Znaczenie europejskich szlaków pielgrzymkowych w budowaniu tożsamości Europy – przeszłość i teraźniejszość

The Importance of European Pilgrimage Routes for the Development of the Identity of Europe – Past and Present This study is an attempt at presenting selected European pilgrimage routes and determining the importance of these routes for the development of the European identity. Three main pilgrimage routes considered by the Council of Europe to be European Cultural Routes are taken into account: Camino de Santiago – the Way of St. St. James, the Way of St. Olav and Via Francigena. The return to the pilgrimage tradition is one of the elements that build the Christian identity of Europe. As an act of faith, pilgrimages are also important practices of communication and social interaction, and significant factors of closeness between people. During the recent years, thanks to the efforts of lay and church authorities, the work of members of various religious associations and brotherhoods, and volunteers, medieval pilgrimage routes have been recreated. Centuries ago, thousands of believers travelled along these routes. At present, the most popular and the longest marked pilgrimage route is the one composed of thousands of sections going to Santiago de Compostela. The Christian importance of the route to Compostela, its historical, cultural and sightseeing values as well as the geographical range of its spatial impact are decisive for the Way of St. James being called in literature and by thousands of Camino enthusiasts “the most beautiful way of the world”, “the way of life”, “the way of faith”, “the way of conversion and humility” and “the major route in Europe.” Via Francigena, in turn, was a network of roads in northern and western Europe covered by pilgrims wandering to Rome. These routes belonged to the longest pilgrimage routes running to tombs of St. Apostles Peter and Paul in Rome. At present, the route is each year travelled by approximately 10 thousand people from various regions of the world. Works on the recreation of the pilgrimage route known since the Middle Ages – the Way of St. Olav – began in 1990. The Way saw thousands of pilgrims wandering for almost four centuries to the tomb of St. Olav in the Nidaros Cathedral (today's Trondheim). People of various races and religions, speakers of different languages meet every day on European pilgrimage routes. They leave their everyday chores to contemplate and pray in silence and to ponder on the balance of their lives. The time spent together when covering subsequent stages of the difficult road, a helpful hand, respect and kindness all join pilgrimage participants in one unity so that they finally become friends. Pilgrimage routes facilitate dialogue between cultures, religions and generations. However, the ultimate task related to the further functioning of these routes is care for their Christian dimension.