Dante said in the 13th c that '..in a limited sense pilgrim means only one who travels to or returns from the house of St James.."
He suggested that the long distance travelled, and being a foreigner in Galicia, made one a pilgrim. He did not say that pilgrim means one who 'walks' to the house of St James, only 'one who travels'. Until the invention of the bicycle - and trains, planes and automobiles - the only mode of travel was by boat, riding a donkey or horse, or foot slogging. Pilgrims used whichever mode of transport was available to them that they could afford. Poor pilgrims walked; middle-class pilgrims might hire a donkey, wealthy pilgrims could hire horses and travel with servants.
Besides Dante, what do the experts say?
A: Wordnet (i) someone who journeys in foreign lands (ii) someone who journeys to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion.
B: Wiki Answers (i) someone who goes on a pilgrimage, a visit to a place that is religious
C: Wikipedia: a pilgrim (lat. peregrinus) is one who undertakes a pilgrimage far afield, traditionally to some place that has religious or historic significance.
D: Oxford: a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons. The word pilgrim comes (in Middle English) from Provençal pelegrin, from Latin peregrinus, 'foreign'.
E: Websters: (i) a person who wanders about (ii) a person who travels to a shrine or holy place usually a long distance away.
According to James Harpur the first pilgrims were the Three Wise Men who, according to the gospel of Mathew, journeyed from the East to Bethlehem guided by a star to pay homage 'to the one who has been born of the jews."
Did they walk? We don't know but it is unlikely. Most pictures show them riding camels.
What is a real pilgrim?
This is the million dollar question that comes up with mind numbing regularity on all the 'camino pilgrim' forums.
Sometimes the answers are so dogmatic and illogical that one can be forgiven for thinking that there are people out there who have a genetic memory of being penitential pilgrims, tramping the pilgrimage trails of Europe in hair-shirts like Godric of Finchale, self-flagellating from one shrine to the next in order to earn indulgences for remission of their sins and time spent in purgatory before they are despatched to heaven or hell. These are the 'Pilgrim Fundamentalists" who vehemently reject everyone else's claims to the title of 'pilgrim' as profane unless they conform to their naive version of what constitutes a 'real' pilgrim.
So how do they see a real pilgrim?
Firstly, it seems to me that the Pilgrim Fundamentalists' view of a Real Pilgrim is applied exclusively to people making a pilgrimage to Santiago.
Over 4 million pilgrims visit Fatima and each year.
10 Million make the pilgrimage to Guadalupe each year and just as many to Rome, and Jerusalem.
It seems that you can be a pilgrim to these shrines even if you take a luxury bus, go with a church tour or get the TGV.
But, according to the Pilgrim Fundamentalists, you can't call yourself a pilgrim to St James unless you walk to his tomb. Furthermore, the sanctimonious idea is that you can only be a 'real' pilgrim if you walk every inch of the way on a long distance route because, irrespective of what the Santiago Archdiocese claims, 100km or 200km just won't cut it! And, God help you if you cheat! Taking a bus into Burgos, getting a taxi to the next albergue, skipping a few kilometers by taking a train or sending your backpack up a hill by motor vehicle will send you straight to purgatory!
Some Pilgrim Fundamentalist go as far as to insist that in order to qualify as a Real Pilgrim, one should carry a backpack (the heavier the better), stay only in basic pilgrim shelters (not the newer, up-market, private hostels that have sprung up in recent years) and definitely not in a hotel: eat frugal pilgrim meals (no fine-dining in restaurants or bistros) and, one can earn 'real pilgrim' Brownie points if you walk in winter, suffer blisters, tendonitis, shin splints, stress fractures and lose all your toe nails. To qualify as a Real Pilgrim, no pain really means no gain.
Pilgrim Fundamentalist often refer to 'real pilgrims' as those who attempt to emulate 'tradtional medieval' pilgrims, a completely impossible task considering that mind-set, intention, landscapes, eras have all changed. Their rather self-righteous criteria only seems to extend to walking, sleeping and eating - they do not apply their rules to the type of clothing a pilgrim should wear or equipment they can carry and paradoxically, even though the modern peregrino is expected to walk to Santiago, he or she is allowed to carry a credit card, travelers cheques, cash passport, iPod, digital camera, use the Internet, or send messages home via their Blackberry. They can wear gortex boots, sweat-wicking shirts, polypropylene sock, carry telescopic Nordic walking poles and, buy a return ticket home. The Real Pilgrim is a one way phenomenom. The rules only apply to the journey there. Once they arrive they can morph back into their 21st Century skins and fly home.
So who were the real pilgrim role models?
There exists a confused notion among Pilgrim Fundamentalists that only the mendicant foot-slogging Medieval pilgrim can claim to a be a Real Pilgrim. Bugger all the other millions who travelled long, dangerous distances in ships and/or on horseback.
Who was the traditional, medieval pilgrim?