Spiritual Journeys in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe
These essays show that this experience took many forms: a lively imagining of a journey with holy people or to holy places; an «out-of-body» experience such as the revelations of St Bridget of Sweden; guided journeys; meditations upon holy places such as Jerusalem; and travel in reconstructed landscapes, from the Monti Sacri reconstitutions to convent churches. The volume includes an historiographical introduction by the editors and nine case studies of spiritual journeys, drawn from across the late medieval and early modern periods and from different regions of Europe.
Table Of Contents
- About the author(s)/editor(s)
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- List of Figures
- Introduction Soul Travel: Spiritual Journeys in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Jennifer Hillman / Elizabeth Tingle)
- Part I Modes of Spiritual Journeying
- 1 Reading as a Spiritual Journey: St Bridget of Sweden (Mark Edwin Peterson)
- 2 Performing Pilgrimage in Late Medieval Wales (Kathryn Hurlock)
- 3 Participatory Passions: Spiritual Landscapes of Fifteenth-Century Ferrara (Claudia Wardle)
- 4 The Camino de Santiago and the Via dell’Angelo: Historical and Anthropological Contexts of their Routes (Antonella Palumbo)
- 5 Pilgrimage Confraternities and Spiritual Travel in Catholic Reformation France (Elizabeth Tingle)
- Part II Life Writing and Spiritual Travel
- 6 Seeing the Saviour in the Mind’s Eye: Burchard of Mount Sion’s Physical and Spiritual Travels to the Holy Land, c. 1274–1284 (Philip Booth)
- 7 Spiritual Experiences in Portuguese Hagiographies and Sacred Biographies in the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries (Paula Almeida Mendes)
- 8 The ‘Contagiousness of the Sacred’: Writing Spiritual Biographies in Seventeenth-Century Le Puy-en-Vélay (Jennifer Hillman)
- Postscript Spiritual Travel in the Twenty-First Century: Pilgrims or Tourists? (Tom Wilson)
- Notes on Contributors
Figure 4.1. The Miracle of Solidarity between Pilgrims, church of Santa Maria in Piano, Loreto Aprutino (PE), Italy.130
Figure 4.2. St James as Protector and Intercessor before the Virgin Mary, anonymous, Spanish School, seventeenth century, oil on canvas, Museo das Peregrinacións e de Santiago, Santiago de Compostela, La Coruña, Spain.132
Figure 4.3. ‘St James’s Bridge’, detail of the fresco of the Last Judgement, Maestro di Loreto, fourteenth century, church of Santa Maria in Piano, Loreto Aprutino (PE), Italy.133
Figure 4.4. Map of the tratturi, tratturelli, bracci and riposi, drafted by the Commissariato per la reintegra dei tratturi di Foggia, 1959, ASFG.142
Figure 4.5. The exterior of St James’s church, twelfth century, Pietracatella (CB), Italy.143
Figure 4.6. The ancient St James’s church, map (cabreo) of the clergy of Alberona (FG), 1774, Biblioteca Comunale of Barletta, Italy.145
Figure PS.1. The mural to David Bowie opposite Brixton tube station. Source: author’s photograph.
The genesis for this volume of essays was a workshop at the University of Chester in 2016 followed by a conference at De Montfort University, Leicester, in September 2017. We would like to thank the University of Chester and the Society for Renaissance Studies for supporting the event in Chester. We are also grateful to De Montfort University and St Philip’s Centre, Leicester, for hosting the conference in Leicester. Thanks are also due to Professor Philip Soergel for chairing the Leicester conference and adding his wisdom to the proceedings.
Along the way, we received much assistance from archivists and librarians. The Huntington Library in Pasadena CA was generous in its provision of a fellowship, which gave space and resources for some of the work on French confraternities. The Congrégation des Sœurs de l’Enfant Jésus in Paris gave generous access to, and invaluable advice about, manuscripts in their collection.
We are grateful to the British Academy and Wellcome Trust which funded some of the research presented in this volume.
We would also like to thank Philip Dunshea at Peter Lang for his guidance and the two anonymous reviewers for generous and useful advice.
The volume is dedicated to Mary Hillman and Martin Tingle, who have travelled difficult paths in the last year, but who remain great souls.
