The essence of a pilgrimage is usually linked to a person’s faith or beliefs, providing a spiritual journey that ends with a measure of enlightenment or discovery. However, whilst many journeys of this kind are done with religious intentions, this is not the only reason to take a pilgrimage. Those who are interested in hiking, nature or simply the history relating to a specific town or city may also enjoy visiting some of the destinations on our list.
He are five pilgrimage sites in Europe that can provide an educational and enriching holiday.
In 1858, the small town of Lourdes, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, was transformed into one of the most famous pilgrimage destinations in the world. It was during this time that a young girl by the name of Bernadette Soubirous claimed to see apparitions of the Virgin Mary at the entrance to the Massabielles grotto. Just a peasant girl at the time, Soubirous knew little of the Catholic faith, a fact that meant it didn’t take long for her local priest to believe her claims.
During the year, Bernadette saw the Immaculate Conception numerous times. On one occasion, the apparition encouraged her to dig in a particular spot, where she unearthed a natural spring with curative powers. Since then, 22 different places of worship have been built around the grotto and around six million pilgrims arrive each year to pay their respects, bathe in the water or drink from the source.
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
For many people, a pilgrimage is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. This is especially true in the case of Santiago de Compostela, a city found in the Galicia region of Spain. The Camino de Santiago or Way of Saint James is thought to have first been travelled in the 9th century and, today, consists of a series of routes stretching right across Europe, creating a path directly from cities such as London, Prague, Brussels and Rome. As well as those interested in the religious aspects, it attracts avid hikers and cyclists who want to enjoy the rural and urban sights.
The most popular trail is known as the French Route which, ironically, starts at the Spanish border. Many different paths lead through France to both Roncesvalles and Somport, where the trickle of pilgrims begins to grow into a flood. This route has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and, like many of the paths to Santiago de Compostela, features other places and monuments of historical importance. Finally, all roads converge at the shrine of Saint James the Great inside the cathedral, where the remains of this former apostle can be found.
The small Bavarian town of Altötting has many religious highlights, including the Jerusalem Panorama (a 360-degree mural of the Crucifixion of Christ) and the Basilica St. Ann – the largest church built in Germany during the 20th century. However, the main draw for pilgrims and tourists alike is the Chapel of Grace, the scene of a celebrated miracle in 1489.
It is here where you will find the Black Madonna, a statue of the Virgin Mary which lies at the centre of the town’s story. After her son drowned in a nearby pond, a mother brought his lifeless body into the chapel and laid it at the altar. She begged Our Lady to return him to her and, sure enough, the boy opened his eyes.
As well as the wooden statue and shrine, the chapel houses the hearts of all the Kings of Bavaria from the Wittelsbach dynasty.
Nestled in the region of Umbria, in the north of Italy, Assisi is home to eight separate historic churches, as well as medieval castles that loom over the town. Many of the pilgrimage activities involve Saint Francis, arguably Assisi’s most famous son, and visitors follow in his footsteps to re-create the journeys he made across Italy during the Middle Ages.
The various routes take you through some breathtaking countryside where travellers chose to walk, cycle and even explore on horseback. It has also become a tradition to adopt the state of mind that Saint Francis had on his travels – living a modest life for a few days and seeing the world through the eyes of the Poor Man.
Jasna Göra Monastery, Poland
Built by the Hungarian Paulite order in 1382 and named for the hill on which it stands (known as Bright Hill in English), the Jasna Göra Monastery is the largest place of pilgrimage in Poland. The main artefact of religious interest is the painting of The Black Madonna which resides in the Chapel of Our Lady. It has been credited with a number of miracles over the years and visitors have left numerous offerings nearby in thanks of their prayers being answered.
This beautiful monastery has plenty more to admire, though – not least the paintings in the Knights’ Hall and artefacts in the 600th Anniversary Museum. All of these display the history of the complex or Poland in general, including rosaries made by concentration camp prisoners. Another highlight is the Nobel Peace Prize medal earned by Lech Wałęsa for his work in creating the first Trade Union in the Soviet Bloc.
If you would like to make your own pilgrimage to any of these destinations, for religious reasons or other, contact us for more information. You can call our friendly team on 0800 988 3369.