The Pilgrimage of Egeria

Books read:

The Pilgrimage of S. Silvia of Aquitania to the Holy Places (circa 385 A.D.), trans. John H. Bernard, with an appendix by Sir Charles William Wilson. Online here.
The Pilgrimage of Etheria, trans. M. L. McClure and C. L. Feltoe. Online here.
The Pilgrimage of Egeria: A New Translation, by Anne McGowan and Paul F. Bradshaw. You can get it here.

Second section of third chapter in the original Latin (as given here):

Hac sic ergo iubente Christo Deo nostro adiuta orationibus sanctorum, qui comitabantur, et sic cum grandi labore, quia pedibus me ascendere necesse erat (quia prorsus nec in sella ascendi poterat, tamen ipse labor non sentiebatur, ex ea parte autem non sentiebatur labor, quia desiderium, quod habebam, iubente Deo videbam compleri): hora ergo quarta pervenimus in summitatem illam montis Dei sancti Sina, ubi data est lex, in eo id est locum, ubi descendit maiestas Domini in ea die, qua mons fumigabat.

Second paragraph of third chapter, as given by McGowan and Bradshaw (who put footnote references at the start of the sections to which they refer, rather than the end):

2 So, by the will of Christ our God and helped by the prayers of the holy ones who were accompanying [us], and with great labor, it was necessary for me to ascend on foot because it was not possible to ascend in the saddle (however, the labor itself was not felt, but the labor was partly not felt because I saw the desire that I had being fulfilled by God’s will), at the fourth hour then we arrived at the summit of the holy mountain of God, Sinai, where the Law was given, that is, at the place where the glory of the Lord descended on that day when the mountain smoked.
2 The reference to the necessity to go on foot indicates that Egeria generally rode during her journeys, presumably on a donkey or mule, or possibly on a camel across desert regions; see also 7.7; 11.4; 14.1. For “the fourth hour,” see the Preface, p. vii, on the Roman divisions of the day. “When the mountain smoked” is a reference to Ex 19:18.

Same passage as given by McClure and Felton:

By this way, then, at the bidding of Christ our God, and helped by the prayers of the holy men who accompanied us, we arrived at the fourth hour, at the summit of Sinai, the holy mountain of God, where the law was given, that is, at the place where the Glory of the Lord descended on the day when the mountain smoked.1 Thus the toil was great, for I had to go up on foot, the ascent being impossible in the saddle, and yet I did not feel the toil, on the side of the ascent, I say, the toil, because I realized that the desire which I had was being fulfilled at God’s bidding.
1 Exod. xix. 18.

Same passage as given by Bernard:

And so, Christ our God commanding us, we were encouraged by the prayers of the holy men who accompanied us; and although the labour was great – for I had to ascend on foot, because the ascent could not be made in a chair – yet I did not feel it. To that extent the labour was not felt, because I saw that the desire which I had was being fulfilled by the command of God. At the fourth hour we arrived at that peak of Sinai, the holy Mount of God, where the law was given, i.e., at that place where the majesty of God descended on the day when the mountain smoked.18 
18 Exod. xix. 18.

Egeria is one of the really fascinating characters of late antiquity. She seems to have been an independent woman of means, from southern Gaul or possibly northern Spain, who went on a long journey to the Holy Land some time in the late fourth century – staying in Jerusalem for three years! – and wrote a detailed account to her lady friends back home, which survives in one eleventh-century manuscript (there are a couple of fragments elsewhere). The start and end of the document are lost, as are a couple of bits in the middle, but basically it’s in two halves: her journeys around Egypt, Palestine and Anatolia, and her description of Christian rituals in and around Jerusalem.

