A pilgrim, from the Italian pelegrino, and that from the Latin peregrinus, signifying a traveler, denotes one who visits holy places from a principle of devotion. Dante, Vita Nuova, meaning Young or New Life, distinguishes pilgrims from palmers thus: palmers were those who went beyond the sea to the East, and often brought back staves of palm-wood; while pilgrims went only to the shrine of Saint Jago, in Spain. But Sir Walter Scott says that the palmers were in the habit of passing from shrine to shrine, living on charity; but pilgrims made the journey to any shrine only once; and this is the more usually accepted distinction of the two classes. In the Middle Ages, Europe was filled with pilgrims repairing to Palestine to pay their veneration to the numerous spots consecrated in the annals of Holy Writ, more especially to the sepulcher of our Lord. Robertson (History, chapter v, i, page 19) says:
It is natural to the human mind, to view those places which have been distinguished by being the residence of any illustrious personage, or the scene of any great transactions with some degree of delight and veneration. From this principle flowed the superstitious devotion with which Christians, from the earliest ages of the church, were accustomed to visit that country which the Almighty had selected as the inheritance of his favorite people, and in which the Son of God had accomplished the redemption of mankind. As this distant pilgrimage could not be performed without considerable expense, fatigue, and danger, it appeared the more meritorious, and came to be considered as an expiation for almost every crime. Hence, by a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or to the shrine of some blessed martyr, the thunders of the church, and the more quiet, but not less alarming. reproaches of conscience were often averted. And as this was an act of penance, sometimes voluntarily assumed, but oftener imposed by the command of a religious superior, the person performing it was called a Pilgrim Penitent. While the Califs of the East, a race of monarchs equally tolerant and sagacious, retained the sovereignty of Palestine, the penitents were undisturbed in the performance of their pious pilgrimages. In fact, their visits to Jerusalem were rather encouraged by these sovereigns as 3 commerce which, in the language of the author already quoted, "brought into their dominions gold and silver, and carried nothing out of them but relies and consecrated trinkets."
But in the eleventh century, the Turks, whose bigoted devotion to their own creed was only equaled by their hatred of every other form of faith, but more especially of Christianity, having obtained possession of Syria, the pilgrim no longer found safety or protection in his pious journey. He who would then visit the sepulcher of his Lord must be prepared to encounter the hostile attacks of ferocious Saracens and the Pilgrim Penitent, laying aside his peaceful garb, his staff and russet cloak, was compelled to assume the sword and coat of mail and become a Pilgrim Warrior. Having at length, through all the perils of a distant journey, accomplished the great object of his pilgrimage, and partly begged his way amid poor or inhospitable regions, where a crust of bread and a draft of water were often the only alms that he received, and partly fought it amid the gleaming scimitars of warlike Turks, the Pilgrim Penitent and Pilgrim Warrior was enabled to kneel at the Sepulcher of Christ, and offer up his devotions on that sacred spot consecrated in his pious mind by so many religious associations.
But the experience which he had so dearly bought was productive of a noble and a generous result. The Order of Knights Templar was established by some of those devoted heroes, who were determined to protect the pilgrims who followed them from the dangers and difficulties through which they themselves had passed, at times with such remote prospects of success. Any of the pilgrims having performed their vow of visiting the holy shrine, returned home, to live upon the capital of piety which their penitential pilgrimage had gained for them. But others, imitating the example of the defenders of the sepulcher, doffed their pilgrim's garb and united themselves with the knights who were contending with their infidel foes, and thus the Pilgrim Penitent, having by force of necessity become a Pilgrim Warrior, ended his warlike pilgrimage by assuming the vows of a Knight Templar.
In this synopsis, the modern and Masonic Knight Templar will find a rational explanation of the ceremonies of that Degree.
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