Ok, let’s talk about the big one. Rome is in many ways the centre of the Catholic world. Vatican City, which exists as a separate, walled state within Rome, is home to the Pope and is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. There are many key landmarks situated in the enclave, including the Sistine Chapel, the Apostolic Palace, St. Peter’s Basilica and innumerable museums.
If you choose to take a pilgrimage to Rome, you will be participating in a tradition that dates back many hundreds of years. It was common, for instance, for English monks and the aristocracy to journey to the “holy city”. The Via Francigena is an ancient route that starts in Canterbury in England and travels all the way to the Vatican enclave. Signposting is somewhat poor at the moment but many are undertaking the pilgrimage.
Located in the southwest Pyrenees, Lourdes is one of the best-known and best-loved Catholic pilgrimage sites. There are no official routes but every year thousands of pilgrims descend on the little town.
The story goes that in 1858 Bernadette Soubirous witnessed an appearance of the Virgin Mary. Since then the holy site has become associated with healing and miracles. A statue, supposedly mirroring the way the Virgin appeared, is nestled in a little grotto, at the back of which a small spring runs. The atmosphere at Lourdes is one of genuine peace and community. Mass is given every day and there are various places for pilgrims to stay.
A pilgrimage to Jerusalem is perhaps the jewel in the crown for Catholics. It is arguably the most important city in the world, recognised by all the Abrahamic religions and, similarly, one of the world’s oldest pilgrimage sites. In terms of travel by foot, there are innumerable routes from many locations around the world. In 2006, for instance, two hikers set out to follow the “Templar Trail”, walking from Dijon, in France along an ancient route that the crusaders would have taken. Similarly, any of the big European trails could act as a foundation for trekking to Jerusalem.
Such a trip, of course, is not to be undertaken lightly. Many will find that more modern methods of travel are to their taste. Visiting will probably be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people and there are countless religious holy sites contained within the city. For Christians, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Temple Mount will be amongst the most important.
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