the name by which she is known here, Our Lady of Pilar.
Multiple churches have occupied the site, and the current building (built in the seventeenth century) features eleven brightly colored tiled domes, a magnificent main altar of alabaster, and two frescos by Francisco Goya. The pillar, which is displayed inside a chapel, is typically covered with an elaborate vestment called a . Countries, states, cities, and individuals from around the world have donated these vestments. According to a time-honored custom, pilgrims kiss the pillar on their visit to the church.
The brightly colored ribbons that pilgrims receive at the shrine can be seen throughout Spain, adorning taxi cabs, bicycles, and other vehicles as a sign of protection and blessing.
On a gray February day more than 150 years ago, the fortunes of this small town in southern France changed forever when a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous saw a radiant vision of a woman standing in the rock above her. Over the course of the next five months Bernadette would see the woman 17 more times, a series of visions that would make Lourdes the most famous healing shrine in the world and Bernadette a beloved saint.
Each year more than five million visitors from around the world come to Lourdes and stand before the same rock where Bernadette saw her mysterious visions. A long line of people slowly winds into the grotto, where they reverently touch the rock and leave photographs, flowers, and other tokens. Nearby is a place where pilgrims can collect water from the spring that flows out of the shrine, water that is said to have healing properties.
Sixty-six miraculous cures at Lourdes have been officially documented by the Roman Catholic Church, which maintains a Medical Bureau at the shrine.
Pilgrims wanting to deepen their connection to the Celtic Christian traditions of the British Isles come to this windswept island off the coast of Scotland. The Irish monk Columba (also known as Columcille) founded a monastic community here in 563, and under his guidance Iona became a center for culture and learning famous throughout Europe. At its height, about 150 monks lived on Iona, some later becoming missionaries who founded monasteries in Ireland, Scotland, and northern England. The modern revival of Iona dates to 1938, when George MacLeod founded the ecumenical Iona Community. The community maintains an active presence on Iona, leading worship services and retreat programs and spearheading the growing interest in Celtic Christianity.
Just three miles long and one mile wide, the rocky island offers a landscape little changed from when Columba walked its paths, with white sandy beaches, heather moorland, rocky promontories, and dramatic views of the sea.
The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels that is one of the masterpieces of Celtic art, was likely created on Iona during the eighth century.
Croagh Patrick, Ireland
Once sacred to the pagan Celtic god Lugh, this mountain in western Ireland has been a place of pilgrimage for many thousands of years. It became a Christian holy site thanks to St. Patrick, who is said to have fasted for 40 days on its summit in 441. During the years when penal laws institutionalized discrimination against Roman Catholics in Ireland, the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage was a focus of defiance and attempts to suppress it were met with fierce resistance.
Today the climb up its rocky slopes continues to be a popular pilgrimage, particularly on the last Sunday in July when more than 20,000 visit the mountain. As a sign of devotion and penance, some pilgrims walk barefoot to the summit of Croagh Patrick. The hike to the top takes about two hours and ends at a chapel at the summit.
In pre-Christian times, women seeking to become pregnant would spend the night atop Croagh Patrick.
Vatican City, Rome
Steeped in Christian tradition and history, Vatican City is one of the most-visited pilgrimage sites in the world. The 109-acre walled enclave lies within the city of Rome and is a sovereign city-state as well as the seat of the papacy. Its centerpiece is St. Peter’s Basilica, built over the site where tradition says that St. Peter was crucified and buried. In front of the basilica lies St. Peter’s Square, designed by the artist Bernini in the seventeenth century in the shape of arms spread open to embrace the world.
Vatican City is full of artistic as well as religious treasures, including the ceiling frescos of the Sistine Chapel and the , both by Michelangelo. Among its newest places of veneration is the tomb of Pope John Paul II, located less than 100 feet from the tomb of St. Peter.
St. Peter’s is built on the site once occupied by the Circus of Nero, where Christians were martyred in the first century.
This medieval hill town in central Italy claims two of the world’s most-beloved saints: St. Francis and St. Clare. Both were born here in the twelfth century, children of wealth and privilege who gave up lives of luxury to devote themselves to austerity and prayer. St. Francis founded the Franciscans in 1208; St. Clare established an order that became known as the Poor Clares in 1212.
