Pilgrims and Pilgrimage



Abram, later called Abraham
First of the patriarchs of Israel. Called by God to leave his home and go in search of a land which God would show him. Father of Ishmael and Isaac.
Active life
Life of practical service and involvement in the every day world.
According to the Book of Genesis, Adam was the first human being. Chose to eat the forbidden fruit and was, as a result, banished with Eve from the Garden of Eden.
Used of piety/devotion which encourages empathy with the sufferings of Christ and imaginative participation in the events of the life of Christ, particularly his Passion and death on the Cross.
A story offering, or susceptible to, multiple levels of interpretation.
Anchoress (f.) Anchorite (m.)
Person leading a solitary life of prayer.
See anchorite.
Greek angelos,´messenger´. Heavenly messenger traditionally portrayed as having winged human form.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
A collection of annals telling the history of the Anglo-Saxons and their settlement in Britain. It was initated by Alfred the Great c.890 and continued until the mid-twelfth Century.
Anne, St
(1st Century AD). Pseudo-historical mother of the Virgin Mary, also known as Anna or Hannah. The parents of the Virgin Mary are not mentioned in the canonical gospel, but the apocryphal Protevangelium of James states that they were called Joachim and Anne and offers a detailed account of the Virgin's birth and early life.
Anthony of Egypt, St
(c.251?-356). Hermit whose solitary life in the desert influenced many.
One of the twelve men originally chosen by Christ and commissioned to preach the Gospel to the nations. In Acts 1 Matthias was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot. St Paul also claimed the status of an apostle.
Bishop who also presides over a group of dioceses or provinces.
(Greek askesis 'training') Way of life designed to subdue vice and encourage virtue. In Christian thought involves commitment to self-denial in order to follow Christ (Mark. 8: 34). Important in both monasticism and mysticism as a means to free the soul to love and experience God more fully.
Athanasius, St
Bishop of Alexandria (c.328-373). Author of many influential theological works, which earned him the title "Father of Orthodoxy."
Augustine, St. of Hippo
(354-430) Bishop in North Africa. Author of many influential theological works including On Christian Doctrine, Confessions and City of God.


The Sacramental rite of admission into the Christian Church. The candidate is immersed in or sprinkled with water in the name of the Trinity.
Barbara, St
(third or fourth century?) pseudo-historical virgin martyr who is claimed as a native of a number of places, including Egypt, Rome and Tuscany.
Becket, St Thomas
English Archbishop (Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162) and martyr, famously murdered by knights of Henry II at Canterbury Cathedral after dispute with Henry II. Miracles soon recorded at his tomb. Canonised 1173, his shrine becoming one of the most popular pilgrimage centres in Christendom.
Benedict Biscop, St
(c.628-689/690). Born into noble Northumbrian family. Became monk of Lerins (666), abbot in Canterbury (669). Founded monasteries of St Peter at Wearmouth (674) and St Paul at Jarrow (682). Made five journeys to Rome; brought back manuscripts, paintings and relics.
Benedict, St, of Nursia
(c.480-c.550). Educated in Rome, became a hermit c.500. A community grew up round him and twelve monasteries were established. c.525 moved to Monte Cassino where he set out plans for reform of monasticism and composed his Rule which became the most influential guide to the monastic life in the Western Church.
Benedictine Rule
In the medieval West the most influential guide for those following the monastic life was the Rule of St Benedict (c.480-550), drawn up for his monks at Monte Cassino and promoted in England by St Wilfrid (d. 709). Benedictines (Black Monks) led a highly-disciplined life of prayer (the opus dei or 'work of God'), study and manual work.
(Greek Biblia 'books'). The Christian Bible comprises the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament, drawn from writings produced from c.40-125 AD.
Birgitta, St, of Sweden
(c.1303-73). Founder of the Brigittine order of nuns. The revelations she was believed to have received in visions were highly regarded in the Middle Ages, influencing Margery Kempe among others. Also known as St Bridget.
Bishops had pastoral care over a diocese and authority to confirm and ordain.
Boniface, St (Wynfrith)
(680-754). Anglo-Saxon missionary to Germany. Archbishop of Mainz c.747. Martyred in Frisia.
Book of Acts
The Book of Acts is the fifth book of the New Testament and tells the history of the Early Church.
Book of Hours
Book for private devotion. Usually contained the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Office of the Dead and the seven penitential psalms. Very popular among the laity.


