Politics of Pilgrimage

On a comment on the post about Walsingham, below, Joan said:

Isn’t it possible that all devotion will be politicized if it is mediated through truths laid down in a book.  The nature of such a text inevitably leads to argument for or against certain interpretations of the text.  Wouldn’t it be nice if life were as certain as a book might make out? […]

I’d go, take Julian of Norwich with you to read, and enjoy the spirituality you can gain from your own dialogue with God.  All the rest strikes me as a smoke screen that keeps us away from the conversation of prayer?

Which made me think about whether other pilgrimage destinations are inevitably politicized. My hunch is that a lot of them are. Iona Abbey is a very obvious example of a pilgrimage destination that has political overtones. (Though those overtones are not displeasing to me). Lourdes almost defines a certain kind of catholicism that not all catholics would sign up to. Similarly with Knock – and you have to add in all the complexities of Irish Christian identities to that one.

I once tried to devise a research project on pilgrimage which ironically, did not go anywhere. The problem was pinning down exactly what I was going to do. Looking at the politicization of pilgrimage would have been a far better topic than anything I came up with at the time. 

I was in Knock last year. Indeed, I still have some of the holy water in the car. It did wonders for the cat.

As for going to Walsingham with Julian of Norwich, I think that is a great idea for a private trip. I’m less sure that it would work in the company of ordained colleagues who would be barred from certain treats  for being female. 



  1. Anonymous says

    Living in Ireland – at one time not too far from Knock – it always astonished me when driving through the village how those who had just visited the shrine seemed to think that it had made them invincible! They’d wander into the middle of the road and totally ignore the traffic streaming around them!

    A bottle of Knock holy water in the shape of Our Lady sits behind me as I type – next to a similar one from Lourdes and a knitted Orangeman bedecked with a collarette proclaiming him a member of LOL 1, Portadown! The juxtaposition is deliberate! (I wonder if + David has one on his shelves from the "support Drumcree" shop?!)

    Which leads to the question "How do holy water taps work?" – theologically, that is! What is blessed to make it holy? Is it the reservoir (but that is constantly replenished and so eventually, after being diluted for a long time, the water becomes "unholy". Is it the tap itself and the water is sanctified by passing through it?


  2. Anonymous says

    Holy Water Taps
    Perhaps the water becomes holy when it is applied by the believer to the cat.

  3. Holy water and questions about pilgrimage

    Hmmm, yes I can see the dilemma…I guess the female ordaindees (not a word really, apologies for my attack on the English language) are excluded – though would it be possible to construct a small al fresco altar and hold a ceremony of your own?  Pilgrimage places become so because people believe something, not just the ecclesiastical hierarchy, I think?  If we don’t go then it is like saying ‘ok, you have that site of devotion then’.  (Yikes I sound so serious, which I am, but I really do mean my statements to come out as questions…not commands.)

    As to the cat, holy water, and the believer – maybe  all the water is holy and we just think we play a role in making it so?  Alternatively, maybe the cat is the believer and the water is transformed through a great mysterious purr.

  4. Anonymous says

    The Cat in Question
    As for the cat in question, she is not a believer as such. Rather, she thinks that she is the only proper object of veneration.

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