Pilgrimage Tours In Western Europe

At least since the Middle Ages, pilgrimages have been a deep-rooted part of Christian culture. Honoured upon their return home, pilgrims would set out on long journeys to visit places of religious significance. Today many tourists still make worship and devotion a part of their travels, and Europe is full of religious attractions that are perfect destinations for modern pilgrims.

Our Lady of Lourdes – France

Our Lady of Lourdes
In the Pyrenees region in south-west France, it’s said that an apparition of the Virgin Mary – also referred to in the area as the Lady of Lourdes – appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a 14 year-old peasant girl, in 1858. She said that while she and a friend were gathering firewood in the cave of Massabielle, which is a mile from the town, a lady in white spoke to her. Other appearances of a similar nature occurred 17 more times that year.
Today the site is visited by millions of Catholics each year, making Lourdes one of the world’s greatest pilgrimage destinations. Various miraculous events are said to have taken place here, such as inexplicable healings from drinking water from the local spring.

Sanctuary of Fatima – Portugal

The Miracle of the Sun
The name Fatima is actually derived from the Arabic name Fatima. A parish was founded there in 1568, and the story associated with its small population concerns three children. In 1917, Lucia and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, witnessed an apparition of a lady dressed in white while they were guarding their sheep. She then reappeared to the children on the 13th of each month, from May to October. People flocked to see the woman, and the photograph above is allegedly of her last appearance, in 1917.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors visit the Sanctuary of Fatima, with the majority of pilgrims arriving each year on 13 May or 13 October, to coincide with the dates of the apparition’s appearance.

Black Madonna of Czestochowa – Poland

the Black Madonna of Cz?stochowa
The Polish town of Czestochowa is home to a revered icon of the Virgin Mary. Although the origin and date of the composition are still hotly contested among religious scholars, it’s certain that the image is at least 600 years old. Unusually, it depicts the Virgin Mary with dark skin pigmentation and two long scars down her right cheek. The trouble in dating the painting is due to a shoddy restoration attempt, made after the painting was damaged by raiders in 1430. Apparently the raiders believed that the surface the composition was painted on was a table top used by the Holy Family.
A legend surrounding the skin tone and the scars on the cheek of the Virgin Mary is that when the raiders attacked the temple that held the painting in 1430, one of them  drew their sword on the painting, inflicting two cuts on the right cheek. When the cheek started to bleed, the raiders fled the burning temple, which left the painting with a burnt hue – explaining Virgin Mary’s dark appearance.
Today Czestochowa is host to Poland’s most popular shrine. Pilgrims to the site are given provisions by local townspeople as they line up for their turn to go inside.

The Vatican City

St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City
The Vatican City is technically an independent country, although it’s completely surrounded by Italy and is only 1.05 kilometers long and 0.85 kilometres wide. It’s home to some of the world’s most famous works of art, including Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Other significant renaissance era works found in the Vatican include those by Bernini, Bramante and Giacomo della Porta.
As well as being home to many historically important artworks, the Vatican’s head of state is the Pope. The Papal Mass ceremony draws hundreds of thousands of tourists a year, although very few of them actually get a spot in the Apostolic Palace while the Pope speaks – tickets are free but once the area is full, the Swiss Guard let no more people in.

The Way of St James – Spain

The Cathedral of Santiago De Compostela
This pilgrimage route has existed for over a thousand years. The Way of St James, which often takes weeks or even months for pilgrims to complete, covers a distance of roughly 800 kilometres. Most set off from another Spanish town, Roncesvalles, and travel to the final destination, Santiago de Compostella, which is said to be the final resting place of the remains of Saint James. At certain points along the journey, pilgrims will find a Saint James’s shell, which is the symbol of the route.
Upon completing the Way, pilgrims are given the compostela, a certificate confirming that they have completed the pilgrimage. A special Pilgrim’s mass is held in the Cathedral of Santiago De Compostela every day at noon. Pilgrims who have received a compostela have their names and countries of origin announced during the mass.

Featured images:

Travel fanatic Jeff has provided this post on behalf of www.thomascooktours.com – a tour operator that offers a range of escorted tours of Europe, some of which visit the religious attraction featured in the post.