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Travel With Faith

Walk in the steps of Christ through the Old City of Jerusalem. Travel to the hometown of Pope John Paul II in Poland. Visit the burial place of Martin Luther in Germany. See where religious devotion meets artistic expression in La Sagrada Família, Barcelona. These faith-based trips give you access to some of the world's most sacred sites to reveal the richness of their history, both spiritual and cultural. You'll return home with a renewed sense of community, belonging, and "pure joy." 

Throughout history, people have taken pilgrimages to holy sites around the globe – the original faith-based travel.

There’s a universal drive to visit a place where something meaningful took place. Muslims visit Mecca in Saudi Arabia; Hindus travel to the Kumbh Mela, the largest gathering of humans in the world; Buddhists visit Buddha’s birthplace in India; Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Bahá'ís visit the Holy Land in Israel.

Holy pilgrimages in Europe are often Christian in origin. They’re sites of miracles; places saints traveled or were buried; locations of landmark events or precious artifacts.

Seven of the best pilgrimages to holy sites in Europe

What Is a Pilgrim?

“Pilgrims” originally referred to travelers to a holy destination, motivated by religious devotion.

Sometimes a pilgrimage is a long, reflective journey of devotion, such as walking the Camino de Santiago. Other times it’s a few hours at a holy site.

Today, pilgrimage sites aren’t just for faith-based trips: They compel travelers for cultural and secular reasons as well. Their historical and cultural significance can be profound, regardless of one’s spiritual affinity for the place.

Renowned and revered pilgrimages in Europe include the Shrine of Fatima in Portugal, the Knock Shrine in Ireland, countless pilgrimage sites across Italy, and so many more. A religious tour of Europe's holy sites should also consider the celebrated network of routes throughout Europe which make up the Camino de Santiago. Also known as the Routes of Santiago de Compostela,  these routes culminate at the most popular pilgrimage site in Spain, Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, where Saint James is said to be interred.

ENGLAND: Winchester to Canterbury

The pilgrimage to Canterbury is England’s most famous, immortalized by Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales. Published around 1400AD, it’s presented as a compilation of tales shared by ordinary pilgrims – miller, merchant, cook – on their journey to Canterbury Cathedral, where Archbishop Thomas Becket, advisor to Henry II, was killed and buried. He was subsequently venerated as a saint and martyr. Today, the North Downs Pilgrims Way traces 153 miles from Winchester to Canterbury, passing ancient holy wells, hill forts, and churches.

The World Heritage Site of the Canterbury Cathedral was founded in 597, while parts of it date to the 12th century. The ornate cathedral blends English Gothic and Romanesque architecture, adorned by magnificent medieval stained glass windows. Several Christian pilgrimages in Europe actually begin in Canterbury, such as the Via Francigena to the Holy Land via Rome.

Other pilgrimage sites in England: Stonehenge; the 18th century London home of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church. 

CZECH REPUBLIC: The Infant Jesus of Prague

A 16th-century Roman Catholic wax-coated wooden statue of Jesus as a child is one of Central Europe’s major pilgrimage destinations. The Prague church housing the Infant of Prague offers regular Mass in Czech, Spanish, Italian, and German. The figure has a wardrobe of elaborate vestments, changed according to the Catholic liturgical calendar.

Other pilgrimage sites in the Czech Republic: The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague; The Great Synagogue in Pilsen; The Sedlec Ossuary, containing 40,000 human skeletons, artfully arranged.

IRELAND: The Knock Shrine

Knock was a simple village of thatched houses in 1879 when a vision appeared of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and Saint John the Evangelist with a brightly glowing lamb, a symbol of Jesus, attended by hovering angels. 15 witnesses offered persuasive testimony, watching the figures suspended above the ground near the gable of the parish church, for two hours in rain and wind. Several Popes and Mother Teresa have visited.

Other pilgrimage sites in Ireland: Saint Patrick sites; the ruins of Glendalough, a monastic community from a thousand years ago; the summit of Croagh Patrick.

FRANCE: Lourdes

The small town of Lourdes was changed forever in 1858 when a 14-year-old peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous saw the Virgin Mary 18 times. Mary directed Bernadette to dig, uncovering a small spring thought to have healing powers.

Now, a large complex, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes - commonly known as the Domain, hosts visitors who visit the grotto where Mary appeared. The original spring that Bernadette dug can still be seen within the Grotto, lit from below and protected by a glass screen. 

The Domain includes the Grotto itself and the nearby taps which dispense the Lourdes water. In the past, chemists tested the water finding no evidence of the supernatural. Regardless, pilgrims to Lourdes still drink the water believing in its healing power. Guests are welcome to partake in the water and join nightly candlelight processions.

Lourdes is the second most important tourist center in France after Paris, and the third-ranked Catholic pilgrimage site after Rome and the Holy Land.

Other pilgrimage sites in France: Les Chemins Du Mont-Saint-Michel, a walking route to the island community of Mont Saint-Michel.

POLAND: The Black Madonna

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa depicts Madonna and child on wood. The four-foot-high icon was painted by Saint Luke, according to legend, and now hangs partially covered by elaborately embroidered and jeweled overlays, with just the painted face and hands of the figures showing through. The most celebrated miracle attributed to the icon was the monastery’s successful resistance of the Swedish Army in 1655.

Since 1711, pilgrims have walked from Warsaw to the monastery, traveling 140 miles over nine days. The chapel housing the Black Madonna dates to 1643. Walls are hung with offerings from hopeful pilgrims, including candles, rosaries and silver replicas of body parts that solicit healing.

Other pilgrimage sites in Poland: Our Lady of Gietrzwald (the “Lourdes of Poland”); the Auschwitz cell of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, killed there in 1941.

GERMANY: Martin Luther sites

When Martin Luther nailed his 96 theses to the door of the Castle Church in 1517, he launched the Protestant Reformation and eventually the Lutheran church. Scholars debate whether this actually happened, regardless, his influence is beyond dispute.

Lutheran pilgrimages in Europe focus on a cluster of cities that are enchanting medieval destinations for any traveler. Luther presented his theses in Wittenberg. Visit the Late Gothic Castle Church, where Luther is buried, and the Town Church, where Luther preached. Luther House, his home for almost 40 years, houses a museum on Reformation history, including a first edition of the Lutheran Bible. All are UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites.

Luther was born in Lutherstadt Eisleben, baptized at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, and preached his last sermons at Saint Andrew's Church. Luther House, his birthplace, has been a museum for Lutheran pilgrims since the 17th century.

In Eisenach, Luther stayed in the 11th century Wartburg Castle, in protective custody after refusing to retract his writings. He was ordained in the Cathedral in Erfurt and lived in the Augustinian Monastery there from 1505 to 1511.

Other pilgrimages in Germany: The Jakobsweg, one of many routes to Santiago de Compostela; the Via Coloniensis between Cologne and Trier.

GREECE: The Oracle at Delphi

Delphi is the site of an important pre-Christian pilgrimage, to the Oracle of Apollo. Know as the Pythia, the Oracle was an older priestess through whom Apollo prophesied. Today, some assert that fumes naturally emitted from a chasm may have intoxicated the oracle. It remained a religious destination through the 4th century AD, to be eventually abandoned as Christianity ascended. Delphi was uninhabited for many centuries and repopulated in the 16th century. This remarkable archaeological site has ruins of a stadium, a theater, the temple of Apollo, and many small temples, all overlooking a river valley carpeted with olive groves.

Other pilgrimage sites in Greece honor Saint Paul the Apostle and Saint Silas.

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