Tag Archives: Pilgrimage studies

The Photography for Being a Pilgrim- A Guest Post by Marilyn Deegan

Posted by Corey Boudreau, Sales and Marketing Coordinator

To mark the book’s selection as an Editor’s Choice, Marylin Deegan describes the events which led to the publication of Being a Pilgrim: Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to Santiago


Being a pilgrimThe photography for Being a Pilgrim actually started many years before the project was ever suggested by Lund Humphries.  In 1992 I travelled to Conques, one of the towns on the pilgrimage route and itself a pilgrimage destination to the abbey church dedicated to St Foy, at the invitation of Kathy Ashley and her collaborator Pamela Sheingorn. Kathy and Pam were working on major studies of the cult of St Foy and asked me to take the photographs to accompany their texts. I was very happy to do so.

In 1992, and on our next trip in 1993, the technology I used was all analogue: a Canon EOS 1000fn film camera with a range of lenses and a tripod. The images were to be captured on both black and white film and on colour slides, which meant going around and photographing everything twice. Being only a keen amateur, I didn’t have dedicated cameras for each type of film. And then of course there was the uncertainty of not knowing if everything had been captured properly: was anything blurred?  Was the light right? The external scenes were fine, but inside, where there was little light, long exposures (a minute or more) had to be used, which introduced a great deal of uncertainty.

In the film world, we had to wait until we got home to see what we had produced. Mostly we worked with black and white film, and so I would get the negatives developed, with 3 sets of contact sheets, one for each of us.  Kathy and Pam worked in two different locations in the US, and I was based in Oxford.  Although we had email, we mostly worked on the images by telephone (‘sheet three, image 32a, middle cropped out and darkened a bit’). Then I got them printed and sent them off by post. The colour slides were less of a problem, and we worked from some of these for the images in Being a Pilgrim.

By the time we were commissioned to produce Being a Pilgrim in 2005/6, technology had moved on and we were using exclusively digital photography for new photography. This had many advantages, the main one being instant review of the pictures: it was transformative knowing straight away if we had or had not got a good shot. However, the digital brought problems as well. The ability to take as many shots as we wanted, from all sorts of angles and at different settings, meant that at the end of 3 years of photography trips we had 4000 images and had to choose just 250. And the 4000 was actually a selection of what we had taken, given that each evening when we were travelling, Kathy and I would review the day’s work and reject any images that were obviously flawed. But working together between the US and Europe was much easier—I would email batches of low resolution images and we would chat about them online or by phone. Knowing that we were looking at the same image at the same time made all the difference. The older images that were on slides were scanned in and edited alongside the newer born digital ones.

There were other problems with the photography—a big one was the weather! We had to travel to a fairly tight schedule to visit all the places we needed to see, and sometimes arrived in fog, mist or rain. Certain scenes were enhanced by a bit of atmosphere, most weren’t. So we did the best we could. Sometimes a shot was impossible and we had to get an important image from elsewhere; the famous chapel of Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe perched on top of a steep rock at Le Puy en Velay is a good example. We had to buy an image from Corbis images as the chapel wasn’t even visible the day we were there. Other images that were less than the best they could be because of adverse weather were much improved with Photoshop. Another problem was time of day: sometimes we arrived at a site with only a half day in which to complete that day’s photography and the light wasn’t at the right angle. This necessitated return visits or more Photoshop.

Would I do anything differently now? Well, we finished the photography in 2008, and digital imaging has moved on rapidly. The lens quality and sensitivity of digital cameras are now so good that I can get excellent, publishable images using a handheld semi-professional compact camera like the Canon G15. This would mean for many shots no flash, no tripods, no long exposures, and therefore fewer problems with getting permission to take photographs: there are many churches and museums where cameras are allowed but no flash or tripods. This wouldn’t work everywhere: some very dark interiors needed exposures of a minute or more, with a good deal of post-processing. It would also mean that we might not have to carry so much equipment around: large camera, lenses, tripods, etc.  I’m not sure that the pictures would necessarily be better, but they would be easier to get.


About the Author: Marilyn Deegan is Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College, London. She is a medievalist, and a freelance writer and photographer.

