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§ 89. Processions and Pilgrimages.


Early Latin dissertations on pilgrimages by J. Gretser, Mamachi, Lazari, J. H. Heidegger, etc. J. Marx (R.C.): Das Wallfahren in der katholischen Kirche, historisch-kritisch dargestellt. Trier, 1842. Comp. the relevant sections in the church archaeologies of Bingham, Augusti, Binterim, &c.


Solemn religious processions on high festivals and special occasions had been already customary among the Jews,922922   As in the siege of Jericho, Jos. vi. 3 ff.; at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, 1 Kings viii. 1ff; on the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, Matt. xxi. 8 ff. and even among the heathen. They arise from the love of human nature for show and display, which manifests itself in all countries in military parades, large funerals, and national festivities.

The oppressed condition of the church until the time of Constantine made such public demonstrations impossible or unadvisable.

In the fourth century, however, we find them in the East and in the West, among orthodox and heretics,923923   The Arians, for example. Comp. Sozom., H. E. viii. 8, where weekly singing processions of the Arians are spoken of. on days of fasting and prayer, on festivals of thanksgiving, at the burial of the dead, the induction of bishops, the removal of relics, the consecration of churches, and especially in times of public calamity. The two chief classes are thanksgiving and penitential processions. The latter were also called cross-processions, litanies.924924   Litaniae (λιτανεῖαι), supplicationes, rogationes, ἐξομολογήσεις, stations, collectae.

The processions moved from church to church, and consisted of the clergy, the monks, and the people, alternately saying or singing prayers, psalms, and litanies. In the middle of the line commonly walked the bishop as leader, in surplice, stole, and pluvial, with the mitre on his head, the crozier in his left hand, and with his right hand blessing the people. A copy of the Bible, crucifixes, banners, images and relics, burning tapers or torches, added solemn state to the procession.925925   The antiquity of all these accessory ceremonies cannot be exactly fixed.

Regular annual processions occurred on Candlemas, and on Palm Sunday. To these was added, after the thirteenth century, the procession on Corpus Christi, in which the sacrament of the altar is carried about and worshipped.

Pilgrimages are founded in the natural desire to see with one’s own eyes sacred or celebrated places, for the gratification of curiosity, the increase of devotion, and the proving of gratitude.926926   “Die Stätte, die ein guter Mensch betrat,
   Ist eingeweiht; nach hundert Jahren klingt

   Sein Wort und seine That dem Enkel wieder.”
These also were in use before the Christian era. The Jews went up annually to Jerusalem at their high festivals as afterward the Mohammedans went to Mecca. The heathen also built altars over the graves of their heroes and made pilgrimages thither.927927   “Religiosa cupiditas est,” says Paulinus of Nola, Ep. 3 6, “loca videre, in quibus Christus ingressus et passus est et resurrexit et unde ascendit.” To the Christians those places were most interesting and holy of all, where the Redeemer was born, suffered, died, and rose again for the salvation of the world.

Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land appear in isolated cases even in the second century, and received a mighty impulse from the example of the superstitiously pious empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. In 326, at the age of seventy-nine, she made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, was baptized in the Jordan, discovered the holy cross, removed the pagan abominations and built Christian churches on Calvary and Olivet, and at Bethany.928928   Euseb., Vita Const iii. 41 sq., and De locis Ebr. a. v. Bethabara. In this she was liberally supported by her son, in whose arms she died at Nicomedia in 327. The influence of these famous pilgrims’ churches extended through the whole middle age, to the crusades, and reaches even to most recent times.929929   Recall the Crimean war of 1854-’56.

The example of Helena was followed by innumerable pilgrims who thought that by such journeys they made the salvation of their souls more sure. They brought back with them splinters from the pretended holy cross, waters from the Jordan, earth from Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and other genuine and spurious relics, to which miraculous virtue was ascribed.930930   Thus Augustine, De Civit. Dei, xxii. 8, is already found citing examples of the supernatural virtue of the terra sancta of Jerusalem.

Several of the most enlightened church fathers, who approved pilgrimages in themselves, felt it necessary to oppose a superstitious estimate of them, and to remind the people that religion might be practised in any place. Gregory of Nyssa shows that pilgrimages are nowhere enjoined in the Scriptures, and are especially unsuitable and dangerous for women, and draws a very unfavorable picture of the immorality prevailing at places of such resort. “Change of place,” says he, “brings God no nearer. Where thou art, God will come to thee, if the dwelling of thy soul is prepared for him.”931931   Epist. ad Ambrosium et Basilissam. Jerome describes with great admiration the devout pilgrimage of his friend Paula to the East, and says that he himself, in his Bethlehem, had adored the manger and birthplace of the Redeemer;932932   Adv. Ruffinum ultima Responsio, c. 22 (Opp. ed. Vall. tom. ii. p. 551), where he boastfully recounts his literary journeys, and says: “Protinus concito gradu Bethlehem meam reversus sum, ubi adoravi praesepe et incunabula Salvatoris.” Comp. his Vita Paulae, for her daughter Eustochium, where he describes the pilgrim-stations then in use. but he also very justly declares that Britain is as near heaven as Jerusalem, and that not a journey to Jerusalem, but a holy living there, is the laudable thing.933933   Epist. lviii. ad Paulinum (Opp. ed. Vallarsi, tom. i. p. 318; in the Bened. ed. it is Ep. 49; in the older editions, Ep. 13): “Non Jerusolymis fuisse, sed Jerusolymis bene vixisse, laudandum est.” In the same epistle, p. 319, he commends the blessed monk Hilarion, that, though a Palestinian, he had been only a day in Jerusalem, “ut nec contemnere loca sancta propter viciniam, nec rursus Dominum loco claudere videretur.”

Next to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and other localities of the Holy Land, Rome was a preëminent place of resort for pilgrims from the West and East, who longed to tread the threshold of the princes of the apostles (limina apostolorum). Chrysostom regretted that want of time and health prevented him from kissing the chains of Peter and Paul, which made devils tremble and angels rejoice.

In Africa, Hippo became a place of pilgrimage on account of the bones of St. Stephen; in Campania, the grave of St. Felix, at Nola; in Gaul, the grave of St. Martin of Tours († 397). The last was especially renowned, and was the scene of innumerable miracles.934934   The Huguenots in the sixteenth century burnt the bones of St. Martin, as objects of idolatry, and scattered their ashes to the winds. Even the memory of Job drew many pilgrims to Arabia to see the ash heap, and to kiss the earth, where the man of God endured so much.935935   So Chrysostomrelates, Hom. v. de statuis, § 1, tom. ii. f 59; ἱνα τὴν κορπίαν ἐκείνην ἴδωσι καὶ θεασάμενοι καταφιλήσωσι τὴν γῆν.

In the Roman and Greek churches the practice of pilgrimage to holy places has maintained itself to the present day. Protestantism has divested the visiting of remarkable places, consecrated by great men or great events, of all meritoriousness and superstitious accessories, and has reduced it to a matter of commendable gratitude and devout curiosity. Within these limits even the evangelical Christian cannot view without emotion and edification the sacred spots of Palestine, the catacombs of Rome, the simple slabs over Luther and Melanchthon in the castle-church of Wittenberg, the monuments of the English martyrs in Oxford, or the rocky landing-place of the Puritanic pilgrim fathers in Massachusetts. He feels himself nearer to the spirit of the great dead; but he knows that this spirit continues not in their dust, but lives immortally with God and the saints in heaven.



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