Pilgrimage to holy shrines and to holy men also played an important role in the spiritual life of the Byzantine laity. Although during the middle and late Byzantine eras long-distance pilgrimages to visit the loca sancta of the Holy Land were undertaken primarily by monks, a few laymen are known to have made this journey despite the dangers posed by the Muslim occupation of Palestine. While still laymen, Cyril Phileotes and his brother journeyed to the shrines of Rome and Chonai.26 Far more common were shorter devotional journeys, including trips to a nearby town or city with an important shrine, excursions into the countryside to pray at a rural monastery, or visits to churches within one's own city or neighbourhood. For example, the above-mentioned Cyril used to make weekly journeys from the Thracian village of Philea, some 30 miles distant from Constantinople, to venerate the icon of the Virgin at the church of Blakhernai.27 Sometimes these pious journeys, especially to the countryside, took on the nature of a holiday. Thus the young Gregory Palamas went once with his entire family by boat up the Bosporus to visit an ascetic at the monastery of St Phokas; en route his father caught a fish to present to the holy man.28 The pleasure derived from natural surroundings permeates a fourteenth-century description of a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Prokopios (near Trebizond), where 'westerly winds come from the so called Mountain of Mithras which rises above, and especially in spring people come there and enjoy the flowers and plants and take great delight in the sight of their bloom and in the thick grass'.29
Most pilgrimages, however, had a serious purpose. The faithful visited holy shrines to offer thanksgiving, to pray for salvation, and to seek healing from various diseases and chronic afflictions, such as sterility. In a society with an infant and child mortality rate approaching 50 per cent the principal purpose of marriage was childbearing, and thus barrenness was viewed as a dire misfortune. Byzantine sources are replete with stories of couples who were unable to conceive children and who prayed to a wide variety of saints for assistance. Among female saints, the Virgin Mary and her mother, Anne, were believed to be especially efficacious in granting fertility to barren women. Male saints, too, could be asked for intervention. St Eugenios of Trebizond is
26 E. Sargologos, La vie de Saint Cyrille le Philéote moine byzantin (1110) (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1964), §§ 18, 20.
28 Vita of Gregory Palamas, in D. G.Tsames, 0iAo6éouKœvaTaVTivounôAsœs tooKokkî-vou 'épya, 1, &£aaaÀoviK£Ïs "Ayioi (Thessalonike: Aristoteleio Panepistemio Thessa-lonikes, 1985), 433-4.
29 J. O. Rosenqvist, The hagiographie dossier of St. Eugenios of Trebizond in Codex Athous Dionysiou 154 (Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 1996), 268-71.
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