Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pilgrimage, modern and medieval


Jeff Sypeck, a Washington-based medievalist, reflects at Quid plura? a propos the Obama inauguration, on a pilgrimage of the Crusading era, which I link to for the benefit especially of students who last term took Crusade and Jihad.

An excerpt:

The medieval Romans may not have draped patriotic bunting across the facades of their buildings, but 710 years ago, they braced for unprecedented crowds. In late 1299, apparently with no official prompting, pilgrims began streaming into Rome, driven by the widespread belief that the year ahead offered special blessings to those who visited the graves of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Here’s Paul Hetherington on what became the Church’s first Jubilee Year:

The word spread like wildfire through Europe, and even by New Year’s Eve of 1299 a great crowd had assembled at St. Peter’s to greet the opening of the Jubilee Year at midnight. From then on, the crowds flocked to Rome from all over the known world. No one had ever experienced anything like it before. The crowds were so massive that the papal police had to institute a keep-right system for all the crowds crossing the bridge on foot that led over the Tiber to St. Peter’s . . .

The spontaneity and scale of the Jubilee took everyone by surprise. Even the pope, Boniface VIII, seems to have been nonplussed by it, and only issued the decree authorizing it late in February 1300. The various estimates made by contemporaries of the numbers that visited Rome vary so wildly that none can be regarded as trustworthy, but it was probably somewhere between one and two million...

[From a pilgrim's account:]

The Pope received an untold amount of money from them, as day and night two priests stood at the altar of St. Paul’s holding rakes in their hands, raking in infinite money…

Jeff will be on Connecticut Ave. adding that medieval touch:
I’ll be pacing the sidewalk with ful devout corage and wielding my new favorite medieval-themed religious implement, the money rake. Commit yourself to change—or simply fling cash. I promise it will go someplace deserving. Weary pilgrim, have faith in me: I wol yow nat deceyve.
Image: Basilica of St. Paul's outside the Walls, Rome.

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