The Brooklyn Brainery is a community-driven, crowdsourced educational facility where you can take classes on anything from tree identification to the history of Sriracha. I periodically teach a class there on medieval pilgrimage.
Human bones, blood, and breastmilk were some of the relics that compelled people in the middle ages to undertake pilgrimages – trips that could be expensive, dangerous, and sometimes deadly.
In my class, we learn about the theology of purgatory around which the practice of pilgrimage was built and the vibrant tourist industry it stimulated. We analyze pictures of medieval and modern artifacts related to pilgrimage including relics, the bejeweled containers in which they were kept, common souvenirs sold at pilgrimage sites and, for fun and edification, badges depicting anthropomorphic human genitalia.