Does pilgrimage have to be religious?

Polish photographer Michal Iwanowski recently walked from his home in the UK to his family home of Mokrzeszow in Poland: a journey of over 1000 miles. His journey was prompted by graffiti saying ‘Go home Polish’ scrawled on a wall in Cardiff. Is this a pilgrimage? There is certainly a tradition of ritually returning to home as an expression of identity. In 2015 Ed Lloyd Owen, a British soldier finished his tour of duty in Cyprus as part of the UN peacekeeping mission and set off to walk the 2,800 miles home.

In China, an estimated 4 billion journeys are made around the time of the first new moon of the year as workers return to their ancestral villages to sweep out the old and welcome in the New Year. While these journeys have their origins in spiritual and ritual traditions, they have a common link with Iwanowski’s journey into the question of identity and belonging.

The official website for the Christian pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela ( indicates that only 45% of pilgrims make the journey for purely religious reasons: the other 55% being comprised of a combination of religious and cultural motives. We walk to understand – arriving is the reward.

“Go Home Polish”  the photographic account of Iwanowski’s journey can be seen at Galeri Caernarfon in Wales and Galeri Forty in Warsaw


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