'Pilgrimage and England's cathedrals' employs a ground-breaking combination of interdisciplinary perspectives and methodologies to identify and analyse the core dynamics of pilgrimage and sacred sites in England from the 11th to 21st centuries, assess the growing significance of English cathedrals as sacred/heritage sites today, and inform management of/public engagement with these iconic buildings. Set against the background of the worldwide growth of pilgrimage and increasing importance of sacred sites, the project's innovative approaches and timely research agenda also contributes substantially to defining and establishing the emerging field of Pilgrimage Studies.
Historically the pilgrims going to a certain cathedral were intent on visiting a saint's shrine, praying for his or her intercession, acting in penitence for some great personal sin or in reparation for the sake some great blessing on themselves or another. Pilgrimage on earth was aimed at eventual arrival in heaven. It was expensive, dangerous--although pilgrims were supposed to be protected--arduous, and time-consuming. Walking along the pilgrimage route, the pilgrims were focused on their goal.
Although they were stripped of their shrines and saintly significance after the English Reformation, English cathedrals have remained a goal of pilgrimage. The project organizers comment that many coming to the cathedrals in the study, York, Durham, Canterbury, and Westminster, are not even Christian or may practice no faith at all:
File that under the heading "The Unintended Reformation"! The Protestant reformers of the sixteenth century in England would be shocked. Since Christianity means Jesus Christ, transcending Christianity would be the furthest thing in their minds; yet, their reformation started the process of destroying the worldview that held saints in heaven and sinners on earth (and in purgatory) in a community of pilgrimage and love.