Egeria, Itinerarium of
EGERIA, ITINERARIUM OF
Also known as Peregrinatio Aetheriae, or "Aetheria's Pilgrimage," the work is the account of a Christian woman's three-year journey through Egypt, Palestine, Syria and ultimately back across Asia Minor to Constantinople in the fourth century. Originally entitled by its discoverer J. F. Gamurrini as, Sanctae Silviae Aquitanae Peregrinatio ad loca sancta, it has come to be more commonly identified as the Itinerarium Egeriae, "Egeriae's Travel Notes." Gamurrini discovered the text in 1884 at a religious house in Arezzo, in a manuscript from Monte Cassino that also contained fragments of the hymns of St. Hilary of Poitiers along with Hillary's Tractatus de mysteriis. The text of the Itinerarium has numerous lacunae. Both the beginning and the end of the narrative are lacking and at least two leaves from the body of the text as we have it are missing as well. Scholarly conjecture varies as to the date of the journey (late fourth to early fifth century), with the weight of opinion favoring an earlier dating, possibly the years 381–384A.D. The precise identity of the traveler and her station in life cannot be determined with certitude. Was she a highborn person with ties to the imperial court? Was she a pious but worldly laywoman of the bourgeoisie? Was she a religious woman? Similary, the particular region of the Empire from which she haled (southern Gaul, either Aquitaine or Arles; Galicia in northwestern Spain; or, as has more recently been argued, Normandy) is a matter of conjecture
Literarily, it is in the form of a letter addressed both to a group of women (dominae sorores ) and to a person in authority, either an ecclesiastic or an imperial official (vestra affectio ), written in a familiar style that mirrors the vulgar or spoken Latin of the Late Empire. It has proven to be a mine of information for philologists, who have analyzed its Latinity for what it reveals of the morphology, the syntax, the fund of vocabulary, even the phonology of the spoken idiom that was slowly evolving in late antiquity into Proto-Romance, out of which would emerge the medieval and modern family of Romance Languages. It is a critical document as well for liturgists and ecclesiologists, particularly historians of monasticism, for geographers and topographers, for students of travel narrative, even for scholars working in women's studies. Although Egeria tends to efface her authorial self before the data that she records, she does emerge as a writer with a distinct literary personality manifested in a lively style blending the spontaneity of oral speech craft with more learned elements to translate vividly, and at times with some humor and even deep emotion, the multifarious experiences of her journey. Moreover, she is the first Christian woman to have authored a book-length text in Latin, and she testifies to the role played by women, religious in church life, even singling out one by name, the deaconess Marthana, whom she encountered in Jerusalem and subsequently visited at her monastery for women at Seleucia of Isauria in Asia Minor.
The Itinerarium's two parts. The text is divided into two parts. The first, composed of twenty-three chapters, recounts Egeria's travels to various pilgrimage sites in the Judaeo-Christian Near East; the second, slightly longer and divided into twenty-six chapters numbered 24 through 49, gives a detailed account of the liturgy of the Church of Jerusalem. The two parts differ substantially from one another, not only in content, but also in genre, form and style. Generically, the first twenty-three chapters constitute an authentic travel narrative and belong to the sub-genre of the pilgrimage. They are arranged chronologically and present the events of the journey sequentially. Speaking in her own name or in that of her fellow travelers, Egeria recounts four distinct journeys, the first three of which she undertook while based in Jerusalem, with the last being her homeward journey, in the course of which she made an extensive detour to visit Edessa and biblical sites associated with the sojourns of Abraham and Jacob at Harran. Indeed, Egeria's various journeys are exclusively motivated by a desire to see first-hand, and to pray at, sites mentioned in Scripture or hallowed by tradition, and to speak with the ecclesiastical personnel—whether bishop, priest, monks or nuns (parthenae, virgines )—associated with these sites. Thus, she travels to Sinai, where the text of the Arezzo manuscript begins, ascends the sacred mountains of Sinai and Horeb, lodges at the monastery, before retracing in reverse the early stages of the Exodus, visiting sites in the Biblical land of Gessen (chs. 1–9). There follow shorter journeys via Jericho to Mount Nebo (chs. 10–12), and by way of the Jordan valley to the reputed site of Job's grave in Idumea, in the course of which she passes through places associated with John the Baptist, Elias and Abraham and Melchisedech (chs. 13–16). Edessa, because of the reputed correspondence between Christ and King Abgar, became the focus of a major pilgrimage, motivating her to interrupt her homeward journey to travel there from Antioch across the Euphrates into Mesopotamia (chs. 17–21). The journey from Antioch to Constantinople (chs. 22–23) is marked by visits to the shrines of Saint Tecla in Seleucia of Isauria and of Saint Euphemia in Chalcedon. The pilgrimage-journey is a never-ending act, however, for, having once reached Constantinople, she informs her correspondents that she is projecting a visit to Ephesus to offer prayer at the tomb of the Apostle John.
