Saturday, October 8, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Pelagia the Righteous

This Saturday is the feast of St. Pelagia the Righteous. She had been a prominent pagan actress in the city of Antioch (which, in those times, meant that she was pretty much a prostitute). Where others merely saw her physical depravity, St. Nonnus, a bishop, saw her spiritual potential. He was willing to teach her the Gospel and she was baptized and then took up the life of a hermit outside of Jerusalem at the Mount of Olives.

Feigning to be a eunuch, she was well known for her piety and holiness. When she died several years later, her relics gave off the sweet odor of sanctity. Her tomb has been a place of pilgrimage ever since.

When one uses the word pilgrim or pilgrimage, I image one of two images immediately comes to mind for most people — the English settlers of New England or Muslims on their way to Mecca. It might surprise some, then, to learn that pilgrimage has been a part of the Christian experience since antiquity. We know this because of remarkable book called the Itinerarium Egeriae. It is a travel journal written by a woman from Gaul who went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the late fourth century. Her writing is a valuable window into the status of women, Christians and the liturgy of Jerusalem in the 4th century.

What is not so surprising, however, is that pilgrim as a monster listing did not make it from the Monster Manual into the B/X edition of D&D (nor has the dervish from B/X to LL). This in part may very well have to do with the fact that religious pilgrimage is rather alien to the average American of the late 20th and early 21st centuries — despite the wealth of adventure possibilities and role playing opportunities that a random encounter with pilgrims might inspire.

I imagine that one of the greatest stumbling blocks is the actual goal of the pilgrimage itself. To that end, here is a small offering in the form of a few tables to help generate just such a destination:

Main Table (d3)

  1. Relic
  2. Event
  3. Place

Relic Subtable (d3)

  1. Bone
  2. Skull
  3. Piece of Clothing (shoe, belt, cloak, etc.)
  4. Piece of Equipment (weapon, armor, shield, etc.)
  5. Incorrupt Body (where the flesh has not decomposed)
  6. Incorrupt Body Part (a hand, for example)

Event Subtable (d3)

  1. Appearance of a Saint (the Virgin of Guadalupe is a well known example)
  2. Appearance of an Angel
  3. Miracle

Place Subtable (d3)

  1. Tomb
  2. Site of Martyrdom
  3. Home of a saint (cave, monestary cell, etc.)


Alex Osias said...

She was a real Saint?

Goodness, shows you my ignorance. I only know the name from Boris Akunin's series of mystery novels -- but with you as a resource, I should really re-read the ones I have with this in mind...

Anonymous said...

Pilgrims are a cool font of adventure ideas. I have a scenario where slavers took over a shrine and captured pilgrims to sell, before the PCs stopped their dastardly ways...

One of the cool things about pilgrims is they open up the world. If the fantasy setting is at all realistic, people often don't travel more than a few miles from where they were born unless driven by war or disaster. Pilgrimages are a gentler way to open the world--maybe even into a hex crawl. "Well, go north until you hit the sea, then east, and you can book passage from the town of Fethwell..."

Flambeaux said...

Pilgrimages are one of the reasons the contemporary (post-Enlightenment) ideas of geographic and social mobility in the post-Classical world are just wrong.

Islam destroyed many pilgrimage sites in the East (one of the reasons for the Crusades). Protestants destroyed many of the pilgrimage sites in the West.

There was a lot more mobility than most people realize until the birth of Modernity.

That said, there are quite a few pilgrimage sites in North America and several major pilgrimages still take place in Europe.

But I agree that this is beyond the experience of most contemporary Americans.