For pilgrymes are we alle.
William Langland, Piers Plowman
This is part two of For pilgrymes are we all.
The intent of pilgrimage was clear to all. Amery Picaud wrote in the Codex Callixtus “The pilgrim route is for those who are good: it is the lack of vices, the thwarting of the body, the increase of virtues, pardon for sins, sorrow for the penitent, the road of the righteous, love of the saints, faith in the resurrection and the reward of the blessed, a separation from hell, the protection of the heavens. It takes us away from luscious foods, it makes gluttonous fatness vanish, it restrains voluptuousness, constrains the appetites of the flesh which attack the fortress of the soul, cleanses the spirit, leads us to contemplation, humbles the haughty, raises up the lowly, loves poverty. It hates the reproach of those fuelled by greed. It loves, on the other hand, the person who gives to the poor. It rewards those who live simply and do good works; And, on the other hand, it does not pluck those who are stingy and wicked from the claws of sin.”
The reality, of course, was often quite different. Even in the 12th century, Honorius of Autun stated that the pilgrimage only made sense when it was undertaken for a penance for serious sin. Any reason beyond that was merely one of vanity: “the only profit which they draw from it is that of having seen pleasant places or fine buildings, or of winning the fine name they desired.”
The behavior of pilgrims could be scandalous as well. Lechery, venality, and many other vices made their appearances among the masses. William Langland’s poem “Piers the Plowman” contains fierce criticism of the majority of those who visit ‘holy places.’ Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales mirror the real-life behaviors of pilgrims who amused themselves en route with songs, musical instruments and story-telling, Chaucer’s tales cover the gamut of the real pilgrimage with everything from the lives of saints and serious treatises to baudy stories. The lines relating to the Pardoner and his false relics are worth quoting:
There was no pardoner of equal grace,
For in his trunk he had a pillow-case
Which he asserted was Our Lady’s veil.
He said he had a gobbet of the sail
Saint Peter had the time when he made bold
To walk the waves, till Jesu Christ took hold.
He had a cross of metal set with stones
And, in a glass, a rubble of pigs’ bones
And with these relics, any time he found
Some poor up-country parson to astound,
In one short day, in money down, he drew
More than the parson in a month or two.
These “pardoners” who sold indulgences eventually became one of the great scourges of Christianity. The problem was so general by the 15th century that indulgences were granted by the Popes themselves.
The reality of pilgrimage was a long way from the original intent, which could not have been nobler. The medieval pilgrimage was a metaphor of the spiritual journey towards the Heavenly city of Jerusalem. This was both a personal journey and part of a ritualized passage of the church.
Pilgrimage, like that testament to Christian charity, almsgiving, had begun as an accessory to the moral teaching of the church. And like almsgiving, it too often ended up as an alternative.