Why Visit "Holy Places" Is Pilgrimage Necessary?

I frankly am confused about why religions feel that various “holy places” areimportant to visit. I am a Christian, but I feel no compulsion to visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Sea of Galilee, etc. There is nothing in the NT that commands Christians to visist these places, so what’s the big deal?
The aguments AGAINST visiting:
-danger, the Holy Land has been a battleground for 0h, about 50 years?
-confusion about the actual locations. Jerusalem was razed to the ground in AD 70…how do WE know where the Via Dolorosa, Golgotha, Tomb of Joseph are anyway?
-religious antagonism…yeah, YOU won’t see ME at the toomb of Abraham anytime soon
So why are people compelled to go to these places? I’m sure that the Apostle Paul would have thought that travelling to the Holy Land would be a waste oftime…what’s your take on this? :eek:

And who exactly do you think are being ‘compelled’ to go to these places?

I’ve been to Israel. Admittedly, my trip was with a group of college students studying the political history of the area who were mostly not-Christian. (The adults with the group were in fact Jewish, most of the students were not. I am Christian.) I was in Israel a couple of months after Yitzak Rabin’s assassination. As a tourist, I don’t think there has ever been a safer time to be there. Also, at that time I felt that most people assumed that Israel and Palestine were on their way to separation and peace. No one was quite sure how, but there was a lot of hope. A few months after my trip, there started being suicide bombers (including one at a mall I visited). That was scary, and it is my opinion that the chances for peace have worsened since then. I would not return now.

We visited a number of holy sites, and most of them did not impress me in any deep spiritual sense. Also, the amount of Christian in-fighting at places like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which prevents restoration of ancient buildings (I wanna fix it! no I wanna!) annoys me significantly. To say nothing of all the incense burners at at the Church of the Nativity.

On the other hand, looking at ancient historical sites is neat, whether they are holy to my religion, someone else’s or no one at all. I’m really not sure that going on a trip intended to be a pilgrimage would have been more impressive to me. While I have faith in my bones, a tour guide obsessed with explaining the religous significance of some of the places we went would have annoyed me. Case in point the “place along the Jordan River where Christ was baptized”- built to facillitate baptism by the busloads. NOT my style.

Going to holy and or historical places gives you a sense of perspective. It is easy for a niieve Christian in the West to think of Mary and Joseph as a couple of blue collar white skinned next door neighbours, with the same lifestyle and living conditions as they are used to. Going to Jerusalem helps dispell such ideas. Similarly you can hardly believe in the might of Rome or Greece these days, but when you visit Rome or Athens you can understand that you are visiting the centers of what were great empires.
So visiting Holy places is just another form of “travel broadens the Mind”.

Add secondaryly to this that the act of taking time out to do and go somewhere of religious importance to you is something you can remember and treasure as part of yourself. I am not very religious, but I love good scotch Whiskey. So one time I made travel arangements that included visiting the Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye. I feel good for having accomplished the visit even though it was only to a distillery. How much more accomplishment would a follower of Islam feel for visiting Mecca.

AFAIK, no Christian is in any way compelled to make a pilgrimage of any sort by the tenets of his particular denomination. Roman Catholics may gain a plenary indulgence by making certain pilgrimages under various indults with proper intention – but that remains their choice, to do it that way instead of an alternative. For everyone else, it’s done for the spiritual benefit of actually being in the place where St. Francis heard Christ speak from the Crucifix, where St. James the Just died, where Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa or preached the Sermon on the Mount, etc. “When that April with its showers sweet…then longen folk to go on pilgrimages.”

For Muslims, on the other hand, the law is clear – if it is physically and financially possible for them, they must once in their life complete the Hajj – the ritual pilgrimage to Mecca, with certain things they must do while there. (I presume the details are not relevant to the thread.)

In addition, if the Temple were to be re-erected, it would become the obligation of Jews to go to the Temple (and hence to Jerusalem) for certain major feasts when possible. (And whether or not it would be possible to re-erect the Temple is another flight-to-Cuba we don’t need to take.)

There are pilgrimages required or considered meritorious in several Eastern religions, too, and I don’t know enough about the details there to comment.

From what I have heard from friends who have visited Israel and Turkey - not necessarily on pilgrimage - is that visiting the places that you have read about in the Bible creates/cements a sense of reality - that these places actually exist, and by extension, the people and events described there actually existed as well. One woman I know was baptised in the river Jordan - for her this was an intensely spiritual experience, to share her baptism in some small way with Jesus himself. I would guess that a pilgrim visits these sorts of places deliberately to try and grasp similar experiences.

I don’t think that (Evangelical/Protestant) Christians would consider the places themselves “holy” in any way - in that they have any special powers or attributes, but the experience of visiting them may become holy in that it draws you nearer to God and en-livens your relationship with him. I have not yet had the chance to visit Israel, but I would very much like to do so.

The closest I have ever come to this sort of experience was a visit to Pompeii in my gap year between school and university. I studied Latin at school and in my final year I did a project on the Art and Architecture of Pompeii and Herculaneum - the two towns destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius. To walk the streets and visit the buildings that I had studied and writen about for so long was a great joy, and the experience culminated in me sitting in the town’s amphitheatre, so lost in thought and imaginings that I almost felt as if I had been transported back in time and was actually there with the people of Pompeii. An almost mystical experience…


Well, the straight answer to the Thread Title question is that (for Christians) pilgrimage is NOT “necessary”. It’s something that’s nice if you can do it, and it’s a good thing to show that you are willing to put your time, effort and expense into your religious contemplation. But nobody makes you do it if it’s not your thing, or you’re not comfortable with it.