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Five Members of the Utrecht Brotherhood of Jerusalem Pilgrims Jan van Scorel - Five Members of the Utrecht Brotherhood of Jerusalem Pilgrims - Google Art Project.jpg
Five Members of the Utrecht Brotherhood of Jerusalem Pilgrims
Pilgrim by Gheorghe Tattarescu Gheorghe Tattarescu - Pelerin.jpg
Pilgrim by Gheorghe Tattarescu

A pilgrim (from the Latin peregrinus) is a traveler (literally one who has come from afar) who is on a journey to a holy place. Typically, this is a physical journey (often on foot) to some place of special significance to the adherent of a particular religious belief system. In the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to the experience of life in the world (considered as a period of exile) or to the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude. [1]



Pilgrims and the making of pilgrimages are common in many religions, including the faiths of ancient Egypt, Persia in the Mithraic period, India, China, and Japan. The Greek and Roman customs of consulting the gods at local oracles, such as those at Dodona or Delphi, both in Greece, are widely known. In Greece, pilgrimages could either be personal or state-sponsored. [2]

In the early period of Hebrew history, pilgrims traveled to Shiloh, Dan, Bethel, and eventually Jerusalem (see also Three Pilgrimage Festivals, a practice followed by other Abrahamic religions). While many pilgrims travel toward a specific location, a physical destination is not always a necessity. One group of pilgrims in early Celtic Christianity were the Peregrinari Pro Christ, (Pilgrims for Christ), or "white martyrs", who left their homes to wander in the world. [3] This sort of pilgrimage was an ascetic religious practice, as the pilgrim left the security of home and the clan for an unknown destination, trusting completely in Divine Providence. These travels often resulted in the founding of new abbeys and the spread of Christianity among the pagan population in Britain and in continental Europe.

Modern era

Many religions still espouse pilgrimage as a spiritual activity. The great Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia), is an obligatory duty at least once for every Muslim who is able to make the journey. Other Islamic devotional pilgrimages, particularly to the tombs of Shia Imams or Sufi saints, are also popular across the Islamic world. As in the Middle Ages, modern Christian pilgrims may choose to visit Rome, where according to the New Testament the church was established by St. Peter, sites in the 'Holy Land' connected with the life of Christ (such as Bethlehem, Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee) or places associated with saints, visions and miracles such as Lourdes, Santiago of Compostela, Canterbury and Fatima.

Modern Orthodox pilgrim in Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Ukraine Orthodox pilgrim.jpg
Modern Orthodox pilgrim in Kiev Pechersk Lavra, Ukraine
Tibetan pilgrim, Rewalsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh, India Tibetan pilgrim, Rewalsar, India.jpg
Tibetan pilgrim, Rewalsar Lake, Himachal Pradesh, India

Places of pilgrimage in the Buddhist world include those associated with the life of the historical Buddha: his supposed birthplace and childhood home (Lumbini and Kapilavastu in Nepal) and place of enlightenment (Bodh Gaya in northern India), other places he is believed to have visited and the place of his death (or Parinirvana), Kushinagar, India. Others include the many temples and monasteries with relics of the Buddha or Buddhist saints such as the Temple of the Tooth in Sri Lanka and the numerous sites associated with teachers and patriarchs of the various traditions. Hindu pilgrimage destinations may be holy cities (Varanasi, Badrinath); rivers (the Ganges, the Yamuna); mountains (several Himalayan peaks are sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists); caves (such as the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia); temples; festivals, such as the peripatetic Kumbh Mela, in 2001 the biggest public gathering in history; [4] or the tombs and dwelling places of saints (Alandi, Shirdi).

Beginning in 1894, Christian ministers under the direction of Charles Taze Russell were appointed to travel to and work with local Bible Students congregations for a few days at a time; within a few years appointments were extended internationally, formally designated as "pilgrims", and scheduled for twice-yearly, week-long visits at each local congregation. [5] [6] International Bible Students Association (IBSA) pilgrims were excellent speakers, and their local talks were typically well-publicized and well-attended. [7] Prominent Bible Students A. H. Macmillan and J. F. Rutherford were both appointed pilgrims before they joined the board of directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania; the IBSA later adopted the name Jehovah's Witnesses and renamed pilgrims as traveling overseers . [8] [9]

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, like many fans of Elvis Presley, visited Graceland. Koizumi in Graceland 2006.jpg
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, like many fans of Elvis Presley, visited Graceland.

