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1. Pilgrimages are journeys made to sacred places, where God oftentimes vouchsafes to give miraculous assistance to the suppliant.
The Jews were accustomed to make pilgrimages; on the three principal solemnities of the year, the Paschal feast, the feast of Weeks, and the feast of Tabernacles, all the men had to go up to the Temple at Jerusalem. Thus we read that Our Lord, when twelve years old, went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Luke ii. 41).
2. The places of pilgrimage are either the holy places in Palestine, spots sacred to the holy apostles or shrines of the blessed Mother of God.
The principal places of pilgrimage in the Holy Land are: The scene of the crucifixion and the holy sepulchre on Calvary at Jerusalem; the place where Christ was born in Bethlehem, arid the place of the annunciation at Nazareth.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is situated on Mount Calvary; it consists of three separate churches, called respectively the Church of the Crucifixion, the Church of the Ascension, and that of the Invention of the True Cross; all are under one roof. The early Christians journeyed thither in great numbers; in order to deter them from doing this, the Emperor Hadrian erected a heathen temple in the holy places, about one hundred years after Our Lord’s death. About the year 325 the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, discovered the cross of Christ; this gave a fresh impetus to the pilgrimages. The Emperor Charlemagne erected a hospice close to the Holy Sepulchre for the accommodation of pilgrims to Jerusalem. In the ninth century the Saracens conquered the Holy Land; the crusades undertaken to recover it from them were nothing less than heroic pilgrimages. In the fifteenth century pilgrimages to the Holy Land again became frequent, but in Luther’s time the number of those whose piety prompted them to undertake what was then a long and toilsome journey greatly diminished.
The principal places of pilgrimage in honor of the holy apostles are: The tomb of the princes of the apostles in Rome, and the tomb of St. James at Compostella.
The remains of St. Peter rest in the Church of St. Peter in Rome, the largest church in Christendom, of world-wide renown; it was a hundred and ten years in building, and was finished in 1626. The remains of St. Paul are laid in the church dedicated to him outside the walls of the city.
Some of the principal places of pilgrimage sacred to the Mother of God are: Lourdes in France, Loretto in Italy, Maria-Zell in Hungary, Einsiedeln in Switzerland, Altotting in Bavaria, Kevelaer in the Rhineland.
Lourdes is situated in the south of France on the slope of the Pyrenees. It was there that, in 1858, the Mother of God appeared in a grotto to a little peasant girl named Bernadette, and intimated to her her desire that a church should be built on the spot, and that pilgrims should go thither in procession. Our Lady proclaimed herself to be the Immaculate Conception. From that time forward a spring has flowed out of the grotto, the water of which has been the means of healing thousands of sick persons. No less than one hundred and twenty thousand bottles of this water are annually sent out into all parts of the world; and the number of pilgrims who visit the shrine can only be counted by millions. They come from the remotest quarters of the world. Loretto in Ancona has, since 1295, possessed the holy house of Nazareth, where our blessed Lady lived. This lowly house was seen in the year 1252 by St. Louis in Nazareth; forty years later it suddenly appeared at Tersato in Dalmatia; thence it was miraculously transferred to Ancona, and finally found a permanent resting-place at Loretto. There is no doubt that it was carried to these various spots by the angels. An altar which was miraculously conveyed thither at the same time, is supposed to be that upon which St. Peter offered the holy sacrifice. The statue of Our Lady which stands on that altar, carved in cedar-wood, three feet in height, is said to be the work of St. Luke. A spacious church has been erected over the holy house; copies of the latter have been made, and are seen in several places. At Loretto Pope Pius in his youth was cured of apoplexy. The most eminent saints are known to have made pilgrimages thither; and the number of pilgrims who visit it yearly is computed at five hundred thousand. The place of pilgrimage known as Maria-Zell owes its origin to the Benedictine monks. About the commencement of the thirteenth century attention was attracted to it by the miracles wrought there. King Louis I. of Hungary built a large church at Maria-Zell, in thanksgiving for the victory he gained over the Turks in 1363, with an army immensely inferior in numbers, which he attributed to the intercession of Our Lady. Einsiedeln was originally the humble dwelling of the hermit St. Meinrad, a priest and Benedictine, a scion of the house of Hohenzollern. In 861 he was slain in his forest solitude by robbers; later on a church was built on the site of his hermitage, in which an ancient and venerated image of Our Lady was preserved. While the bishop who came to consecrate the church was watching in the sacred edifice during the night preceding the appointed day, he beheld Our Lord Himself perform the ceremony, attended by saints and angels, amid the chanting of celestial choirs. In consequence of this vision, both he, and his successors in the see, with the Papal sanction, desisted from any attempt to consecrate the church. This circumstance, together with the canonization of Meinrad, whose remains were interred at Einsiedeln, and the numerous miracles which were wrought there, brought the spot into great repute as a pilgrimage. During the French revolution the church was burned down, the miraculous image alone escaping injury. The shrine at Altotting dates from a somewhat earlier period, the church having been built by St. Rupert, the Apostle of Bavaria, in 700. A Benedictine monastery was afterwards erected there. Thousands of pilgrims visit the shrine. That of Kevelaer on the Rhine was built in 1642 by a citizen of Geldern, who while at prayer heard a voice commanding him to raise a sanctuary in honor of Our Lady. The number of pilgrims, principally from the adjacent country, who annually visit Kevelaer is also very great.
3. The object for which, as a rule, Christian people visit places of pilgrimage, is to beseech the divine assistance in season of deep affliction, or to fulfil a vow.
When Dom Bosco was cruelly persecuted on account of his efforts to instruct the neglected youth of Turin, and he was at a loss what course to pursue, he made a pilgrimage, and obtained the aid he sought in an unexpected and marvellous manner. God hears our petitions more quickly in places of pilgrimage; they are the audience chamber of the King of kings; there graces are lavishly bestowed. Many sick persons make a vow to undertake a pilgrimage if they are restored to health; the number of ex votos on the walls of these sanctuaries afford evidence of the frequency with which suppliants obtain their cure.
4. A visit to some place of pilgrimage leads many to a complete amendment of life.
The pilgrim on his way to a shrine forgets his worldly cares, and is more diligent in prayer; when he arrives at his destination he makes his confession to a strange priest, and under the influence of the Holy Spirit, makes perhaps a better confession. Pilgrimages are works of penance; they are fatiguing and often expensive. They are also public professions of faith, for no one would undertake them without deep religious convictions. Thus many actual graces are obtained by the devout pilgrim. In former times they were frequently enjoined as penances; sometimes indeed they were abused, and made occasions of sinning more freely, hence the saying: “The more of a pilgrim, the less of a saint.” But what is in itself good must not be rejected because it is sometimes abused; who would condemn the use of wine, because occasionally a man gets drunk? St. Jerome says: “It is no great praise to have seen Jerusalem, but it is very great praise to have offered pious and devout prayers within its walls.”
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This article, PILGRIMAGES is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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