Caesarius, St, of Arles
(c.470-542). Bishop of Arles 502. Influential figure in the church in Gaul.
Son of Adam and Eve who failed to win God's approval, murdered his brother Abel in a jealous rage (Genesis 4) and was condemned to exile.
Priest who is part of a group of clergy attached to a cathedral.
Process of examination of the claims of an individual to sainthood culminating in official recognition.
A city in the south east of England, Canterbury is the seat of England’s senior archbishop. Its prominence derives from the fact that it was here that St Augustine of Canterbury (d.609), who had been sent by Pope Gregory the Great to convert the English in 597, established his ecclesiastical headquarters. In the Anglo-Saxon period Canterbury’s monasteries were places of learning and artistry. After the Norman Conquest the cathedral was magnificently rebuilt by Archbishop Lanfranc and then embellished by Archbishop Anselm. The horrific martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 only added to the cathedral’s prominence as a place of pilgrimage and the east end of the church was dramatically remodelled in the Gothic style.
Cantilupe, St Thomas/St Thomas of Hereford
(1218-82) English bishop, from a noble Norman family, whose shrine became the focus of many healing miracles after his death.
Cassian, John
(c.360-435). Left his monastery in Bethlehem to visit the Desert Fathers and eventually settled in Gaul. His Institutes (one of the earliest collections of instructions for the monastic life to be written in Western Europe) and Conferences (accounts of conversations with the anchorite abbots of the Egyptian desert) profoundly influenced Western monasticism.
A manual of instruction in the essential teachings of the Christian faith.
Church which contains the throne (Latin cathedra) of the bishop and hence the mother church of the diocese.
(Greek Christos, trans. of the Hebrew 'Messiah', the anointed one of Jewish prophecy). Title (eventually used as name) given to Jesus, as fulfilling this prophecy.
Christopher, St
(3rd Century AD?). The patron saint of pilgrims and travellers. A martyr saint subject of later legends: nothing certain is known of Christopher other than a record of his death in Asia Minor. The name Christopher means ’Christ-bearer’ and this description is the basis of his legend. Usually said to be a native of Canaan, he is described as a giant, twelve miles tall in some accounts, who wished to serve the mightiest of masters.
Chrysostom, St John
(Greek Chrysostom 'golden-mouthed') (c.347-407). Bishop of Constantinople, Father of the Church.
Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria (c.150-215). Saint and theologian.
A square-shaped covered walkway attached to a monastery or church. It was designed as a place for prayer and meditation.
(Greek koinos bios ’common life’) A member of a monastic community, as opposed to eremitical monastic life as opposed to a hermit or anchorite.
2. Adjective form: Coenobitic or Cenobitic
City in Germany which housed the relics of the Magi and St Ursula.
Also known as ’anti-structure’, a state ideally involving unmediated, spontaneous relations with others, combining egalitarianism with the removal of everyday social obligations and expectations. Closely linked with liminality.
  1. Profession of faith.
  2. Acknowledgement of one's sins. In the medieval church, sins were confessed to a priest as part of the Sacrament of Penance.
Constantine the Great
Roman Emperor (c.285-337). The first Christian ruler of the Roman Empire who established Christianity as the state religion of the Empire.
Prayer and meditation, often focused on a biblical event or an image, through which the individual hoped to experience God directly.
Contemplative life
Withdrawal from the affairs of the world in order to focus on an inner life of prayer.
Councils of the Church
Although theologians made a contribution to the process of defining doctrine, ultimate responsibility lay with the bishops and from the fourth century final decisions were made at a succession of councils. The seven councils of bishops from East and West recognised by the Catholic church, were Nicea I (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680-1) and Nicea II (787). After the schism between the churches of East and West the folowing Councils were recognised as Oecumenical by the Western Church alone: Constantinople IV (869-70); Lateran I (1123); Lateran II (1139); Lateran III (1179); Lateran IV (1215); Lyons I (1245); Lyons II (1274); Vienne (1311-12); Constance (1414-18); Florence (1438-9); Lateran V (1512-17). The Fourth Lateran Council defined the doctrine of transubstantiation and required all adults to go to confession and receive Communion every Easter.
Instrument of torture and execution used in the Roman Empire. The means by which Christ was put to death and therefore the primary symbol of the Christian faith, representing the means by which he is believed to have won forgiveness for humankind. The Cross may be represented as Tau-shaped (like a capital T); with a shorter cross-bar or with a circle enclosing the upper intersection (Celtic). In medieval art a cross made of living branches signifies the Tree of Life. St Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, is said to have discovered the True Cross (ie the Cross on which Christ died) in 326 during a visit to Jerusalem.
Execution by nailing or binding to a cross. Used frequently in Roman Empire. The crucifixion of Jesus, recorded in all four Gospels, is believed by Christians to have made salvation available to humankind.
Holy war authorised by the Pope. Most were directed towards the liberation of the Holy Land from Muslim control but they were also undertaken against heretics in Western Europe.
In the context of the study of the Middle Ages this phrase is used to describe the devotion which develops around and is focussed on a saint or their relics. A cult may be expressed by ritual, festivals, art, architecture, prayers and writings.
Cuthbert, St
(d. 687). Celtic monk and hermit. Bishop of Lindisfarne 685.
Cyprian, St. (c.200-58). Bishop of Carthage from 248.