Being a Pilgrim – A Guest Post by Kathleen Ashley

Posted by Corey Boudreau, Sales and Marketing Coordinator

Kathleen AshleyTo mark the book’s selection as an Editor’s Choice, Kathleen Ashley describes the events which led to the publication of Being a Pilgrim: Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to Santiago


Published books almost always result from years of thought, research and writing; however, when I was asked in 2005 to write a book on the medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, I can honestly say that the idea had never crossed my mind. Luckily, I had visited Santiago just the year before – a “holy year,” when the saint’s day July 25 falls on a Sunday. During July of holy years, ceremonies in the cathedral are more frequent than usual and the whole town reverberates with performances of music, dance, drama, and processions. Increased numbers of pilgrims and tourists arrive for the festivities, and the excitement continues night and day. With that Santiago experience still fresh in my memory, I was intrigued by the book request.

Being a pilgrimAlthough the subject of pilgrimage had never been my primary research focus, it did intersect with many of the topics I had written about during my scholarly career. A saint’s shrine was the destination of medieval pilgrimage, and I had written two books and many articles about saints and their cults. Pilgrimages typically attract fervent devotees whose personal goals may be at odds with the structures put in place by church authorities; I had always been fascinated by religious phenomena that depended upon an unstable conjunction of popular energy and official control. In particular, the pilgrimage journey — which included traditional stops at other saints’ shrines and local landmarks – demonstrated ritual practices and popular beliefs; exploring the Santiago pilgrimage between the 9th and the 18th centuries would allow me to test my theories about ritual and learn about the folklore alive on the routes. The promise of following my interests with a new focus on pilgrimage was certainly enough to persuade me to take on the project.

I further realized that the Santiago pilgrimage raised larger issues about how we understand history. Who has not wondered when reading about another time and place what it was like to live then? What did pilgrims experience as they traveled across unfamiliar territories and arrived at the shrine in westernmost Spain? I decided to make the pilgrim experience my unifying theme in Being a Pilgrim. I would organize the book by examining the legends of the saint that attracted pilgrims, the individual preparations (both material and ritual) for such an arduous trip, as well as the social infrastructures across Europe that enabled thousands of pilgrims to travel far from home. Imagining them en route, I tried to include the kinds of sights they would have seen – from religious buildings and art to new cities and challenging landscapes – and stories both new and familiar they would have heard. Finally, their arrival in Santiago was surely an exciting culmination of the pilgrimage, with dazzling rituals and festivity in and around the cathedral. To bring the experiences of individuals alive, I could use the many pilgrim narratives produced throughout Europe between the 12th and the 18th centuries.

Once my central concept for the book and a general outline of the nine chapters was accepted by the publishers, the next stage was research and planning for the photography trips along the main pilgrimage routes through France and Spain. I took the trips with my photographer-friend Marilyn Deegan, whose 250 color photos are no doubt the most memorable part of the book. Our travel adventures and the challenges of matching text and image will be the subjects of another blog.


About the Author: Professor Kathleen Ashley teaches at the University of Southern Maine and has published widely on medieval popular culture, hagiography and cultural history.

Interested in publishing your research in pilgrimage studies?

Posted by Luana Life, Marketing Coordinator

We are seeking book proposals for two new series!

Once relatively neglected, pilgrimage has become an increasingly prominent topic of study over the last few decades. Its study is inevitably inter-disciplinary, and extends across a growing range of scholarly fields, including religion, anthropology, geography, history, literary studies, art history, archaeology, sociology, heritage and tourism studies. This process shows no sign of abating—indeed, it looks set to continue to expand. Our series comprise:

Ashgate Studies in Pilgrimage

This new series seeks to expand scholarly conversations in pilgrimage, including themes as diverse as pilgrimage within national and post-national frames, pilgrimage-writing, materialities of pilgrimage, digi-pilgrimage and secular pilgrimage.

Series Editors: Simon Coleman, University of Toronto, Canada; Dee Dyas, University of York, UK; John Eade, University of Roehampton UK and University College London, UK; and Jas’ Elsner, University of Oxford and Unviersity of Chicago

Compostela International Studies in Pilgrimage History and Culture

This series deals with the universal phenomenon of pilgrimage, understood in a wide sense, making available the latest research sponsored by the IEGPS. It focuses on historical, cultural, political and religious aspects of the subject, prioritizing multidisciplinary and diverse approaches and analyses, with volumes covering historical periods from the medieval to the modern and a world-wide geographical range.

Series Editor: Antón M. Pazos, IEGPS, Santiago de Compostela, Spain

To learn more about these series, please visit the series pages on our website:

Ashgate Studies in Pilgrimage

Compostela International Studies in Pilgrimage History and Culture