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For other uses of the word pilgrimage, see Pilgrimage (disambiguation).
Pilgrim at Mecca
Pilgrim at Mecca

A pilgrimage is a term primarily used in religion and spirituality of a long journey or search of great moral significance. Sometimes, it is a journey to a sacred place or shrine of importance to a person's beliefs and faith. Members of every religion participate in pilgrimages. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim.

Secular and civic pilgrimages are also practiced, without regard for religion but rather of importance to a particular society. For example, many people throughout the world travel to the City of Washington in the United States for a pilgrimage to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. British people often make pilgrimages to London for public appearances of the monarch of the United Kingdom.

Pop culture has also sought to redefine pilgrimages, defining a demoscene party as a pilgrimage.



Many ancient religions had holy sites, temples and groves, where pilgrimages were made.

Bahá'í Faith

Bahá'u'lláh decreed pilgrimage in His Motherbook (Kitáb-i-Aqdas) to two places: the House of Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad, Iraq, and the House of the Báb in Shiraz, Iran. In two separate Tablets, known as Suriy-i-Hajj, He prescribed specific rites for each of these pilgrimages (lifting the injunction regarding the shaving of one's head for pilgrimage in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas). It is obligatory to make the pilgrimage, "if one can afford it and is able to do so, and if no obstacle stands in one's way". Bahá'ís are free to choose between the two Houses, as either has been deemed sufficient. And although women are not bound to perform pilgrimage, they are certainly not prohibited to do so.

Later, `Abdu'l-Bahá designated the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh at Bahji (the Qiblih) as a site of visitation. No rites have been prescribed for this.


Gautama Buddha spoke of four holy sites that followers may seek.

Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimages include:


Pilgrimages were first made to sites connected with the life, birth and crucifixion of Jesus. Surviving descriptions of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land date from the 4th century, when pilgrimage was encouraged by church fathers like Saint Jerome. Pilgrimages also began to be made to Rome and other sites associated with the Apostles, Saints and Christian martyrs, as well as to places where there have been alleged apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

The second largest single pilgrimage in the history of Christendom was to the Funeral of Pope John Paul II after his death on April 2, 2005. An estimated four million people travelled to Vatican City, in addition to the almost three million people already living in Rome, to see the body of Pope John Paul II lie in state.

World Youth Day is a major Catholic Pilgrimage, specifically for people aged 16-35. It is held internationally every 2-3 years. In 2005, young Roman Catholics visited Cologne, Germany. In 1995, the largest gathering of all time was to World Youth Day in Manilla, The Phillipines, where four million people from all over the world attended.

The major Christian pilgrimage sites are:

Other important Christian pilgrimage sites include:


The first four sites in the list above together comprise the Chardham, or four holy pilgrimage destinations. It is believed that travelling to these places leads to moksha, the release from samsara (cycle of rebirths). Vrindavan is most important place of pilgrimage for every Vaishnava, especially for the followers of Gaudiya Vaishnavism who regard Krishna as the original Personality of Godhead (God). Here one can attain love of God (prema).



Pilgrimage to Mecca – the hajj – is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It should be attempted at least once in the lifetime of all able-bodied Muslims.

In addition to that most of the Shiite Muslims undertake a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mashhad in northeastern part of Iran.


Local Pilgrimage traditions - those undertaken as ziarah visits to local graves, are found throughout Muslim countries. In some countries, the graves of saints and heroes have very strong ziarah traditions as visiting the graves at auspicious times is a display of national and community identity.

Some traditions within Islam have negative attitudes towards grave visiting.


Adishwar Temple, Delwada Abu
Adishwar Temple, Delwada Abu

In Jainism, a tirtha may be

Geographically the Jain Tirthas can be divided into Six Quarters:


See related article Three pilgrim festivals.

Within Judaism, the Temple in Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish religion, until its destruction in 70 AD, and all who were able were under obligation to visit and offer sacrifices known as the korbanot, particularly during the Jewish holidays in Jerusalem.

Following the destruction of the Second Temple and the onset of the diaspora, the centrality of pilgrimage to Jerusalem in Judaism was discontinued. In its place came prayers and rituals hoping for a reurn to Zion, see Jerusalem, Jews and Judaism.

It wasn't until fairly recently that pilgramage has now become a possibility for the World's Jewish population. Besides the residents of the modern State of Israel, Jews from many countries make periodic pilgrimages to the holy sites of their religion.

The Western retaining wall of the original temple, known as the Wailing Wall, or Western Wall remains in the Old City of Jerusalem and this has been the most sacred sight for Zionist Jews. This has only recently been open for Jews, when in 1967 Israel claimed ownership of Jerusalem.

Some Reform and Conservative Jews who no longer consider themselves exiles, still enjoy visiting Israel even if it is not an official "pilgramage."

Other Holy Sites for Jews in Israel:

Gamla mountain in the Golan Heights Masada in the Judean Desert

Other Holy Sites for Jews in Other Countries:

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov's Burial Site in Uman, Ukraine


The concept of pilgrimage was also found in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Important pilgrimage sites included:

  • Teotihuacan (still visited centuries after its buildings fell to ruin), said to be where the gods gathered to plan the creation of mankind
  • Chichen Itza, especially the sacred cenote, a natural well sacred to the rain god Chac, into which sacrifices were thrown.
  • Izamal, sacred to the creator god Itzamna
  • Cozumel, sacred to Ix Chel, goddess of the moon and childbirth

See also

Further reading

  • al-Naqar, Umar. 1972. The Pilgrimage Tradition in West Africa. Khartoum: Khartoum University Press. [includes a map 'African Pilgrimage Routes to Mecca, ca. 1300-1900']
  • Coleman, Simon and John Elsner. "Pilgrimage: Past and Present in the World Religions." Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.
  • Jackowski, Antoni. 1998. Pielgrzymowanie [Pilgrimage]. Wroclaw: Wydawnictwo Dolnoslaskie.
  • Wolfe, Michael (ed.). 1997. One Thousands Roads to Mecca. New York: Grove Press
  • Sumption, Jonathan. 2002. Pilgrimage: An Image of Mediaeval Religion. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
  • Zarnecki, George. 1985. The Monastic World: The Contributions of The Orders. pp. 36-66, in Evans, Joan (ed.). 1985. The Flowering of the Middle Ages. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

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