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In religion and spirituality, a pilgrimage is a long journey or search of great moral significance. Sometimes, it is a journey to a shrine of importance to a person's beliefs and faith. Members of many major religions participate in pilgrimages. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim.

Buddhism offers four sites of pilgrimage: the Buddha's birthplace at Lumbinimarker, the site where he attained Enlightenment at Bodh Gayamarker, where he first preached at Sarnathmarker, and where he achieved Parinirvana at Kusinagaramarker.

The Holy Land acts as a focal point for the pilgrimages of the Abrahamic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the Bahá'í Faith.

In the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the visitation of certain ancient cult-centers was repressed in the 7th century BCE, when worship was restricted to YHWH at the temple in Jerusalemmarker. In Syriamarker, the shrine of Astarte at the headwater spring of the river Adonis survived until it was destroyed by order of Emperor Constantine in the 4th century.

In mainland Greecemarker, a stream of individuals made their way to Delphimarker or the oracle of Zeus at Dodonamarker, and once every four years, at the period of the Olympic games, the temple of Zeus at Olympia formed the goal of swarms of pilgrims from every part of the Hellenic world. When Alexander the Great reached Egypt, he put his whole vast enterprise on hold, while he made his way with a small band deep into the Libyan desert, to consult the oracle of Ammun. During the imperium of his Ptolemaic heirs, the shrine of Isis at Philaemarker received many votive inscriptions from Greeks on behalf of their kindred far away at home.

Although a pilgrimage is normally viewed in the context of religion, the personality cults cultivated by communist leaders ironically gave birth to pilgrimages of their own. Prior to the demise of the USSRmarker in 1991, a visit to Lenin's Mausoleummarker in Red Squaremarker, Moscowmarker can be said to have had all the characteristics exhibiting a pilgrimage—for Communists. This type of pilgrimage to a personality cult is still evident today on people who pay visits of homage to Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung, and Ho Chi Minh.

Pilgrimage centres in various times and cultures


Many ancient religions had holy sites, temples and groves, where pilgrimages were made.

Bahá'í Faith

Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, decreed pilgrimage to two places in his book of laws, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas: the House of Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad, Iraqmarker, and the House of the Báb in Shiraz, Iranmarker. He, later, prescribed specific rites for each of these pilgrimages in two other religious texts. Later, `Abdu'l-Bahá designated the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláhmarker at Bahji, Israel as a site of pilgrimage, for which there are no rites.

Since Bahá'ís do not have access to the original two places designated as sites for pilgrimage, Bahá'í pilgrimage currently consists of visiting the holy places in Haifamarker, Acremarker, and Bahjímarker at the Bahá'í World Centremarker in Northwest Israel. Bahá'ís can apply to join an organized nine-day pilgrimage where they are taken to visit the various holy sites, or attend a shorter three-day pilgrimage.


Gautama Buddha spoke of the four sites most worthy of pilgrimage for his followers to visit:

Other pilgrimage places in India and Nepal connected to the life of Gautama Buddha are: Savatthimarker, Pataliputtamarker, Nalandamarker, Gayamarker, Vesalimarker, Sankasia, Kapilavastumarker, Kosambimarker, Rajagaha, Varanasimarker.

Other famous places for Buddhist pilgrimage in various countries include:


Christian pilgrimage was first made to sites connected with the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Surviving descriptions of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land date from the 4th century, when pilgrimage was encouraged by church fathers like Saint Jerome. Pilgrimages also began to be made to Romemarker and other sites associated with the Apostles, Saints and Christian martyrs, as well as to places where there have been apparition of the Virgin Mary.

Major Christian pilgrimage sites


Pilgrim in Pashupatinat.
Hindus are required to undertake pilgrimages during their lifetime. Most Hindus who can afford to go on such journeys travel to numerous sites described in the following list.

The last four sites in the list together comprise the Chardham, or four holy pilgrimage destinations. It is believed that travelling to these places leads to moksha, the release from samsara (cycle of rebirths). The holy places of pilgrimage for the Shaktism sect of Hinduism are the Shakti peethas (Temples of Shakti).


The pilgrimage to Meccamarker – the Hajj – is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It should be attempted at least once in the lifetime of all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to do so. It is the most important of all Muslim Pilgrimages, and is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world.

The third religiously sanctioned pilgrimage for Muslims is to the Al Qudsmarker mount in Jerusalem which hosts Al-Aqsa Mosquemarker and the Dome of the Rockmarker.

Another important place for Muslims are the city of Medinamarker, the second holiest place in Islam, in Saudi Arabiamarker, where Muhammad rests, in Al-Masjid al-Nabawimarker (the Mosque of the Prophet).

