Medieval Couch Potato Pilgrimage

Do you watch travel programs on TV? If you do you’re not alone. Many watch to research possible trips or vicariously see places they may never visit. With my broken ankle I’ve been doing that since I won’t be traveling anywhere soon. I’m running away from my couch-bound life and winter’s dreary days. A pilgrimage of sorts.

In the middle ages when people were unable to go on pilgrimage, they could do a similar thing. They went on a virtual trip using guides and maps. A spiritual journey for personal transformation without ever going anywhere.

Self-portrait of Matthew Paris
British Library,
MS Royal 14 C VII, folio 6r

You can tell this was done, because in the 13th century Matthew Paris created an itinerary map for a trip it seems he didn’t really take. His guide took him from London to Palestine but without giving any distances or helpful details. (Don’t you think distance indications would be important to have on a useful roadmap?) From what authorities know Matthew drew the map from information he learned from travellers passing through St Albans Abbey.

Map of Palestine Royal MS 14 C VII, ff. 4r-5r Matthew Paris, mid-13th-century

In this picture of his guide the left column shows you traveling from London to Dover at the narrowest part of the English Channel, and the right one from the coast of France at Boulogne-sur-Mer to Beauvais. Each place being one day from the other. He gives important rivers, hills and buildings along with optional interesting or scenic routes. Paris includes picturesque town symbols and other decorations such as palm trees.

Once you arrive in Palestine – on the second page – you see camels and exotic animals. You also see Jerusalem with its crenellated walls your virtual destination. Paris included within the city walls three important sites: Dome of the Rock, the Temple of Solomon. and the pilgrimage church of the Holy Sepulchre, defined by the circle in the lower corner.

When you take a physical trip like my Road Scholar tours you feel a togetherness energy with other pilgrim travelers regardless of your background, religion or culture. Pilgrims uniting together while on their own personal, spiritual journey seeing sights and discovering new reactions inside themselves.

If you used Paris’ map for a pilgrimage-in-place you vicariously traveled into unknown, foreign places. Combining it with a contemplative stationed walk – as some churches provided – you’ve taken a virtual journey arriving at the Holy Sepulchre. You uncovered new feelings and beliefs about yourself, nature, or a higher good as if you actually traveled. Your personal transformation where you have never gone before.

Categories: Travel

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