Most of the pilgrims on the way to Cartago today and through Saturday probably do not realize that what they are doing probably predates even modern humans.
There is a psychological need to be someplace where the connections with Heaven are stronger.
Recent archaeological discoveries suggest that the Neanderthal was not the brutish subspecies of film and comic book fame. Neanderthal graves have been found with floral offerings, suggesting a belief in an afterlife. One could speculate that such beliefs might even involve migrations to some holy place.
The Turkish site of Göbekli Tepe with its 20-ton pillars may be 15,000 years old.
That site, the standing stones all over the Old World and completed structures like Stonehenge most likely were pilgrimage destinations because researchers have not found the remains of large communities nearby.
Abydos, a world heritage site, was an important pilgrimage destination for ancient Egyptians because the city was believed to hold the tomb of Osiris. Some wealthy Egyptians even journeyed there after death so they could be buried near the god of the afterlife. Early Christians made pilgrimages to Abu Mina, also in Egypt.
Clearly there seems to be a human need to visit holy places. But there also is a low-keyed monetary reason, too. Pilgrimages are good business.
One religious historian says that “the pilgrimage each Muslim was to perform at least once in his lifetime was instituted by Mohammed in order to bring the riches of other Muslims to his own tribe of Quraish.” Muslim tradition says the pilgrimage to Mecca goes back to the time of Abraham, but some modern scholars doubt this.
The financial aspects of pilgrimage indirectly created one of civilization’s great forward leaps.
Johannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith, created an investment group in 1438 to make mirrors to sell to pilgrims at Aachen the next year. Such trinkets were in steady supply at pilgrimage sites. The faithful were to capture the image of the pilgrimage destination in the mirror as they returned home, thereby carrying the spirit of the place with them.
The Aachen festival was postponed, and Gutenberg was in a fix. He quickly promised to cut his investors in on a great secret, later found to be movable type. His creation changed the world, promoted the Reformation and led to the publication of the 42-line Bible in 1455.
The new press quickly began producing printed indulgences that the Catholic faithful could buy to cancel their sins. These also were an aggravation to Martin Luther, who outlined his opposition in his “Ninety-Five Theses,” which also ended up being printed and distributed widely.
Perhaps the most famous European pilgrimage is the one to Canterbury Cathedral and the shrine to St. Thomas Becket, who had been murdered there by henchmen of King Henry II.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s series of short stories, “The Canterbury Tales,” came out in 1483 and still is a standard in today’s English literature classes. The stories were uttered by Chaucer’s pilgrim characters to kill time as they traveled to the holy destination.
The financial aspects are not lost on Costa Ricans. Although the Municipalidad de Cartago opposes private sales in favor of local merchants, pilgrims or romeros, as they are called, will have plenty of opportunity to purchase food and drink along the route. As in the 15th century there will be religious artifacts available in the vicinity of the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángles.
And there is holy water from the spring on the south side of the church available in special bottles that are the image of the small sculpted rock at the top of the basilica altar.
Replicas of the small stone statute, affectionately known as La Negrita, also are available.
There are some social aspects of the pilgrimage, too, For what other reason would a respectable set of parents allow their teen daughter to go out overnight with a boyfriend?
And just like in Chaucer’s day, all the pilgrims are not pure of heart. For the rest of the week police and agents of the Patronato Nacional de la Infancia will be all over the parade route looking for crimes and checking on the treatment of children.