The Biblical Lands
"No other sentiment draws men to Jerusalem [and Bethlehem and Nazareth] than the desire to see and touch the places where Christ was physically present, and to be able to say from our very own experience, 'we have … adored in the very places where his feet have stood,' " Paulinus of Nola wrote in the early 400s. That's still true today, while others are drawn to Greece and Turkey, the setting for two-thirds of the New Testament (but of fewer medieval pilgrim paths).
"Who to Rome goes / Much labor, little profit knows; / For God, on earth though long you've sought him, / You'll miss in Rome unless you've brought him." So a curmudgeonly Irish monk wrote in the 800s. Many committed Protestants might feel the same, but the burial place of Peter and Paul, the catacombs, and other sites have ecumenical appeal. Historian Ian Bradley issues this warning: "To some extent [Rome] turns pilgrims into tourists."
Santiago de Compostela
The European Union and other groups have done much to support the camino ("way" or "path") to the shrine of the apostle James in northern Spain. Actually, there are several caminos, and the number of pilgrims walking at least 62 miles (or biking 125) of them has quadrupled in the last two decades to more than 100,000 annually. Read The Way Is Made by Walking (InterVarsity Press, 2007) by Mennonite pastor Arthur Paul Boers to see what it offers.
The tiny island off of Scotland was a center for Celtic monasticism and has drawn pilgrims since Columba arrived in 563. Along with Taizé, it is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites for Protestants, though no ancient buildings or relics remain. Work is under way to create a "Pilgrim Way" footpath between the island and Scotland's other big pilgrim site, Saint Andrews. It won't recreate a historic pilgrim trail, but when else could you be one of the first to walk a pilgrim road?
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This story is part of our cover package on the surprising rewards of Christian travel. Other stories in the package include "He Talked to Us on the Road" and "Pilgrimage Today."
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