Soul Travel: Spiritual Journeys in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe
Great is the glee of the enemy of our nature when he sees a soul travelling – even on ways that are lofty and sublime – without caution and without the bridle of someone able to rule and govern.
The Christian tradition has, at its core, spiritual journey. The Passion of Jesus Christ, written in the text of the Gospels as a narrative through Jerusalem from Gethsemane to Golgotha, was relived in the mind of every reader and listener from the first century CE onwards. Almost as early is the tradition of the Christian as a pilgrim, a traveller to places made holy by Christ and his apostles, then by His martyrs and confessor saints. Christians were also allegorical pilgrims, journeying through life from birth to the celestial kingdom. Body and soul travel were and are integral to Christian soteriology. In this volume, we will examine diverse ways in which different traditions have understood and experienced ‘soul travel’, in western Europe, across the period from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
The concept of the spiritual journey gave structure to, and underpinned, life itself in medieval and early modern Europe. Across both the Catholic and Protestant traditions, the path to eternity was fraught; tests of spiritual resilience were part of everyday existence and only the most dedicated souls would endure them. For some, death marked only the ← 1 | 2 → commencement of a new phase of spiritual travel – one pursued in the afterlife, as the soul journeyed through purgatory towards salvation. Indeed, the soul appears to have been imagined as fundamentally nomadic. In some contexts of course, ‘movements’ of the soul were not always spiritually beneficial and were often associated with the passions and sinful emotions or delusions.2 Yet the journeying soul could also yield spiritual fulfilment – whether ‘moving’ towards God during a religious conversion, ‘sailing’ relentlessly towards a mystical divine union, or in other forms of lofty spiritual travel.
Soul travel therefore worked on a number of levels and scales in this period, from purposeful and intensive mystical journeys lasting only hours, to days or weeks, to the timeless and eternal progress of a peripatetic human soul through mortal life and the afterlife. As Dee Dyas reminds us, inner journeys included prayer, dreams, visions and use of the imagination. The first people for whom such journeys were devised were male and female religious as well as anchorites, whose enclosure in monastic communities meant they were unable to travel, whose religious culture ‘commonly insisted that physical stability, together with a corresponding degree of detachment from the world around, was a prerequisite for spiritual growth’.3 Subsequently, lay piety incorporated spiritual travel, sometimes partly from an incapacity to travel such as for women or the infirm, but also because accessing God through the personal interior was advocated by spiritual writers. Some clerics disapproved of physical pilgrimage. Even in the Early Church ‘it was difficult to reconcile sacrally charged space with the universality and spirituality of Jesus’s teachings and Pauline doctrine’ and ‘a thin line of principled objection’ ran through the medieval period, from Gregory of Nyssa to Bernard of Clairvaux.4 In the later Middle Ages, ← 2 | 3 → Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, also questioned the spiritual benefit of holy journeying, reminding Christians that salvation was an inward process better achieved at home; in the devotio moderna tradition, piety was increasingly focused on the eucharist and the interior life of the Christian was a pilgrimage toward eternal life, preferred to setting out physically on the road.5
It is clear that the importance of spiritual pilgrimage grew across the Middle Ages, particularly promoted by the mendicant orders and more especially the Observant Franciscans.6 Because of their strong Christological orientation, the mendicants sponsored new religious sensibilities that gave prominence to the life of Christ as a subject of meditation. This was to be an intimate experience, where the believer was encouraged to use her or his imagination to visualise the sacred events of Christ’s life, in proper sequence and full details, in their appropriate setting. It was to involve all the emotions and self-presencing in metaphorical space and time.7 By the turn of the sixteenth century, humanist criticism of externalities and ‘superstitions’ in religious practice became more prominent as exemplified by Desiderius Erasmus in his 1526 colloquy ‘The Religious Pilgrimage’ in which Ogygius travels to Compostela ‘for the sake of religion’ and returns home ‘full of superstition’ – and discretion and interiority were preferred.8 This trend towards inwardness augmented greatly in the Protestant and Catholic Reformations. Protestant reformers denied the efficacy of intercession, the existence of sacred space and the need for good works to achieve salvation: reading Scripture rather than bodily presence in a physical space, ← 3 | 4 → brought contact with God through the intermediary of the Holy Spirit.9 Catholics retained and restored ritual practice, focused particularly on Christ in the Mass and the intercession of the Virgin Mary. But in both traditions, mental prayer, meditation, conversion and a reformation of life were works of the spirit. The allegorical journey of a Christian soul moving towards heaven remained an important expression of piety and countless devotional works in both confessions used the concept of pilgrimage as spiritual travel to instruct the faithful in doctrine and piety.
