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Abstract

Does the pure pilgrim exist? Probably not as a person, but the idea of a pure pilgrim is very much alive, although under threat. John Muir (2002), environmentalist and mountaineer, argued that there is a proper way to climb a mountain. By analogy, there is a virtuous way, allowing for meaningful, spiritual experiences which can be applied to proper peregrination. The early medieval ascetic understanding of pilgrims (St Jerome c. 347-420), was that of wandering monks, forsaking the bustling cities as to immerse themselves in the mercy of Christ in the solitude of the country (Webb, 2002). In modern times, pilgrimage has become rather a process of self-exile, of social and physical isolation, time used to try to come closer either to God or to one’s self. However, the concepts of authentic pilgrimage and pure pilgrim seem to be anachronistic, waning in popular pilgrimage culture. The Camino, traditionally the apex of the idea of pure pilgrimage, has now been ‘app’efied’ and commoditised, so that being a pure pilgrim is near-impossible from the perspective of the comfort needs of the modern post-pilgrim. The model of personal transformation, through suffering, avoidance of comfort and overcoming obstacles, seems to many to be unnecessary, even laughable. Yet, for an activity to have any meaning, one must not skirt the perceived rules that make that activity possible (Suits, 2005). The goal of a pilgrimage is not to arrive at the destination, but to arrive by means of being a pilgrim. The medieval pilgrims wanted to show God their willingness to make sacrifices in hope of salvation, which idea C.S Lewis (2012 [1952]:145), contends, saying that as long as pilgrims are thinking of a reciprocal relationship with God, this relationship remains skewed. The pure pilgrim must then be simply pure rather than presumptuous.

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