Being a Pilgrim Versus Being a Tourist

The photograph you see here is of The Rev. Peter Sills and was taken on the second pilgrimage we made with him. This one began in Lyon, France and ended, for us, in Santiago, Spain. This photo was taken in a cathedral that is not only a thousand years old but also is the place where the very first pilgrimage to Santiago began.

The Rev. Peter Sills in Lyon, France   

The Rev. Peter Sills in Lyon, France


At that time pilgrimages, the custom drawn from Judaism and other religions, were significant religious and spiritual undertakings. The late Middle Ages was the “golden age” for pilgrimages. This is attested to by the fact that there are numerous pilgrimage routes to Santiago.

The St. Nicholas pilgrimage began around 1087. In the early days St. Nicholas was known primarily for his powers as a healer. As I mentioned in the earlier post, he is now known as the forerunner of our Santa Claus.

I want to quote (and paraphrase) from the handbook Peter has sent to us prior to our departure for Italy.

“This pilgrimage has something of that medieval character. As we make our way from Lecce to Bari, we shall reflect on the life of St. Nicholas, and on our own purpose in making this journey; and we shall also enjoy the riches and sights of the places along the say, some of them now regarded as part of the cultural heritage of the world.”

I learned from the very first pilgrimage we made with Peter - from Mont-Saint Michel to Bordeaux - that there is a significant difference between being a tourist and being a pilgrim. Tourism tends to put the desires and needs of the tourist first. The tourist is the subject of the journey. The places and the people along the way are the object.

The pilgrim seeks to reverse this, allowing the places and people to be the subject and the traveller to be the object.

To quote from Peter: “Pilgrims seek to enter into the life of those they visit, using their experiences of God and his saints to illuminate their own experience, seeking parallels between the life of the saint and their own life, and opening themselves to the spiritual experience of the local people, particularly as expressed in their art, architecture and devotion.”

Peter has planned some sort of worship ritual for us every day and there will be a time of shared reflection on the day’s experiences each evening followed by Compline. Eucharist will be celebrated numerous times along the way.

One of the things that draws so many people to St. Paul in Houston is the Gothic architecture of the cathedral. The cathedrals of Europe inspired this “sacred space.” I’m looking forward to the many cathedrals of Italy and hope to share some sense of our shared experience with you.