In this volume, we examine three types of spiritual journey. First, because of its longevity among Catholic and Protestant traditions, is the imagined pilgrimage, a journey to a sacred destination carried out in the mind. Such visualisation ‘was not only aimed at imagining presence in a particular place, but also motion through it, whether walking through the Temple to meditate on God’s law or following the footsteps of Christ in empathy with his Passion’.10 Textual and visual material aided and guided this activity in various ways. The second type is spiritual journeying in a physical place but conducted in a facsimile landscape. This might be a local reconstruction of a shrine or site, or an allegorical landscape of chapels and altars standing in for real places. The third type is the spiritual or devotional activity of pilgrims on their physical journeys, often supported by confraternities. In its most physical form, pilgrimage necessitated a corporeal journey to a holy site or shrine, but where the soul could also become enriched and spiritually ‘delighted’ by the experience.11 The volume is focused on ‘orthodox’ Christianity. ‘Soul travel’ is not used here in its folkloric sense, that is, journeys culminating in metaphysical connections with non-human or ← 4 | 5 → demonic spirits.12 Soul travel is not an out-of-body experience or a pretend rejection of the body as a shell that limits or impedes spiritual experiences. That would be anti-Christian. Rather, soul travel is used as simpler, prosaic shorthand for signifying the kinds of spiritual journeys Christians might undertake in body and/or soul in the late medieval and early modern periods through the concept of pilgrimage.
Our approach in this volume speaks to the growing body of scholarship on late medieval and early modern pilgrimage which has used anthropological frameworks to recover and interpret pilgrim experiences. The concept of ‘liminality’ first proposed in Edith and Victor Turner’s pioneering analyses of pilgrimage continues to be relevant to the study of spiritual journeys. Pilgrims were, Turner and Turner argued, transitioning through different liminal states as they progressed through the journey to a shrine.13 The concept of soul travel used in this volume is premised on the notion of liminality, because it forces us to confront the fact that pilgrimage was never either corporeal or spiritual, but a confluence of the two. Pilgrimage has often been categorised unhelpfully by historians as either physical or ‘imagined’ – with virtual pilgrimage cast as a consolatory devotional act for those unable or forbidden to travel (generally lay women, or the female religious). In practice, pilgrimage appears to have been more various – conducted with different kinds of physical, external stimuli and requiring varying degrees of sensory, or imagined mental participation. The complexity of pilgrimage as a spiritual journey which, as we shall see, was often undertaken for the enrichment of both body and soul requires a more nuanced approach. Using soul travel as a lens through which to explore pilgrimage will, it is argued here, help us to reconfigure our understanding of spiritual pilgrimage as a devotional act in late medieval and early modern Europe. The case studies presented in this volume of essays also reveal, in a myriad of ways, the types of liminal spaces that practitioners of physical, virtual and imagined pilgrimage might have occupied. ← 5 | 6 →
To provide context for the essays in the volume, we turn next to the origins and evolution of soul travel. The framing historiography and chronology for this volume begins, along with Christianity itself, in Jerusalem and then spreads out across Europe and beyond.
Origins: Imagining Jerusalem and its Passion-Scape
Spiritual journeys to Palestine and guidebooks to inform them are almost as old as Christianity itself. The central importance of Jerusalem for the history of salvation made it the object of intense study and devotion throughout the Middle Ages, which in turn ‘involved a process of imagination not as a means of envisaging entirely new creations but rather as a way of gaining a closer understanding of distant realities’.14 As early as around 380 CE, Egeria’s account of her Holy Land pilgrimage, written for ‘sisters’ who remained at home, shows that there was an active and well-organised religious tourism to the Middle East and a thirst for descriptions of the sites by sedentary Christians.15 Jerusalem was therefore the earliest recorded – and remained the most literarily prominent – destination for spiritual travel in the Middle Ages. Scholarly studies of this tradition have taken three broad directions: examinations of guidebooks and how they were used; explorations of visual and material culture, principally images including maps, replica landscapes and buildings, and their role in virtual travel; and considerations of devotional changes over time and their vision of life as pilgrimage. Here, the latter scholarship will be described only as it informs the other two areas.
