Sight Seers

George Pendle examines the shared quest for tourists and pilgrims.

George Pendle

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“CHRISTIANITY IS THE CHIEF purveyor of tourism, and one travels only to visit churches,” writes Roland Barthes in Mythologies (1957), mocking the narrow-mindedness of the French tourist who sees only the achievements of his own Catholic Church everywhere he goes. Yet if we trace the tourist’s genealogical tree back far enough, we do indeed find the pilgrim. Though few would associate this asceticism with a Club Med holiday, it is in these sacred journeys, old as human culture, that we find anything approaching the scale of contemporary mass tourism. For centuries, some of the greatest regular assemblies of human beings have been those of pilgrims—for Holy Week in Rome, Passover in Jerusalem, Dhu al-Hijjah in Mecca, or the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad.

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