|Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote|
The droughte of March hath
perced to the roote
every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendered
is they flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his
Inspired hath in every holt
The tendre croppes, and the
Hath in the Ram his halfe
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght
with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in
hir corages); Thanne longen folk to goon
on pilgrimages. . .
Geoffery Chaucer- The Canterbury Tales
Like Chaucer's pilgrims of old, my family and I harkened to the call of spring and took some time off to travel. Chaucer is right; spring is a great time to leave home and see the countryside. Unfortunately, I did not have the pleasure of traveling with the loquacious Wife of Bath, the jolly cook, or the creative nun's priest, but like Chaucer's pilgrims, there was good company and a lot of great stoytelling.
The pilgrimage is as archetypical to religion as the snake and the tree, the flood, or the apocalypse. The Buddists travel to Kapilavastu to see the Buddah's birthplace. Jews and Christians alike travel to Israel to see where prophets strode. Many still travel to Greece to make their winding way to Delphi.
Unlike the pilgrims of old or the steadfast Tibetan monks, my family and I boarded a plane. The location was not particularly exotic: it was no Thebes, Lhasa, or Jerusalem. In fact, it is a little known place except to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons.) We spent our spring break in Missouri and Illinois to visit sites only as ancient as the 1840's.
Like Chaucer's pilgrims who travled to visit the resting place of the martyr Sir Thomas a' Becket, we travled to sites related to the founding prophet of our religion and martyr, Joseph Smith. We saw the jail in Liberty, Missouri where Smith and seven of his follwers were held captive for five brutal winter months and where Smith received some of his most hopeful revelation that has now been canonized in modern scripture. We traveled to (and spent most of our time in) Nauvoo, Illinois built on the banks of the Mississippi River by early Mormon settlers: a testament to their faith and work ethic. There, we saw the homes and tombs of the martyred prophet and his brother, Hyrum Smith. One brisk morning, we traveled to Carthage, Illinois to visit the Carthage Jail (ironically a much more hospitable place than Liberty) where Joseph and Hyrum Smith were shot and killed by an senseless mob (the door still bears the bullet holes from that day.)
Perhaps my family and I did not have to walk to Mecca and suffer en route (does a turbulent flight count?), but the purpose of our pilgrimage was much the same for us as it has been for pilgrims throughout time: to make it real; to explore and examine and reaffirm the roots of our belief. During my time in Illinois, I was able to walk where my ancestors once walked and to see that my life, like theirs, is only one part of a greater work.
4 months ago