Evil spiritual force opposing God and seeking to lead human beings away from him.
Desert Fathers and Mothers
Name given to Christian hermits who moved to the deserts of Egypt and Palestine from the 3rd century CE onwards. Some adopted a form of community life which inspired the development of monastic orders.
Dorothy, St
(d. c.303 or 313). Virgin martyr, generally thought to have died at Caesarea in Cappadocia (part of modern Turkey) during the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Diocletian, although her body is said to be in Rome. There are no authenticated historical details of her life and her cult is little known before the fourteenth century. Dorothy is sometimes named as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers who helped Christians on their journey through life.


Edmund, St
(d. 869) Anglo-Saxon king and martyr whose shrine at Bury St Edmunds attracted many pilgrims.
Edward the Confessor, St
(1003/5-1066). Anglo-Saxon king and saint (reigned 1042-1066), whose shrine remains in Westminster Abbey. Son of Æthelred (reigned 978-1016), often known as the ‘Unready’, and his second wife, Emma, the daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy. One of only two English saints whose shrines survived the Reformation intact.
St Elizabeth
Mother of John the Baptist, wife of Zechariah and cousin of the Virgin Mary. The only certain knowledge of Elizabeth and her husband is found in Chapter 1 of the Gospel of Luke.
St Elizabeth of Hungary
A Hungarian princess, also known as St Elizabeth of Thuringia, Elizabeth was married at the age of fourteen to Ludwig (or Louis) IV, Landgrave of Thuringia, who died only six years later from the plague during the Third Crusade. Throughout her adult life she practised heroic acts of charity and austerity, and was canonised only four years after her death. Her relics in the church of St Elizabeth in Marburg were the object of pilgrimage until 1539, when they were removed by the Lutheran Phillip of Hesse.
Referring to the in-depth, qualitative observation and description of a people or culture.
The first woman, created by God as Adam's companion. Persuaded by the serpent to use her freewill to choose to eat the forbidden fruit and, as a result, banished with Adam from the Garden of Eden.
Ex Votos
(Latin 'from a vow) An offering in thanksgiving for a favour such as recovery from illness.
Periods when the Israelites were compelled to leave their land.
  1. The departure of the Israelites from Egypt and forty-year journey through the wilderness towards Canaan.
  2. Second book of the Old Testament.


Fall of Humankind
Adam and Eve's act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2&3) which led to estrangement from God for them and their descendants.
Fathers of the Church
Christian leaders and thinkers, living mostly between the end of the first century and the eighth century, whose writings (including biblical commentaries, sermons, histories, poetry and biography) were considered to carry particular authority. Key figures included St Ambrose (b. 340), Bishop of Milan (374-397), St Jerome (340/2-420) and St Augustine (b. 354), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa (396-430). The term can also refer more generally to the many churchmen who were deemed to be authoritative commentators on doctrinal, theological, liturgical and biblical matters between the 1st and 12th centuries.
Feast of Booths
During the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles), when the harvest was gathered, the Israelites lived in temporary shelters.
Feast of Weeks
Jewish feast, celebrated at the beginning of the wheat harvest. Also called Pentecost.
Reconcilliation with God made possible by his forgiveness of the sins of humankind through his grace.
Fourteen Holy Helpers
Group of saints invoked as protectors against disease and other dangers, and in particular at the moment of death.
Francis, St, of Assisi
(1181/2-1226). Founder of the Franciscan order of friars. In 1208, challenged by Christ's words to 'Leave all' (Matthew 10: 7-19), embarked upon a life of poverty and was soon joined by others for whom he devised a simple Rule. The order grew rapidly reaching England in 1224.
(Latin frater, Middle English frere 'brother'). Member of one of the mendicant (begging) orders.


Garden of Eden
Original idyllic home of humankind at the creation, thought to be located in Mesopotamia.
First book of the Old Testament.
George, St
(d.303?) Pseudo-historical martyr, renowned as a soldier-saint and dragon-slayer though there is little evidence that he ever existed.
(Greek evangelion, Old English godspel 'good news').
  1. The central message of the Christian faith concerning salvation.
  2. Title given to the four New Testament books which describe the life of Christ i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
  3. A reading taken from one of the four Gospels which has the place of honour in the Mass.
The undeserved favour of God, given to enable an individual to grow spiritually.
Gregory I, St (Gregory the Great)
Born Rome c.540, died 12 March 604. Pope between 590 and 604. Responsible for sending the mission, led by Augustine, to the Anglo-Saxons in 597. One of the earliest accounts of his life was written by an anonymous Anglo-Saxon monk at Whitby. One of the 'Fathers of the Church', credited with many liturgical reforms and responsible for many works of biblical exegesis. Wrote commentaries on scripture, homilies, the Dialogues and Book of Pastoral Care.
Guthlac, St
c.674-714. Anglo-Saxon warrior who became a hermit in the fens at Crowland.


