In religion and spirituality, a pilgrimage is a long journey or search of great moral significance. Sometimes, it is a journey to a sacred place or shrine of importance to a person's beliefs and faith. Members of many major religions participate in pilgrimages. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim.

Buddhism offers four sites of pilgrimage: the Buddha's birthplace at Kapilavastu, the site where he attained Enlightenment Bodh Gaya, where he first preached at Benares, and where he achieved Parinirvana at Kusinagara.

The Holy Land acts as a focal point for the pilgrimages of many religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahá'í Faith.

In the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the visitation of certain ancient cult-centers was repressed in the 7th century BCE, when worship was restricted to YHWH at the temple in Jerusalem. In Syria, the shrine of Astarte at the headwater spring of the river Adonis survived until it was destroyed by order of Emperor Constantine in the 4th century.

In mainland Greece, a stream of individuals made their way to Delphi or the oracle of Zeus at Dodona, and once every four years, at the period of the Olympic games, the temple of Zeus at Olympia formed the goal of swarms of pilgrims from every part of the Hellenic world. When Alexander the Great reached Egypt, he put his whole vast enterprise on hold, while he made his way with a small band deep into the Libyan desert, to consult the oracle of Ammun. During the imperium of his Ptolemaic heirs, the shrine of Isis at Philae received many votive inscriptions from Greeks on behalf of their kindred far away at home.

Although a pilgrimage is normally viewed in the context of religion, the personality cults cultivated by communist leaders ironically gave birth to pilgrimages of their own. Prior to the demise of the USSR in 1991, a visit to Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square, Moscow can be said to have had all the characteristics exhibiting a pilgrimage — for Communists. This type of pilgrimage to a personality cult is still evident today on people who pay visits of homage to Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung, and Ho Chi Minh.

Effects on trade

Pilgrims contributed an important element to long-distance trade before the modern era, and brought prosperity to successful pilgrimage sites, an economic phenomenon unequalled until the tourist trade of the 20th century. Encouraging pilgrims was a motivation for assembling (and sometimes fabricating) relics and for writing hagiographies of local saints, filled with inspiring accounts of miracle cures. Lourdes and other modern pilgrimage sites keep this spirit alive.

Pilgrimage centres in various times and cultures


Many ancient religions had holy sites, temples and groves, where pilgrimages were made.

Bahá'í Faith

Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, decreed pilgrimage to two places in his book of laws, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas: the House of Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad, Iraq, and the House of the Báb in Shiraz, Iran. He, later, prescribed specific rites for each of these pilgrimages in two other religious texts. Later, `Abdu'l-Bahá designated the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh at Bahji, Israel as a site of pilgrimage, for which there are no rites.

Since Bahá'ís do not have access to the original two places designated as sites for pilgrimage, Bahá'í pilgrimage currently consists of visiting the holy places in Haifa, Acre, and Bahjí at the Bahá'í World Centre in Northwest Israel. Bahá'ís can apply to join an organized nine-day pilgrimage where they are taken to visit the various holy sites, or attend a shorter three-day pilgrimage.


Gautama Buddha spoke of the four sites most worthy of pilgrimage for his followers to visit:

Other pilgrimage places in India and Nepal connected to the life of Gautama Buddha are: Savatthi, Pataliputta, Nalanda, Gaya, Vesali, Sankasia, Kapilavastu, Kosambi, Rajagaha, Varanasi.

Other famous places for buddhist pilgrimage in various countries include:


Pilgrimages were first made to sites connected with the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Surviving descriptions of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land date from the 4th century, when pilgrimage was encouraged by church fathers like Saint Jerome. Pilgrimages also began to be made to Rome and other sites associated with the Apostles, Saints and Christian martyrs, as well as to places where there have been apparitions of the Virgin Mary. The crusades to the holy land were considered to be mass armed pilgrimages.

The second largest single pilgrimage in the history of Christendom was to the Funeral of Pope John Paul II after his death on April 2, 2005. An estimated four million people travelled to Vatican City, in addition to the almost three million people already living in Rome, to see the body of Pope John Paul II lie in state.

World Youth Day is a major Catholic Pilgrimage, specifically for people aged 16-35. It is held internationally every 2-3 years. In 2005, young Catholics visited Cologne, Germany. In 1995, the largest gathering of all time was to World Youth Day in Manila, Philippines, where four million people from all over the world attended.

