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Pilgrimage means travel and movement, but even the houses
in The Pilgrim’s Progress serve an important and
necessary function for travelers. Certainly many houses in the book
are places of imprisonment; places where movement is denied and
salvation rejected. Giant Despair’s Doubting Castle exemplifies
a house that thwarts pilgrims’ movement forward by holding them
hostage. But other houses are necessary way stations in which the
pilgrims have the opportunity not only to take rest and nourishment
but also to process the knowledge they have acquired along the way.
Christian needs the house of the Interpreter to learn how to read
his own experience and to interpret what he sees on his journey.
Similarly, he needs the Palace Beautiful not just to relax but also
to receive counsel and weapons from the mistresses. Christian could
have continued onward in unending movement, bypassing these houses.
But if he had, he would have missed crucial learning opportunities.
Pilgrimage demands understanding as well as travel. Houses often
provide the necessary down time in which to process the experiences
of one’s travels and convert them into understanding.
Christian’s certificate, or the roll that he receives
from the one of the three Shining Ones after losing his burden,
symbolizes Christian’s first accomplishment toward salvation. Appearing
right after the burden drops to the ground, the certificate symbolically
exchanges that burden as Christian’s worldly cares are replaced
by a spiritual mission. But the certificate is not a guarantee that
he will enter the Celestial City. As a pilgrim, he can only rely
on his own strength and fortitude to make it that far. Yet if he
does arrive there, his certificate symbolizes his readiness to enter.
Significantly it appears to be a written document, a rolled-up manuscript
presumably penned by the Shining Ones that delivered it. Christian
never tries to read it or even to sneak a peek at its message. He
reads other written documents, like the book he holds at the beginning
of the narrator’s dream, but some writing is not for human viewing
or comprehension. The certificate speaks about Christian, yet not
to him. His only duty is to carry the certificate. As such, the
certificate symbolizes the nature of every devout pilgrim, trying
as hard as possible, but knowing that much of his or her success
relies on powers beyond individual control and effort.
Gates test spiritual faith and commitment. To reach the
Celestial City, Christian and Christiana not only have to avoid
a number of dangerous creatures and slippery sloughs and hills,
but they must pass through two gates. These gates are important
because not just anyone can pass, as seen with other characters,
such as Ignorance. In Part I, when Goodwill commands the Wicket
Gate to allow Christian through, Goodwill lets him pass because
Christian states he is traveling to Mount Zion. Goodwill is a good
judge of character and lets him pass. Many other characters, such
as Formalist and Hypocrisy, would not gain entry because they cheat
throughout their journey, as seen when they climb over the wall
of Salvation. Christian also possesses a certificate of entry, which
allows him entry to the Celestial City gates. He has earned his
certificate because he maintained a spiritual journey and did not
fall victim to any of the characters who tried to pull him off course.
In contrast, when Christiana approaches the gate leading to the
Celestial City, she and her group are immediately allowed entry
after she mentions she is Christian’s wife. Christian’s story is
so widely known on the outskirts of the Celestial City that Christiana
need only say his name, and she is allowed in. Without Christian’s
name, the gatekeeper tells them he judges the pilgrims who seek
entry by how they react to his ferocious dog. The two gates leading
to and into the Celestial City represent a new life and journey
that not every pilgrim can access. These gates might also be compared
to the gates of heaven. After all, those allowed past the gates
of heaven have been judged before Christ and allowed entry because
of the good that they represent.