Peregrinatio: Pilgrimage Celtic Style

Glendalough, Ireland

Glendalough, Ireland

Peregrinatio’ is a Latin term used by St. Augustine Of Hippo urging Christians of the 4th and 5th centuries to adopt a life of peregrinatio in the temporal world while waiting for the Kingdom of God to ascend. The Celtic Christians embraced this concept which eventually became central to their faith and practice.

Esther de Waal writes about ‘peregrinatio’ as a journey that involves the elements of “seeking, quest, adventure, wandering, exile…” The purpose of this journey,” explains de Waal, is, “to find the place of (one’s) resurrection, the resurrected self…the true self in Christ.” (The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination, p. ix).

The Celts referred to this type of journey as “Peregrinatio Pro Amore Christi,” a journey for the love of Christ. Such travel would commence with a ‘call,’ a deep desire within oneself to leave home and family to wander beyond to unknown regions with Christ as guide and companion. It was an insatiable love for Christ that drove hundreds to go forth.

To the Celtic Saints, the pilgrimage was as much an inner journey as an outer one. The outer journey was a vehicle for seeking a mystical and transforming encounter with the risen Christ. In addition, there was hope that pilgrims would find opportunities to share the love of Christ with those met along the road. Some traveled alone seeking to encounter Christ in silence and solitude. Others traveled with comrades setting sail in small currachs, leather lined boats, upon the wild sea. This required absolute trust that God would protect and lead their craft to His intended destination.

Evidence of the centrality of Peregrinatio to Celtic Christianity lies in the countless prayers composed to accompany these stalwart pilgrims.

May You be a bright flame before me
May You be a guiding star above me,
May You be a smooth path below me,
And a loving Guide behind me,
Today, tonight, and forever.

God be with thee in every pass,
Jesus be with thee on every hill,
Spirit be with thee on every stream,
Headland and ridge and lawn;
Each sea and land, each moor and meadow,
Each lying down, each rising up,
In the trough of the waves,
on the crest of the billows,
Each step of the journey thou goest.”

~ Early Celtic Christian Prayer

Article originally published October 10, 2015

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