There is no decisive evidence as to the exact date when the custom of pilgrimages to the Holy Land first obtained in the Christian Church. To the early Christians Jerusalem may well have seemed the city of the wrath rather than of the love of God. To them it was rather the scene of the death than of the resurrection of Christ, and its sacred associations were perhaps obliterated in horror at its profanation with heathen worship under the Roman name of Aelia Capitolina.
But when Christianity found a champion in Constantine the Great, Jerusalem began to raise its head among the cities of the world. The piety of this Emperor or his mother, Helena, built churches on the traditional scenes of Our Lord's birth and burial ; traditional only, since the almost coeval legend of the Invention of the Cross shows clearly that all exact knowledge had been . lost. Constantine himself is credited with the intention of a visit to the Holy Land, and from this time we can trace the history of the sacred pilgrimages from century to century. That emperor was yet alive when a pilgrim from Bordeaux made the journey by land to Jerusalem, and left a record which still survives. In the Holy City he saw the pool of Solomon, the pinnacle whence Satan tempted Christ to throw Himself, and the little hill of Golgotha, which was the scene of the Crucifixion. At other places, too, he notes with care whatever events in Scripture history had made them famous. Clearly men were already seeking to identify the chief scenes of the sacred narrative, although in their credulity they were ready to accept whatever absurdities invention might offer ; such, for instance, as the sycamore tree into which Zacchaeus had climbed.
By the end of the fourth century the practice pilgrimages had so much increased as to give rise to the custom of collecting alms for the relief of the poor at Jerusalem. It was well, contended St. Jerome, that men should reverence holy shrines and relics. That saint himself, when forced to leave Rome, made his home in the Holy Land, and there his noble patroness, Paula, came to see him, and visit in his company Elijah's tower at Sarepta, the house of Cornelius at Caesarea, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron. Paula herself wrote afterwards to her friend Marcella : " We do not doubt that there are holy men elsewhere than here, but it is here that the foremost of the whole world are gathered together. Here are Gauls and Britons, Persians and Armenians, Indians and ^Ethiopians, all dwelling in love and harmony." In Jerome's time Jerusalem already possessed so many sacred places that the stranger could not visit them in a single day. A hundred and fifty years later, after the city had been adorned by the splendid buildings of Justinian, they cannot have been less in number.