Pilgrimages in the Middle Ages
Pilgrimages were popular in Europe and Scandinavia in the Middle Ages. The main destinations were Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre, the tomb of St. Peter the Apostle in Rome and the tomb of St. James the Apostle in Santiago de Compostela. In the Nordic countries, the key destinations were Vadstena and the shrine of Saint Olaf in Nidaros (the old name for Trondheim).
In the Middle Ages, the pilgrimage movement grew significantly in Europe and its need for infrastructure became a driving force of economic development in the 8th century. This need resulted in the construction of roads, bridges, shelters, churches and monasteries.
The pilgrimage movement brought the Nordic region into the European community. Millions and millions of people were travelling constantly and it is estimated that between 20 and 50 per cent of Europe’s adult population took part in pilgrimages from 1150 to 1450. In the 1540s, king Gustav Vasa forbade pilgrimages in Sweden.
It has become popular to walk the pilgrimage routes again and there are many ancient paths in Sweden that have been “rediscovered” and are now attracting modern-day pilgrims. Many of the medieval routes in Sweden have been surveyed and marked out and new routes have been identified. The idea of walking the ancient pilgrimage routes has been reignited by the need within our restless society for inner calm and tranquillity.
Why go on a pilgrimage?
There are many reasons for walking a pilgrimage route. You don’t have to be religious or seeking spiritual fulfilment. Many of us long to take a break from everyday life, to give our minds a rest and use our bodies. Some people are working their way out of a crisis. Others are looking for an adventure. Many enjoy the feeling of exhaustion that comes after trekking a long distance on foot.
A pilgrimage can also be undertaken for spiritual purposes. Today, many people experience an inner void and want to find something that can fill that emptiness. A pilgrimage is an outer journey that also takes you on an inner journey with the opportunity to discover yourself and the important values in life. Prayer, meditation, silence and shared reflection are used as part of the pilgrimage to help discover new insights.
A pilgrimage is therefore ecumenical and open to all who are seekers and are looking for spiritual fellowship. It is for those who are looking for depth and meaning in their lives in some way, or those who wish to go out and enjoy the natural world, use their bodies and share an experience with other people.
Lödöse – a centre for pilgrims
In the Middle Ages, Lödöse was one of Sweden’s largest towns and a centre for many pilgrims. We know this from all the pilgrim badges that have been unearthed in Lödöse and are now on display in Lödöse Museum.
Pilgrims passed Lödöse on their way to and from Santiago de Compostela and other places in Europe, Trondheim/Nidaros, Skara and Vadstena. Pilgrims made the journey from Lödöse to Nidaros via Edsleskog in Dalsland.
In a letter dated 1279, Pope Nicholas III called Lödöse Portus Scarensis, the port of Skara diocese. A tax, called “Peter’s Pence”, was collected by the churches of Sweden and was sent via Lödöse to Rome. The international trade was moved from Lödöse to New Lödöse, a predecessor to Gothenburg, in 1473. When making the routes between Gothenburg, Lödöse, Skara and Vänersborg available to modern pilgrims, the aim was to recreate the old routes and deepen our knowledge of the Middle Ages.