Pilgrimage or peregrination


A propos of words that please: the above has been called a doublet—a word that has come twice from Latin, first through spoken French in Norman times, and then more directly. The two forms acquired different nuances, or already had them. (For a list, see the document English formations in the Morphology menu.)

A phonetics expert can explain the transition peregrinatione > pèlerinage > pilgrimage. Here on our misty island, it is easy to forget the problem that the Germans and French have had with the letter R, not to mention the people in far Cathay; and some great Englishmen have gone through life unable to pronounce it.

Here in the West Country, people have a love affair with the letter R; and some Scotsmen actually sound it, like a consonantal vowel.

However—the Romans used the adverb peregre to mean ‘abroad’, and from that developed the adjective peregrinus, which in Cicero’s time meant a foreigner. By transference, the praetor peregrinus was the one who dispensed justice to foreign residents.

In post-classical Latin, peregrinus starts to be used for anyone travelling in foreign parts: and the word appears in the Middle Ages in place names connected with the route to Compostela, in forms like Pellegrino, Pèlerin, and other French variations:

  • Montpellier is actually on the Compostela road;
  • Mont Pèlerin, north of Lake Geneva, was perhaps a mustering point for pilgrims travelling west towards the main Compostela route;
  • Monte Pellegrino—to Goethe so beautiful as to defy description—was perhaps the gathering point for pilgrims from Sicily who would take ship at Palermo for southern France.

Why hills? Because these were the landmarks for people away from home who did not otherwise travel—people without proper maps or literacy.

Meanwhile, San Pellegrino, the spa town famous for its mineral water, is so called not from a Compostela connection, but from St Peregrine, its patron saint: he has a church in the Vatican also, which is the chapel of the Vatican police and firemen.

Next post: Treason or tradition.


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