A modern phenomenon is the cultural pilgrimage which, while involving a personal journey, is secular in nature. Destinations for such pilgrims can include historic sites of national or cultural importance, and can be defined as places "of cultural significance: an artist's home, the location of a pivotal event or an iconic destination". [10] An example might be a baseball fan visiting Cooperstown, New York. Destinations for cultural pilgrims include Auschwitz concentration camp, Gettysburg Battlefield or the Ernest Hemingway House. [10] Cultural pilgrims may also travel on religious pilgrimage routes, such as the Way of St. James, with the perspective of making it a historic or architectural tour rather than – or as well as – a religious experience. [11] Under communist regimes, devout secular pilgrims visited locations such as the Mausoleum of Lenin, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong and the Birthplace of Karl Marx. Such visits were sometimes state-sponsored. Sites such as these continue to attract visitors. The distinction between religious, cultural or political pilgrimage and tourism is not necessarily always clear or rigid. Pilgrimage could also refer symbolically to journeys, largely on foot, to places where the concerned person(s) expect(s) to find spiritual and/or personal salvation. In the words of adventurer-author Jon Krakauer in his book Into The Wild, Christopher McCandless was 'a pilgrim perhaps' to Alaska in search of spiritual bliss. [12]

Notable pilgrims

Pope John Paul II was known as the "pilgrim pope" for his travels. Popeinsyria2001-279.jpg
Pope John Paul II was known as the "pilgrim pope" for his travels.

Many national and international leaders have gone on pilgrimages for both personal and political reasons.

In culture

Some prominent literary characters who were pilgrims include:

See also

Related Research Articles

Pilgrimage Journey or search of moral or spiritual significance

A pilgrimage is a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about the self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.

Jehovahs Witnesses Christian denomination

Jehovah's Witnesses is a millenarian restorationist Christian denomination with nontrinitarian beliefs distinct from mainstream Christianity. The group reports a worldwide membership of approximately 8.68 million adherents involved in evangelism and an annual Memorial attendance of over 20 million. Jehovah's Witnesses are directed by the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, a group of elders in Warwick, New York, United States, which establishes all doctrines based on its interpretations of the Bible. They believe that the destruction of the present world system at Armageddon is imminent, and that the establishment of God's kingdom over the earth is the only solution for all problems faced by humanity.

Jehovah's Witnesses base their practices on the biblical interpretations of Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916), founder of the Bible Student movement, and of successive presidents of the Watch Tower Society, Joseph Franklin Rutherford and Nathan Homer Knorr. Since 1976 practices have also been based on decisions made at closed meetings of the group's Governing Body. The group disseminates instructions regarding activities and acceptable behavior through The Watchtower magazine and through other official publications, and at conventions and congregation meetings.

A religious order is a lineage of communities and organizations of people who live in some way set apart from society in accordance with their specific religious devotion, usually characterized by the principles of its founder's religious practice. The order is composed of laypeople and, in some orders, clergy. Religious orders exist in many of the world's religions.

Corporations of Jehovahs Witnesses list of corporations in use by Jehovahs Witnesses

A number of corporations are in use by Jehovah's Witnesses. They publish literature and perform other operational and administrative functions, representing the interests of the religious organization. "The Society" has been used as a collective term for these corporations.

Jehovah's Witnesses have received criticism from mainstream Christianity, members of the medical community, former members, and commentators regarding their beliefs and practices. The movement has been accused of doctrinal inconsistency and reversals, failed predictions, mistranslation of the Bible, harsh treatment of former members and autocratic and coercive leadership. Criticism has also focused on their rejection of blood transfusions, particularly in life-threatening medical situations, and claims that they have failed to report cases of sexual abuse to the authorities. Many of the claims are denied by Jehovah's Witnesses and some have also been disputed by courts and religious scholars.

