What Is a Pilgrimage Church?

A pilgrimage church is a church that is found along a pilgrimage route or one that pilgrimages are made to regularly. These churches became popular in medieval Europe as one feature of the advancing Catholic culture. The most popular pilgrimage churches were almost inaccessible and required a great deal of travel through rugged terrain to be reached.

Pilgrims that undertook the arduous journey to reach a pilgrimage church did so willingly because they believed that the difficulty of the journey was proof of their spiritual devotion. Others embarked on pilgrimage journeys to a particular church as a sign of penance, to receive a spiritual reward or as a defense against famine and plague. Journeys were also made to pilgrimage churches so the faithful could ask a particular saint to cure an illness. A typical journey to a pilgrimage church often took days or even years to complete.

Pilgrims who made the journey received a sacred shrine badge that put them above all laws, except those of the church. They were also exempt from all taxes, debts, arrest and from having their property confiscated while they were on their pilgrimage. Although the journey was difficult, pilgrims were often honored and entertained on their journey, because it was believed that anyone who helped them would share their blessings.