(Greek hagios, holy graphe, writing). This term was originally used to describe a group of books in the Old Testament, including the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Chronicles and Nehemiah, which were neither prophecy nor part of the law. It was subsequently adopted to describe the body of literature and knowledge gathered from both written and oral sources which relates to the lives and posthumous miracles of the saints. A common form of written source for hagiography is the biographical vita (Latin 'Life'). Hagiography is now also the name given to the study of saints and their cults.
The dwelling-place of God and the angels and eventually all those redeemed by Christ.
Heavenly Jerusalem
In the Old Testament, Jerusalem, the City of God’s Temple, became the pre-eminent place where God was encountered and worshipped. New Testament writers, particularly the authors of Hebrews and The Book of Revelation (particularly Chapter 21) held out the vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem, the true goal and home of Christian people and the place where the promise of the earthly city was fulfilled. This city was the work of God himself and his faithful people would be its inhabitants.
Helena, St
(c.255-c.330) Mother of the Emperor Constantine. In 326 visited Palestine where she founded churches on sites linked with key biblical events. According to later tradition, discovered the True Cross (i.e. the cross on which Christ had been crucified).
The abode of devils and the place to which unrepentant souls will pass after the Last Judgement.
Belief considered contrary to the generally accepted teaching of the Church.
(Greek eremos 'desert'). Person who has retired from society to follow the spiritual life in solitude. Unlike anchorites not confined to one spot.
Holy Land
A common term for the area of what is now Israel/Palestine where Jesus spent his earthly life. Such a term expresses the allure of pilgrimage to the actual places where Jesus lived and died and was also a concept which inspired the crusading movement.
Holy Spirit (Ghost)
Third person of the Trinity.


The remission by the Church of the time of temporal punishment for sins, based on the merits of Christ and the saints.
Literally ’being a go-between’ in Christian theology, intercession is the term used to describe the act of approaching God on behalf of another. The New Testament, particularly the Book of Hebrews, describes Jesus as the intercessor between God and humanity, performing the priestly role of 'go-between'. The Medieval Church understood that saints performed this role for their devotees. There was a general understanding that those saints whose lives were most closely connected to Christ¤s, above all his mother the Virgin Mary, were the most efficacious intercessors. From the twelfth century images of the Last Judgement showed the Virgin kneeling to intercede for sinners. Intercession can also be used to describe prayers which Christians make on behalf of others.
Descendants of Israel (Jacob) and occupants of Israel.


James, St, 'The Great' (Santiago de Compostela)
(1st Century AD). Apostle. Son of Zebedee and brother of St John. Witnessed Transfiguration of Christ. First of the twelve disciples to be martyred (AD 44). Seventh-century tradition claimed he visited Spain. His shrine at Compostela a major medieval pilgrimage centre.
Jerome, St
(330/347-420). Biblical scholar. Studied in Rome, then adopted ascetic life. Eventually settled in Bethlehem. Main translator of the Vulgate.
City captured and made into the capital city of Israel by King David. Site of the Temple built by Solomon, and of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, it is a holy city for Jews, Chrisitians and Muslims.
(Greek form of Hebrew 'Joshua' meaning 'Yahweh [God] is salvation'). Also given the title Christ, meaning 'anointed one' or Messiah. His life is recorded mainly in the Four Gospels although he is also mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus (c 37-c.100) and the Roman historian Tacitus (c.110).
John the Baptist, St
(d. c.30 AD). Son of Zachariah and Elizabeth (cousin of the Virgin Mary), and the ’forerunner’ whose ministry of preaching and baptism prepared the way for the message of Jesus.. Appeared c.AD 27 by the banks of the Jordan preaching repentance. He baptised Jesus in the Jordan and hailed him as the ’Lamb of God’. Later beheaded by Herod Antipas at the instigation of Salome due to his criticism of Herod’s incestuous marriage to Herodias (Matthew 14:1-12).
John of Beverley, St
(d. 721). An English bishop whose shrine was renowned for healing miracles, attracting large numbers of pilgrims. His life combines the asceticism of a hermit with his role of as a bishop. He is one of the saints mentioned by Julian of Norwich, although her reference to him suggests that by the end of the Middle Ages his cult had become conflated with the legend of the ’hairy hermit’.
Joseph, St
Husband of the Virgin Mary. According to the Gospels a carpenter and descendant of David. The Protevangelium describes him as very old at the time of his marriage, a view reflected in the medieval cycle plays.
Joseph of Arimathea
Member of the I (the Jewish ruling council) and a secret follower of Jesus. He took no part in Jesus’ condemnation and arranged for the burial of Jesus’ body in his own tomb. Later legends associated him with the Holy Grail - the cup used at the Last Supper - and with the founding of the monastery at Glastonbury in the south west of England. The holy thorn there was supposed to have sprung from his staff and it was said that he had brought relics of Christ’s blood and sweat to England. He was also supposed to have been the maker of the miraculous crucifix, the ’volto santo’, revered at Lucca in Italy.
Judgement Day
The expected return of Christ in glory to judge the living and the dead and to bring to an end the present world order. Also known as the 'Second Coming of Christ.'
Julian the Hospitaller, St
Pseudo-historical saint. An important exemplar of pilgrimage, particularly when undertaken as penance.
Juliana, St
d.305?. Pseudo-historical virgin martyr who is claimed to have suffered at Nicomedia (now known as Izmit, in northern Turkey). She seems to have become confused, or conflated, with another St Juliana, from Cumae (in Campania, on the coast of southern Italy).