The major Christian pilgrimages are to:


Hindus are required to undertake pilgrimages during their lifetime. Most Hindus who can afford to go on such journeys travel to numerous sites described in the following list.

The last four sites in the list together comprise the Chardham, or four holy pilgrimage destinations. It is believed that travelling to these places leads to moksha, the release from samsara (cycle of rebirths). The holy places of pilgrimage for the Shaktism sect of Hinduism are the Shakti peethas (Temples of Shakti).


The pilgrimage to Mecca – the Hajj – is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It should be attempted at least once in the lifetime of all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to do so. It is the most important of all Muslim Pilgrimages, and is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world.

Many Muslims also undergo ziyarat, which is a pilgrimage to sites associated with the prophet Muhammad, his companions, or other venerated figures in Islamic history, such as Shi'a imams or Sufi saints. Sites of pilgrimage include mosques, graves, battlefields, mountains, and caves.

Local Pilgrimage traditions - those undertaken as ziarah visits to local graves, are also found throughout Muslim countries. In some countries, the grave sites of heroes have very strong ziyarah traditions as visiting the graves at auspicious times is a display of national and community identity. Some traditions within Islam have negative attitudes towards grave visiting.

The third religiously sanctioned pilgrimage for Muslims is to the Al Quds mount in Jerusalem which hosts Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Another important place for Muslims are the city of Medina, the second holiest place in Islam, in Saudi Arabia, where Muhammad rests, in Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (the Mosque of the Prophet); and the district of Eyüp in Istanbul (fourth holiest place) is where Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (Eyüp Sultan), the standard-bearer of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, died during the Arab assault on Constantinople in 670.


See related article Three pilgrim festivals.

Within Judaism, the Temple in Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish religion, until its destruction in 70 CE, and all adult men who were able were required to visit and offer sacrifices known as the korbanot, particularly during Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.

Following the destruction of the Second Temple and the onset of the diaspora, the centrality of pilgrimage to Jerusalem in Judaism was discontinued. In its place came prayers and rituals hoping for a return to Zion and the accompanying restoration of regular pilgrimages (see Jerusalem, Jews and Judaism).

Until recent centuries, pilgrimage has been a fairly difficult and arduous adventure. But now, Jews from many countries make periodic pilgrimages to the holy sites of their religion.

The western retaining wall of the original temple, known as the Wailing Wall, or Western Wall remains in the Old City of Jerusalem and this has been the most sacred site for religious Jews. Pilgrimage to this area was off-limits from 1948 to 1967, when East Jerusalem was controlled by Jordan.

Some Reform and Conservative Jews who no longer consider themselves exiles, still enjoy visiting Israel even if it is not an official "pilgrimage."

Secular pilgrimage

In modern usage, the terms pilgrim and pilgrimage can also have a somewhat devalued meaning as they are often applied in a secular context. For example, fans of Elvis Presley may choose to visit his home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee. Similarly one may refer to a cultural center such as Venice as a "tourist Mecca".


In a number of Communist contries, secular pilgrimages were established as an "antidote" to religious pilgrimages, the most famous of which are:


The mausoleum of Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini in Predappio, Italy serves as a pilgrmage site for Italian Neo-Fascists.

See also


Further reading

  • al-Naqar, Umar. 1972. The Pilgrimage Tradition in West Africa. Khartoum: Khartoum University Press. [includes a map 'African Pilgrimage Routes to Mecca, ca. 1300-1900']
  • Coleman, Simon and John Elsner (1995), Pilgrimage: Past and Present in the World Religions. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Coleman, Simon & John Eade (eds) (2005), Reframing Pilgrimage. Cultures in Motion. London: Routledge.
  • Jackowski, Antoni. 1998. Pielgrzymowanie [Pilgrimage]. Wroclaw: Wydawnictwo Dolnoslaskie.
  • Margry, Peter Jan (ed.) (2008), Shrines and Pilgrimage in the Modern World. New Itineraries into the Sacred. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Sumption, Jonathan. 2002. Pilgrimage: An Image of Mediaeval Religion. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
  • Wolfe, Michael (ed.). 1997. One Thousands Roads to Mecca. New York: Grove Press.
  • Zarnecki, George (1985), The Monastic World: The Contributions of The Orders. pp. 36-66, in Evans, Joan (ed.). 1985. The Flowering of the Middle Ages. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.


  • Kerschbaum & Gattinger, Via Francigena - DVD- Documentation, of a modern pilgrimage to Rome, ISBN 3200005009, Verlag EUROVIA, Vienna 2005
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