Pilgrims to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages

By DuBruck, Edelgard E. | Fifteenth Century Studies, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Pilgrims to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages


DuBruck, Edelgard E., Fifteenth Century Studies


Chareyron, Nicole. Pilgrims to Jerusalem in the Middle Ages. Trans. W. Donald Wilson. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. Pp. 288 and three maps.

This fascinating study (originally hi French, Editions Imago) covers pilgrimages after the Crusade era, when Jerusalem was already in the hands of the sultan of Egypt, and during a time when voyagers were assaulted verbally and physically by new local populations. Pilgrims were searching holy sites in order to solidify their faith, expiate their sins, and satisfy their curiosity for faraway countries and peoples. Whether from towns, countries, or convents, some travelers (marked by five insignia: red cross on mantle and grey hat, beard, a flask, a donkey, and its driver) stated that this voyage became an experience of relativity (chapter one). Since 1332, pilgrims were sent and led by Franciscans; Chareyron gives excerpts from travel accounts by fifty-one voyagers, writers who were found to practice "charming eclecticism and pious self-effacement" (10). Jean de Mandeville abandoned Latin ("the nobility no longer knows it," he said [ibid.]), and so did Pierre Barbatre, Pietro Casola, William Wey, and most others. The cost of the sea voyage was small, but other charges (to be discussed in the following pages) required that one start with a full purse.

"All Roads Lead to Venice" (chapter two) explains that Venice was even more popular than Genoa as gateway to the East. In Venice, pilgrimage was a flourishing business; when setting out, nobles from the same geographical region would form a company, including servants and companions. Felix Fabri described the group he joined as a chaplain in 1483: four German nobles, plus an adviser, a barber, a soldier, a steward, a cook, a trader (interpreter), and a clerk (18). Most itineraries accounted for space, time, and individual characteristics; the visual aspects of the pilgrims predominated. Until the Renaissance, such representations of space were symbolic; but terrestrial, fluvial, and maritime itineraries were supplemented by details about relics, the local currencies, health certificates needed, and areas of ill repute. Curiositas became increasingly the objective aim of accounts - expected by armchair travelers.

Chapter three, "Venice in Splendid Dress," outlines that relics were abounding in this city of beautiful architecture, a major center of Christianity and worldly activity. The Anonymous Parisian said: "There are more boats in Venice than horses and mules in Paris" (31); the Campanile could be climbed on horseback (not nowadays!). Pilgrims changed their coins into Venetian ducats acceptable in the near East. In the 1400s, less travel took place because of infestations by pirates, as explained by the city's tourist office, which also determined the following conditions (quoted here literally from Chareyron's account, 42-43):

1. Undertaking by the master to convey and bring back his passengers. Sailing to take place within fourteen days.

2. A galley manned by a crew of experienced sailors and provided with arms in sufficient quantity.

3. No unnecessary stops, but the possibility of obtaining supplies enroute.

4. Two meals per day. The sick to be served.

5. The master undertakes to provide an adequate supply of good bread and wine, biscuits, fresh water, meat, and eggs.

6. In the morning he is to serve a drink before the meal.

7. A boat at the passengers' disposal to go ashore when in port to make indispensable purchases.

8. Provision of passengers' meals in ports where they are unable to shop for themselves.

9. On board the passengers shall be protected from the oarsmen.

10. A reasonable time shall be allowed for visits, including a trip to the Jordan, with the captain acting as guide and protector.

11. Safe conducts, donkeys, and major tolls to be paid for by the captain.

12. 40 ducats da zecca per passenger, half payable [by the latter] in Venice and half in Jaffa. …

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