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The Archaeology of Pilgrimage



This workshop was organised jointly by the Accordia Research Institute, the Baron Thyssen Centre for the Study of Ancient Material Religion (The Open University) and the Institute of Classical Studies (University of London). The workshop was held via Zoom on Friday, 23rd April, 2021. The full programme is available to view below.

Workshop abstract

The subject of ancient pilgrimage is attracting increasing interest and this workshop aims to contribute to the on-going discussion. Its focus is on archaeological evidence for pilgrimage in the prehistoric and classical periods. Contributions range from detailed investigations of individual sites, set within their broader landscape context, to broader discussion of the nature of pilgrimage. It is hoped that the workshop will facilitate a definition of pilgrimage in the ancient Italic context.

The presentations cover a variety of sites across Italy, in periods ranging from the Bronze Age to Early Middle Ages. They show how pilgrimage can be identified in the archaeological record via material culture which includes pottery, votives and epigraphy (rock inscriptions), and contextualise this material evidence within the wider topographic landscape. The sites discussed include ‘natural’ places, such as caves, mountains and lakes, and monumentalised sanctuaries, including temples, hermitages and churches. The case studies presented demonstrate that pilgrimage sites could be located in marginal areas of the lived-in landscape, and also within settlements. One premise is that ritual sites and associated visually dominant topographic features acted as landmarks which contributed to individual and community identities, at both local and landscape scales, such as mountains acting as way-markers for caves. Consequently, consideration will be given to the contribution made by sacred places in shaping physical space (‘making place’), and the cultural meaning of this.  

The papers presented examine diverse scales of pilgrimage: local and long distance journeys, made by both individuals and communities, with some consideration given to the temporal perspective of pilgrimage. They also consider relationships between pilgrimage and everyday life, and the extent to which journeys which included both sacred and secular purposes could be described as a pilgrimage.

Grounded in the archaeological evidence, contributors take a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to situate pilgrimage and pilgrimage sites within their physical and cultural contexts, including sensory studies, landscape phenomenology, and anthropological approaches to religion and pilgrimage. Abstracts for the papers can be found here.


Please note that times are British Summer Time

10.00-10.30 Welcome & introduction: Ruth Whitehouse & Eleanor Betts

10.30-11.05 Simona Marchesini: Rock inscriptions in the Alps and in Salento peninsula as evidence for defining pilgrimage  

11.05-11.40 Nuccia Negroni-Catacchio, Massimo Cardosa, Christian Metta & Marco Romeo-Pitone: Evidence of pilgrimage in Bronze Age sanctuaries in Southern Etruria (Italy): caves, peaks, lakes and the natural mimesis phenomenon

11.40-11.55 Break

11.55-12.30 Carrie Murray: Finding religion: investigating the Lago di Venere Punic-Roman sanctuary on Pantelleria  

12.30-13.00 Discussion

13.00-14.00 Lunch

14.00-14.35 Laura Carnevale & Daniela Patti: The pilgrimage and lived religiousness in Northern Apulia, Italy


14.35-15.10 Sonia Machause & Robin Skeates: Cave pilgrimage in Iron Age Iberia: a sensorial approach pilgrimage

15.10-15.30 Discussion

15.30-16.00 Summing up: Greg Woolf  

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