The cultural and economic success of the refurbished Camino de Santiago as Europe’s most popular destination for contemporary long-distance journeying has shown that pilgrimage is as much a phenomenon of Europe’s future as of its past. It created, for a new, international, largely urban public, an awareness of the pilgrimage route as an exemplar of historical, transnational mobility and encounter across Europe (Frey 1998; Margry 2008; Castro Fernández 2016). Designated as a Cultural Route of the Council of Europe in 1987, various strands of its “reanimation” (Frey 1998: 237–254) were brought together, and this reversioning successfully exploited to a greater degree than ever the popularity of long-distance walking and experiential tourism, renewed interest in landscape and being with nature, and multifaceted interactions with cultural heritage. The Camino rapidly became a venue largely perceived to be supradenominational or even post-Christian, a meeting place for spiritual seekers where contemporary forms of extrainstitutional religiosity would overlap with the European history of religions (Chemin 2015; Margry 2015; Lopez, Lois González, and Castro Fernández 2017; Amaro, Antunes, and Henriques 2018). It heralded a transition from viewing pilgrimage primarily as “destination-oriented” to “seeing the journey as a pilgrimage in itself” (Margry 2008: 24). Thereafter, new or restored pilgrim paths began to emerge all over Europe, presented as “routes with roots” (Bowman and Sepp 2019: 81), and promoted as sustainable infrastructure connecting rural and peripheral regions with cultural centers. Largely inspired by the success of the Camino of Santiago de Compostela, pilgrimage is currently being rediscovered and re-presented even in areas where it was long discredited and discontinued for both theological and political reasons. However, the success of the Camino should not overshadow or displace other models of and emphases in pilgrimage, where the focus is still firmly on being in a special place, regardless of how one arrives there.
This special issue of Numen is devoted to studies that show how pilgrimage is currently being reframed in various parts of Northern Europe where the physical and institutional infrastructure as well as the vernacular traditions of pilgrimage were interrupted, fragmented, or had disappeared altogether until recently. Today, diverse histories of disruption influence and inform the presentation, representation, and re-presentation of pilgrimage in these countries. In Norway and Sweden, for example, the Reformation led to a rather abrupt abandonment of the extensive Catholic pilgrimage infrastructures that are now, in part, being rediscovered and promoted as a contemporary way to connect people from different backgrounds, worldviews, and nationalities, by harking back to a shared medieval past. In other countries, it is the more recent histories of political conflict and oppression that are shaping contemporary understandings of the renewed relevance and value of pilgrimage for a broad demographic, such as in Estonia. In Ireland, pilgrimage is enabling new pagan identities to be enacted and embodied through landscapes, routes, and vernacular praxis associated both with the Republic’s politicized Catholicism and complex interlayerings of conflict history and Celtic myth. Ongoing issues and historical conflicts also are motivating new approaches to pilgrimage in a number of Christian denominations. In Finland, displaced Orthodox Karelians and Skolts are creatively adapting the format of processions and pilgrimage to reconnect with their home regions, while some Scottish pilgrimage advocates seek to “rehabilitate” pilgrimage as a way to reconnect Christianity as a shared national heritage with the people beyond the pews, and to perform a number of community-building and socioeconomic functions. Tracing an arc from Ireland via Scotland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland to Estonia, the contributors to this special issue study how diverse groups of pilgrims and stakeholders operationalize history and heritage in relation to pilgrimage. Travelers with varied backgrounds and motivations, local and regional administrations and associations, minority groups and spiritual movements, the churches, and national initiatives create traditions and address contemporary concerns, adapt imported practices to local material culture, negotiate physical and metaphorical borders, and translate the past into heritage.