I mean, this is just extraordinary, isn’t it? Here we are in the not-quite-yet-fallen Roman Empire, and a single woman (if rich enough) can safely travel (well, with the occasional military escort) from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, to practice a religion which was actually illegal only a few decades earlier. It’s a fairly dry travelogue – no banter or hassle, just going from holy place to holy place to talk to the holy men and sometimes holy women – but the mind boggles that it was possible at all. There is only one other named living person, an old friend who she meets at the shrine of Thecla:

Nam inveni ibi aliquam amicissimam mihi, et cui omnes in oriente testimonium ferebant vitae ipsius, sancta diaconissa nomine Marthana, quam ego apud Ierusolimam noveram, ubi illa gratia orationis ascenderat; haec autem monasteria apotactitum seu virginum regebat. Quae me cum vidisset, quod gaudium illius vel meum esse potuerit, nunquid vel scribere possum?

For I found there someone very dear to me, and to whose way of life everyone in the east bore witness, a holy deaconess by the name of Marthana, whom I had known at Jerusalem, where she had gone up for the sake of prayer; she was governing cells of apotactitae or virgins. When she had seen me, surely I cannot write down what her joy and mine could have been? (McGowan and Bradshaw)

I was also fascinated by the second part, about the rituals of Jerusalem – and again, bear in mind that Christianity had only emerged a few decades previously as an official and powerful cult; this is all pretty new stuff, rather than ritual hallowed by millennia of tradition. The birth of Christ is celebrated on the Epiphany. Lent is a period of fasting which ends before Easter. Different churches in the Greater Jerusalem area all get their turn during the eight day period of the major feasts. I found the language arrangements particularly interesting:

Et quoniam in ea prouincia pars populi et grece et siriste nouit, pars etiam alia per se grece, aliqua etiam pars tantum siriste, itaque quoniam episcopus, licet siriste nouerit, tamen semper grece loquitur et nunquam siriste: itaque ergo stat semper presbyter, qui episcopo grece dicente siriste interpretatur, ut omnes audiant [ut omnes audiant] quae exponuntur.

Lectiones etiam, quecumque in ecclesia leguntur, quia necesse est grece legi, semper stat, qui siriste interpretatur propter populum, ut semper discant. Sane quicumque hic latini sunt, id est qui nec siriste nec grece nouerunt, ne contristentur, et ipsis exponitur eis, quia sunt alii fratres et sorores grecolatini, qui latine exponunt eis.

And because in that province some of the people know both Greek and Syriac, others Greek alone, and others only Syriac, and because the bishop, though he may know Syriac, however always speaks Greek and never Syriac, therefore a presbyter always stands by, who, when the bishop is speaking in Greek, translates into Syriac so that everyone may hear what is being explained.

The readings also that are read in church, because they must be read in Greek, someone always stands there to translate into Syriac for the sake of the people, so that they may always learn. Indeed, those who are Latin here, that is, who know neither Syriac nor Greek, lest they be disheartened, also have things explained to them, because there are other brothers and sisters who are bilingual who explain to them in Latin. (McGowan and Bradshaw)

Egeria herself would have been a Latin speaker; I wonder what the real balance of Syriac/Aramaic to Greek as native language was among the worshippers, beziehungsweise the inhabitants, of Jerusalem at the time.

I probably didn’t get as much out of this as someone who was really into the subject of early Christianity would do. I still found the narrative a breath of fresh air. We tend to think of early Christianity as being the dry-as-dust Church Fathers arguing with each other. This is a genteel lady wandering around the countryside and taking notes for her friends back home. It’s a wholly different perspective.

All three translations are worth looking at, but I think the most recent (McGowan and Bradshaw) is the best, and also has the most up-to-date speculation about the author. John Bernard’s St Silvia appears to have been someone else entirely, and McClure adn Feltoe have gone for a less documented spelling of her name.

I latched onto Egeria following a totally different train of thought. John Bernard, her early translator into English, also had a minor role in Irish history as leader of the Southern Unionists at the moment when their cause became utterly lost; he was Protestant Archbishop of Dublin and then Provost of Trinity College. While doing my PhD I went through his papers searching in vain for insights into his attitude to science. His notes on the fourth-century pilgrim would have been a more entertaining read.

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