restricted access Teaching Pilgrimage through Primary Texts
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Teaching Pilgrimage through Primary Texts
Pilgrimage in the Middle Ages: A Reader. Edited by Brett Edward Whalen. Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures 16. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011.

Pilgrimage is one of the defining features of the Middle Ages. From the late Roman Empire until the Reformation and beyond, Christians were drawn to travel locally and internationally to sacred sites. Brett Edward Whalen's new collection of primary sources offers an excellent overview and selection of detailed accounts of the theory and practice of pilgrimage throughout this entire time period. He also expands the potentially narrow focus of pilgrimage to include "any sort of travel, both local and long-distance, made at least in part for the purpose of religious devotion" (xi). While the text focuses primarily on Christian Europe, it also contains an impressive number of selections from Muslim and Jewish sources.

This anthology is thoughtfully divided into eight thematic chapters that progress more or less chronologically. The editor begins before the Christian era with Pausanias's guide to sacred "pagan" sites in Greece and selections from the first-century Jewish historian Josephus's descriptions of Jerusalem, in addition to Old and New Testament passages that deal with Jerusalem. Jerusalem figures perhaps most prominently among the locales [End Page 375] discussed in the selections throughout the book. As the scene of the most important events in Jesus's life, as well as its obvious significance for Jews and Muslims, Jerusalem has always been a premier destination for religious travelers. Many of the selections deal with the practicalities and problems of traveling to Jerusalem and the consequences of the rise of Islam and the subsequent Crusades. The second chapter deals with the rise of the importance of Rome as a pilgrimage destination but also includes a substantial excerpt from Gregory Tours's sixth-century History of the Franks, which documents the development of local sites of devotion. From the early Middle Ages, both distant, exotic locales and sites within one's own country could serve as sacred points of interest. Whalen interweaves these accounts of pilgrimage with other texts expressing a variety of opinions about such travel and the miracles often associated with the destination, including those such as Claudius of Turin, who in the ninth century expressed serious reservations about such beliefs and activities. Similar sentiments are expressed in the twelfth-century writings of Guibert of Nogent and find voice at the end of this volume in excerpts from the writings of Martin Luther. Conversely, excerpts from handbooks of penance — the "punishment" for sin required as a part of forgiveness — show that many church authorities demanded pilgrimage in certain circumstances. Taken together, this collection does well to reveal the depth and breadth of medieval attitudes, which are far too often dismissed as monolithic and superstitious.

Islam and the relationships among Christians, Muslims, and Jews figure prominently in this anthology. The Holy Land was under the control of Muslim rulers for the majority of the time period, and the relationship between Christians and Muslims before, during, and following the Crusades is thoroughly examined, from both Christian and Muslim texts. The even more complex relationship between Christians and Jews is also explored. Medieval Christians considered themselves in many ways the heirs to the Hebrew past, while at the same time they lived among Jews throughout Europe. This volume contains one account of alleged Host desecration: the belief that Jews wished to steal and torture the consecrated Eucharist from a Christian Mass. These tales were often one chilling way for Christians to locally participate in the "Holy Wars" taking place in the Middle East. Furthermore, miraculous stories of Host desecrations could often lead to new, local sites of veneration.

This volume stands very well on its own. Each chapter, as well as each individual selection, is prefaced by concise and informative introductions, which contextualize each passage at a level appropriate for undergraduates or [End Page 376] graduates. Each passage is followed by a short series of questions that could facilitate class discussion. Since most of the selections are relatively short (one to ten pages long), but clearly contextualized and framed, they could be used to spur discussion...

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