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What is a pilgrimage?

Pilgrimaging is an ancient practice consisting of an oftentimes prolonged journey, either on foot or on horseback, toward a specific destination considered to be exceptionally significant. Shared by women and men of all races and creeds at least since the year 9,500 BCE, pilgrimages have shaped cultures and helped establish contact between peoples and civilizations, thus contributing to the spread of knowledge and (in some instances) universal understanding.

The English word pilgrimage comes from the Latin peregrinatio, which strictly translates “to travel abroad,” most of the time to an unknown place –or, at least, to a place one has never been before. Only later the word acquired its religious overtones, meaning a journey to a place considered sacred.

Anthropologists, archaeologists, and other scientists have repeatedly pointed out that, since the very dawn of human history, men and women all around the globe have gone on pilgrimages. Early pilgrimage chronicles share the same overtones: the pilgrim marches towards an ideal goal, looking for something transcendent. The very idea of pilgrimaging is thus related with the abandonment of one’s own comfort and well-being to embark on a different existential experience, and with the overcoming of the cycles of everyday life.

All pilgrimages share at least three fundamental elements: an underlying motivation, a goal, and a path that leads to said goal. However, not every trip is a pilgrimage. Most mythical and epic narratives (the Odyssey, the trip of the Argonauts, et cetera) do not necessarily check all the boxes. Pilgrimages necessarily include a l dimension that turns the actual path into a spiritual-inner-personal search for transcendence.

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