This question began its infestation in my brain shortly before Halloween. What I’m about to say is sacrilege but I don’t really like Halloween. I’m uncomfortable wearing costumes and while I love the little kids who come to trick or treat, the older ones…you know who I’m talking about…the teenagers dressed as a hobo or a dead cheerleader carrying a large pillow case begging for candy…not so much.
Our granddaughter Vivien was born on October 30th last year so for her first birthday party it was a costume party and I was told in no uncertain terms that I must be in costume. You can imagine how thrilled I was. So I spent a lot of time obsessing over this costume and then I had a brilliant idea…I would go to this party as a Pilgrim. What a great costume! I’ll find the hat, the cape, the boots, and the staff, even the little gourd to hold my vino tinto 🍷. So I went online and searched Pilgrim costume and what I found was not exactly what I was thinking of. You see the camino has come to be so much a part of me that when I think of pilgrims I think of St. James, not the Mayflower Pilgrims.
And this got me to thinking, “Why do we call them ‘pilgrims’?”
I did a little research and this is what I found…
Roman Catholicism was the official religion until Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife who couldn’t manage to provide a male heir. So he wanted a divorce in order to try his luck with another woman, but the Pope said that was a no no. So Henry declared The Church of England to be the official religion instead of Roman Catholicism and the king, Henry himself, would be the head of the church. Easy peasy, declare yourself the head of the church, give yourself a her-fault divorce and move on to the runner-up. The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church were essentially the same in theology and worship except for that whole Pope thing. Over time though small changes began to creep in. A group tried to separate themselves from the Church of England to worship in their own fashion but that was illegal. This group eventually split into 2 factions. One group, known as Puritans because they wanted to “purify” the Church of England stayed in England to work on reformation. The other group went to Holland where they thought it would be easier to worship the way they wanted to.
Eventually the group in Holland became dissatisfied. They were discriminated against economically as the best work went to the local protestant Hollanders. There were signs that the Jamestown Colony in America was more open to allowing people to worship as they wished. So the Holland group went back to England and made arrangements to sail for Jamestown. The Puritans heard about this and some of them decided to join the party and make way for the new world.
Here’s where I’m getting to the “pilgrim” part. According to Wikipedia (that endless depository of digital information)…
“A pilgrim (from the Latin peregrinus) is a traveler (literally one who has come from afar) who is on a journey to a holy place. Typically, this is a physical journey (often on foot) to some place of special significance to the adherent of a particular religious belief system. In the spiritual literature of Christianity, the concept of pilgrim and pilgrimage may refer to the experience of life in the world (considered as a period of exile) or to the inner path of the spiritual aspirant from a state of wretchedness to a state of beatitude.”
So with their pilgrim passports in their hearts they left their homes (In England and Holland) and got on the Mayflower and headed for Jamestown. Along the way they veered a bit to the right and ended up at Plymouth Rock and decided to go ahead and settle there. William Bradford documented the journey and was the first to ascribe the name “pilgrim” to them. They left Leiden, he said,…
“that goodly & pleasante citie which had been their resting place for near 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrimes, & looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to ye heavens, their dearest cuntrie, and quieted their spirits.”
And to put a biblical seal on the claim of being pilgrims…
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners (KJV calls these pilgrims) on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
And that is how these puritans and reformers came to be known as pilgrims. And to seal the deal William and Susannah White gave birth to the first child from this group, a boy, and they named him Peregrine which means one who comes from afar and also Pilgrim.
To read more details check out How the Pilgrims Got Their Name by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Buen Camino Pilgrims