The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is to be asked to reverse centuries of hostility to the ancient practice of pilgrimage and affirm its place in the life of the Kirk.
The tradition is currently seeing a resurgence in Scotland with six major pilgrimage routes under development and the popularity of spiritual journeying is said to be rising every year.
The Camino de Santiago, Europe’s most popular pilgrimage route, attracts 250,000 pilgrims annually, up from just a few thousand during the 1970s.
Last month, the National Lottery announced new funding of pounds399,000 to develop the Fife Pilgrims way, a 70-mile route that will travel from Culross and South Queensferry to St Andrews.
And on Easter Sunday - the 900th Anniversary of St Magnus’s death - a new pilgrimage route in his honour will be launched in Orkney.
The Rev David McNeish, minister for Birsay, Harray and Sandwick in Orkney, said it came about after a small group of people from different churches got together in 2015 to discuss a pilgrimage route.
He added that a time when there is talk about the drop in attendance at Sunday services, pilgrimage was a way for people to “reconnect with their spirituality and with the church”.
“The idea of walking and reflecting and engaging with God in the landscape and in the stories of the early Christians feels very relevant to people today,” said the Rev McNeish.
“Rather than asking people to come inside the church, we are coming outside to encourage faith in new ways. As a pilgrim you get a chance to encounter God as you walk in the great cathedral of nature.”
A range of groups have granted funding to the project and historians from the University of the Highlands and Islands are helping define the most accurate route.
The Orkney Pilgrimage group is also developing a phone app which will link to Bluetooth beacons telling the story of St Magnus and providing tips on places to stay or to find refreshment.
Christian pilgrimage can be traced to the first centuries AD, when Jerusalem and other Biblical sites became popular destinations. Known as the People of the Way, these early Christians were instructed to travel in order to spread the good news.
As a result, saints and their exploits became associated with special places, including St Columba and Iona, St Ninian and Whithorn, St Magnus and Orkney and St Andrew and St Andrews.
In the Middle Ages pilgrimage was practised throughout Europe, but during the Reformation people rebelled against abuses such as selling pardons for sins and making money from supposedly sacred objects like pieces of saints clothing, locks of hair or bones.
Reformers viewed pilgrimages as superstitious and discouraged them, and they fell out of favour.
But the idea never disappeared entirely and the Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Kirk’s church and society council, said pilgrimages now offered a “genuine and meaningful spiritual pathway for modern-day Christians”.
He added: “The habits of Sunday morning services, as noble and as good as they are, do not necessarily reach people who have a profound spiritual hunger but have never developed those habits.
“People who walk the Camino may not be conventionally religious, but very few who reach Santiago de Compostella would deny the journey there was a spiritual experience.”
He added that Robert the Bruce, who is said to have suffered from leprosy, travelled twice to Whithorn, a site made sacred by St Ninian, and those who frowned on pilgrimage missed the fact that the most important part “is not the destination but the journey”.
“It’s unfortunate that in reforming some wrongful practices, we may have neglected a way to worship that is meaningful to so many.”
The issue will be raised next month when the General Assembly will be asked to affirm the place of pilgrimage in the church and encourage congregations to explore opportunities for pilgrimage.