Growth of the Pilgrimage

    The enthusiasm for pilgrimage could be checked neither by the voice of saint nor by common sense. From the depths of the German forests, from the banks of the Seine and the bleak shores of Britain, as well as from the cities of southern Europe, poured the incessant streams of humanity, to bathe in the waters of the Jordan where their Lord was baptized, or perchance to die at the tomb which witnessed his resurrection.

    As early as the fourth century itineraries were published to guide the feet of the pious across the countries of Europe and Asia Minor; hospitals were also established along the road, the support of which by those who stayed at home was regarded as specially meritorious in the sight of Heaven.

    In 611 Chosroes the Persian and Zoroastrian captured Jerusalem, slaughtered ninety thousand Christian residents and pilgrims, and, more lamentable in the estimate of that age, carried off the wood of the true cross. But Heraclius, the Greek emperor, after a ten years' war triumphed over the Persian power. Neither conquered lands nor the spoils of princely tents compared in stirring enthusiasm with the recapture of this relic. With great pomp the emperor left a part of the cross to glorify his capital, Constantinople. On September 14, 629, Heraclius entered Jerusalem, bearing, like Simon the Cyrenian, the remainder of the sacred beams upon his back. With bare feet and in ragged garments he traversed the city and reerected the symbol of the world's faith upon the assumed site of Calvary. This event is still commemorated throughout the Roman Catholic world by the annual festival of the " exaltation of the holy cross."

    Marvellous stories, the innocent exaggerations of weak minds or the designed invention of less conscionable shrewdness, fed the credulity of the people. Bishop Arculf told of having seen the three tabernacles still standing upon the Mount of Transfiguration. Bernard of Brittany as an eye-witness described the angel who came from heaven each Easter morn to light the lamp above the Holy Sepulchre.

    At the opening of the ninth century the friendship of Haroun-al-Raschid, King of Persia, for Charlemagne extended the privileges of pilgrims. The keys of the sepulchre of Jesus were sent by him as a royal gift to the Emperor of the West. Charle magne's capitularies contain references to " alms sent to Jerusalem to repair the churches of God," and to provide lodging, with fire and water, to pilgrims en route.

    The cruel persecution by Mad Hakem, the caliph of Egypt , made scarcely an eddy in the current of humanity moving eastward. Counts and dukes vied with prelates in the multitude of their companions. In 1054 the Bishop of Cambray started with a band of three thousand fellow-pilgrims. In 1064 the Archbishop of Mayence followed with ten thousand, nearly half of whom perished by the way.

    In the latter part of the eleventh century, as has been related, the strong hand of the Turk first effectually checked the pilgrims. The horrors of the atrocities perpetrated by this new Mohammedan power afflicted Europe less than the cessation of the popular movement. The evil was twofold, secular and spiritual.

    Pilgrimage was often a lucrative business as well as a pious performance. In the intervals of his visits to the sacred places the European sojourner plied his calling as a tradesman ; the Franks held a market before the Church of St. Mary ; the Venetians, Genoese, and Pisans had stores in Jerusalem and the coast cities of Phenicia. The courtiers of Europe dressed in the rich stuffs sent from Asia, and drank the wine of Gaza. A great traffic was done in relics. The pilgrim returned having in his wallet the credited bones of martyrs, bits of stone from sacred sites, splinters from furniture and shreds of garments made holy by association with the saints. These were sold to the wealthy and to churches, and their value augmented from year to year by reason of the fables which grew about them.

    In more generous minds the passion for pilgrimage was fed by the desire for increased knowledge. Travel was the only compensation for the lack of books. One became measurably learned by visiting, while going to and returning from Palestine, such cities as Constantinople or Alexandria, to say nothing of the enlightening intercourse with one's fellow- Europeans while passing through their lands.

    Mere love of change and adventure also led many to take the staff. If in our advanced civilization men cannot entirely divest themselves of the nomadic habit, but tramp and tourist are everywhere, we need not be surprised at the numbers of those who indulged this passion in days when home life was exceedingly monotonous and its entertainment as meagre.

    But the chief incentive to pilgrimage was doubtless the supposed merit of treading the very footprints of our Lord. Not only was forgiveness of sins secured by kneeling on the site of Calvary, but to die en route was to fall in the open gateway of heaven, one's travel- soiled shirt becoming a shroud which would honor the hands of angels convoying the redeemed soul to the blissful abodes. Great criminals thus penanced their crimes. Frotmonde, the murderer, his brow marked with ashes and his clothes cut after the fashion of a winding-sheet, tramped the streets of Jerusalem, the desert of Arabia, and homeward along the North African coast, only to be commanded by Pope Benedict III. to repeat his penance on even a larger scale, after which he was received as a saint. Foulques of Anjou, who had brought his brother to death in a dungeon, found that three such journeys were necessary to wear away the guilt-mark from his conscience. Robert of Normandy, the father of William the Conqueror, as penance for crime walked barefoot the entire distance, accompanied by many knights and barons. When Cencius assaulted Pope Hildebrand, the pontiff uttered these words : " Thy injuries against myself I freely pardon. Thy sins against God, against His mother, His apostles, and His whole church, must be expiated. Go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem."

    We are thus prepared to appreciate the incentive to the crusades which men of all classes found in the speech of Pope Urban at Clermont, in inaugurating the movement : " Take ye, then, the road to Jerusalem for the remission of sins, and depart assured of the imperishable glory which awaits you in the kingdom of heaven."