In the Middle Ages, beginning from the 4th century, a great number of people moved around Europe to visit the holy places: high priests,knights but also poor monks or simple believers.
As the number of pilgrims increased steadily, Europe was covered by a network of roads leading to three main destinations: Jerusalem, (how-ever Jerusalem was soon out of reach as it fell underMuslims rule) Rome and, since the 8th century, Saint James of Compostela. Along these routes, a great number of abbeys and monasteries were built, but also hospitals and shelters which could cater to the needs of the ever increasing flow of people. Pilgrimages became a major factor of development and many cities grew in importance during these centuries. This phenomena lasted until the 15th century when religion lost part of its importance and pilgrimages almost desappeared.
In recent years, however, people have found new interest in the pilgrimage routes which are becomming more and more popular.
For many people, this is the beginning of a spirituals roads; some want to search their souls, reaching deep inside themselves, in a natural and peaceful setting, in the silence of holy places, in the sharing with the others pilgrims.
Walking along those trail makes people feel part of a larger family; it creates a sense of belonging; since relations are easy and informal, the pilgrimage turns into an experience in sharing and friendship.
Others have an historical or artistic interest; along the trails some of the most interesting Romanic churches and monasteries can be visited and hiking along the Compostela trail or the Francigena way is like walking through a living history book.
Last, but not least, for some, this can be a test, a way to find out how far one can be pushed, how though and how adaptable one is. After all to walk 20 to 30 km every day for a number of days, rain or high heat is no easy deal !!!
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