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|Pilgrims in the past, a short survey
|Sist oppdatert 25.09.2005 15:52|
|The European culture of pilgrimage, with its roots in late antiquity, was introduced into Nordic societies with Christianity. However, because the Christianisation process was uneven, the culture of pilgrimage was not uniform across the region: once established, it was gradually adapted in different local and regional conditions.|
Current scholarship identifies three types of pilgrimage: long-distance, regional and local. All three categories were represented in the Nordic countries. The earliest written evidence concerns long-distance journeys. Rune stones from the tenth century record visits to Jerusalem, but at this early date it is often difficult to determine whether such journeys were pilgrimages or trade and looting expeditions. Together with Rome and Santiago de Compostela, Jerusalem remained the most important distant destination for Nordic pilgrims throughout the medieval period.
Within the Nordic region itself, the shrine of Saint Olav in Trondheim was the oldest known and most important destination for pilgrims. From the mid-eleventh century and onwards Trondheim held a unique position, although the shrine of Saint Brigitta in Vadstena became a serious competitor in the fifteenth century.
There were, of course, several other shrines in the Nordic countries, and some are mentioned in the will made by Queen Margaret of Denmark, Norway and Sweden in 1411. When various types of written sources are combined with references in folk songs and oral tradition, it can be estimated that in Denmark alone there may have been about 720 places of worship.
Incentives for pilgrimage could vary from piety to a desire for adventure. However, according to the miracle stories of Saint Olav, most visits to Trondheim (63 per cent) were connected with healing. Scholars usually distinguish between pilgrimage of supplication, when the pilgrim was seeking a cure, and pilgrimage of gratidude, which was made after a recovery. Towards the end of the middle ages the latter category became the most common, and this development made a wider, less spectacular range of miracles possible. Pilgrims could for instance, give thanks for the return of a missing child, or rescue from shipwreck.
Even in comparison with the rest of Europe, there are unusually rich sources in the Nordic countries for the study of the practical aspects of pilgrimage. Decrees issued by kings and bishops for the protection of pilgrims provide interesting information about the legal position of pilgrims and the hazards they faced.
Another valuable and comprehensive group of sources, remarkable for their vividness and comparable with the best in Europe, are the revelations of Saint Brigitta and the Nordic collections of miracle stories, including those of Saint Olav. These sources reveal how pilgrims travelled, how their finances were arranged, how they were dressed and what rituls preceded their departure. In this respect, at least, pilgrimage in the Nordic region seems in general to have followed the same patterns as those in the rest of Europe.
There are many indications that most people, especially in the later middle ages, made at least one pilgrimage, although the sources cannot provide us with absolute certainty in this matter.
Awareness of pilgrimage and the role of the saints must have permeated all levels of society, and the paintings and scultures of saints still to be found in the medieval churches in the Nordic countries are testament to this.
In their sermons, priests probably encouraged their parishioners to go on pilgrimage and stories about spectacular miracles and new shrines would have been spread by word of mouth.
Thus, the culture of pilgrimage increased spatial mobility within society, and was an important factor in the integration of the Nordic countries into the common Christian culture of Europe.
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