Katherine, St
(4th Century AD?). Pseudo-historical virgin martyr, regarded as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.
Kempe, Margery
(c.1373-after 1433). Wrote book describing her spiritual experiences and pilgrimages.


Langland, William
The author of Piers Plowman, a late fourteenth-century alliterative poem.
Last Judgement
The final judgement on mankind when all will have to give account of their lives to Christ as Judge.
The written text of the formal services of the church.
The Lollards were a religious sect, considered to be heretics in England in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, whose beliefs evolved from the earlier teachings of the Oxford theologian, John Wyclif. Central to the Lollards' theology was their belief in the primacy of Scripture and its accessibility to all people in the vernacular to study and interpret. As literal interpreters of the Bible, Lollards strongly opposed religious practices that were not grounded in Scripture, such as the use of images, indulgences, prayers for the dead, pilgrimages, auricular confession and clerical celibacy. The Lollards were also dissatisfied with the Church hierarchy based in Rome and the corruption and wealth of the Church. They opposed clerics holding secular office and the Church maintaining worldly possessions. Their most distinctive belief was their rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation; the Lollards argued that the Eucharist was a symbolic act and not a real miracle. Originally a follower of John Wyclif but later applied to anyone critical of the church.
Lucca is a city in northern Tuscany which was governed as a Republic throughout the Middle Ages. It was a centre of silk production from the eleventh century. It was consequently prosperous and enjoyed commercial ties with many parts of Europe.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a monk of the 'Augustinian Order of hermits' from 1505. In 1511 he became professor of biblical exegesis at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. Through his study he came to believe that it was through faith alone that people could grasp the salvation offered through Christ and that sacramental and penitential practices of the Medieval Church, such as pilgrimages and indulgences, were thus futile. These conclusions underpinned his ninety-five theses pinned to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral in 1517. Luther became the leading figure in the German Reformation.


