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Pilgrimage to the holy sites was one of the most important and influential aspects of Christianity in the Holy Land. With the support and encouragement of the emperors, construction at the holy sites surged. The waves of pilgrims led not only to economic prosperity, but also to a change in the social structure of the land. Many of the pilgrims ultimately settled here, which lent the country a somewhat cosmopolitan air.

The travelogues of the period indicate that the pilgrims relied on guides, and that they also had access to maps. A fine illustration is the mosaic map discovered on the floor of a church at Madaba in Jordan. The highlight of every pilgrimage was the visit to Jerusalem, which included many sites, most of which were marked by churches and memorial buildings associated with the life of Jesus. Other popular pilgrimage destinations were the Galilee and the northern Sea of Galilee, Sebaste and Mt. Gerizim in Samaria, and the route south of Jerusalem toward Bethlehem and Mamre. Some pilgrims even reached Negev and Sinai.

Over the course of the Byzantine period, the list of the holy places expanded. Pagan cult sites and Jewish places of prayer, such as the Tombs of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Tombs of the Maccabees in Modi in, also became destinations for pilgrims. Eventually, these were joined by the burial places of martyrs and other holy men renowned for their piety.

The pilgrim's goal was to arrive at what they saw as the essence of their faith. They believed that through contact with holiness, a measure of protection was passed on to them. To this end, various customs were established, which included prayers and processions, the presentation of the sacred relics, and the reading of relevant scriptural passages. The desire to come in contact with holiness also led to the production of special objects, which are the material expression of the spiritual and ritualistic experience of pilgrimage. These objects contained a blessing (eulogia in Greek), which holy relic or site passed on to the pilgrim and which he or she could take back home.

Pilgrims in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, 19th century
Photo: Underwood & Underwood, Collection of Avraham Hay


In the Days of Jesus |In the Early Church |Pilgrimage |Images & Symbols |Monasticism in the Holy Land

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