Religious Pilgrimages Are The Oldest Form of Travel

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Jul 19, 2011


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Culture, Education, Student Life

Religious Pilgrimages Are The Oldest Form of Travel

Written by: Tracy Ehlers (Faculty-Anthropology)

Photos by: Lori Fares

My FDP for Dubrovnik was actually not in Croatia, but in Bosnia. It was in Medugorje, where in 1981, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to six children who were playing on a hilltop. I chose this trip because of its relevance to my class, the Anthropology of Tourism. Religious pilgrimages are the oldest form of travel, and this site has become the 3rd most popular Catholic travel destination in Europe. Every year hundreds of thousands of people come to experience the presence and words of the Virgin Mary, who speaks to them on the 2nd and 25th of each month. We were there in between those dates, but there were still several thousand pilgrims climbing the hill and then in the hourly masses in the church, each in a different language. Quite something. There was a lot of impromptu singing as people climbed the hill.

My comment was that the Colorado Mountain Club would have done something about that walk. It meant navigating over these marbleized rocks that never let your legs rest. And it was so so hot. Walking from one pointy rock face to another. I had to ask a student to walk down in front of me with my hand on his shoulder or I would have lost it soooo many times. Death for everyone’s knees. I almost fainted after climbing down. Heat. Age. Exertion. Deadly combo. I recovered and we had lunch and did a little shopping. The greatest chatchkas I have ever seen, up to (but not including) a Barbie Medugorje. Shop after shop with stuff, all with the same Virgin Mary image: the usual crosses and rosaries, but also hats, fans, cups, pillows, statues, umbrellas, playing cards, etc. It was a crazy combination of reverent pilgrims and the airport art I associate with bubble tourism.
I should note that this trip began with a 2 ½ hour bus ride north along the coast, which was spectacular. It was almost worth it just for the scenery. Then we turned toward the mountains and went through a gigantic, lush valley of citrus trees and dozens of other fruits and vegetables. It seemed to go on for miles and miles.
The students’ response to the trip was very positive. Many of them knew about the site and went to get the spiritual experience or to buy rosaries for their mothers and grandmothers. Others just went because it was a required FDP. But everyone was moved in some way by the positive vibe of the place.

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