Pilgrimages in the Early Church Fathers

This page has statements from the Church Fathers in favor of pilgrimages. I wanted to make this page because I have sometimes heard people say that pilgrimages are a bad thing, something Christians shouldn't do, and I think that's wrong. I wanted to show that the early Church did pilgrimages, so that's what this is. BTW I count a pilgrimage as any religious journey to a place where unusually holy things have happened or currently happen, for purposes of prayer and insight. So, for example, some early Christians traveled to visit prisoners in jail for their faith, and I count that as a pilgrimage. Some people might not. So what about you, readers? Do you know any other evidence of pilgrimages in the early Church?

Pilgrimages in the Early Church Fathers

177 A.D. - St. Melito of Sardis - “[I]nformation in regard to the [W]ord…[should be] esteem[ed]...above all else. Accordingly when I went East and came to the place where these things were preached and done, I learned accurately the books of the Old Testament, and send them to you as written below." (Fragment on the Canon of Scripture as quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History Book 4 Chapter 26)

180s A.D. - St. Hegesippus - “[When] Primus was bishop in Corinth...I conversed with [him] on my way to Rome, and abode with the Corinthians many days, during which we were mutually refreshed in the true doctrine. And when I had come to Rome I remained there until Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And Anicetus was succeeded by Soter, and he by Eleutherus. In every succession, and in every city that [faith] is held which [was] preached by the law and the prophets and the Lord.” (Hegesippus’s Memoirs, as quoted in Eusebius Book 4 Chapter 22)

180s A.D. - Pantaenus visits India. Eusebius says: “Pantaenus...is said to have gone to India. It is reported that among persons there who knew of Christ, he found the Gospel according to Matthew, which had anticipated his own arrival. For Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached to them.” (Eusebius’s Church History Book 5 Chapter 10)

198 A.D. - Gaius - “I can point out the trophies of [Peter and Paul]. For if you are willing to go to the Vatican or to the Ostian Way, you will find the [relics] of those who founded this Church.” (Disputation with Proclus as quoted in Eusebius, Church History Book 2 Chapter 25)

217 A.D. - St. Alexander of Cappadocia visits Jerusalem. Eusebius says: “[By] Divine direction, [Bishop Alexander] journeyed from the land of Cappadocia, where he first held the episcopate, to Jerusalem, in consequence of a vow and for the sake of information in regard to its places.” (Eusebius’s Church History Book 6 Chapter 11)

~234 A.D. - Origen of Alexandria -  “[I] have visited the places [of Israel] to enquire as to the footsteps of Jesus and His disciples, and of the prophets. Now, Bethany...was the town of Lazarus, and of Martha and Mary; it is fifteen stadia from Jerusalem, and the river Jordan is about a hundred and eighty stadia distant from it. ...John is said to have baptized there. [He goes on naming other places from the Bible.]” (Commentary on John Book 6 Chapter 24)

250 A.D. - St. Cyprian of Carthage - “[F]rom their affection the brethren are eager to approach and to visit those good [Christians in prison for their faith], on whom by their glorious beginnings the divine consideration has already shed a brightness... I think that this eagerness must be cautiously indulged, and not in crowds—not in numbers collected together at once, lest from this very thing ill-will be aroused... Take counsel, therefore, and see that this may be more safely managed with moderation, so that the presbyters also, who there offer [prayers] with the confessors, may one by one take turns with the deacons individually; because, by thus changing the persons and varying the people that come together, suspicion is diminished.” (Epistle 4 Paragraph 2)

~327 A.D. - St. Helen of Constantinople visits Jerusalem. Rufinus says: “It was at this time that Helena, Constantine’s mother, a woman matchless in faith, devotion, and singular generosity...was alerted by divine visions and traveled to Jerusalem, where she asked the inhabitants where the place was where the sacred body of Christ had hung fastened to the gibbet. … [And] when, as we said, the pious woman had hastened to the place indicated to her by a sign from heaven, [she] pulled away everything profane and defiled, [and] found deep down when the rubble had been cleared away [the] three crosses jumbled together. ... There was also found the inscription which Pilate had made with Greek, Latin and Hebrew letters...” (Rufinus’s Church History Book 10 Chapter 7)

333 A.D. - The Pilgrim of Bourdeaux - This is a document by an early anonymous pilgrim. It lists the places where he got on and off boats and caravans during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Italy. The document contains basically no narrative. It consists of statements like: “Here begins Italy. Change at the twelfth milestone - 12 miles. Halt at the frontier - 12 miles. Change at the eighth milestone - 8 miles. City of Taurini [i.e. Turin] - 8 miles. Change at the tenth milestone - 10 miles.” It is a travel plan, and it is known to be a pilgrim’s rather than some other kind of traveler for several reasons, one of which is that he frequently headed to religious sites. (Itinerarium Burdigalense)

~385 A.D. - Egeria of Galicia - “The dedication of these holy churches is therefore celebrated with the highest honour… [W]hen these days of dedication are come...people begin to assemble [in Jerusalem] from all parts many days before; not only monks and [ascetics] from various provinces, from Mesopotamia and Syria, from Egypt and the Thebaid (where there are very many monks), and from every different place and province--for there is none who does not turn his steps to Jerusalem on that day for such rejoicing and for such high days--but lay people too in like manner, both men and women, with faithful minds, gather together in Jerusalem from every province on those days, for the sake of the holy day...” (Egeria’s Travels Book 8)

386 A.D. - St. Jerome - “[When] our dear Marcella has reached the shores of Palestine...we shall together enter the Saviour's cave, and together weep in the sepulchre of the Lord... Then shall we touch with our lips the wood of the cross, and rise in prayer and resolve upon the Mount of Olives with the ascending Lord. We shall see Lazarus come forth bound with grave clothes, we shall look upon the waters of Jordan purified for the washing of the Lord. [He goes on naming other stories from the Bible.]” (Letter 46)

And: “Just as Greek history becomes more intelligible to those who have seen Athens, so [a] man will gain a clearer grasp of Holy Scripture who has gazed at Judaea with his own eyes.” (Prefaetio in Librum Paralipomenon, Patrologia Latina 29 401a, as quoted in Ian Bradley’s Pilgrimage: A Spiritual and Cultural Journey Chapter 2 [Oxford, UK: Lion Books, 2009])

~391 A.D. - St. John Chrysostom - “I admire the city [of Rome], not for the much gold, not for the columns, not for the other display there, but for [Peter and Paul,] these pillars of the Church. Would that it were now given me to throw myself round the body of Paul, and be riveted to [his] tomb, and to see the dust of that body that filled up that which was lacking after Christ... Fain would I see [his] dust... Fain would I see [his] tomb... This body is a wall to that City, which is safer than all towers, [more] than thousands of battlements. And with it is that of Peter.” (Homily 32 on Romans 16:24)

Before 421 A.D. OR Before 638 A.D. - St. Mary of Egypt - “[O]ne summer I saw a large crowd of Lybians and Egyptians running towards the sea. I asked one of them, ‘Where are these men hurrying to?’ He replied, ‘They are all going to Jerusalem for the Exaltation of the Precious and Lifegiving Cross, which takes place in a few days.’ I said to him, ‘Will they take me with them if I wish to go?’ [And he answered:] ‘No one will hinder you if you have money to pay for the journey and for food.’ ” (Life of St. Mary of Egypt by St. Sophronius of Jerusalem)

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