Medieval Studies Art and Pilgrimage
Jennifer Lee
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0106


Pilgrimage art is not a type of art but rather a context for the interactions between pilgrims, people involved in the devotional practice of pilgrimage, and the art and architecture they encountered. Many types of art contributed to the medieval pilgrimage experience, including the buildings in which saints’ relics were housed, the ornaments and furnishings of these churches, the reliquaries and shrines that held the relics, and the badges that pilgrims wore to identify themselves and to commemorate their journeys. Of course, pilgrims were not the only viewers of any of these works. The intersection of art and pilgrimage informs about both pilgrimage history and art history. It also provides a distinct category of viewer from whose perspective medieval art can be considered. The works listed in this article include studies of pilgrimage art, most of which were written since 1990, as well as studies of pilgrimage with strong implications for art and studies of art particularly relevant to pilgrimage. Further exploration of the topic beyond the works included here would include the vast literature on both medieval art and medieval pilgrimage, treated independently. Other directions include the many sources on individual sites and saints’ cults. The scope of this article is Christian pilgrimage in western Europe c. 1000–c. 1500. Pilgrimage of course has a longer history. Pilgrimage in the Byzantine Church, the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and the Crusades are consciously excluded from this listing as well. Of the many pilgrimage sites in western Europe, this survey deals with only the largest: Rome, Santiago de Compostela, and Canterbury, and the rather distinct practice of pilgrimage in medieval Ireland. Other sites are included here only when there are significant studies that focus on the artistic aspects of their pilgrimage cults.

General Overviews

Of the works listed here, Ashley and Deegan 2009 can be most solidly defined as an overview of medieval pilgrimage and art. Girault and Girault 2001 is organized similarly, though with a stronger emphasis on images of pilgrims. The others serve as overviews of specific aspects of the topic, including regional and thematic. Mâle 1922 is a broad iconographic study of 12th-century French art, important for being the first art historical work to identify the pilgrimage routes through Spain and France as channels for the transmission of visual art, a theory indebted to Jacques Bédier’s studies of epic poetry. Sumption 1975 is an accessible overview of medieval pilgrimage, though imprecise in many specifics. Nilson 1998 and Duffy 1992 have specific regional foci, though the ramifications of Duffy’s study extend beyond England. Gerson 2006 should be consulted as a historiographical overview rather than a study of the subject itself. Chareyron 2000 is noteworthy for its attention to pilgrims’ experience of art and architecture in Venice.

  • Ashley, Kathleen, and Marilyn Deegan. Being a Pilgrim: Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to Santiago. Farnham, UK: Lund Humphries, 2009.

    Combining the formats of a catalogue of images, a pictorial travelogue, and a thematically organized text, this is a logical starting point for exploration of the topic of pilgrimage art or a reference for specific topics within the field.

  • Chareyron, Nicole. Les pèlerins de Jérusalem au Moyen âge: L’aventure du saint voyage d’après journaux et mémoires. Paris: Imago, 2000.

    Description of the journey to and in Jerusalem compiled from medieval travelers’ accounts. Although many books relate the pilgrims’ experiences within the Holy Land, this is unusual for also attending to sites pilgrims encountered in other cities such as Venice, Cairo, and Alexandria. The book has been published in English as Pilgrims to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages, translated by W. Donald Wilson (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).

  • Duffy, Eamon. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, c. 1400–1580. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

    Influential study of lay religion in England in the 15th and 16th centuries during the Reformation, important for demonstrating the vigor of lay religion during this period, when English pilgrimage sites were suppressed and their arts dispersed and destroyed. Duffy’s focus is not art, but the book provides essential historical context.

  • Gerson, Paula. “Art and Pilgrimage: Mapping the Way.” In A Companion to Medieval Art: Romanesque and Gothic in Northern Europe. Edited by Conrad Rudolph, 599–618. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405102865.2006.00029.x

    Excellent historiographical survey of the study of pilgrimage art; defines scholarly “camps” into which most individual studies fall. Traces changes in scholarly focus over the 20th century, including the role of nationalism in the first half of the century and the rise of anthropology in the second.

  • Girault, Marcel, and Pierre-Gilles Girault. Visages de pèlerins au Moyen âge: Les pèlerinages européens dans l’art et l’épopée. Saint-Léger-Vauban, France: Zodiaque, 2001.

    Thematic essays on major themes in the study of pilgrimage, supported by full-color photographs with catalogue-style entries.

  • Mâle, Emile. L’art religieux du XIIe siècle en France: Étude sur les origines de l’iconographie du Moyen âge. Paris: Colin, 1922.

    This encyclopedic study of the meaning and origins of medieval imagery applies Joseph Bédier’s literary studies of the transmission of chansons de geste (traveling songs) along the pilgrimage routes to the question of visual imagery. The book has been translated into English as Religious Art in France, the Twelfth Century: A Study of the Origins of Medieval Iconography, translated by Marthiel Mathews and edited by Harry Bober (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978).

  • Nilson, Ben. Cathedral Shrines of Medieval England. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 1998.

    This is a focused study of the shrines of pilgrimage saints in medieval English cathedrals with an emphasis on economics. A large part of the book is given to a consideration of the financial aspects of pilgrimage cults. Tables and charts at the back show objective data about pilgrims’ financial offerings at shrines where such information is available.

  • Sumption, Jonathan. Pilgrimage: An Image of Medieval Religion. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1975.

    A general overview indeed, and many specific points can be contested, but still valuable for its attention to the perspective and experience of lay pilgrims and thus for the pilgrim audience for medieval art.

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