Sunday, 23 September 2007

Modern pilgrimage?

Gadling has a neat story about the famous stall where Republican Senator Larry Craig was arrested. It seems to have become a tourist attraction.

A nice bit of trivia, but it got me thinking. What's really different between having your feet photographed in the celebrated toilet stall, and going to see blood spattered bits of Thomas a Becket, or a finger of Santa Rosalia?

Sure, there' a theological underpinning to pilgrimage. But it's always struck me that the early church actually hated both relics and pilgrimages - even in the Middle Ages many thinkers were deeply uneasy with the reality of relics and pilgrim travel. When Erasmus objected to the cult of relics he was not being revolutionary or Reformist - he was drawing on a long tradition of objection. In fact you could see a lot of the arguments in favour of relics and pilgrimage as justifying, after the fact, a trend that had already begun without benefit of clergy.

Some medieval (and later) pilgrimages do seem to have sprung up in just the same way as this 'toilet stall pilgrimage' - almost spontaneously.  And they seem to be about the same thing in human nature - a desire to be associated in some way with the great, the celebrated, the famous. A desire to touch something bigger or more renowned than oneself. That may be rather frivolous (as in the Larry Craig case) or deeply spiritual (the 'pilgrimage' to Little Gidding), but the roots of that desire are the same.

I wonder if some of our desire for wilderness stems from the same desire. For an age in which authorised gods don't have much appeal, the wilderness can take the place of that thing bigger than ourselves...

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