During the Middle Ages, countless towns and – sometimes small – villages became a pilgrimage destination for the healing of physical and mental diseases for humans and animals. They were also frequented for resolving a range of other problems, e. g. related to climatologic aspects of draught or rain. These places mostly claimed a ‘worldwide’ reputation in their specialisation, and stated that pilgrims from all over the known world came to invoke ‘their’ saint protector.
On the other hand, factual evidence indicates an almost purely regional influence of most of these places: the saint protector was to be seen in processions in the wide region, the attraction of pilgrims seems to be reduced to a radius of ca. 30 km, or one day’s march. There seems to have existed some sort of ‘Hinterland’, from where pilgrims were recruited.
These elements also seem to indicate that some sort of regional networks existed, where people – or even animals – could be cured of all sorts or disease, were protected against disaster and invoked saints for particular needs. This proximity seems to be a result of the fact that during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period godly intervention through the invocation of saints secured almost all aspects of daily life. However, similar attitudes reappeared in the 19th century when the past began to play a role in the innovation of the Church.
The question thus arises how a pilgrim chose between different destinations in the region or in remote places and how this choice was guided. We would like to find out if there was some sort of regional influence, or even hierarchic gradation in the pilgrimage sites and what determined this. It is not unlikely that certain institutions had some sort of overview of, and even influence on, the territorial development of the various sites of pilgrimage. Hence, we would also like to find out more about the influence of local civil and religious authorities. We also would like to look at how changes in the transport infrastructure affected the choice of destination or had an impact on the status of pilgrimage sites.
Getting an insight into these semi organised structures could learn much about mobility, regional identity and accessibility during the medieval, the early modern and modern landscape in Europe.