(Greek magoi 'sages'). The 'wise men from the East' (Matthew 2: 1) who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus. The New Testament account says nothing of their rank, number or names. It was Tertullian (c.160-c.225) who described them as kings and Origen (b. c.185) who gave their number as three. A 6th-century work names them as Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar.
Margaret of Antioch, St
(Early 4th Century AD). Pseudo-historical virgin martyr, known in the Eastern Church as St Marina. A Greek account of her martyrdom was translated into Latin at an early date, and this led to the variation in her name between East and West. She is usually thought to have suffered martyrdom during the persecution of Emperor Diocletian around 303 CE.
Relating to the Virgin Mary
(Greek martus 'witness'). One who suffers death on account of faith in Christ.
Mary, the Blessed Virgin, Mother of Jesus
The account of Mary's life in the New Testament was amplified by apocryphal documents and a number of doctrines concerning her person and role developed in succeeding centuries. Justin Martyr (d. c.165) contrasted Mary's obedience with the disobedience of Eve. The Book of James (c.mid 2nd century) named her parents as Joachim and Anna and asserted her perpetual virginity. The Council of Ephesus (431) confirmed the title of theotokos, godbearer. St Ambrose held her to be a type of the church. The belief that she did not die but was taken up bodily into heaven was celebrated in the Feast of the Assumption. The assertion that Mary, like her son, had been immaculately conceived (i.e. free from original sin) was disputed throughout the Middle Ages. Faith in Mary's powers as intercessor on behalf of sinful men and women was given fresh impetus by St Bernard (1090-1153) and she was popularly regarded as the Queen of Heaven. Although theologians distinguished between veneration accorded to Mary and the worship due only to her Son, this may not always have been fully understood at a popular level. See Joys and Sorrows of Mary. Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Purification (February 2); Annunciation (March 25); Assumption (August 15); Nativity (September 8); Conception (December 8).
Mary of Egypt
(c.270 or 5th Century AD). One of the ’desert mothers’, St Mary of Egypt was a converted prostitute who subsequently expressed her penitence through a life of asceticism. Also known as Mary the Harlot.
Mary Magdalene, St
According to the Gospels Mary was delivered by Christ from 'seven devils' (Luke 8: 2), stood by the cross (Mark 15: 40), discovered the empty tomb, and was the first to encounter the Risen Christ (Mark 16, John 20: 11-18). Tradition also identified her with the 'sinner' who anointed Christ's feet (Luke 7: 37-50) and with Mary of Bethany.
(Also called the Eucharist, Holy Communion or Lord's Supper). The chief sacramental service of the Church, incorporating praise, intercession and readings from scripture. The central action is the consecration of the bread and wine by the priest, recalling the words and actions of Christ at the Last Supper and commemorating the sacrifice which he offered for the sins of mankind on the cross. In the medieval Church the Mass was celebrated daily; it was also offered for the souls of the dead.
In Muhammad’s day a small shrine settlement halfway down the western coast of Arabia and forty-five miles inland from the Red Sea. Now, as the site of the Ka’ba and the epicenter of the annual Hajj, it is the primary Holy City for a global population of nearly a billion Muslims.
An event evoking wonder, in which a person is believed to be the agent of God's power. In the Bible, miracles tend to be associated with key people at critical periods of history, such as the Exodus, the ministry of Jesus and the Apostles.
The house of a religious community.
See Monasticism.
The monastic movement began in Egypt towards the end of the third century and developed in the West in the fourth century. The first monks (monos, alone), lived a solitary life but communities soon emerged, developing traditions and patterns of worship. Monks took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Communal life was built around prayer, the opus dei or work of God.
Member of male religious community.
A person who seeks direct spiritual encounter with God, usually through a life of self-denial and contemplation.
Related to an intensely personal experience of encounter with God, achieved through the practice of contemplation and self-denial.
Intensely personal experience of encounter with God, achieved through the practice of contemplation and self-denial.


Birth of Christ.
New Testament
Writings produced by the Christian community c.50-100 AD and subsequently affirmed as authoritative by the church.
  • i. The Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John;
  • ii. Acts (the Early Church);
  • iii. Epistles (Letters to churches and individuals): Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude;
  • iv. Revelation (Apocalypse). Description of the Heavenly Jerusalem.
Nicholas, St
(d. c.345-352). Bishop of Myra, in Lycia (situated in modern-day Turkey). Little is known of his life, but his cult has been one of the most significant of all saints in terms of the numbers of dedications and other evidence of devotion to him in both Eastern and Western Christianity. He is notable as the origin of the concept of Father Christmas, an aspect derived from a specific episode of gift giving in his pseudo-historical legend. However, his significance to medieval people, and particularly pilgrims, lay in his role as the patron saint of sailors and seafarers.
Member of female religious order.


Old English
The language and vernacular (English) literature of the Anglo-Saxons in England between the 5th and 11th centuries.
Old Testament (The Hebrew Bible)
The sacred writings of Judaism which also form the first part of the Christian Bible.
  • i. Books of the Law: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
  • ii. Historical books: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther
  • iii. Books of Teaching: Psalms; Wisdom literature: Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (Song of Songs, Canticles).
  • iv. The Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah (with Lamentations) Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
(c.185-254). One of the most influential of the early Fathers of the Church.


