Pilgrimages and the Crusades during the Middle Ages and

Their Economic Impact on Society

 by Roderick Hulin


Medieval pilgrimages began during the rule of Constantine in the 4th century. One of the earliest pilgrimages was that of St. Helena, mother of Constantine. It is noted that she traveled to Jerusalem where she discovered an ancient relic, the cross of the Resurrection. This provided the spark for pilgrimages to sites of Saints and relics to occur all throughout Europe. It became necessary for sites associated with the Apostles, Saints, and other Christian Martyrs to have relics to ensure its importance to the Christian faith. Also, it was so ordered by Charlemagne that all churches throughout the kingdom maintained relics on the altars. The Crusades began as the products of the Council of Clermont (Dickson 2000). Author Gary Dickson notes in Religious Enthusiasm in the Medieval: Revivals, Crusades, Saints (2000) that the Crusaders were described as new types of pilgrims, "purpose-built to seize Jerusalem as a Christian prize" (Dickson 2000).
I'm looking to investigate briefly the beginning of pilgrimages and crusades during the Middle Ages, how their missions were interrelated, and how they impacted local societies. From my perspective, I'm looking to see how pilgrimages paralleled with the crusades and how they intertwined. My attempt will be to narrow the focus so we wil observe two fundamental elements: 1). how did the crusades change pilgrimages and vice-versa; 2). the economic impact on local communities. I will attempt to argue that the crusades were mainly economic boosters to communities of origin and the pilgrimages were economic boosters to destinations.
From the beginning, medieval pilgrimages were focused as journeys to Jerusalem (Chrystie 2001). That changed when the Muslims captured many lands between Europe and the Holy Land, including Acre (Chrystie 2001). This resulted in pilgrimages becoming all the more dangerous and the pilgrims arming themselves. The Crusades during the Middle Ages have been viewed from many different aspects. From the background, we see that they were born of pilgrimages. Early Crusaders were looked upon as armed pilgrims with a purpose. Jeanetta Chrystie wrote about pilgrimages and their changes in Christian History (2001). We will analyze her writings and Gary Dickson's Religious Enthusiasm in the Medieval: Revivals, Crusades, Saints (2000), on how pilgrimages and the Crusades evolved. We will also take a look at Paul Zumthor's The Medieval Travel Narrative (1994). This will help to shed some light on how later pilgrims and crusaders viewed their journeys and how they made sense of their actions.
Pilgrimages during Medieval times were seen to accomplish many goals and endeavors of the clergy as well as the community. The church, reeling from its lack of contact with the Holy Land after the subsequent invasion and occupation of the Muslims, looked to establish an event which could bring about the faithful. In 1300, Pope Boniface established the first ever “Jubilee pilgrimage to Rome” (Chrystie 2001). During this time period, pilgrimages began to transform into the Crusades. Prior to this period, there was a revival in existence known as the Children’s Crusade. It began in 1212 and although it was widely accepted in certain circles, it was not known to be too kind to the children it was named after. It was considered to be crude, with no clear direction or organization, but not as violent as other Crusades had been depicted. Writers have described how the Children’s Crusade brought about “suffering, disillusionment, enslavement, and death the pueri (the children) as well as to others who got caught up into it” (Dickson 2000). Because of the suffering associated with this type of Crusade, it served as a warning to children who were rebellious and considered running away (Dickson 2000). When the Jubilee of Rome began, it drew a mixed crowd of religious people. This was an event that brought believers together regardless of gender, social status, or age (Dickson 2000). Once the Jubilee was underway, it was known to attract millions of pilgrims, more than 20 times the population of Rome. Since under the Jubilee was under the direction of Pope Boniface, he offered indulgences for the pilgrims in order to influence them into making the journey to Rome. This opportunity to mobilize the pilgrims to descend upon Rome, the church and the city benefited greatly. Pope Boniface was creative in sparking an interest in visiting the city. Many sought forgiveness of their sins, blessings, and other indulgences. Shopkeepers and innkeepers profited from the many pilgrims who traveled to Rome. Chrystie writes that “One merchant told of two clerics standing day and night by the altar of St. Paul's literally raking in the pilgrims' offerings” (Chrystie 2001). Although the donations were voluntary, the pope was accused of manipulating the pilgrims’ generosity with offers of atonement. These funds were widely believed to be used for “enriching Pope Boniface and financing wars” (Chrystie 2001). These were some of the earliest counts of how crusades benefited Rome and church. Pilgrims also began to show signs of journeys with “symbols and badges” (Chrystie 2001). The pilgrims to Rome bought souvenirs and brought back “natural souvenirs such as scallop shells, palm leaves, or keys” (Chrystie 2001). Like many in that period, there were other unscrupulous people who considered those mementos and keepsakes valuable just as the pilgrims did. As a result, the pilgrims subject to being robbed of their valuables. Not only that, but black-market relic trading had begun and the Church began a policy of not officially endorsing any relics (Chrystie 2001). This stemmed from the difficulty of proving the authenticity of many of the relics in existence.
Pilgrimages and Crusades in the Middle Ages also included well known historic figures who ventured outside of Europe. Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, and other adventurers to the Americas during that period were considered to be some of the first pilgrims, venturing outside of Europe. As noted in Paul Zumthor and Catherine Peeble’s The Medieval Travel Narrative, “Americas first discoverers were disturbed by what they observed, which was foreign to them…they tended to violently extract a meaning just as they demand the extraction of gold” (Zumthor, et. al 1994). It has been noted historically that all pilgrims, crusaders, or explorers who have undertaken long, arduous journeys have been financed either by the Church of Rome or the Monarch of their perspective lands. Those have journey or pilgrimages always came with a price. Early explorers always brought back vital resources (i.e. gold, silver and other valuables) to the church, the monarchy, or both. This is further evidence how later crusades benefited the communities of origin.
The Crusades occurred quite frequently during the Middle Ages in effort to retake lands occupied by the Muslims. The loss of those lands had a significant economic impact on the early church. With possession of those provinces of Europe, the Christian communities and the church were able to benefit from the trade of the Eastern markets. As Christian kingdoms expanded across Europe and expelled Muslims from parts of Spain, they were able to gain control trade routes. From the onset, the Christian church benefited from the expansion of the kingdom in the name of spreading the gospel. Soon, the differences between the Christian Crusaders and the Muslim invaders start to shrink as their goals start to parallel each other. Both groups were looking to gain control of key areas which would bring about essential wealth to their perspective kingdoms—all in the name of spreading their religious beliefs.
Though the early church was corrupt during certain periods, it had been proven and documented that the underlining reason for spreading the Gospel was to increase the wealth of the Christian kingdom. Two key methods of making sure the Christian religion was extended and spread across the land was by pilgrimages and the Crusades, after which they came to become synonymous. With it's humble beginnings, pilgrimages were initially viewed as spiritual, extraordinary, concessionary experiences -- marked by the miraculous, the charismatic, and the astonishment observations of those in attendance. Pilgrimages were initially positioned by the Christian public to be used as a vehicle to gain enlightenment and to draw closer to Christ, but the reasons started to morph into an economic factors that altered the way the Christian church was viewed for years to come. The Crusaders, being the result of the transformation of the pilgrims, began to take on a new identity. Going under the auspices of spreading the Gospel, the Crusaders started to look like conquerors to many lands they embarked upon. The Vatican appeared to have more of a stake than just to expand the Christian faith, especially with Pope Boniface establishing the Jubilee. From my readings and research, the Church showed that it benefited financially a great deal from the start of pilgrimages and the Crusades. I tend to see evidence to this day in certain aspects of that same type process, but yet I still hold onto my Christian faith.