Whan that Aprille, with hies shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which virtu engendered is the flour...
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
This week my talk in the "Sense of Place" series dealt with religious and natural places. Most of what I said I've discussed in my April post on Roger W. Stump's classification of sacred spaces and my own classification of individual relationships to sacred space. But a number of people mentioned that they were hoping to hear a good bit about pilgrimages. This surprised and alarmed me, because (a) pilgrimage sites are but one type of sacred cities, which itself is only one part of Stump's seven-fold classification; (b) I don't know that much about pilgrimages. I've read The Canterbury Tales, and I know about Santiago de Compostela from the movie "The Way" and Loreena McKennitt's instrumental track "Santiago," and I can spell Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca which is sort of obligatory for all Muslims). That's about it.
|Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, from Wikipedia|
Just thinking about those three pilgrimages, though, an interesting pattern emerges. None of these stories focuses on the pilgrimage site, the path taken there, or the religion that underlies it.
|Pilgrims to Santiago, from focusmissions.org|
The pilgrimage story (shift to the singular is intentional) is about the encounter with other pilgrims. Consider:
|Malcolm X on his 1964 trip to Mecca, swiped from okayafrica.org|
The miracle of these pilgrimages is not anything supernatural, but creation of diverse communities. In encountering diverse people in meaningful ways, we learn their stories and gain empathy and broader social perspective. Which is what urbanism is all about, too. (I hope my pilgrimage fans come back next week to hear about that.) A good pilgrimage site, like a good city, provides the impelling form that brings people together. And then--magic!--community happens.