Traditionally, literary and historical studies of guidebooks, their authors, contents, influences and uses have been the main field of study for spiritual pilgrimage. In the Encyclopedia of Medieval Pilgrimage, the entry on spiritual pilgrimage privileged the fifteenth century for the emergence of spiritual guides to the Holy Land, stating that at this time ‘a literary genre ← 6 | 7 → of spiritual guidebooks emerged that mapped the holy topography for such imaginary travel in analogy to traditional guidebooks. These texts tended to privilege experiential narratives of sacred places over a mere accounting of them’.16 In fact, there are numerous earlier guides with this objective. As literacy levels rose across the later Middle Ages, devotional texts, including pilgrimage literature and its audiences, increased in number, as the work of Jennifer Bryan has shown for late medieval England.17 Philip Booth’s essay in this volume, ‘Seeing the Saviour in the Mind’s Eye: Burchard of Mount Sion’s Physical and Spiritual Travels to the Holy Land, c. 1274–1284’, provides a study of early pilgrimage accounts which were used for spiritual effect. He observes that the ability of accounts relating to the Holy Land to provoke soul or imagined travel has been clearly documented, but he argues that what has been less clearly discussed is the way in which the pilgrim embarked on similar imagined travels into the biblical past when actually viewing the sites of the Holy Land themselves. Just as reading a pilgrimage text allowed the armchair pilgrim to embark on an imagined pilgrimage, so too seeing the sites of the Holy Land allowed a place-pilgrim to become an imagined pilgrim. Accordingly, the essay examines the relationship between the imagined experiences of ‘stationary’ or ‘armchair’ pilgrims and the imagined experiences of those Holy Land pilgrims who wrote accounts of their travels. Focusing primarily on the writings of Burchard of Mount Sion, Booth shows that mystical connections with the biblical past were as much a part of place-pilgrimage as imagined pilgrimage in the later Middle Ages and illustrates how both place and text served as witnesses of salvation history for these pilgrims.
Richard Newhauser and Arthur Russell argue, however, that between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries, the focus of pilgrimage to the Holy ← 7 | 8 → Land narrowed, from the wider landscape of the Bible to sites relating to the Passion: ‘no longer were pilgrims merely walking in the footsteps of the Master; rather, they were retracing the salvific steps from Pilate’s prison to Calvary’.18 They cite the example of Margery Kempe, who would meditate on the stages of the Passion until she was moved to tears. Margery actually visited the Holy Land but her physical presence there was not the cause of her imaginative and emotional interaction with the sites of the Passion: rather, ‘they live on, as her Book says, in “the city of her soul”’.19 The mendicant orders, particularly the Franciscans, were active promoters of spiritual pilgrimage based on the Passion, and the work by Maureen Bolton and Barry McCann on ‘fictional’ biographies of the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary has shown the importance of narrative theology to late medieval meditative devotions.20 The widely read Giardino de oration of 1454, probably by Nicholas of Osimo, proposed a way of meditating that was described as locative memory:
the devotee had first to visualise Christ’s body in a very detailed way and second, to give shape mentally to the places, lands and rooms where he talked, as well as the people who were, one by one, in his company. When thinking of the Passion he or she was supposed to figure out the urban space of Jerusalem as if it were that of a familiar town … each scene had to be staged and set up in one’s own imagination.21
Such texts abounded in the fifteenth century and there have been numerous analyses of them. For example, Kathryn Rudy’s study of the late fifteenth-century Oxford Queen’s College MS 357 reconstructs how it was used as ← 8 | 9 → an aid to virtual pilgrimage. The manuscript contains Holy Land guides in Latin and English, prayers to be said at specific locations in the Holy City, and illustrations. Rudy argues that this is for spiritual and not physical travel, for while practical guides to Jerusalem followed the topographical layout of the city, spiritual guides such as MS 357 used a different organising principle, that of the chronology of Christ’s life and/or his Passion. Thus, the textual organisation reveals a central premise of Christian pilgrimage, that ‘walking in Christ’s physical footsteps will open the gates to the heavenly Jerusalem for the rest of time’.22 Another example of this genre is the study by Tsafra Siew of an illuminated German manuscript of the 1470s which belonged to the Franciscan monastery at Mainz. The manuscript lists the holy places along the pilgrimage route in and around Jerusalem; each station is represented either by an architectural picture of the site or by a depiction of the historical event that occurred there, accompanied by prayers to be read while looking at the image. For some of the stations on the itinerary, the reader-pilgrim was granted indulgences for saying the relevant prayers, as was the ‘real’ Jerusalem pilgrim at the corresponding sites.23 Such examples of devotional textual aids could be multiplied.