The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah's Kingdom is an illustrated religious magazine, published monthly by Jehovah's Witnesses via the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Jehovah's Witnesses distribute The Watchtower—Public Edition, along with its companion magazine, Awake!, in their door-to-door ministry.

Jehovah's Witnesses are organized hierarchically, and are led by the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses from the Watch Tower Society's headquarters in Warwick, New York. The Governing Body, along with other "helpers", are organized into six committees responsible for various administrative functions within the global Witness community, including publication, assembly programs and evangelizing activity.

A number of splinter groups have separated from Jehovah's Witnesses since 1931 after members broke affiliation with the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Earlier group defections from the Watch Tower Society, most of them between 1917 and 1931, had resulted in a number of religious movements forming under the umbrella term of the Bible Student movement.

Bible Student movement Christian movement founded by Charles Taze Russell

The Bible Student movement is a Millennialist Restorationist Christian movement that emerged from the teachings and ministry of Charles Taze Russell, also known as Pastor Russell. Members of the movement have variously referred to themselves as Bible Students, International Bible Students, Associated Bible Students, or Independent Bible Students. The origins of the movement are associated with the formation of Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society in 1881, and the later formation of Jehovah's Witnesses whose beliefs have diverged considerably from Russell's teachings.

The Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses is the ruling council of Jehovah's Witnesses based in the group's Warwick, New York headquarters. The body formulates doctrines, oversees the production of written material for publications and conventions, and administers the group's worldwide operations. Official publications refer to members of the Governing Body as followers of Christ rather than religious leaders.

History of Jehovahs Witnesses The history of Jehovahs Witnesses today dates back to the end of the 19th century.  In those years, a small group of students from the Pittsburgh Bible (Pennsylvania, United States) will have to conduct a systematic study.

Jehovah's Witnesses originated as a branch of the Bible Student movement, which developed in the United States in the 1870s among followers of Christian Restorationist minister Charles Taze Russell. Bible Student missionaries were sent to England in 1881 and the first overseas branch was opened in London in 1900. The group took on the name International Bible Students Association and by 1914 it was also active in Canada, Germany, Australia and other countries. The movement split into several rival organizations after Russell's death in 1916, with one—led by Russell's successor, Joseph "Judge" Rutherford—retaining control of both his magazine, The Watch Tower, and his legal and publishing corporation, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

Jehovah's Witnesses employ various levels of congregational discipline as formal controls administered by congregation elders. Members who engage in conduct that is considered inappropriate may be counseled privately by elders and congregational responsibilities may be withheld or restricted. If initial counsel is not accepted, elders may present a talk to the congregation about the type of behavior, alerting other members already aware of the individual's conduct to limit social interaction with that person. Hearings involving "serious sin" are performed by formal judicial committees, in which guilt and repentance are determined by a tribunal of elders. A variety of controls can be enforced, from reproof and restriction of congregational duties to excommunication, known as disfellowshipping, which includes shunning by the congregation. Individuals who are disfellowshipped may be reinstated after an extended period if they are deemed to demonstrate repentance. The practice of disfellowshipping has been criticized by many non-members and ex-members.

Marvin James Penton is a professor emeritus of history at the University of Lethbridge in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada and the author of three books on the history of Jehovah's Witnesses. Although raised in the religion, he was expelled in 1981 on the grounds of apostasy after criticizing some of the teachings and conduct of the religion's leadership. His expulsion gained national media attention and prompted one of several schisms that year among Jehovah's Witnesses.

Religious tourism

Religious tourism, spiritual tourism, sacred tourism, or faith tourism, is a type of tourism with two main subtypes: pilgrimage, meaning travel for religious or spiritual purposes, and the viewing of religious monuments and artefacts, a branch of sightseeing.