Notions of pilgrimage have a long-contested history, not only in the Christian traditions, but also in the study of religions. From being understood as an obligatory journey in some confessional contexts to being rethought as “some form of deliberate travel” (Turner and Turner 1978: 241), pilgrimage has become a critically contested term. Conceptualized as sacred or ritualized journeying, “meta-movement” (Coleman and Eade 2004: 18), as “a state of openness to spiritual engagement through place and journey, whether planned or spontaneous” (Dyas 2020: 309), as a basic form of religious mobility, or as a “symbolic movement of conditioned bodies through a semantically fixed geography” (Hassauer 2005: 637), studies of pilgrimage practices reveal interfaces of discursive fields, aesthetic formations, social forms, and realms of experience (see for example Feldt 2019; Maddrell, Terry, and Gale 2016; Di Giovine and Picard 2015; Eade and Katić 2014; Jansen and Notermans 2012; Margry 2008; Reader and Walter 1993). Against this backdrop of a broadened understanding of pilgrimage, recent scholarly works concerned with current developments in pilgrimage practices have recorded contemporary trends such as the increasing social and cultural diversification of pilgrims and the many ways in which pilgrimage is being instrumentalized for a range of contemporary agendas across Europe and beyond (e.g., Jansen and Notermans 2012; Lois González 2013; Eade and Katić 2014; Maddrell, Terry, and Gale 2016; Flaskerud and Natvig 2018). The “elasticity” of contemporary understandings of pilgrimage, which “allows for a broader use of the whole concept of pilgrimage, rather than restricting the term to its classic form as a purely religious practice” (Gemzöe 2012: 48) enables transformative processes to take place that also affect the traditions, institutions, and wider socioreligious frameworks to which they are connected. While those involved often refer to such developments as revivals, as scholars of the varied phenomena we can observe that in many cases there is much less continuity than this term would imply.
In studying current pilgrimage developments across Northern Europe, the contributors to this special issue observe new forms of religious practice on the move, often informed not only by their historical predecessors but also by the academic theorizing that had identified pilgrimage as a basic human phenomenon. Along restored pilgrim routes and at sacred or significant sites, we can observe how diverse audiences align their behavior, develop new social conventions, and immerse themselves in their newfound role as pilgrims. In many places, Protestant or secular stakeholders have begun reflecting on the meaning of pilgrimage, international visitors are invited to engage with local histories, religious minorities reclaim and share their traditions, and with new religious movements new interpretations and practices evolve. For the study of religions, these rapid developments allow for an insight into the dynamics by which new religious actors establish themselves, while new institutional and extrainstitutional frameworks reconfigure the social and cultural role of religion. On the Northern European pilgrim routes, we find a plurality of historical imaginations embodied and (re)assessed, allowing the scholar to observe new religious identities and new understandings of religion in the making. As Nynäs, Illman, and Martikainen remark, “the call for international comparative studies is imperative for our ability to encapsulate the particular novelty of today’s religious life. While much has remained the same, something still not yet clearly defined is emerging” (2015: 226).
1 Caminoization and Heritagization
The methodological focal point of the contributions to this special issue is an analysis of processes that we often find to be interlinked where pilgrim routes are restored and re-storied against the backdrop of a disrupted religious history: a Caminoization of pilgrimage and a heritagization of religion. The concept of Caminoization has been used in recent pilgrim studies to point toward the core characteristics of “the process whereby various aspects and assumptions of the contemporary Camino, particularly as encountered by nontraditional pilgrims, are transplanted and translated to other pilgrimage sites, routes and contexts” (Bowman and Sepp 2019: 75). These aspects may include many traits that were absent or subordinate in historical Christian pilgrim traditions, but have now come to define popular understandings of pilgrimage, at least for many Northern Europeans: a focus on walking (usually one way), physical exertion (indeed exhaustion) as a merit, following waymarked and clearly defined routes, identifying as a pilgrim by means of a pilgrim passport that gives access to specific hostels and accommodation, and the notion that the “transformative” journey, rather than penance or the veneration of saints and their “performative” relics at their destination shrines, holds the key to the benefits to be expected. The Way itself has become emblematic of pilgrimage and turned into a “dramatic space” (Hodge 2005), where every journey holds the promise of new encounters and stories. At the same time, the concomitant economic success for places “on the Way” made the Camino’s model of pilgrimage the default reference for pilgrim activists, local stakeholders, and even Protestant churches and governmental departments. Increasingly disconnected from denominational constraints, historical, discontinued, and disrupted pilgrim routes are being reframed in response to heterodox reinterpretation.
