What’s Your Pilgrim Personality?

We learned in last week’s post that, as Christians, we can claim the identity of pilgrim. Read here to see why our faith is a forward-looking journey of hope.

But we can’t just say “I’m a pilgrim” and be done with it. When we look at the history of pilgrimage, especially in the Middle Ages, we learn that there are as many kinds of pilgrims as there are personality types. Not every pilgrim is a solitary travel wearing a backpack and footing it along rugged paths. Learning about the different kinds of medieval pilgrims can help to further define our journey of faith. It may even tell us something about our innermost self.

What’s your pilgrim personality? Take my assessment to find out!

1. The Exile. Your hard-core faith has led you to opt for self-banishment, setting yourself adrift in a boat and letting it take you where it will. A wanderer for God, you can handle surprises like not knowing where your boat will wash up and whether the natives are friendly. Ahoy!

By Inkwina (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
By Inkwina (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

2. The Penitent. For the crimes you’ve committed, you’ve been sentenced by a court of law to travel to a shrine. Execution and imprisonment are too good for you. Instead, you’ll be walking for A LONG time, nearly naked, with the instruments of your crime tied to you with chains.

3. The Lifer. From the moment of your birth, you’ve tried to stay on the straight and narrow path because you know you just get one shot at this pilgrimage-of-life thing. Only the good finish strong. So you look neither to the left nor the right, observe all the sacraments, and, hey, where’s the confessional?

”Descriptio Terrae Sanctae”, 15th c.

4. The Stranger. You’ve always felt a strong sense of displacement, as if you’re just too good for this world. You know there must be something better ahead, so you keep walking toward it. Heavenly Jerusalem or bust!

5. The Crusader. Inspired by a series of sermons that fired up your sense of righteous indignation, you and half the men in your village are on a mission to reclaim the most sacred sites in Christianity. While you’re in the Holy Land, you hope to steal, er, pick up a few relics for your church back home.

13th c. – Walters Art Gallery W.41.65V
13th-c. pilgrim, Walters Art Gallery W.41.65V

6. The Walker. Strong and stout of heart, you pride yourself on being able to travel to any shrine, no matter how far. You can withstand inclement weather, gossipy companions, the stench of vomit, and rats swarming your food. You’ll need to be laid up in a hospital by the time you arrive (not the hospital-as-inn; an actual, real hospital), but hey, you sure learned some good songs along the way.

7. The Mystic. You think walking long distances to shrines that all claim to have the skull of John the Baptist is overrated. You’d rather sit in your cell and let the Spirit take you to places your poor deluded backpacking friends can only imagine.

Bishop Leonhard - pilgrims
Walters Manuscript W.163, fol. 1v , 15th c.

8. The Proxy. You’re a people pleaser, so when your lord needed someone to go on pilgrimage in his place, you jumped at the chance. Not only do you get to keep your job; after you throw in a few prayers for your lord, you can take in some new scenery and maybe write a best-selling guide to boot.

9. The Adventurer. You display a healthy amount of skepticism about what happens at a shrine and a little eye-rolling at your fellow pilgrims’ tears and visions. But since it’s always a trip to go to the Holy Land, you’re in! If you get in a tussle with the sultan’s gatekeepers, so much the better. It makes for some great stories back home.

The Wife of Bath, ca. 1405-10
The Wife of Bath, ca. 1405-10

10. The Addict. You’re just not yourself unless you’re on the way to a shrine, although you can stop any time you want to. Some people call you overbearing but honestly they’re just jealous because you know so much about pilgrimage and who cares whether or not they believe the visions you’ve had or their wimple’s not as starched as yours.

So what’s your pilgrimage personality? And can you guess mine?

Next week: more on types of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. Join me!

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