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Pilgrimage in the Byzantine Empire, 7th–15th c.

Byzantine Symposium, May 5-7, 2000, Symposiarch: Alice-Mary Talbot

Interest in the subject of pilgrimage in the eastern Mediterranean world has intensified in recent years, as manifested in new courses on early Christian, Byzantine and Islamic pilgrimage, exhibitions, and special conferences on the subject. With regard to eastern Christian pilgrimage the emphasis has been on travel to the Holy Land, especially during the period of the 4th–6th centuries for which the evidence is more abundant. The symposium planned at Dumbarton Oaks for May 2000 is intended to stimulate research in new directions by focussing on a later period and examining the phenomenon of pilgrimage in the Byzantine world from the 7th–15th c.

After the conquest of the Holy Land by the Arabs in the 7th c. new patterns of pilgrimage developed. Although Byzantines in limited numbers continued to journey to the loca sancta of Palestine, there was a marked shift in patterns of pilgrimage in the middle and late centuries of the Byzantine empire. Cities such as Constantinople, which acquired major relics of Christ's Passion and of the Virgin, and Thessalonike with its shrine of the martyr saint Demetrios, became major pilgrimage sites. Cults also developed at the tombs of new local saints, leading to the appearance of healing shrines in both urban and rural areas of Greece and Anatolia. Other foci of pilgrimage were holy springs (haghiasmata), holy icons and living holy men.

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