Brief Reviews, Volume 9

James Harpur – The Pilgrim Journey [Brief Review]

[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”333″ identifier=”1629190004″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”222″]A Faithful Journey.

A Brief Review of

The Pilgrim Journey: A History of Pilgrimage in the Western World
James Harpur

Hardback: Blue Bridge Books, 2016.
Buy now:  [ [easyazon_link identifier=”1629190004″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Amazon[/easyazon_link] ] 


Reviewed by Warren Hicks


In The Pilgrim Journey, James Harpur takes on the substantial task of summarizing the history of pilgrimage in the Western World. Given the slim volume he presents, I was dubious of just how well he would manage his objective. Given all of that, I think he pulls it off very well. Unlike the peregrinati or white pilgrims of the Celtic tradition, Harpur has a clear idea of his destination and moves there with alacrity, crisp language, and clear, compelling accounts of both legend and history while still allowing for the journey to inform as much or more than the destination. I consider that a faithful pursuit of pilgrimage and to be done efficiently in a book that could have easily been twice as long.

In his introduction Harpur sets out his project clearly. Chapters 1 and 2 lay the groundwork of what constitutes pilgrimage and examines ancient (read pre-Christian) texts and practices for the precursors of pilgrimage as it has been understood in the Christian history, practice and piety. In subsequent chapters Harpur lays out the history of pilgrimage in the Christian tradition and brings the work home to examine pilgrimage and its resurgence in present times.

Using the stories from the Constantinian age and the practices through the Middle Ages, Crusades, the Renaissance, and into the Reformation Harpur makes a case for pilgrimage growing in importance from generally a Catholic practice to something more universal. He points specifically to the emerging popularity of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in the past several decades and the growth of the Taizé Community in France as expressions of a growing ecumenical expressions of pilgrimage. Harpur also devotes a chapter to the role of pilgrimage in the Orthodox tradition and a chapter to shrines in the Americas including Chimayo and Tepeyac, the home of Our Lady of Guadalupe outside Mexico City.

Having traveled to a number of these sites, he does them justice and invites me gracefully to consider traveling to the others. Should I not make it to all of them, at least I have a glimpse of what they have to offer thanks to James Harpur.


Enter your email below to sign up for our weekly digest & choose a free ebook
from the four pictured ------> 


C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

Comments are closed.