From guest blogger: Chelsea Low
The traditional definition of pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred location of spiritual significance. However, I am among a group of TCU Honors students who will be exploring the idea of non-traditional pilgrimage through a trip to London, Paris, and Rome this summer; for example, ideas we may consider include how fashion or even food can be a type of pilgrimage for many.
I, personally, am interested in literary pilgrimages. In particular, I am hoping to see how travelers engage in these searches by visiting the homes and even gravesites of beloved authors. Thus, one of the questions I will be asking during this trip is if the deep feeling of connection between a traveler and the locations and objects marked by a writer is analogous to the spiritual renewal felt by pilgrims of the Hajj or other religious travels.
My interest in this matter began during an assignment in my religion class in which we were asked to identify a famous grave we would like to visit; the responses ranged from Whitney Houston to Ronald Reagan to Dr. Seuss. With my upcoming Cultural Pilgrimages trip on my mind, I immediately searched the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris for famous poets and authors who I would enjoy visiting the graves of, having already learned from class that Oscar Wilde’s tomb resides here and is covered in red lipstick from the hundreds of kisses brought by admirers of his work. Yet, I decided that I will diverge from the typical tourist path and visit the Protestant Cemetery in Rome to spend my time with John Keats and Percy Shelley, two literary figures who are buried here. I am fascinated by their work; in addition, I believe there is an inner connection rivaling a soulful force that compels literary pilgrims including myself to visit a place marked by someone whom I admire.
Once I realized how strongly I wish to embark upon a literary pilgrimage, I began to research homes of authors as well as famous sites depicted in my favorite novels that I will have the chance to visit during our three week pilgrimage to Europe. Among my list of must-sees are places such as King’s Cross to see where the famous Harry Potter began his own journey at Platform 9 3/4, the Keats-Shelley House on the Spanish Steps in Rome, and 221b Baker Street where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are said to have lived in the series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
When I travel to London, Paris, and Rome, I hope to keep an open mind and try to understand what inner force motivates people to create meaning from an ordinary house in which an author grew up or the final resting place of a famous writer. Non-traditional pilgrimages can be literary, historical, or based on a culture’s choice of food, but they are nonetheless a pilgrimage in nature. Is this kind of pilgrimage as satisfying and life-changing as a trip to the Vatican might be for a Catholic individual? I believe the answer is yes, but our group will have to wait until this summer to experience it firsthand before we can accurately describe and take meaning from a non-traditional pilgrimage.