The Differences Between Crusades & Pilgrimages

The most significant difference between the Crusades and medieval pilgrimages was that the Crusaders were fighting in a holy war.
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Jerusalem, along with other places in Palestine, represented the ultimate destination for medieval pilgrims. Pilgrimages were, and are, a form of showing penitence, and the long and dangerous journey to Jerusalem was part of the pilgrims' atonement for sins. Pilgrimage to the Holy Land reached a peak during the 11th century, but the Seljuk Turk invasion of Palestine threatened Christian pilgrimages. Pope Urban called for a Crusade to protect and reclaim the pilgrims' destination.

1 The Importance of Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage was, and remains for many, a journey on which a Christian does penitence for sins. Although there are pilgrimage sites in Europe, in the Middle Ages the pilgrimage to Jerusalem was considered the one most likely to bring spiritual rewards. Making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was very important to European Christians and this importance provided a reason to mount an armed Crusade. It is likely that a number of the knights who responded to Pope Urban the Second's call for a Crusade knew something about Palestine, either because they had already been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem or knew someone who had.

2 A Similar Descripton

The language used for pilgrimages and crusades suggests some sort of relationship between them. In his book "The Crusades," Nikolas Jaspert explains that both pilgrims and Crusaders were called "peregrini." Also, the Crusade was called "peregrinatio," which is Latin for pilgrimage. It was only during the 13th century, possibly from the time of the Fourth Crusade, which began in 1202, that the term "crucesignatus" is used to describe the Crusader knights. In addition, both the pilgrims and Crusaders swore the same oath to God and both wore a visible cross to show their special status, given to them by the church.

3 Similar Rewards

Pope Urban's speech calling on knights to form armies and defend the sacred Christian sites in Palestine from the Seljuk invaders suggests that Crusaders would receive the same spiritual benefits as pilgrims. The Pope was calling for an armed war, which would be costly for the knights, so he promised them absolution from sin and eternal glory if they reclaimed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, which they believed contained Christ's tomb.

4 War and Heaven

Although there appears to be many similarities between pilgrimages and Crusades, there is one significant difference: pilgrims were supposed to be unarmed and not take part in violence while on the pilgrimage. By contrast, the Crusades were a series of military campaigns in which the Crusaders' goal was salvation through warfare. Jaspert suggests that the Crusades appealed to fighting men who could now achieve absolution for sins through battle and that war as a "tool of God" was something new in European culture. Interestingly, both pilgrims and Crusaders appear to have benefited financially from these trips to Palestine. Entrepreneurial pilgrims and knights bought exotic wares along the route and sold them for profit when they returned to Europe.

Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.