The main site associated with Francis is the Basilica di San Francesco, which includes many masterpieces of medieval art as well as his relics. St. Clare, who was a friend of Francis and profoundly influenced by him, is buried in Assisi in a basilica named in her honor. In the surrounding hills, pilgrims can enjoy spectacular views of the Umbrian countryside. A favorite destination is the Church of San Damiano, where Francis received his miraculous calling to a life of service.
Assisi was believed to be a sacred spot even before its association with St. Francis and was the location of a temple to the Roman goddess Minerva.
Mt. Sinai and St. Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt
The desert peninsula that lies between Egypt and Israel is home to Mt. Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. For thousands of years pilgrims have climbed to the summit of this remote peak. The surrounding landscape is both bleak and beautiful, particularly at dawn and evening when its harsh terrain glows with an almost unearthly light.
At the base of the mountain, St. Catherine’s Monastery is home to a small community of Greek Orthodox monks. Visitors enter through massive stone walls built in the sixth century to protect the monastery from attack. Winding through a narrow passageway, they enter the Basilica of the Transfiguration, which dates back to AD 527 when the Emperor Justinian ordered that a church be built here on the remains of an even older chapel. Inside, Byzantine icons line the church’s walls and an ornate icon screen separates the altar from the sanctuary. The adjoining library is home to a priceless collection of icons, paintings, mosaics, altar pieces, and illuminated manuscripts.
In the courtyard outside the basilica, pilgrims reach up to touch a plant that is said to have descended from the Burning Bush from which the voice of God spoke to Moses.
The capital of Israel, full of golden-hued buildings that reflect the desert sunshine, attracts pilgrims from three faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Among the sites revered by Christians are the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where Jesus is believed to have been buried and resurrected), the Mount of Olives (where Jesus prayed during the night of his betrayal), and the Via Dolorosa (which tradition says is the route taken by Jesus to the cross). The steps of the Via Dolorosa are the oldest Christian pilgrimage path in the world, a route taken by countless pilgrims through the centuries as they relive the last hours of Jesus’ life. Sacred sites honored by both Christians and Jews include the Western Wall, the only remnant of the Second Temple, and Mount Zion, where King David’s tomb is said to be located.
Many pilgrims to Jerusalem also visit Yad Vashem, the museum that serves as a memorial to the six million victims of the Holocaust.
St Michaels Church, Mumbai. India
Mahim Church or St. Michael’s Church is one of the oldest Catholic churches as well as one of oldest existing Portuguese buildings in Mumbai. Mahim church is famous for its Novenas on Wednesdays, which is visited by thousands. It is located near Mahim Causeway.
The Mahim church, originally built in 1534 by Antonin do Porto, is rebuilt a number of times, the present structure dating to 1973.
Not only Christians, but people of other faiths come to pay their respects to the Virgin Mary and attend mass every Wednesday. Devotees believe that visiting the Church on nine consecutive Wednesdays (Novena) will grant their wishes. They offer floral garlands according to the Hindu customs and repeat prayers before the image. Some of them offer wax figures of what they desire desire, for example, a wax house. Around 40-50,000 devotees visit the church every week. The weekly Novena services were started in 1948, when a priest Fr. Edward Fernandes from Mumbai noticed a similar ritual celebrating Our Lady of Perpetual Succour at Belfast, Northern Ireland, during his visit to Europe. Initially, only two services were held every Wednesday, but today from 8:30 am to 10:30 pm, the thirteen services are held in various languages: English, Konkani, Marathi, Tamil and Hindi.
When the Marathas conquered Salsette in 1739, Our Lady of the Mount chapel in Bandra was destroyed by the Portugese at the instance of the British so that its location remained secret to the Marathas. In this time, St. Michael’s Church was the refuge place for the image of the Blessed Virgin from the chapel. The image remained in St. Michael’s till 1761, when it was moved to its presentstructure in Bandra.
In recent history, on 27 June, 2008, thousands of devotees visited the Church to see a reported “bleeding” Jesus Christ’s portrait, which was termed as a “miracle” by devotees. Though on further investigation, the red spots on the picture showed no traces of blood.
Parish Priest Father Raphael and Father Doneth D’Souza from the St. Michael’s church as well as Archbishop cardinal Oswald Gracias declined the miracle claim. Fr. D’Souza explained “It’s not a blood stain and it’s also not a miracle. Every image of Divine Mercy has a red halo around the heart and in this case, the red colour has run because of the moisture in the air. It will look like a bloodstain, but it’s not.”