The Ihram is meant to show equality of all pilgrims in the eyes of God: that there is no difference between a prince and a pauper. Ihram is also symbolic for holy virtue and pardon from all past sins. A place designated for changing into Ihram is called a miqat.

While wearing the Ihram(white robes)in mecca, a pilgrim may not shave, clip their nails, wear perfume, swear or quarrel, hunt, kill any creature, uproot or damage plants, cover the head for men or the face and hands for women, marry, wear shoes over the ankles, perform any dishonest acts or carry weapons. if they do their pilgrimage is uncompleted.


See related article Three pilgrim festivals.

Within Judaism, the Temple in Jerusalemmarker was the center of the Jewish religion, until its destruction in 70 CE, and all adult men who were able were required to visit and offer sacrifices known as the korbanot, particularly during Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.

Following the destruction of the Second Temple and the onset of the diaspora, the centrality of pilgrimage to Jerusalemmarker in Judaism was discontinued. In its place came prayers and rituals hoping for a return to Zion and the accompanying restoration of regular pilgrimages (see Jerusalem, Jews and Judaism).

Until recent centuries, pilgrimage has been a fairly difficult and arduous adventure. But now, Jews from many countries make periodic pilgrimages to the holy sites of their religion.

The western retaining wall of the original temple, known as the Wailing Wallmarker, or Western Wallmarker remains in the Old City of Jerusalem and this has been the most sacred site for religious Jews. Pilgrimage to this area was off-limits from 1948 to 1967, when East Jerusalem was controlled by Jordanmarker.

Some Reform and Conservative Jews who no longer consider themselves exiles, still enjoy visiting Israel even if it is not an official "pilgrimage."


The Sikh religion does not place great importance on pilgrimage. Guru Nanak Dev was asked "Should I go and bathe at pilgrimage places?" and replied:

'God's name is the real pilgrimage place which consists of contemplation of the word of God, and the cultivation of inner knowledge.'

Eventually, however, Amritsarmarker and Harmandir Saheb marker became the centre of the Sikh faith, and if a Sikh goes on pilgrimage it is usually to this place.


The Zoroastrians take pilgrimage trips in India to the 8 Atash Behrams in India and 1 in Yazd.

Secular pilgrimage

In modern usage, the terms pilgrim and pilgrimage have developed in sense to include sites of secular importance. For example, fans of Elvis Presley may choose to visit his home, Gracelandmarker, in Memphis, Tennesseemarker. Similarly one may refer to a cultural center such as Venice as a "tourist Mecca".

Paris Commune

The Père Lachaise Cemeterymarker, where the defenders of the Paris Commune made their last stand and many of them were afterwards summarily executed, is the focus of annual pilgrimages by parties and organizations of the French Left.


In a number of Communist countries, secular pilgrimages were established as an "antidote" to religious pilgrimages, the most famous of which are:


The mausoleum of Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini in Predappio, Italy serves as a pilgrmage site for Italian Neo-Fascists. In post-WWII Germany, considerable efforts were made to prevent Hitler's bunker in Berlin from becoming a similar place of pilgrimage for Neo Nazis.

See also


  1. The Buddha mentions these four pilgrimage sites in the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. See, for instance, Thanissaro (1998)[1] and Vajira & Story (1998)[2].

Further reading

  • The Way of Saint James
  • al-Naqar, Umar. 1972. The Pilgrimage Tradition in West Africa. Khartoum: Khartoum University Press. [includes a map 'African Pilgrimage Routes to Mecca, ca. 1300-1900']
  • Coleman, Simon and John Elsner (1995), Pilgrimage: Past and Present in the World Religions. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Coleman, Simon & John Eade (eds) (2005), Reframing Pilgrimage. Cultures in Motion. London: Routledge.
  • Jackowski, Antoni. 1998. Pielgrzymowanie [Pilgrimage]. Wroclaw: Wydawnictwo Dolnoslaskie.
  • Margry, Peter Jan (ed.) (2008), Shrines and Pilgrimage in the Modern World. New Itineraries into the Sacred. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
  • Sumption, Jonathan. 2002. Pilgrimage: An Image of Mediaeval Religion. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
  • Wolfe, Michael (ed.). 1997. One Thousands Roads to Mecca. New York: Grove Press.
  • Zarnecki, George (1985), The Monastic World: The Contributions of The Orders. pp. 36–66, in Evans, Joan (ed.). 1985. The Flowering of the Middle Ages. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.


  • Kerschbaum & Gattinger, Via Francigena - DVD- Documentation, of a modern pilgrimage to Rome, ISBN 3200005009, Verlag EUROVIA, Vienna 2005

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