A religious journey, generally with a particular destination as the goal. Going on pilgrimages, sometimes at great personal cost, is commonly a sign of deep and sincere devotion, and virtually all major religions have pilgrimage traditions and sites. Underlying all pilgrimages is the assumption that certain sites have special spiritual importance, and going on a pilgrimage often serves as a rite of passage for believers. In Judaism the common practice is a pilgrimage to Jerusalem known as ‘aliyah. According to the Torah, Jewish men should make the ‘aliyah three times a year on important festival days. The custom was generally impossible during the Diaspora centuries, but has been revived, particularly among Jews living in Israel. The main pilgrimage destination, visited year-round rather than on festival days in particular, is the so-called Wailing Wall, all that remains of the second Temple following its destruction in A.D. 70. In Christianity pilgrimage has been most common among Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers; Protestants generally reject the practice. Records of pilgrimage to holy sites appear as early as the second century, when Christians made visits to such sites in and around Jerusalem as Golgotha (Calvary), the hillside where Jesus Christ was crucified. Rome is also a major pilgrimage site as visitors seek out the alleged tombs of Peter, Paul, and other saints. Meanwhile, devotees of particular saints often make pilgrimages to sites associated with these saints, such as Santiago de Compostela, where James was supposedly buried, and the tomb of the missionary St. Francis Xavier in Goa, India. Sites associated with the Virgin Mary, generally where devotees claim to have experienced visions of the Virgin, are also popular pilgrimage destinations. These include Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, Medjugorje in BosniaHerzegovina (where visions of Mary were claimed very recently), and Guadaloupe in Mexico. Eastern Orthodox Christians, meanwhile, generally make pilgrimages to monasteries seeking guidance from holy men known in Russian as starets. Pilgrimage is a major feature of Islamic practice. The hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the Five Pillars of Faith in Islam and is expected of all adult males in a financial and personal position to go. Many women make the pilgrimage as well. Both often also travel to the city of Medina, which holds tombs of some of the early caliphs as well as other sites. Muslims may also perfor m the minor pilgrimage known as ‘umra. Shia Muslims, for their part, might make pilgrimages to the tombs of Shia imams. Pilgrimage is also important in Hinduism; indeed the Mahabharata contains a pilgrimage map of India depicting the entire subcontinent as a network of pilgrim- age sites, which are to be visited by following a clockwise route. Most important among these are Hinduism’s seven sacred cities, and the most commonly visited of these is Varanasi on the Ganga River. Many Hindus try to make pilgrimages to Varanasi at least once in their lives to bathe in the river’s waters or to be cremated there, since cremation in Varanasi is thought to grant immediate release from the wheel of birth and death. Other rivers also serve as pilgrimage sites, and many of Hinduism’s great religious festivals are in fact giant pilgrimages. One of these is the Kumbh Mela, thought to be the largest religious gathering on earth during the years when it is held at the confluence of the Ganga, the Jamuna, and the mythical Saraswati rivers. Pilgrimage sites in India are known as tirthas, or fords, as when one fords a river from the profane to the sacred. Buddhism maintains a wide variety of pilgrimage practices. Most common among all Buddhists are pilgrimages to Indian sites associated with the Buddha’s life, such as the park outside Varanasi where he preached his first sermons. Another is the town of Bodh Gaya where the Buddha achieved enlightenment. Outside of India Buddhist pilgrims travel to a number of different kinds of sites. In Theravada Buddhist countries pilgrimage destinations often feature relics of the Buddha, such as a footprint, a fragment of the bohdi tree under which the Buddha meditated, or even a tooth, such as at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka. In Mahayana Buddhist countries mountains and monasteries are common pilgrimage sites. China contains five sacred mountains, for instance: O’mei, Wu t’ai, P’u-t’o, Chiu-hua, and Tai. The first four are associated with bodhisattvas, while Mount Tai is a Daoist pilgrimage site. Many devout Chinese seek to climb all five. Japanese Buddhists, meanwhile, may maintain the most elaborate pilgrimage traditions. In the Shikoku pilgrimage for instance, pilgrims must walk a route of over 700 miles (1,126km) and visit 88 temples. The climbing of Mount Fuji is also a form of pilgrimage undertaken by Shintoists as well as Buddhists. A more abstract form of pilgrimage is the inner pilgrimage, taken through meditation and inward exploration. A metaphor reflecting the notion is that all life is a pilgrimage. The practice can be found in certain Christian traditions and in Hinduism, where devout yogis can visit the seven sacred cities through meditation alone. Sikhism also emphasizes inner pilgrimage, although Sikhs also commonly make visits to sites such as the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India.
Pilgrimage Photo Gallery