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An Introduction to Pilgrimages

Sep 5, 2008
A pilgrimage is a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion, exalted purpose or moral significance. Few events change one's life as deeply as a sacred pilgrimage - a journey that recharges the spirit, returns us to wholeness of mind and body, and brings clarity to our relationship with the divine.

People of all faiths through the centuries have made pilgrimages to the holy sites of revered figures. Their motivations are as various as their numbers are vast. Some seek healing, blessing or forgiveness of their sins. For others the journey is an expression of gratitude for an answered prayer. Many cultures have had the wisdom to pass on the value of walking a distance for several days at a time to a specific site. They would have walked to the place of a saint of holy man/woman. Newgrange has been around since before the pyramids. Stonehenge, Avebury, some of the most ancient monuments on the planet were and continue to be pilgrimage sites.

In the Middle Ages, Catholics undertook pilgrimages on behalf of loved ones who had died, hoping to shorten their time in purgatory. Prisoners of those times were sometimes made to go on pilgrimage as a way to atone for their crimes and thus re-enter society. Buddhists or Hindus still undertake pilgrimage in order to gain merit for a favorable rebirth, and the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, is required of every Muslim with the means to make the journey.

In Ireland it has never really gone out of fashion. The three patron saints of Ireland, the well known St. Patrick, St. Brigid and St. Colmcille, each have their own pilgrimage sites, some dating to pre-Christian times. The tradition of climbing the mountain Croagh Patrick, often barefoot, has never waned. People continue to visit the site of Patrick┤s Purgatory. The pilgrimage sites of St. Brigid, a very complex ĘsaintĘ connected to the Celtic Goddess Brigid, are numerous, if not as well known. Brigid┤s wells can be found throughout Ireland, containing waters that are believed to have curative powers. St. Colmcille was himself a pilgrim monk.

In any tradition, pilgrimage honors the sacred and powerful nature of places. It provides a direct means for the pilgrim to connect to miraculous events and holy persons. Often physically and emotionally taxing, pilgrimage is a humbling and transformative rite of passage. Although not a common religious practice for American Christians, pilgrimage is making a resurgence in the modern West.
About the Author
As traditional Irish music and dance continue to enjoy phenomenal success, Aine Minogue is an artist who has long explored its themes and who captures its very essence. At www.minogue.com Aine's albums, sheet music as well as numerous resources around Irish and Celtic culture are available for download.
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