Pilgrims to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages

Pilgrims to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages

Pilgrims to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages

Pilgrims to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages


"Every man who undertakes the journey to the Our Lord's Sepulcher needs three sacks: a sack of patience, a sack of silver, and a sack of faith." -- Symon Semeonis, an Irish medieval pilgrim

As medieval pilgrims made their way to the places where Jesus Christ lived and suffered, they experienced, among other things: holy sites, the majesty of the Egyptian pyramids (often referred to as the "Pharaoh's granaries"), dips in the Dead Sea, unfamiliar desert landscapes, the perils of traveling along the Nile, the customs of their Muslim hosts, Barbary pirates, lice, inconsiderate traveling companions, and a variety of difficulties, both great and small. In this richly detailed study, Nicole Chareyron draws on more than one hundred firsthand accounts to consider the journeys and worldviews of medieval pilgrims. Her work brings the reader into vivid, intimate contact with the pilgrims' thoughts and emotions as they made the frequently difficult pilgrimage to the Holy Land and back home again.

Unlike the knights, princes, and soldiers of the Crusades, who traveled to the Holy Land for the purpose of reclaiming it for Christendom, these subsequent pilgrims of various nationalities, professions, and social classes were motivated by both religious piety and personal curiosity. The travelers not only wrote journals and memoirs for themselves but also to convey to others the majesty and strangeness of distant lands. In their accounts, the pilgrims relate their sense of astonishment, pity, admiration, and disappointment with humor and a touching sincerity and honesty.

These writings also reveal the complex interactions between Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Holy Land. Throughout their journey, pilgrims confronted occasionally hostile Muslim administrators (who controlled access to many holy sites), Bedouin tribes, Jews, and Turks. Chareyron considers the pilgrims' conflicted, frequently simplistic, views of their Muslim hosts and their social and religious practices.


Pierre-André Sigal

Jerusalem—the place where Christ lived, was crucified, and entombed—has exerted extraordinary magnetic power over Christians from the fourth century to the present day. Over the centuries, thousands of pilgrims have been eager to confront the difficulties and dangers of the journey in order to pray and meditate in the Holy Land. Many of them remain anonymous, but some—beginning with the Spanish nun Egeria, who made her pilgrimage between 381 and 384—set down the story of their journey for posterity, wishing to transmit an account of their experiences to future pilgrims in order to guide and counsel them in undertaking their expedition. Whether in the form of notes recorded daily and reworked when the journey was completed or written entirely after returning from the pilgrimage, these narratives, which were especially numerous in the final centuries of the Middle Ages, represent a documentary source of the first order for learning about the pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

Nicole Chareyron therefore made a wise choice when she turned to them to evoke the different aspects of the "holy journey." Her considerable accomplishment consists, in the first place, in having scoured libraries all over Europe, seeking out, collecting, and translating more than a hundred accounts written by Frenchmen, Englishmen, Italians, and Germans of varying social status—many of them churchmen, but also nobles, bourgeois, and merchants. These texts cover the period from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, but the great majority were written in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, lending a certain temporal homogeneity to the whole. This was a time when the Holy Land and Christ's burial place, earlier conquered by the crusaders, had been lost to Westerners. the last Christian fortified town, Acre, fell in 1291, with the result that the pilgrims had to cope with harassment by the Muslim . . .

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