Pilgrimages

In 1869 the Suez Canal was opened, coincidentally the same year Thomas Cook led his first tour group to Jerusalem, made up of 16 ladies, 33 gentlemen, and two assistants. By the end of the 19th Century, his company had arranged for 12,000 pilgrims to visit the Holy Land. It is not an exaggeration to say that Thomas Cook probably did more than any other person to facilitate and shape evangelical contact with the Holy Land. His reputation as an organiser of pilgrimages grew after he was invited in 1882 to arrange the visit by Prince Edward, later Edward VII, and his son Prince George, later King George V. In 1872 Cook wrote the following analysis of his new enterprise.

The educational and social results of these four years of Eastern travel have been most encouraging. A new incentive to scriptural investigation has been created and fostered; 'The Land and the Book' have been brought into familiar juxtaposition, and their analogies have been better comprehended; and under the general influence of sacred scenes and repeated sites of biblical events, inquiring and believing spirits have held sweet counsel with each other.121

In 1891 his influence was further enhanced by the publication of Cook's Tourist Handbook for Palestine and Syria. This was designed to be read on horseback or by tent light and contained all the essential scriptural references associated with each location visited. By doing so, Cook reinforced the link in the minds of pilgrims between the Biblical history of the Jews and the contemporary locations visited. Avoiding the traditional pilgrimage itinerary which focussed on religious shrines regarded with distaste by Europeans, Cook also pioneered what he termed, 'Biblical Educational and General Tours' designed especially for clergy, Sunday school teachers and 'others engaged in promoting scriptural education.'122

Cook's tours proved popular for a number of other significant reasons which have a bearing not only on the development of Christian Zionism in the 20th Century but also, conversely, on the decline in contact between pilgrims and the indigenous Christians. Middle-class Protestant clientele from America and Europe were attracted to Cook's tours because they wanted the type of pilgrimage, and above all, the kind of services he alone offered. For example, payments were made in advance obviating the need for pilgrims to carry large sums of money, and thereby risk robbery. Cook also hand-picked and employed the 'dragomen' or local agents who in effect became his subcontractors. Those who were unwilling to co-operate soon went out of business. Tensions over the provision and competence of local guides, the quality of local hotels, unfamiliar food, the suitability of transportation and general fear of the indigenous population are not new. These frictions and prejudices so common today were clearly evident in the 19th Century. They epitomise the inability or unwillingness of Americans and Europeans generally, then as now, to identify with the indigenous Palestinian Christians.

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