History of Tourism in Middle Ages

The Religious Tourism in the Middle Ages

Fall of the Roman Empire

History of Medieval Tourism: The fall of the Roman Empire plunged the European continent into a period of great confusion and disorder. For a time there was also an almost permanent state of war between the barbarian chiefs, who had invaded the ancient Roman empire. This contributed to the weakening of all forms of centralized government power.

Religious Tourism in the Middle Ages - codex calistinus
History of Tourism in Middle Ages - Codex Calistinus

  • There was a distribution of the population very different from the previous one.
  • Until the fall of the Roman Empire, the Mediterranean Sea concentrated the life of the ancient world.
  • The seaway facilitated commerce and travel in general. Tourism also in Roman times

In the medieval era, however:

The transition from ancient to medieval culture during the High Middle Ages, took place gradually and almost imperceptibly. Roman economy, social organization and art inevitably declined. One of its consequences was the transfer of the population to rural areas.

Prevalence of agriculture and large properties: that was the main characteristic during the high middle ages. Only land ownership conferred wealth and power.

Goodbye to Roman Tourism

The practice of tourism was abandoned. Most hedonistic customs too. There were transfers to hot springs that continued to explode. These were installed in abbeys or monasteries managed by religious orders that kept the facilities in good conditions of use.

One of the characteristics of the High Middle Ages was the sedentary nature of the population.

  • Feudal lords who locked themselves in their castles and only departed to neighboring fiefs on brief war excursions or pillage.
  • Servants, for whom all kinds of trips were impossible.
  • The Middle Aged man never left his place of residence. Vasallaj's system, closed economies and even internal customs acted as a brake on displacement and trade.

There was no tourism in the Middle Ages as in Roman times. But, the Church had a transcendent role in all aspects of daily life. His action transcended the spiritual to also cover the social, the cultural and even public affairs.
The Greek ideal of leisure moved to the monasteries, for for many the essence of the early Christian religion was to live to get closer to God. It Was considered sin the accumulation of wealth or the same work to obtain them.

Leisure & Tourism in Middle Ages

When the political and social situation consolidated, a powerful social group formed by Lords appeared. This was a higher level of society, which adopted an attitude of exhibitionist leisure.

As in the middle ages there was no printing press, most people did not receive education. The few who had the opportunity and the desire to learn had to travel to have new knowledge.

Leisure of the Lords

History of Tourism in Middle Ages: The leisure exhibition showed his release from the need to work. The leisure of the Lords was the expression of their opposition to servile work, and by putting it in evidence as many times as possible they reaffirmed their membership in the aristocratic class.

Popular leisure

Popular leisure, meanwhile, while present, was not free. It was the activity of the days of rest and celebration. Usually religious and related to the patron saint of the place or the great religious festivities. The leisure of the lower classes was organized and controlled by power, that is, the Lord and the Church.

Pilgrim - Religious Tourism
Medieval Tourism - Picture

Via Francigena

The Religious Tourism in Midlle Ages

Via Francigena – The Religious Tourism in Midlle Ages
Via Francigena – The Religious Tourism in Midlle Ages

Pilgrimage to Rome

One of the main medieval pilgrimage routes led to Rome. The ultimate goal of the pilgrims was to reach the basilica of St. Peter and visit the graves of St. Peter and St. Paul. Rome had numerous churches with more relics of saints and martyrs of antiquity. The pilgrims visited almost all of them.

The main access route to Rome was the Via Francigena that started from Canterbury and crossed from northwest to southeast France and Switzerland, to penetrate Italy through the Alps.

St Peter Rome Cathedral - history of Tourism in Middle Ages
St Peter Rome Cathedral - History of Tourism in Middle Ages

This route starts from the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sigerico el Serio at the end of the 10th century. Many pilgrims read their writings with the description of the stages of this trip.

The pilgrimage to Rome will decline at the time of the crusades and It will be partly displaced by the pilgrimage to Compostela - Galicia - Spain. Santiago de Compostela shows himself as a saint very close to the faithful who visit him because of the many miracles he performs in his tomb in Galicia.


Only from the year 1300, with the institution of the jubilee for part of Boniface VIII, Rome will once again attract the attention of Pilgrims In the following centuries it will be the main destination and focus of attention of the faithful pilgrims and religious tourism

Way of St. James:  Pilgrimage to Compostela

The road to Santiago ( Way of St. James) is to this day a tourist circuit, one of the oldest and busiest in the world, maintains its essence and the feelings of those who come from all over the world to make a pilgrimage.

Compostela, in chronological order is the last of the great pilgrimage centers to emerge, from the ninth century. And it will become one of the most important pilgrimage centers of medieval Christianity, she was going to venerate the tomb (supposed) of the apostle Santiago.

The pilgrimage to Compostela will be motivated not because James came and preached to Spain, but because of the spread, throughout Christianity, of the news of the discovery of the apostle's grave. It turns out that the West, if we except Rome, does not have any other apostolic tomb. It also adds what every sacred place needed to become popular.

