The Social And Cultural Impact Of Pilgrims

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With about 1/5 of Europe’s population on a pilgrimage at the same time during the middle ages, it is safe to say that pilgrimages were very popular. For many, it was regarded as a way of life. As more and more people (not only Christians), were encouraged to go on a pilgrimage some places become more popular than others. There were many different destinations to pilgrim to for many reasons. A lot of preparation would have been involved in making such a journey and multiple of different things pilgrims hoped to achieve by the end of their pilgrimage. But with so many people on a pilgrimage, it changed the social and cultural aspect forever.

With pilgrimages being so popular in the middle ages there were many different places people pilgrimed to. Some places were more popular than others and each place had its own reasons on why you should go there. One of the most popular places to pilgrim to was Walsingham in Norfolk as it was claimed to have a jar that contained milk from the Virgin Mary. The water was “efficacious in curing the pain of the head and stomach” according to Erasmus who was one of the most famous renaissance scholars and was the first editor of the new testament. In 1484 Margaret Paston wrote to her husband, “When I heard you were ill, I decided to go on a pilgrimage to Walsingham… for you.” This quote illustrates that people did strongly believe that you could be cured by going on a pilgrimage. Another famous pilgrim destination was the tomb of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral which is where he was killed by Hennery the II. People go there to see his blood-stained clothes. Rumours quickly spread that by touching his clothes you could be cured of blindness, epilepsy and leprosy. People’s lives could easily be changed by going on one journey which would change their social life.

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Before embarking on such a journey pilgrims had to prepare in multiple different ways. Firstly, they had to receive a blessing from their local bishop. After that, if they were going on a pilgrimage to have their sins forgiven and not go to hell, they had to confess all of their sins. As seen in Appendix 1, the two men are wearing long coarse garments and are carrying a bag. They are also wearing hats and have walking poles as they would have been walking for days on end. Before going on the pilgrimage, they would also have had to practice walking as they would have not been used to walking so far. Once on their pilgrimage, they would have been praying daily, hoping for a miracle going on a pilgrimage to be cured, walking around 20km a day and traveling to a lot of different towns. By doing so they would have increased the foot traffic in some small towns causing a social impact and cultural impact as there would be all different people from different countries and the small towns would have to change their day to day social life. By needing to have a garment made it would also put a social change on their town, as dressmakers would get more business.

By the end of a pilgrimage pilgrims, all had an end goal. Many people went on a pilgrimage to be cured of an illness like sight impairment. Other people would go to hopefully be forgiven for their sins and by doing so have had more of a chance to go to heaven instead of hell. Others would have simply gone to grow closer to God. As seen in appendix 2 people are travelling to the tomb of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. They would have been going there most likely to be cured of a sight impairment or pray for someone with a sight impairment. This would have changed some peoples social and cultural lives drastically as they would have been cured of an illness, they might have thought they could never be cured of. Others would have their lives change socially as they have confessed all their sins, so they have a fresh start.

In conclusion, pilgrimages impacted the social and cultural impact of the middle ages as it increased demand it the dress/garment making industry, helped people go to heaven instead of hell and get cured. The tomb of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral got a lot of attention due to his blood-stained clothes. People would have to receive a blessing from their local bishop and confess all their sins before going on a pilgrimage and have the goal of growing closer to go, being cured or being forgiven for sins and go to heaven instead of hell.


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