The holy pilgrimage has been a Christian tradition since the first recorded spiritual journey, in which a bishop named Mileto from Sardis in Asia Minor traveled to the Holy Land in around 160 to visit “the place where [things described in the Bible] were preached and done.” Whereas current circumstances are keeping us all from going on a pilgrimage, it is always good to plan ahead and prepare for the future.
In the 4th century, pilgrimages following the footsteps of Jesus and the apostles became popular after Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, visited Jerusalem, discovered what is thought to have been the True Cross, and built churches over holy sites related to Jesus’ life. To walk the same path as Jesus and his followers, and to see with one’s own eyes the places mentioned in Scripture, was more than just travel, it was meant to hasten an interior journey as well.
Rome became a major destination for European pilgrims in the 7th century after the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land limited the number of Christians allowed to visit the holy sites there.
The Crusades themselves were considered a form of pilgrimage, and pilgrimages to the Holy land increased in the late Middle Ages, partly due to the guidance of the Franciscan friars who were entrusted with the guardianship of the holy sites.
Today, Christians continue to make pilgrimages to enrich their spiritual lives. Taken in the spirit of prayer, a pilgrimage can be as life-changing today as it was in the time of St. Jerome, who in the 4th century wrote, “We will have a clearer grasp of Scripture after we have gazed with our own eyes on the sites where the events of our salvation unfolded.”
Here’s a glimpse of a few sacred places to complete any Catholic’s “bucket list,” where modern pilgrims can travel to walk the same path as Jesus and his followers, and visit the sites of the miracles and apparitions:
The Holy Land
Pilgrims to the Holy Land and Jerusalem follow in the footsteps of Jesus, from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where Jesus was born to the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where he was laid to rest.
For the last 800 years, the Order of St. Francis has had guardianship over these holy sites, and is today working to ensure that Christians continue to exist in the birthplace of Christianity. By offering pilgrimages in the Holy Land, they can help fulfill that mission.
When to visit
The busiest times in Holy Land are during the major Christian and Jewish feasts in spring and fall.