Compostela Cathedral - Religious Tourism in the Middle Ages
Medieval Tourism - Compostela Cathedral

History of Tourism in Middle Ages: The Holy Healer

The fame that the apostle Santiago acquires as a holy healer explodes religious tourism in the middle ages. Pilgrims are set in motion by stories about the priests of the Saint. Compostela Cathedral in Spain is a new destination in its own right. And compete with Rome.

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The Codex Calixtinus, a work of the twelfth century, indicates four routes that cross France, become a single way on Spanish soil, to reach Compostela.This place is called Puente la ReinaThis route is integrated to other different pilgrimage routes in the road that leads to Compostela and whose destination is Rome, Tours or Jerusalem.

History of Medieval Tourism Camino de Santiago
Medieval Tourism - Santiago Way

Santiago de Compostela becomes the most famous sanctuaries in the west whose goal is to visit the tomb of the Apostol. This Saint surpasses all other saints for his healing properties, because Santiago, like several centuries before San Martin de Tours, heals everything.

It even surpasses it in the number of diseases it cures because Santiago is the one who returns the sight to the blind, the ear to the deaf, the voice to the mute, life to the dead. It also heals people of all diseases for the glory and praise of Christ.

Pilgrimage  to Tours

In the early years of the Middle Ages the tomb of St. Martin in the Cathedral of Tours ( France) was within religious pilgrimage and tourism. Especially since the sixth century. He is a saint admired by the Frankish kings of the Merovingian dynasty, which makes him the center of the pilgrimage of the Frankish world. 

For the people of the early medieval times no other Saint had a power similar to Saint Martin. Is the friend of God and as collected by Codex  Calixtinus, in the twelfth century, he has a reputation as a resuscitator, as a curator of leprosy, of the energum, lunatics and the demonized.

Tours Cathedral - Religious Tourism
Medieval Tourism - Tours Cathedral - France

In the city of Tours, the people set out to seek the cure of all kinds of diseases. In fact, in the devotion of the faithful, Saint Martin goes through being a holy healer, specialized in curing diseases such as blindness, paralysis, deafness, fever, plague and muteness.

It also causes the lame to walk rights, and by ridding the possessed by the devil, the snake venom is overcome and the elements of nature obey him.  Around Tours the pilgrimage begins to make sense penitential. He goes to the tomb of St. Martin to fulfill a penance through which to obtain forgiveness of sins.

Pilgrimage  to Meca

One of the pillars of Islam is the visit to this center of worship. He established himself with the writing of the Quran at the death of Muhammad (632). Any Muslim with sufficient physical and economic conditions must go on a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his life.

The rituals to follow vary depending on where the individual comes from, the time of the year, the variant of Islam professed by the pilgrim, or the intentionality of the pilgrimage

Kinds of pilgrimage - Religious Tourism in the Middle Ages

Devotional Pilgrimage

This was the beginning. Devotional or curiosity: to know and venerate the holy places, the tombs of the martyrs. Without particular interest to travel, pray and know.

Utility Pilgrimage

It is about seeking the cure of any kind of illness or evil. The christian Europe of the High Middle Ages will be marked by the places, sanctuaries or cathedrals where the intervention of the holy healers was to be sought. all to get rid of some physical or spiritual evil

Penitential Pilgrimage

From the eleventh century, the pilgrimage also acquires a penitential sense. It is carried out by imposition to purge public or private sins, more or less scandalous, committed by the laity or clergy. This is a type of public penance

Judicial Pilgrimage

To exchange a penalty the civil or religious authority imposed this method. Among other sins that were punishable by judicial pilgrimage, there were the murder and theft of ecclesiastical goods.

In the last medieval centuries, XIII-XIV centuries, the Church, due to the excesses of many penitents, begins to restrict its use. What were the excesses? in the next section we clarify

Proxy Pilgrimage - Medieval Tourism
Devil's Bridge - Section of the Camino de Santiago in the 17th century - Lumbier - Spain

Proxy Pilgrimage

It is due to the influence of Germanic civil law in the penitential system. By paying money to a substitute person a penalty could be redeemed. It was called devotional or penitential redemption.

This practice was used by the rich and noble who through money bought the spiritual merits inherent in the pilgrimage without having to suffer the inconveniences of the road. This way you could pay the price of a murder or a robbery, with no consequences other than money

History of Tourism in Middle Ages: Conclusions

Trade begins to grow causing people to move from one place to another for commercial and religious purposes. Also the conquests, the improvements of the roads (Roman roads were still used) and the trails facilitated tourism for those scholars and pilgrims who went from one place to another.

While tourism in the middle ages was not very important, it is for current tourism. Many constructions; Cathedrals, Churches, Castles are today great tourist attractions. The Middle Ages has left us a unique historical and architectural legacy, worth preserving for future generations.

History Of Tourism Greece. Roman Empire and Middle Ages

References - Religious Tourism in the Middle Ages  

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