Pilgrimage and Towns in Medieval Christianity
By Jaehyun Kim
The Communications and Networks of Medieval Cities in the West: The Sixth Japanese-Korean Symposium on Medieval History of Europe (2007)
Introduction: Various social-cultural factors were crucial in the formation and development of medieval towns. As we see in Trier, Roman architecture and roads were important for establishing towns far before Christianity provided a cultural-religious framework. Feudal systems and commercial and trade development, both on regional and international levels, played a major role in flourishing medieval culture. In addition to these factors, there is no arguing that medieval Christianity greatly contributed to the formation of medieval towns.
Cathedral organizations, monasteries, and pilgrimage were decisive to the life and culture of medieval people. Christian villages and towns were formed alongside old pagan villages. However, new towns like Cluny and Bezlay were made through the burgeoning monastery and as a result of pilgrimage. Monasteries, religiously secluded communities, paradoxically became political-cultural centers. Christian theology, especially scholasticism in the thirteenth century, rapidly increased primarily in towns and cities.
Christian pilgrimage was important for medieval towns and cultures. ‘Pilgrimage’ means visiting religious places where certain meaningful and important events happened, to entreat supernatural help and also keep religious responsibilities. Even before the birth of Christianity, a number of places emerged as major pilgrim centers like Jerusalem for Judaism and Mecca and Medina for Islam. Major places primarily related to Jesus, such as the places of his birth, death, passion, and ascension, made Jerusalem a well-known international pilgrim center. The life of Jesus, a model for ensuing martyrs and saints, transformed a normal place, Jerusalem, into sacred space.
From its very early stages, Christianity began to develop pilgrimage. Horrible persecution by the Roman Empire against Christians and the Christian diaspora sometimes made it difficult for Christians to access Jerusalem. The unshakable status of Jerusalem as an international pilgrim center, however, continued for a long time. Hieronymus’s letter to Paula and Marcella indicates that not a few women traveled from Rome to Jerusalem in a very early stage of Christianity. Christian pilgrimage developed not only within orthodox Christian circles but also in various Christian sects including the Donatists in Northern Africa. What is important is that pilgrimage was growing along with the towns.