The Miracle of Pilgrimage: A Coptic Journey to the Holy Land During the Ottoman Period

The pilgrimage to Jerusalem constituted one of the most critical and public manifestations of Christian religious expression within the Ottoman world. The execution of this practice among Egypt’s Coptic Christians in the early eighteenth century—costly and precarious as it was—reveals a moment when lay and clerical leaders negotiated with each other and with religious and political authorities, from Egypt to Ottoman Palestine, to preserve this cherished ritual. This talk focuses on one early eighteenth-century text drawn from Coptic archives, which details the logistical preparations for making this journey and the feelings of spiritual edification that Ottoman-era Copts experienced through this ritual. On this occasion, Coptic lay elders (or archons) negotiated with local powerholders, supplied necessary provisions, gave alms to the poor, and paid requisite fees for the journey. In his spiritual capacity, the Coptic patriarch blessed villagers, led pilgrims in prayer, and interfaced with other Christian leaders in Jerusalem. For Coptic Christians, the pilgrimage rejuvenated their faith and allowed them to experience a palpable sense of community inside and beyond Egypt.