Pilgrimage and Religious Tourism

The most common form of religious travel is the pilgrimage. Pilgrims were the first mass tourists, and in the Middle Ages, most travels were to sacred areas for pilgrimage, such as the Muslims traveling to Mecca and Madina for Hajj.

However, most tourism studies argue that there is a significant difference between medieval pilgrimages and modern tourism. In the Middle Ages, travels for pilgrimage involved genuine religious beliefs; in the modern age, even when travel is driven by religion, people also want to see other (cultural) attractions (Abbate and Di Nuovo 2013). Anthropologists state that, in addition to spiritual motives, other elements of cultural heritage have made travel to sacred sites and shrines an important tourist activity because of the cultural heritage that is concentrated in sacred places (Vukonic 2002).

Pilgrimage can be defined as “a journey resulting from religious causes, externally to a holy site, and internally for spiritual purposes and internal understanding” (Barber 1993: 1). Russell (1999) indicates that pilgrimage tourism is a specific area that primarily attracts visitors who combine religious aspects with sight-seeing, holidaying, culture, and relaxation.

Religious tourism is defined as a form of tourism whose participants are motivated partially or exclusively by religious reasons (Rinschede 1992). It involves visiting local, regional, national, or international pilgrimage sites, attending religious ceremonies, conferences, and celebrations, and all other religious-oriented meetings that require travel away from the home environment (Rodrigues and McIntosh 2014). People travel to visit religious attractions, including cathedrals, statues, temples, or mosques, or to attend festivals or religious events (Saayman et al. 2014). Rinschede (1992) indicates that visiting religious sites is usually linked with other types of tourism (particularly cultural tourism).

The Mediterranean countries have always been an important destination for pilgrims, particularly Christians, because of the numerous sacred sites that exist there, such as Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Lourdes in France, Jerusalem in Israel, Fatima in Portugal, and the highest authority of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome. The Holy Land of Israel and the Palestinian Authority contain many sites sacred to the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) and is a destination for pilgrims from these faiths (Fleischer 2000).

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