Bodies in Motion: Steam-Powered Pilgrimages in Late Imperial Russia

In: Russian History
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  • 1 University of Montana, USA

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This essay examines the phenomenon of group pilgrimage in early twentieth-century Russia. Made possible by modern advances in technology and transportation, parish pilgrimages represented a new form of spiritual travel at the end of the imperial era, allowing greater numbers of Orthodox men and women to visit and venerate sacred sites across the length and breadth of the Russian empire. Undertaken with the blessing of Orthodox bishops and often underwritten by local merchants and entrepreneurs, organized parish pilgrimages also afforded new pedagogical opportunities for the Orthodox clergy to instruct their flock in the articles of faith, to supervise and give structure to lay devotional practices, and to assert the continued meaningfulness of the Orthodox faith against the rival claims of sectarians, secularists, and socialists alike. In adapting an age-old practice for present-day purposes, the clerical organizers of parish pilgrimages sought a spiritual solution to the crises engendered by Russia’s passage into modernity. Just as mass pilgrimages by rail and steam could accommodate greater numbers of participants, so too did they invite a wide range of multiple meanings from the Orthodox men and women who took part in them.

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    Smirnov, O prikhodskikh palomnichestvakh, 9. Imperial law codes required police and local garrisons to ensure the maintenance of proper order during religious processions [krestnye khody], so “that during this time no one indulge in any sort of boisterous revelry, such as dancing, horsemanship or any sort of impropriety.” See Priest Aleksandr Tresviatskii, Kalendar’ sviashchennika (Samara: Tipo-litografiia N. A. Zhdanova, 1893), 161-62.

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  • 23)

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  • 35)

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  • 36)

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  • 37)

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  • 38)

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  • 39)

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  • 40)

    Mramornov, Velikoe palomnichestvo, 188, 189. On the banning of alcohol during parish pilgrimages, see also Smirnov, O prikhodskikh palomnichestvakh, 28-30. Popular tradition in the northern reaches of the empire held that a pilgrim boat would sink or circle aimlessly if “sinful” passengers were onboard. See Laura Stark, Peasants, Pilgrims, and Sacred Promises: Ritual and the Supernatural in Orthodox Karelian Folk Religion. Studia Fennica Folkloristica 11 (Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2002), 165-66.

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    Troitskii, Prikhodskoe palomnichestvo, 2-3. Fortunately, the ship’s crew could accommodate the extra passengers and showed “particular attention to the pilgrims’ comforts” for the duration of the voyage.

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