Journey to sacred places inspired by religious devotion. For Hindus, the holy places include Varanasi and the purifying River Ganges; for Buddhists, the places connected with the crises of Buddha's career; for the ancient Greeks, shrines such as those at Delphi and Ephesus; for Jews, the Western Wall or Wailing Wall in Jerusalem; for Muslims, Mecca and Medina; and for Roman Catholics, Lourdes in France, among others. Pilgrimages are usually undertaken as opportunities to reflect upon and deepen one's religious faith, or to earn religious merit.
Among Christians, pilgrimages were common by the 2nd century and, as a direct result of the growing frequency and numbers of pilgrimages, there arose numerous hospices catering for pilgrims, the religious orders of knighthood, and the Crusades. The great centres of Christian medieval pilgrimages were Jerusalem, Rome, the tomb of St James of Compostela in Spain, and the shrine of St Thomas à Becket in Canterbury, England.
Pilgrimage often involved ascetic practices (restrictions on diet or sexuality) but also sightseeing, and was a major factor in the exchange of ideas between regions and cultures. The motives for pilgrimage varied from penance for sin and concern for the afterlife to the desire for benefits in the present life, such as fertility, healing, or luck. Pilgrimage is not an essential feature of the Christian religion, and is mostly undertaken by members of the Roman Catholic and High Church Anglican churches. The most popular sites are those where visions of the Virgin Mary have been seen or miracles recorded.
The three major centres of pilgrimage in medieval England were Canterbury; Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk; and Walsingham, Norfolk. Walsingham is still a site of pilgrimage each Easter.
There are a number of sacred mountains in China, some Buddhist, some Taoist, which are major centres of pilgrimage. In Japan, pilgrimage to sacred mountains could bring benefits in both Shinto and Buddhist belief systems. In Shintoism, Mount Fuji is regarded as the supreme home of the gods. Pilgrims usually ascend this snow-capped mountain on foot. Alternatively, pilgrims would visit sites associated with Buddhist saints, or make a round of any of several series of temples: the 33 sanctuaries of Kwannon or the 25 temples of the Pure Land school, for example.
Pilgrimage is not an obligatory part of Judaism, now that the Temple of Jerusalem no longer exists, but many Jews visit the Western Wall or Wailing Wall, the last remaining portion of the Temple since its destruction in AD 70.
As required by the fifth of the Five Pillars of Islam, all Muslims try to make pilgrimage at least once in their lives to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, to the Kaaba, the first House of God on earth, and the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. They may also visit Medina where the first Muslim community was established, and Jerusalem, the site of Muhammad's miraculous journey to heaven.
As well as the River Ganges and the city of Varanasi (Benares), Hindus make pilgrimage to Vrindavan, the birthplace of Krishna, and Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama.
Buddhist sites include the Buddha's birthplace at Lumbini; the Deer Park at Sarnath, near Benares, where he preached his first sermon; the bodhi tree near Buddh Gaya in Bihar, under which he attained enlightenment; the city of Varanasi, where he founded the Sangha (monastic community); and the place of his death, Kusinagara in Uttar Pradesh. The Temple of the Tooth at Kandy, Sri Lanka, contains what is believed to be a tooth of the Buddha, and there is a site of the Buddha's footprint on top of Sri Pada Mountain.
The city of Amritsar in the Punjab was founded by the fourth guru of Sikhism, Guru Ram Das, as a focus for the Sikh community, and the Golden Temple there was built by his successor, Guru Arjan Dev. Amritsar has become the centre of Sikh pilgrimage, particularly during the gurpurbs, the festivals that commemorate the Sikh gurus.
The two most holy places for Baha'is are the tomb of Baha'u'llah near Acre and the shrine of the Bab, on the side of Mount Carmel in Haifa, both in Israel.
Places of Peace and Power
Communion at Lourdes
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