Marseilles. Lecture by Manoël Penicaud: ‘Pilgrimages and shared holy places in the Mediterranean’

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Terminal zero of the road to Santiago de Compostela, located on the forecourt of the Accoules church in Marseille (Photo BV)

Manoël Pénicaud endeavored to present the frequentation of holy places as well as the practice of pilgrimages on all the cardinal points of the Mediterranean. What emerges is a complex and abundant contemporary reality, far removed from clichés, prejudices and preconceived images.

The Mediterranean area is dotted with holy places

It is first of all a very dense fabric of holy places and pilgrimage routes linked to each of the three monotheistic religions that a careful examination reveals on all the shores of the Mediterranean. This swarming of “secondary networks”, very vigorous in contemporary times, gives depth to the great spiritual poles that are Jerusalem, Rome or Mecca. The Mediterranean area is indeed dotted with holy places and traversed by many “paths”, each one more and more frequented. The rise of the way, (it would be more appropriate to speak of the ways) of Santiago de Compostela, the revitalization of the pilgrimage of Mont Saint-Michel bears witness to this. Closer to home, the very recent reactivation of the path from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to the sanctuary of the Sainte Marie-Madeleine cave, launched and led by the South Region, happily combines the beauty of a territory and its nature with the spirituality of the sacred places where Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Christ, left an indelible mark 2000 years ago.

global social phenomenon

This vitality of holy places and pilgrimages in the Mediterranean area is today fueled by increasing attendance to the point of becoming a veritable “global social phenomenon”.

If for centuries the quest for redemption, penance or the veneration of relics inspired pilgrims of all faiths and backgrounds, the motivations that drive pilgrims in the 21st century are now different. Admittedly, religious fervor and the search for spirituality remain important, but the phenomenon has become heterogeneous and multidimensional, the range of motivations having widened considerably: self-testing, need to recharge, take a step aside from the materialism that permeates all modern societies, the search for ties with others, the desire to restore meaning to life and to be able to enter into a singular dialogue with God, are all reasons invoked by women and men when embarking on the paths of the Mediterranean. For its part, modernity has not been erased if we judge by the multiplier and amplifying effect of social networks which can literally transform an individual pilgrimage into the process of an entire community of “followers” according to photos and comments. posted by the pilgrim.

Individual approaches can cross religious boundaries

consequently, it is curious to observe that individual steps can cross the religious borders (without there being conversion). So it is with the road to Santiago de Compostela that Muslim pilgrims take. On the other side of the Mediterranean, on the island of Buyukada, located not far from Istanbul, tens of thousands of Turkish Muslim pilgrims come each year, on the occasion of the feast of Saint- Georges (April 23) praying to their god…in the modest Orthodox monastery on this island, a fine example of a shared holy place. In Morocco, in the Jewish cemetery of the city of Essaouira, it is the tomb of Rabbi Haïm Pinto (18th century) which is the subject of a remarkable cult, while in Tunisia, there are thousands of pilgrims Jews who each year come to pray at the Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba, in Muslim land, so many places and times where geopolitics gives way to tolerance and respect. It’s hard to find a better place than Marseille to hold this conference and illustrate its spirit, at the foot of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, venerated by all Marseillais, of all origins and faiths.

a quest specific to each individual

At a time when religion crystallizes otherness and too often nourishes the fear of the other, this testimony is welcome and sends people back, whoever they are and wherever they come from, to their human condition and to the complexity of their search for meaning and hope. This is a quest specific to each individual but whose addition of spiritual itineraries can go beyond religious borders, much more often than one might think.

Crucible of the three monotheistic religions, the Mediterranean has not finished surprising us, inspiring us and, hopefully, bringing together those it hosts.

Bernard VALERO

Manoël Pénicaud is the author of several books:

-Louis Massignon, the Muslim Catholic “.

-The awakening of the seven sleepers: an Islamic-Christian pilgrimage in Brittany “.

-In the shoes of another: unusual pilgrimage to Morocco with the Regraga Magi “.

Manoel Penicaud has contributed to numerous publications. He was also the curator of the remarkable exhibition presented for the first time at the Mucem in 2015, “Shared Holy Places”, an exhibition whose success was not denied when it was then presented at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, the Musée des Confluences in Marrakech, the Museum of the History of Immigration in Paris, the Depo Gallery in Istanbul, and the New York Public Library.

Marseilles. Lecture by Manoël Penicaud: ‘Pilgrimages and shared holy places in the Mediterranean’