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Bodies in Motion

Pilgrims, Seers, and Religious Experience at Marian Apparition Sites

Sandra L. Zimdars-Swartz

Historically, walking has been an essential element of Christian pilgrimage. For medieval journeys of faith, whether from London to Canterbury, Santiago de Compostela, Rome, or Jerusalem, the rigors of walking the distance from home to site could demonstrate suffering, sacrifice, and devotion. Although people may arrive at a religious destination by plane, bus, or car, walking at the site remains essential to the pilgrim's experience of the sacred. Focusing on the reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes, Necedah, Garabandal, Medjugorje, and Melleray and some later developments at these sites, this article examines the ways in which the physical movements of the pilgrims at these places establish a context for their experiences of the sacred. In the chaos of the crowds assembled at an ongoing apparition, experience is as fluid as the mingling of the pilgrims with each other and with the physical environment. These sites stand in stark contrast to well-established shrines where permanent structures orchestrate both movement and meaning.