One has to be careful, however, to not regard the ongoing Northern European pilgrimage “revivals” simply as an expression of extrainstitutional religious or “spiritual” developments. Processes such as the Caminoization of pilgrimage indicate fundamental changes in both the popular perception and the institutional evaluation of Europe’s religious past. A development visible in the emerging pilgrim infrastructure in all northern European countries is that the history of religions in Europe is being rewritten and reframed as cultural heritage: not simply in scholarly works, but in the action plans of pilgrim activists, the governmental reports, the maps, guidebooks, and waymarks that now are transforming remote footpaths and rural sites into public heritagized spaces. While the work of bottom-up initiatives and individual pilgrim activists is constitutive to many of the emerging route networks, the framework in which they have to operate is still one of often competing institutions.
In 1993, the Camino de Santiago was the first pilgrim route added as a “serial site” to the catalog of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.1 Since then, the notion of cultural heritage has become increasingly decisive in the administration of the past and its legal ramifications (Blake 2000; Eriksen 2014). Heritage is essentially a form of engagement with the past and as such it supplements history. As pasts are continuously negotiated so is heritage, as it takes up highly diverse roles in society and is always strategically situated, defined by current concerns. As Lynn Meskell notes, “[heritage] completes and elaborates upon what is missing from the past in the present” and thus serves “as an accretion and a substitution” (2015: 2). It realigns objects, ideas, practices, or sites, to questions of identity, ownership, and inclusion, bestowing intrinsic value and lasting obligations. It can also involve a new bureaucracy that identifies heirs to the heritage (Eriksen 2014) and assesses and administers their rights and responsibilities.
In recent decades, cultural heritage studies have shifted their focus from the conservation of objects and sites to broader questions of shifting notions of culture, identity, and politics, highlighting consumer perspectives and modeling meaning production (Smith 2006; Akagawa and Smith 2009; Meskell 2015). Recent studies have approached topics such as authenticity, place, and memory from increasingly interdisciplinary perspectives, analyzing and theorizing experiential, individuated, and embodied aspects of heritage, both tangible and intangible (Macdonald 2013: 18; Waterton and Watson 2015; Tolia-Kelly, Waterton, and Watson 2017). As Egberts succinctly puts it, in heritage discourse, “the site has thus been re-placed in response to a desire for a richer, dynamic approach to heritage” (2014: 19), and this in turn leads to “heritagization,” processes “by which cultural phenomena or cultural objects, old and modern, are labeled ‘cultural heritage’ by the involved actors and, as a consequence, get new meanings, undergo transformative changes, and become an instrumentalization of the past for the future” (Margry 2011: 336). As Oscar Salemink points out, institutional attempts to create a shared heritage can easily turn into appropriations of the past aimed to shape the future and, in many cases, to commoditize the heritage, effectively disenfranchizing local stakeholders or cultural communities (2016: 314; see also Sánchez-Carretero 2015; Bendix 2009). Formalized heritagization of cultural sites, objects, or practices by way of regional, national, or transnational initiatives can globalize cultural capital (Stausberg 2011: 98) and make it accessible, being an asset for local and regional economic development, but also disconnect them from cultural contexts in suggesting them to be of a “metacultural” status (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 2006). The concept of heritagization, as used in critical heritage studies, thus encapsulates both the power relations and the creative social processes involved in “present-ing” the past (Hewison 1987; Walsh 1992; Macleod 2006; Smith 2009; Poria 2010; Harrison 2013; Winter 2013; Wells 2017).