Christianity in Russia

Christianity in Russia is the most widely professed religion in the country, with nearly 71% of the population identifying as Orthodox Christian according to World Atlas. The largest tradition is the Russian Orthodox Church. According to official sources, there are 68 eparchies of the Russian Orthodox Church. There are from 500,000 to one million Old Believers, who represent an older form of Russian Orthodox Christianity, and who separated from the Orthodox Church in the 17th century as a protest against Patriarch Nikon's church reforms.

Religion in Colombia is dominated by various forms of Christianity and is an expression of the different cultural heritages in the Colombian culture including the Spanish colonization, the Native Amerindian and the Afro-Colombian, among others.

Persecution of Jehovahs Witnesses in Nazi Germany

Jehovah's Witnesses suffered religious persecution in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945 after refusing to perform military service, join Nazi organizations or give allegiance to the Hitler regime. An estimated 10,000 Witnesses—half of the number of members in Germany during that period—were imprisoned, including 2000 who were sent to Nazi concentration camps. An estimated 1200 died in custody, including 250 who were executed. They were the first Christian denomination banned by the Nazi government and the most extensively and intensively persecuted.

Christian pilgrimage Wikimedia list article

Christianity has a strong tradition of pilgrimages, both to sites relevant to the New Testament narrative and to sites associated with later saints or miracles.

The beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses are based on the Bible teachings of Charles Taze Russell—founder of the Bible Student movement—and successive presidents of the Watch Tower Society, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, and Nathan Homer Knorr. Since 1976 all doctrinal decisions have been made by the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, a group of elders at the denomination's headquarters. These teachings are disseminated through The Watchtower magazine and other publications of Jehovah's Witnesses, and at conventions and congregation meetings.


  1. Hanges, James Constantine (July 2000). "Pilgrims and Pilgrimage in Ancient Greece by Matthew Dillon". The Journal of Religion. 80 (3): 543–545. doi:10.1086/490704. JSTOR   1206041.
  2. "The Celtic Saints". Heart O' Glory. 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-10-14. Retrieved 2007-10-23.
  3. "Heart of Hinduism: Four Main Paths". iskcon.org.
  4. "Noteworthy Events in the Modern-day History of Jehovah's Witnesses", Jehovah's Witnesses – Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, page 719, "1894 Traveling overseers that in time came to be known as pilgrims (today, circuit and district overseers) are sent out in connection with the Society's program for visiting congregations"
  5. "Sweden", 1991 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, page 126
  6. "Switzerland and Liechtenstein", 1987 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, page 123, "'Pilgrims' were traveling representatives of the [Watch Tower] Society, as circuit overseers are today. Their efforts contributed to the unity of the brothers and brought them into closer contact with God's organization. The Society would announce in Zion's Watch Tower the proposed itinerary of the pilgrim brothers, and congregations and smaller groups along these routes would then write and express their desire to be visited. The pilgrims were excellent speakers, and their public lectures were usually well attended. In 1913, for example, their audiences in Switzerland totaled some 8,000 persons."
  7. "Development of the Organization Structure", Jehovah's Witnesses – Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, page 222, "[Beginning] in 1894, arrangements were made for the [Watch Tower] Society to have well-qualified speakers travel more regularly to help the Bible Students to grow in knowledge and appreciation for the truth and to draw them closer together. ...An effort was made to have each group in the United States and Canada visited twice a year, though not usually by the same brother. In selecting these traveling speakers, emphasis was placed on meekness, humility, and clear understanding of the truth as well as loyal adherence to it and ability to teach it with clarity. Theirs was by no means a paid ministry. They were simply provided with food and lodging by the local brothers, and to the extent necessary, the Society helped them with travel expenses. They came to be known as pilgrims. Many of these traveling representatives of the Society were dearly loved by those whom they served. A. H. Macmillan, a Canadian, is remembered as a brother to whom God's Word proved to be "like a burning fire."
  8. "Part 1—United States of America", CMP'1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, page 83
  9. 1 2 Welsch, Chris (January 3, 2007). "Travelers define such a pilgrimage in many different ways". Star Tribune . Archived from the original on June 8, 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  10. "Cultural Pilgrimage to Compostela". Circa Tours. February 17, 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  11. "Into the Wild". cliffsnotes.com.


Traditional folk song about a pilgrim