Taken from the Roman term for a rural dweller, this word came to be applied to those who were not Christian, particularly the followers of the classical religion of Greece and Rome and those who followed the pre-Christian religions of Europe.
Area with its own church, served by a priest who has the spiritual care of all those living within it. The system evolved gradually, reaching completion by the 13th century.
Passion of Christ
(Latin passio 'suffering'). The physical and psychological suffering endured by Jesus on behalf of mankind during the vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane, arrest, trial, scourging and crucifixion (Matthew 26-7, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, John 18-19).
Jewish spring festival celebrating the deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 12, where the Israelites were told by God to kill a lamb per household and mark the doorway with its blood, so that their homes would be 'passed over' when God struck down the first-born of the Egyptians). According to the Gospels, it was at the Passover meal before his death (the Last Supper) that Christ instituted the Eucharist, comparing himself to a sacrificial lamb whose blood would save sinners (see Matthew 26: 26-9).
The principal ancestors of the Israelites: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Paul, St, 'Apostle to the Gentiles'
(d. c.AD 65).Born Saul of Tarsus, a Jew and Roman citizen. His initial hostility to the early church was overcome by his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9: 1-19). Using the Roman version of his name, Paul travelled through Asia Minor and into Europe preaching to both Jews and Gentiles. Eventually arrested and taken to Rome for trial. Tradition holds that he was executed during the persecution under Nero. The New Testament letters bearing his name stress that salvation is offered as a gift (by God's grace) through faith, as a result of the forgiveness won by Christ's death on the cross and is available to Jews and non-Jews alike (e.g. Ephesians 2).
(Latin poena 'punishment'). Sacrament involving contrition, confession, satisfaction (e.g. prayer, fasting, almsgving or pilgrimage) and absolution.
Sorrow for sins.
  1. (adj.) Relating to or expressing penitence for sin.
  2. (n.) A manual for priests, giving guidance on hearing confessions and administering appropriate penances.
Peter, St, Apostle
Originally called Simon, he was given the name Cephas (Aramaic equivalent of the Greek 'Peter', meaning rock) by Christ. His profession of faith (Matthew 16: 13-20) evoked the promise 'Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church... I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven', the passage on which the claims of the papacy have rested. His later denial of Christ (Matthew 26: 69-75) was followed by repentance and a fresh commission to feed Christ's sheep (John 21: 15-19). In Acts he emerges as the leader of the Early Church. Early traditions describe him as the first bishop of Rome and he was crucified head downwards during the reign of Nero. Often portrayed as the gate-keeper of heaven, holding the keys promised by Christ.
Piers Plowman
Late fourteenth-century alliterative poem in which the protagonist goes in search of salvation.
Head of the medieval church in the West.
To communicate, either aloud or in silently, with God.
Cleric in holy orders who has authority to celebrate Mass and absolve sins.
Disclosure of the message or plans of God through a human messenger.
A term originally applied to the German princes (followers of Martin Luther) who ’protested’ against the Catholic Emperor Charles V’s attempt to withdraw their religious privileges. By the mid-1550s in England, however, it had come to signify the whole group of Christians who had firmly rejected virtually all aspects of late-medieval Catholicism, and who opposed the revived Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation. Protestantism was an international movement with variant strands. All Protestants emphasised the religious authority of the Bible, and insisted that faith not ’good works’ was the basis of salvation. However, Lutherans and Calvinists (followers of the Geneva reformer John Calvin) disagreed about the exact meaning of the communion service, and about the importance of the doctrine of predestination (the idea that God had long since decided which people were to be saved, and which damned in hell). In the later sixteenth century, most English Protestants were Calvinists. From the middle of the seventeenth century onwards, Protestants in the Church of England who rejected Calvinism, and who accepted the utility of some religious ceremonies, can be described as ’Anglicans’.

Since the sixteenth century, Protestantism has been the principal western European Christian alternative to Roman Catholicism. It has become increasingly widespread (in America, Australasian, Africa) and broadly based with evangelicals as one subset of the wider Protestant movement.



This word has its origins in the term for the buying back of slaves. Theologically it refers to the work of salvation which Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection. Through Christ’s sacrifice people are saved from the consequences of sin and from death and are able to enter into a right relationship with God.
This term is given to the movements of church reform which in the sixteenth century resulted in new Protestant churches being created as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformation took different forms in different parts of Europe, sometimes being promoted by rulers, as in Germany and England, sometimes expressing itself as a popular movement. While different reformers promoted different doctrines, they were united in their rejection of pilgrimage and visual images which were viewed as idolatrous and superstitious, their emphasis on salvation through faith rather than the sacramental systems, masses and good works and their desire to promote the study of the Bible and the conduct of worship in the vernacular. The origins of these reforms can be traced to religious movements in the Middle Ages, such as the English Lollards. The criticisms of Protestantism provoked a time of reform within the Catholic Church usually known as the Counter-Reformation and expressed in the pronouncements of the Council of Trent (1562-3).
Remains of a saint or articles which have been in contact with a saint and in which some of the saint's power is believed to reside.
  1. The idea that God reveals himself to humankind in various ways, including through Jesus, the Holy Spirit and Creation.
  2. The Book of Revelation, also called Apocalypse. The final book of the Bible which records the Apocalyptic visions of St John on the island of Patmos.
Rite of Passage
An event or process which both marks and creates transitions between places, ages, social states and roles: from child to adult, unmarried to married, living person to dead ancestor, and so on.
This Italian city was the capital of the Roman Empire and, with the primacy accorded to the bishops of Rome (the popes), the centre of the Western Church from the late-Antique period onwards. Rome was not only the administrative centre, but an important source of innovation, relics and liturgy.
Rood Cross
Use of the large cross often placed on the screen which divided the sanctuary of a medieval church from the nave.
Code of behaviour for a religious community.