For the religious field, the development toward a heritagization of religion can be seen on a global scale with regard to diverse phenomena such as religious sites inscribed in the UNESCO list (Salemink 2016), cathedral spaces (Coleman and Bowman 2019; Mikaelsson 2019), religious theme parks (Paine 2019) or the wealth of abandoned religious buildings that are now being prepared for a new future as cultural heritage all over Europe by broadly based coalitions such as Future for Religion Heritage (FRH 2014). In pilgrimage, now widely reinstitutionalized and conceptually framed as cultural heritage, we can see “a hugely dynamic process that sustains the significance of certain sites, forgets the sacrality of others, brings new places into the orbit of the sacred, and transforms and contests the meanings of other sites and routes” (Edensor 2016: 209). Where we see pilgrim infrastructures being argued for and often financed and maintained in terms of cultural heritage, religious and historical connotations are transposed into a new institutional and conceptual framework which can have a significant impact on contemporary religious practice and even the understanding of religion itself. Heritage “though claiming diachronic rootedness … is a product of the new that has recourse to the past” (Kuutma 2009: 5). In studying these dynamics in current Northern Europe pilgrimage, the contributions to this special issue highlight dynamics by which selected practices, places, and stories from religious pasts are being adapted to current needs and values, addressing diverse social, identity, and political concerns and agendas.
2 Overview of the Contributions
Until recently, seeking and finding a vibrant and varied pilgrimage culture in Northern Europe would not have been an obvious scholarly exercise; this was, after all, an area where the dominant religious influence had been pilgrimage-rejecting Protestantism.
In Marion Bowman’s “‘Rehabilitating’ Pilgrimage in Scotland: Heritage, Protestant Pilgrimage and Caledonian Caminos” we see how disparate religious and socioeconomic trends, agents, individuals, and groups have coalesced in traditionally Calvinist Protestant Scotland to produce a new appetite for pilgrimage. Scotland’s landscape is once again being crisscrossed with pilgrimages, pilgrim routes, and self-identified pilgrims, some working and walking together, others in parallel pilgrimage universes. Influenced heavily by Caminoization in the growth of a number of new long-distance pilgrim paths, pilgrimage is now being promoted as a vehicle for community building, regeneration, and meaningful experiences, capable of bringing people into new relationships with the landscape, built and intangible heritage, the contested past, and each other. In the conceptualization and creation of the new Fife Pilgrim Way, launched in 2019, with routes not only through still contested religious sites but also postindustrial landscapes and a new town, the transformational potential of both Caminoization and heritagization are demonstrated. However, the roots of the contemporary flourishing of Scottish pilgrim culture lie not only in Caminoization, but further back in Scotland’s complex identity politics, Celticism, sectarianism, pro-European sentiments, and pragmatic theological reassessment of Scotland’s fragmented pilgrimage past.
How the experience of the Camino has shaped a new pilgrimage culture in Sweden is explored in Lena Gemzöe’s “In Nature’s Cathedral: Caminoization and Cultural Critique in Swedish Pilgrim Spirituality.” The contribution shows the elasticity of pilgrimage and its potential to merge with contemporary social and cultural trends and movements, such as wellness and environmental awareness. Gemzöe traces how a popular and literary presentation of the Camino in Sweden had inspired Swedes to walk the Camino and planted the desire to recreate the benefits and experiences of the Camino on home ground. Utilizing the wide infrastructure available in hiking trails, and building on an established Scandinavian outdoor culture, “pilgrim hikes” have become increasingly popular, not least as an extrainstitutional context for spiritual searching. Nevertheless, picking up on this movement, and embracing the idea of walking with intent and its physical and social benefits, the Lutheran Church of Sweden has, to some extent, formalized the performance of pilgrimage by establishing pilgrim centers and educating pilgrim leaders. Gemzöe argues that the notion of pilgrimage as cultural critique has now entered mainstream Swedish culture through the hybrid form of the hiker-pilgrim.