Nuns were frequent spiritual pilgrims, for enclosure confined them to convents.24 Many works were produced for female religious use. The account of the Jerusalem pilgrim and Dominican friar Felix Fabri, prepared in 1492 and often known as Sionpilger, offered a guidebook for imagined journeys for the sisters of the convents of Medingen and Medlingen. This has been studied in detail by Kathryne Beebe. Fabri divided the Sionpilger into 208 ← 9 | 10 → daily readings or ‘journeys’. The Rules given in the preface recommend that the virtual pilgrim consult the text before going to sleep in order to prepare for the next day’s journey. Provision was made for those who could not read but who listened to the guide. For example, Rule XIII allowed that if the virtual pilgrim could not read the Latin Psalter, she (or he) could substitute five or six Pater Nosters and Ave Marias for the daily psalm.25
As well as texts, historians have been increasingly interested in visual representations of the Holy Land and how these were used for spiritual pilgrimage. Kathryn Rudy suggests that ‘The Jerusalem cityscapes offer a uniquely intense empathetic experience by offering the viewer the sense of being on a virtual pilgrimage, of being within the image rather than merely a viewer of it’.26 Some of these are early in date. Thomas O’Loughlin, for example, argues that the plans of Jerusalem included in the treatise De locis sanctis by Adomnán, abbot of Iona, were ‘a response to the needs and assumptions of the seventh-century monastic community of Iona, which knew of the buildings and topography of Jerusalem primarily through textual descriptions in the Bible and later commentaries and accounts’; Adomnán presented his work as based on the accounts of a certain Arculf, who had visited the Holy Land in person.27 However, it was from the central Middle Ages and especially after 1400 that the rise in popularity of mental pilgrimage encouraged the creation of new images, plans and cityscapes of Jerusalem, often adapted from the real life layout, for the easier comprehension of the virtual rather than the real traveller.28 ← 10 | 11 →
One of the best-known – and best-studied – examples is by the Benedictine monk of St Albans, Matthew Paris. In around 1250, Paris produced a set of maps to accompany his history of the world, Chronica Majora, which allowed the reader to make a visit to Jerusalem. The destined audience was not physical pilgrims but his fellow monks at home in England. Daniel Connolly’s work shows how Paris’s maps physically and visually conveyed the experience of a journey to Jerusalem. Readers were provided with a daily itinerary, together with accompanying lessons on Christian and imperial history.29 Paris deployed the turning of their pages
to progress through that space … manipulating the flaps, reading aloud, turning the pages, engaged the body of the reader and created for their users, the experience of virtual travel through their spaces. … a series of cities linked to each other emphatically leading to the centre of Christendom at Jerusalem.30
The routes always begin at the lower edge of the book and move up the page; at a passage’s end, there is some natural feature, a river or a mountain range, and the turning of the page crosses its space. The physicality was to ‘excite both visual and aural senses’ and ‘created an experience of virtual travel for his fellow brethren. The pages thereby helped to create the devotional experience of an imagined or spiritual pilgrimage to Jerusalem’.31 One of the most popular guides, real and virtual, was the 1486 pilgrimage account of Bernhard von Breydenbach, Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam, with woodcuts produced by Erhard Reuwich actually en route. This was the first illustrated guide to the Holy Land. Its impact is shown in the twelve ← 11 | 12 → reprints of the work down to 1522 and the use of the woodcuts in several centres across Europe.32
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw a number of processes at work which reduced the opportunity for European pilgrims to visit the Holy Land. The Ottoman invasion of the Balkans and eastern Mediterranean, Protestant Reformation in central and northern Europe, wars and economic instability throughout the region, all reduced pilgrim traffic. However, the period saw increased popularity in spiritual travel as Marie-Christine Gomez-Géraud’s study of more than eighty early modern pilgrimage accounts has shown.33 Wes Williams argues that in early modern period,