Religious rite which symbolises the receipt of an inward spiritual grace. In the 15C the number of sacraments was finally agreed as seven (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Ordination, Marriage, Penance, Anointing of the Sick) following the list made by Peter Lombard.
In the New Testament applied to all Christians. Later used of those who were martyred or showed exceptional holiness and whose status was confirmed by the church. The practice of venerating the saints and their relics and asking for their intercessions (prayers) can be observed from the second and third centuries onward and played a central role in popular medieval religion.
The teaching that God became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ and willingly offered himself to die on the cross in order to save men and women from their sins. There were a variety of interpretations of the doctrine of the Atonement (i.e. the reconciliation of mankind to God through the death of Christ). Origen (c.185-254) viewed Christ's death as a ransom paid to Satan, who had acquired rights over man through the Fall of Humankind; but this interpretation was later largely superseded by that of St Anselm (c.1033-1109), who taught that Christ died to take the punishment due to human sin, thus paying the debt owed to God and appeasing his righteous anger.
Santiago de Compostela
From the ninth century the church at Compostela has been the resting place of what is believed to be the body of St James the Apostle (Sant Iago - St James). Compostela was an important focus of long-distance pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.
Hebrew satan ´adversary´.
Schorne (or Shorne), Sir John
Priest (d.c.1313. Never formally made a saint but the subject of an important unofficial English cult.
Scrope, Richard, St
Archbishop of York who was executed in 1405. He became the focus of a local cult but was never officially canonised.
Sebastian, St
A martyr saint (d.c.300?). Patron saint of archers, hunters and soldiers; offers protection against the plague.
Seven Deadly Sins
Pride (Superbia), Covetousness, Lust/Lechery, Envy, Gluttony, Anger, Sloth (Accidie).
In origin a Germanic word meaning a chest or reliquary, this term describes something which contains a sacred object. It can thus be applied to an elaborate tomb around the body of a saint, a cabinet containing a relic or to the whole architectural complex where such a body or relic rests.
Disobedience to the known will of God. According to Christian theology human beings have displayed a pre-disposition to sin since the Fall of Humankind. The medieval Church taught that there were two categories of sin: Mortal and Venial. The Church mediated the forgiveness made available by Christ's sacrificial death through the sacrament of Penance.
A temporary resident. Term used of Abraham in the Old Testament.


The centre of Jewish worship in Jerusalem.
The Church taught that God was three persons - Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit - who shared one divine nature and together brought about the Creation and Salvation of the world.


Ursula, St
Late 4th or early 5th century pseudo-historical royal virgin martyr who was both an exemplar of pilgrimage and whose shrine was the focus of an internationally important pilgrimage cult.


Virgin Martyrs
A group of pseudo-historical saints who are either undated or associated with the period around 200-400 CE. The saints who are generally recognised as part of this group, such as St Katherine, St Barbara, St Margaret, St Juliana, St Agnes, St Dorothy, St Ursula and St Wilgefortis, are all female, but some historians claim that the legends of certain male saints, particularly figures such as St George and St John the Evangelist, are strongly influenced by the standard formulation of the virgin martyr story.


The traditional place of trial and tribulation.
Wilfrid, St
Abbot of Ripon, Bishop of York. Influential in moving the Anglo-Saxon church in Northumbria away from its Celtic roots and bringing it into line with the Church of Rome in its liturgy, calendar and monastic rule.
Wilgefortis, St
Pseudo-historical royal virgin martyr given many names across Europe.
William of York, St
Archbishop of York (d. 1154) whose shrine at York Minster attracted many pilgrims in search of healing miracles.
Wite, St
Female saint who is buried at, and gave her name to, the village of Whitchurch Canonicorum (Dorset). One of only two saints (the other being the royal saint, Edward the Confessor) whose shrines survive the English Reformation intact. Also known as St White, Whyte, Witta and Candida.
Wyclif, John
(c.1330-84). English philosopher, theologian and reformer. Unhappy with the state of the medieval Church and believing that the Bible should be the sole criterion of doctrine, he called for thorough-going reform, questioning, amongst other issues, the authority of the Pope, the validity of the religious life, and the doctrine of transubstantiation. A group of his Lollard followers translated the Bible into English.




Zita, St (Sitha, Citha)
(1218-72). Italian saint, patron of domestic servants, known also as St Citha and (especially in England) as St Sitha.
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