With the diverse audiences attracted by routes that reintroduce pilgrimage after it had been long abandoned, not only the nature of pilgrimage but also the self-understanding and role of “the pilgrim” is currently renegotiated, even among those who walk the trails. In “How to be a Pilgrim: Guidebooks on the Norwegian St. Olav Ways and the Heritagization of Religion,” Dirk Johannsen and Ane Ohrvik analyze how pilgrim guidebooks frame the pilgrimage experience. In providing relatable historical context, informing on what to expect on the journey, and detailing how to act as a pilgrim, the guidebooks prepare the traveler to perceive the history of pilgrimage as their heritage, with the contemporary pilgrim being addressed as the heir of a historical community of pilgrims. The guidebooks direct the pilgrim not only toward a destination, but toward an immersion in a religious past. This immersion is argued to result from a steady process of interpretative drift, as evidenced in a corpus of pilgrim journals that document travels along the St. Olav Ways. Johannsen and Ohrvik argue that heritagization, the identification of religious practices as cultural heritage, and the subsequent engagement with it by taking on the role of an heir, constitutes a contemporary expression of vernacular religiosity.
The following contribution remains in Norway, but focuses on another dynamic that unfolds along the new restored and re-storied pilgrim routes. In Lisbeth Mikaelsson and Torunn Selberg’s study of “Caminoization at Sea: The Fjord Pilgrim Route in Norway,” the authors investigate ideas and values about pilgrimage expressed in official strategic reports and documents sketching the development of a new Fjord pilgrim route. As a part of the Norwegian St. Olav Ways, the development of the new route is a collaborative effort between state, county, and municipal authorities as well as national and local associations in Norway. By viewing the development of the route through the lenses of Caminoization, traditionalization, and heritagization, the authors identify particular features that characterize its construction. Caminoization is recognized by the way the documents emphasize journeying — whether by foot or paddle strokes on the sea — both as past and present practice. Against the backdrop of a disrupted and discontinued medieval Norwegian pilgrimage where Nidaros cathedral and the relics of St. Olav were the focal points, the construction of continuity with the past becomes crucial. In the process of traditionalization and heritagization of modern Norwegian pilgrimage, past pilgrim practices incorporating alternative foci such as St. Sunniva and the creation of meaningful multisited coastal landscape are authenticated by means of slow journeying, highlighting not only the journey but how it is made.
In Elina Vuola’s “Reinventions of an Old Tradition: Orthodox Processions and Pilgrimage in Contemporary Finland,” the focus shifts to the Orthodox minorities of Finish Karelians and Skolt Saami in Finland. Both groups were dislocated when their home regions were ceded to the Soviet Union in 1944, and Vuola approaches their contemporary pilgrimage practices as creative interpretations and reinventions of Orthodox traditions to address this loss. The study highlights that while the Caminoized pilgrimage with its focus on walking, discovering abandoned practices as cultural heritage and exploring alternative forms of spiritual practice is perhaps better known, it is but one aspect of the current pilgrimage developments in Northern Europe. There is room for innovation, flexibility, and pragmatism within lived, institutional Christianity. As a “service on the move” and a ritual (as well as physical) border crossing, the Orthodox long-distance processions and pilgrimages documented by Vuola show how minority institutions and populations are finding new ways (physically on skis or conceptually by stretching traditional praxis) to negotiate the past, to make it accessible (albeit briefly), and to cope with their complex heritage.
Moving from the Nordic countries to the Baltic, “The Pilgrimage Landscape in Contemporary Estonia: New Routes, Narratives, and Re-Christianization,” identifies distinctive features in the development of pilgrimage in Estonia following Soviet oppression. Based on fieldwork observations and interviews across different denominations (Catholic, Lutheran and Orthodox) in what is considered a largely secularized society, Tiina Sepp and Atko Remmel study the current pilgrimage developments connected to the Pirita-Vastseliina pilgrimage trail, the Estonian Society of the Friends of St. James Way, and the informal “Mobile Congregation.” The history of religious suppression in Estonia, with today’s partly negative conceptualizations of religion as a result, makes a case for the sacralization of pilgrimage where “cultural” and “secular” aspects are added to religious and spiritual ones. Along the pilgrim routes, the heritagization of historically and culturally significant places has become a common feature in contemporary pilgrimage with a specific emphasis on a national “Estonianness” contrary to the transcultural and pan-European pilgrimage identified elsewhere. However, while most of the contributions in this issue, including this one, point to processes of Caminoization, Sepp and Remmel find that the Estonian pilgrimage scene also shows signs of non-Caminoization. The motorized “Mobile Congregation” serves as an example of the destination itself as important in pilgrimage — not the journey. The attempts to re-Christianize pilgrimage in Estonia, by way of heritagization, make the case for some “bridging” between the church and the secular in contemporary Estonia.