Jerusalem gradually ceases to exist as a primarily real place in the European imagination, a place to be seen, witnessed and described in situ. It is gradually replaced by an imagined Jerusalem conjured up by description; less a place than a topic, part of a narrative or devotional sequence: a means to prayer and a prelude to the expression of desire.34
He shows that the expansion of print allowed even greater numbers of people who had never travelled to experience an imagined Jerusalem; in any case, many of these believed that the true pilgrimage was that undertaken in the mind.35 The aim was ‘the individual’s cultivation of the self, in private, and according to regulatory systems of meditation, articulated by means of directed reading’.36
There are examples of such texts in Latin and vernacular languages, particularly for Catholic use. Nicolas de Leuze’s reworking of Jean Pascha’s La Peregrination spirituelle vers la terre saincte, a day-by-day, year-long guide ← 12 | 13 → to meditation in the form of a journey to Jerusalem, is just one of many pilgrim texts of the mid- to late sixteenth century designed for the spiritual traveller.37 From the early seventeenth century date Louis Balourdet’s La guide des Chemins pour le voyage de Hierusalem, et autres villes et lieux de la Terre Saincte (1601) and Henri de Castela’s La guide et adresse pour ceux qui veulent faire le S. voyage de Hierusalem (1604).38 The practice of harnessing the imagination to undertake spiritual journeys was central to Jesuit spirituality in particular. The Jesuit technique of constructing biblical scenes in the mind – the composition of place (or compositio loci) – was the cornerstone of Ignatius Loyola’s (1491–1556) Spiritual Exercises and was adapted by the writers of devotional guides. More directly aimed at the spiritual traveller were works by Luis de Granada (1501–88), Guía de pecadores and Vida de Cristo: para conocer, amar e imitar a nuestro Señor. Williams argues that ‘the text is structured as a journey towards Jerusalem, but the devotional pilgrim learns not by progressing merrily along the road, so much as by encountering and overcoming obstacles to forward movement’.39 For Williams, ‘the rhetoric of travel is redirected to construct an internally impregnable space within the body of the immobile believer’ and that this is a spiritual guide is shown by its address to young women, who were the least likely social group to undertake a long-distance pilgrimage overseas.40 Such texts were certainly meditational. The English version of Jan van Paeschen, The spiritual pilgrimage of Hierusalem, containing three hundre sixtie five dayes iourney, wherein the devoute person may meditate on sondrie pointes of his redemption. With particular declaration of divers saints bodies and holy places which are to be seene in the said voyage (Brussels, 1604–1605) was clearly for daily use at home.
The very act of writing an account of a pilgrimage, in order to remember it in the spirit, either for oneself or for one’s immediate family or religious community, also increased from the later fifteenth century. Fabri, Breydenbach and other travellers to Jerusalem wrote and disseminated ← 13 | 14 → accounts of their pilgrimage for others to use. But Anne-Sophie Germain de Franceschi has shown that in France at least across the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, there was also a growth in private, manuscript accounts, some of which were disseminated but others were private, intimate documents.41 Jerusalem was at the heart of spiritual pilgrimage and soul travel, throughout the medieval and early modern periods.
Beyond Jerusalem: Spiritual Pilgrimage and European Shrines in the Later Middle Ages and Reformation Period
Spiritual Pilgrimage and European Shrines
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2019 (May)
- Catholic Reformation Medieval Church Soul Travel Spiritual journeys Pilgrimage
- Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2019. XVI, 282 pp., 7 fig. col.