What Is a Pilgrimage?

November 7, 2019  - by 

Throughout history, different cultures around the world have developed sacred journeys called pilgrimages. Pilgrimages are often long and end at a destination of great spiritual or cultural significance. 

These journeys are much more than physical, and a successful pilgrimage means more than reaching a specific destination. The journey allows the pilgrims the chance to focus inward and reach new destinations within themselves. For this reason, pilgrimages are typically centered on values such as sacrifice and reflection.

A group of individuals on a pilgrimage touch a door

Does a pilgrimage have to be religious?

While the most well-known pilgrimages have religious roots and lead to destinations of religious significance, many individuals participate in pilgrimages to get away from the stress of day-to-day life. Some people take pilgrimages as an opportunity to learn more about their ancestry. It is also becoming increasingly common to go on a pilgrimage simply for the newness and adventure of the experience.

Where can I go on a pilgrimage?

Some pilgrimages permit only believers of specific religions, but because pilgrimages are a common practice worldwide, there are many locations to choose from.

Pilgrimage Places: Walk Where Your Ancestors Walked

A person on a pilgrimage in Japan

Why do people go on pilgrimages?

People go on pilgrimages for many reasons, many of which are unique and personal to the individuals themselves. Some of the most common reasons include the following:

  • Seeking miracles. Many people view pilgrimages as an act of devotion that can help them achieve or overcome something in their life that is difficult, such as an illness.
  • Finding forgiveness. Others may go on a pilgrimage to prove genuine sorrow for wrongdoings. It is an act of devotion and sacrifice that they hope will improve their spiritual standing with their deity and help them find peace within themselves.
  • Needing guidance. Pilgrimages provide much time for reflection. Many people go on a pilgrimage to receive insight and guidance for struggles or decisions they may face in life.
  • Wanting adventure. An increasingly popular reason for participating in pilgrimages is for a change of scenery. It is an escape from the everyday humdrum that offers the chance to clear the mind, exercise the body, and expand the horizons.
  • Making connections. Another reason for going on a pilgrimage is to visit the homelands of ancestors. These journeys allow people to experience the culture and climate of certain areas of the world in a unique way.
Girl prays while on a pilgrimage

Every pilgrimage has its own set of experiences and atmospheres. Yet, regardless of the difference in religious focus, it is the embarking on a journey, whether physical or otherwise, that truly makes pilgrimages so significant. They offer hope and healing and a reminder that, in the rich and colorful human family, we are all travelers.

Have you gone on a pilgrimage or journey to discover yourself, seek a better connection with God, or connect with your ancestry and heritage? Write about it on FamilySearch’s Memories so you never forget the experience.

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