During the Middle Ages, the English church’s suggestions were spoken by God’s own voice. The Church encouraged pilgrimages to various holy places, or shrines, to search for spiritual enlightenment and penitence from sin. This ideology says that if one were to pray at a shrine, one could be forgiven of one’s sins, thus increasing the chance of going to Heaven after an earthly death. Those suffering from a plethora of aliments and other illnesses might also make a pilgrimage in the hope of being healed of it. For whatever their reason, pilgrims made their way to the various shrines; they were influenced, in part, by furthering their faith through religious relics. Pilgrims sought out relics and saw these pieces of material as much more than mere trifles; rather, these items were a means to obtain salvation.
Pilgrims ventured to shrines, often times paying money or other forms of patronage, in the hope of being allowed to look at or perhaps even kiss the religious relics displayed in the shrine. Much like a modern-day traveler of the United States who collects stickers from the various states to affix on a suitcase, pilgrims were given a metal badge after their visit to a shrine; they would wear these badges on their hats, signifying they had visited a particular shrine—pilgrims had their own form of postcards from their travels. Pilgrims normally traveled in larger groups during their journeys, as making a pilgrimage was a dangerous affair. On an opposite end of the spectrum, some people wanted to go on pilgrimages without actually going on the journey itself. A wealthy person might pay another to make the trek for him to a particular shrine setting.
One notable shrine in England is the tomb of Thomas Becket. Becket was at one time the archbishop of Canterbury who stood up against King Henry II of England. This quarrel led to Becket’s eventual murder in the Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. Pope Alexander III declared Becket a martyr and saint after the archbishop’s murder. This immortalization, in turn, caused Becket to transcend into a sort of religious symbol. A myth surrounding Becket’s murder quickly arose in the local community. The rumor was that if one were touched by the blood-soaked cloth belonging to Becket, one would be cured of blindness, epilepsy, or leprosy. The monks at Canterbury Cathedral soon thereafter began selling small containers of Becket’s blood to those venturing to Canterbury on pilgrimages.
As evidenced in the monks’ business venture, the appeal of religious relics came from the belief that the relics once belonged to a religious figure, such as a saint, the Virgin Mary, or even Jesus Christ. These relics often varied from items like a forefinger from someone such as Saint Benedict, part of the cross on which Christ was crucified, or even the baby teeth of Jesus. Religious relics seemed to have the ability to pull crowds of pilgrims from all around during the Medieval Age. Churches were readily available to...