Top 10: Historic Pilgrimages

Find spiritual and physical transformation on the world's most sacred journeys. 

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At Bodh Gaya, India, a fig tree such as this one shaded Buddha on his journey for enlightenment. 


Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India

The spiritual hub of Buddhism is India's Bodh Gaya, whose famous fig tree was said to have sheltered Siddhartha Guatama as he meditated for seven days during his quest for enlightenment. Today, the tree (a descendant of the original) and the nearby pyramid-shaped Mahabodhi Temple are among Buddhism's holiest sites. 

St. Paul Trail, Turkey

This rugged 310-mile (500-kilometer) trail partly follows St. Paul’s journey to spread Christianity. Leading from Perg or Aspendos to Antioch, the route forges past fragrant pine forests and mirage-like lakes.

March for Jobs and Freedom, Washington, D.C.

Photos of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom show a sea of people flooding the National Mall and enjoying the festive mood. More than 250,000 joined the rally between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, some having traveled up from the Deep South. Their reward—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech—is surely one of the most stirring orations ever delivered.

St. Patrick’s Footsteps, Ireland

To retrace St. Patrick's steps, you can either retreat to the island of Lough Derg, or climb—barefoot is the custom—Croagh Patrick. But other associated sites require less effort, such as the Northern Irish town of Downpatrick, which houses the saint's grave and a museum exhibition on his life and legacy.

Moffat Mission, Northern Cape, South Africa

In 1838, missionary Rev. Robert Moffat set up his thatched-roof “Cathedral of the Kalahari,” aiming to convert the locals to Christianity. He arduously translated the Bible into Setswana, printing it on a press still in use at the mission.

Route of Saints, Kraków, Poland

Wawel Hill features a 14th-century cathedral with 19 chapels and an ornate cluster of tombs, including one of Poland's patron, St. Stanislaus. See embroidered scenes from his life on a 500-year-old robe displayed in the cathedral museum. 

Mormon Pioneer Trail, United States

In 1846, more than 70,000 Mormons, driven by a wish to find somewhere they could follow their creed in peace, traveled west from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City, Utah. Using wagons and handcarts to cover what is now the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Tral, they crossed 1,300 miles (2,092 kilometers) of rough terrain. The lucky ones reached Utah in 1847.

Canterbury Cathedral, Kent, England

A pilgrimage to Canterbury pays homage to a beloved saint, a glorious cathedral, a giant work of literature, and simple human history. Archbishop Thomas Becket’s murder on the altar by four knights of Henry II in 1170 almost immediately secured his fame as a miracle worker. His shrine drew pilgrims seeking cures—or simply a roistering good time—as immortalized in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Salt Satyagraha, India

In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi set out with 78 followers from Sabarmati Ashram to walk to the sea at Dandi, Gujarat, in nonviolent protest against the British salt tax. The 248-mile (400-kilometer) Salt Satyagraha march lasted from March 12 to April 5 and instigated widespread resistance to British rule of India.

Eleanor Crosses, England

When Edward I's wife, Eleanor of Castile, died of a fever in 1290, he had her body carried 108 miles (174 kilometers) south, from Lincoln to London, for the funeral, ordering crosses to be built wherever the cortege rested. One even gave its name to London's official center, Charing Cross.

From the National Geographic book Sacred Places of a Lifetime.

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