Among the countries featured in this special issue, only the Republic of Ireland is predominantly Catholic. Nevertheless, the history of pilgrimage in Ireland is disrupted and polyphonic as well. The final contribution addresses “Contemporary Pagan Pilgrimage: Ritual and Re-storying in the Irish Landscape.” Jenny Butler documents how contemporary Pagan groups are reframing pilgrimage and claiming it as their heritage. Against the backdrop of a history of colonization, during which both the Catholic practice of pilgrimage and Celticism became equated with Irishness, Butler shows how Pagan actors navigate a delicate and politicized balance between continuity and reinterpretation in conducting “sacred journeys” and utilizing pilgrimage routes, sites, and practices and by re-storying the landscape with additional layers of mythological content. It is with such smaller groups applying an alternative cosmology to a historical pilgrimage infrastructure that we get a clearer picture of the dynamics involved in the heritagization processes of sacralizing a landscape and creating a sense of authenticity and belonging.
In approaching a broad range of contemporary pilgrimage developments in northern European countries, the contributions to this special issue document contemporary attempts to balance continuity and change against the backdrop of manifold histories of disruption. In assembling a series of detailed case studies from a geographically and culturally contiguous area, it becomes possible to highlight both broad trends and significant differences that encompass the “expanding diversity of sites and routes, the varied motivations and goals of pilgrims, the contestations over practice and meaning, and the ever changing feelings and meanings that infuse journeys and significant sites [which] thwart attempts to forge over-general theories” (Edensor 2016: 209).
Even with a global phenomenon such as pilgrimage, the importance of “on the ground” ethnographic data in specific case studies is vital for the granular understanding of such contemporary developments, as is featuring together examples from a specific geographic region in order to understand how different religious, secular, and political factors play out. The studies in this issue illuminate how diverse actors and institutions contribute to meaning making in today’s forms of pilgrimage, and how processes of Caminoization and heritagization turn out when interacting with local conditions. Against the backdrop of the disrupted religious histories in Northern Europe, Caminoization and heritagization have become mutually supportive processes, be it the restoration of heritage sites, pilgrim routes or the reframing of pilgrimage across physical, confessional, and religious borders.
This special issue has been produced under the auspices of the research project Re-storied Sites and Routes as Inclusive Spaces and Places: Shared Imaginations and Multi-layered Heritage (EMP340), funded by the EEA Financial Mechanism 2014–2021 Baltic Research Program in Estonia. A collaborative project involving researchers in Estonia, Norway, Lithuania, Latvia, and the UK, the project studies how places with a religious or mythical past gain renewed significance (https://restoriedsites.ut.ee/). We thank Laura Feldt and Ülo Valk as well as the reviewers for their thorough and helpful comments on earlier versions of the articles, as well as Johanna Damaris for her help in coordinating the contributions and ensuring that papers correspond with journal style.
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. Wells, Jeremy . “ 2017 What is Critical Heritage Studies and How Does it Incorporate the Discipline of History?” Heritage Studies: Conserving the Human Environment, June 28. URL: https://heritagestudies.org/index.php/2017/06/28/what-is-critical-heritage-studies-and-how-does-it-incorporate-the-discipline-of-history/( accessed 28 April 2020).
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See UNESCO 1993. In 2004, the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range,” Japan, were added; see UNESCO 2004.