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Travelling was both dangerous and uncomfortable. Often merchants and pilgrims would make arrangements with others to join them for at least a part of the journey in order in order to help each other overcome the boredom and perils of the long trip.

 

The pilgrims who travelled from every part of the Christian world towards the "Eternal City" were known as "Romei" which literally means "those directed towards Rome." There were many reasons why medieval men and women made this trip.

 

Even though the records of that time tended to emphasize that the pilgrims went in search of sanctuaries at which to pray for salvation for themselves and their families, the same ecclesiastical sources show how the pilgrims often went out of curiosity to learn more about the world - a sentiment shared to varying degrees by all human beings.

 

Among them there were often merchants who were able to guarantee the availability of luxury items even when the local economy tended towards subsistence. So Romagna, which was an obvious transit area saw pilgrims from the plains and from across the Alps who travelled along the coast headed for Rome or the famous sanctuary of S. Michele in Gargano.

 

But Romagna was also traversed by merchants who, especially beginning in the age of communes, transported wheat and other agricultural products from the plains of Romagna and timber from the Apennine Mountains to Tuscany. Moreover, the inland waterways and the Adriatic coastal routes were accustomed to the sight of Venetian ships distributing precious Byzantine merchandise.

 

Students were another category of traveler alongside of the aforementioned one, and they became more and more numerous along the roads of Europe beginning in the 12th century. They were attracted by the fame of Italy's universities and particularly that of Bologna. These travelers were joined by the “clerici vagantes” who left their monasteries with the purported objective of cultural or spiritual enrichment but who were actually desperate to escape the monotony and confinement of monastic life.

 

Travelling was both dangerous and uncomfortable. Often merchants and pilgrims would make arrangements with others to join them for at least a part of the journey in order in order to help each other overcome the boredom and perils of the long trip.

 

In fact, crime records and collections of tales are full of stories, true or made up, of mysterious travelling companions met along the way and who turned out to be either a miscreant’s accomplice or thieves and murderers - or worse, agents of the devil sent to lead any poor wretch who trusted them to perdition.

 

Roads were often considered as things of mystery, social alienation or of evil, in short as disturbing the positive order of society.

Some leading ecclesiastics spoke against this dangerous habit of travelling and of removing oneself from the known and reassuring world as it could lead to the spiritual and material ruin of the pilgrim.

Last modified Feb 02, 2017

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