The growing popularity of pilgrimage in an increasingly secular society at first seems strange. Yet the numbers are extraordinary. In 2017 over 300,000 people completed the Camino de Santiago in Spain, up more than 100% in 8 years and with over 10,000 pilgrims from Britain. This, for a walk that is a least 100 km long and often a lot further. In Britain there are now more than 20 pilgrimage routes and the number is growing.
So what is the attraction?
Well, of course, you don’t have to be religious to walk a pilgrimage and many people choose a walk for the beauty, the history or the challenge. But that is clearly not the whole story, after all, there are lots of alternative long distance walks that don’t have a religious dimension.
The secret may lie in the fact that while many people no longer take part in organised religion they still recognise a spiritual dimension to their lives. They don’t want the commitment or the formality of going to church but are happy to pop into a cathedral or say a quick prayer.
A pilgrimage is the perfect opportunity for this sort of informal spirituality.