- The Road to Jerusalem: Pilgrimage and Travel in the Age of Discovery
F. Thomas Noonan’s The Road to Jerusalem: Pilgrimage and Travel in the Age of Discovery traces the genre of pilgrimage literature throughout the early modern period. His subject is situated at the intersection of many important changes that mark the developing modern West, including the invention and expansion of print, the Age of Exploration, the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, the Enlightenment, and Europe’s changing relationships with the world at large. Using Chateaubriand’s lament that the old practice of making the pious journey to the Holy Land was one of many casualties of the Enlightenment and the Revolution as a starting point, Noonan argues that in reality pilgrimage and pilgrimage literature had retained their vitality throughout the early modern period, albeit in altered [End Page 600] forms. “Pilgrimage survived not as detritus or stored furniture or object of curiosity, but as that which it had always been—a vital form of travel—while at the same time undergoing great evolution and alteration because of a changing historical context which included a changing context of travel itself” (14).
Noonan contends that in medieval Europe “to travel is to be a pilgrim” (8), and the close relationship between pilgrimage and travel in premodern Europe is one of the recurring themes of the book. The rendering of so many classic and contemporary pilgrimage accounts into print in the years immediately following the advent of the press provides evidence for the continued importance of pilgrimage in European culture at the end of the Middle Ages. This importance was being challenged, however, by the latest voyages of discovery and the upheaval in religious culture that created new social, cultural, and economic contexts for travel to take place. Because pilgrimage had been closely associated with travel for so long, “pilgrimage remained the literature of travel” for centuries after new reasons for travel emerged (51).
One of the hallmarks of the early modern period is the shifting role of Christianity in Western society and culture. Some have perceived it as a process of “secularization” or, to use Max Weber’s famous phrase, “disenchantment.” Chateaubriand certainly had a sense of this disenchantment when he expressed his regrets at the apparent decline in pilgrimage during his own time. The disenchantment was more nuanced than a declining belief in an active role of the supernatural in the physical world; it was also part of a broader change in attitudes toward traditional rituals and their spiritual benefits. The Protestant Reformation was an important part of this change, as polemical writers placed pilgrimage in the category of useless, albeit lucrative, superstitions. “Pilgrimage stands forth as a seamless web, a devouring, world-wide menace and conspiracy that fattens the purses of monks, clerics, and the pope himself” (86). This fits into a larger redefinition of travel in the early modern period. “Debate over pilgrimage was not simply debate over points of devotional theology. . . . It was also a debate about man-at-large-in-the-world. It was about destinations and about reasons for going far away from home” (99). This trend is evident in Protestant accounts of travels to the Holy Land, which were consciously stripped of their references to Catholic tradition.
At the same time, the Holy Land was becoming increasingly inaccessible because of growing Ottoman power. Noonan documents how the genre of pilgrimage retained its vitality through “the replacement of the Holy Land by its substitutes” such as Santiago de Compostela, Loreto (a shrine in Naples that was supposedly the house in which the Holy Family lived while in Nazareth), New World shrines, and of course Rome (113). The Baroque piety of the Counter-Reformation breathed new life into this older tradition. As with travel in general, however, the genre expanded to include new places and new motives. Noonan concludes with a return to Chateaubriand’s own pilgrimage to the Holy Land and suggests that by framing his Itinéraire as a mémoire instead of...