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Journeys of Meaning

Peter Stanford

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A thought-provoking reflection on pilgrimage past and present, and a compelling exploration of its relevance today

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The enormous rise in popularity in recent decades of the Camino, the ancient pilgrim path that stretches from France, across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, is part of a wider phenomenon being witnessed on other time-honoured pilgrim routes around the globe and across the faiths. But this is happening in a world that in many places is self-avowedly ever more sceptical, secular and scientific, with formal religious affiliation in steep decline. Why?

Some argue that tourism is the new religion, and that those who today walk in the footsteps of countless past generations of believers do so to enjoy the holiday experience, the escape from their everyday world, the health benefits of so much exercise, and the companionship, without seeking any sort of spiritual enlightenment. Yet by looking at a diverse range of pilgrimage sites that includes Rome, Jerusalem, Lalibela in Ethiopia, the Buddha Trail in northern India, Shikoku in Japan and the self-styled ‘power place’ of Machu Picchu in Peru, Peter Stanford draws on his own experience as
a pilgrim to argue that something more complex and challenging is going on.

Financial crises, increasing inequality, climate change and worldwide pandemics are causing people to question the very foundations on which their post religion, twenty-first-century lives are built. This book considers how pilgrimage, with its long history, essential intertwining of arduous journey and openness to personal transformation, is providing the modern age with a means to take a longer, slower and hence more profound look at life, stretching all the way back to when the first pilgrim put one foot in front of another.


'A golden harvest of fascinating and inspiring places. As always, Peter manages to wear his scholarship lightly [and] walk the tightrope over non-believers on one side and believers on the other ... This book deserves to be read widely'
Rachel Billington

'A terrific read: I felt I had been to all these places myself'
Lady Antonia Fraser

'A fascinating study which has taken me to places I’ve known, places I’ve known of, and places of which I’ve never heard. Above all I found the central thesis of the distinction and also interdependence of factual and metaphysical truths utterly convincing'
Michael Arditti

'The book’s best passages give the reader a sense of what makes these places unique … We are reminded that people can be drawn towards pilgrim shrines for reasons which have little to do with trends in the travel industry'
The Spectator

'The rigour of [Stanford’s] research and analysis transcends creed … revitalising … a judgement-free narrative helps to reveal these otherwise intangible spiritual rites'

'[Stanford] couldn’t be a better qualified guide'
Daily Telegraph

'There is no better navigator through the space in which art, culture and spirituality meet than Peter Stanford'
Independent on Sunday

Methodist Recorder

'It’s fascinating that in an increasingly secular world, the challenge of a pilgrimage has been growing steadily'
Mary Kenny, Irish Examiner

'Pilgrimage has found itself back in vogue, even as the original purposes of these journeys have become blurred'

'A book which illuminates something of the breadth and diversity of pilgrimage across some of the major faiths'
Confraternity Pilgrims to Rome

'[Stanford's] openness is appealing … as we are treated to a geographically and sociologically eclectic and meticulous account of his chosen routes'
Church Times

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 256 pp

Illustrations: 26

Publication date: 29 April 2021

ISBN: 9780500252413

Contents List

Introduction: The New Geography of Spiritual Power • 1 Santiago de Compostela: The Camino • 2 Jerusalem: The Promised Land • 3 Rome: Seeing is Believing • 4 Mecca: A World Apart • 5 Lalibela: Unearthing a Mystery • 6 Lourdes, Medjugorje and the Marian Shrines: Mary and the Miracles • 7 The North Wales Pilgrim’s Way: Celtic Revival • 8 Kumbh Mela: The World’s Largest Pilgrimage • 9 The Buddha Trail: The Peripatetic Pilgrim • 10 Shikoku: 88 Temples in the Footsteps of the Great Master • 11 North America: Optimistic Hiking • 12 Machu Picchu: Power Places • Epilogue To Arrive Where We Started

About the Author

Peter Stanford is an award-winning writer, journalist and broadcaster. His investigations into the history, theology and cultural significance of religious ideas include Judas: The Troubling History of the Renegade Apostle, Martin Luther: Catholic Dissident and Angels: A Visible and Invisible History. He is a former editor of the Catholic Herald, and writes for the Daily and Sunday Telegraph titles, and The Tablet. He is director of the Longford Trust for prison reform.