The second part of the Itinerarium, written largely in the impersonal style of the reporter-witness, represents a summary of what she observed of the religious life of the Christian community of Jerusalem over a three-year period. Her account is ordered according to the unfolding of the daily, Sunday and annual liturgy of that community, with a lengthy excursus (chs. 45–47) on the catechetical instruction given by the bishop to candidates for baptism. Egeria's text (chs. 24–25) is the first to describe the order of a regular daily office, consisting of the Vigiliae Nocturnae, divided into two parts; a Vigilia matutina, which takes place while it is still night, and a morning office, which begins at daybreak and at which the bishop presides—Sext and Nones; and Vespers (lucenarium ). In Lent, Tierce is also observed. Except for Vespers, where the laity are numerous, these are essentially monastic offices. On Sundays, there is first a pre-service outside the Anastasis attended by a large crowd of religious and laity, then within the church proper an Office of the Resurrection at which the bishop presides, followed by the morning office and concluding with the celebration of the eucharist in the Martyrium. In her description of these offices, Egeria stresses the aptness of the hymns, prayers and readings and calls attention to the numerous blessings and dismissals.
Unique to the Church of Jerusalem's observance of the liturgical year is the convergence of historical and commemorative space permitting the celebration of feasts to be held on the sites associated with their occurrence, with the result that the ritual is characterized by numerous processions to and from stational churches within and without the city. Egeria begins her description of the liturgical year with an incomplete account of the Epiphany and its Octave (ch. 25), followed by the Feast of the Presentation (ch. 26), before moving on to the ceremonial order of the first seven weeks of Lent culminating in the celebration of Lazarus Saturday (chs. 27–29). The liturgy of Holy Week (septimana major ) is presented in minute detail: Palm Sunday (chs. 30–31); the commemorative rites associated with the observance of the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week (chs. 32–34); finally, the elaborate and emotionally-charged celebration of Holy Thursday and Good Friday (chs. 35–37). There follow accounts of the observance of the Easter Vigil (ch.38), Easter and its Octave (39–40) and the Paschal Season (ch. 41). The Ascension (ch. 42), interestingly, is observed with a Wednesday vigil in Bethlehem followed by a Thursday morning mass in the Church of the Nativity. The daylong observance of Pentecost (ch. 43), which also includes a commemoration of the Ascension, is marked by vast throngs processing to all major stational churches of the city and its environs. This is followed by a summary of liturgical practices in Ordinary Time after Pentecost (ch. 44) and an incomplete account of the Feasts of the Finding of the Cross and the Dedication of the Constantinian basilica (dies enceniarum ) observed in September, with monks from Egypt, the Thebaid, Syria and Mesopotamia coming up to Jerusalem. What other feasts Egeria may have described we cannot know, since the manuscript breaks off at this point.
By dint of reiteration a detailed liturgicoecclesiological topography of Jerusalem and environs impresses itself upon the reader. The focus of the Church of Jerusalem's liturgy was the complex of the Anastasis, comprising various churches, chapels and atria to which Egeria repeatedly refers: (1) the Anastasis proper, a church in the round built over the reputed site of Christ's burial and adjoining the bishop's house, which was the chief locus of the daily Office; (2) the atrium of the ante Crucem, the Calvary (ad Crucem) and the area behind (post Crucem), to which the congregation processed daily for the conclusion of vespers and where various ceremonies of numerous feasts, notably the Good Friday liturgy, were observed; (3) the Martyrium (ecclesia major ), where the Sunday eucharistic liturgy as well as that of most principal feasts were celebrated; and (4) the Quintana Pars, the great doorway opening from the city's major thoroughfare and through which the congregation processed on Pentecost. The Syon, called the mother of all churches and built on the site of the apostles' upper room, was the chief locus of the Pentecost litgurgy and figures prominently as a stational church for great feasts and in the weekly liturgy in Ordinary Time. Outside the city are situated the Eleona on the Mount of Olives, commemorating the place where Christ taught his disciples, with the Imbomon, the traditional site of the Ascension nearby; and Gethsemane, the "elegant church" (ecclesia elegans ). Also mentioned are the chapel on the road to Bethany, where Christ was met by Lazarus's sister and, in Bethany itself, the Lazarion or Church of Lazarus, as well as the grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Not to be forgotten are the numerous churches she mentions in the course of her various journeys, for example, the Opu Melchisech at Sedima (Salem).
Salient points. From Egeria's narrative emerge a number of salient points about the conditions of travel in late antiquity (for example, the use of military escorts in unsure areas; the hospitality afforded travelers in monasteries; the road network and the way stations, mansiones, along various itineraries) and about the religious life of eastern Christianity. She stresses, for example, the prevalence and importance of monasticism not only in Jerusalem but wherever she traveled, along with the role of monks and women, religious in the liturgy, without, however, neglecting the participation, especially during great feasts, of the laity. She spells out the rules for fasting at different seasons of the year: Wednesdays and Fridays in Ordinary Time; everyday except Sundays in Lent; none during the Paschal Season. She discusses the daily three-hour catechetical instruction given to catechumens by the bishop throughout Lent as well as during the Easter Octave, when, after baptism, they were initiated into the deeper mysteries (mysteria Dei secretiora ). Her text is also an important document for the meaning of liturgical and ecclesiological vocabulary, notably for a term like missa. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Egeria embodies in her person the pilgrim-traveler figure, who combines an intrepid spirit of adventure with a reverential quest for the authetification of belief through a vicarious reliving of the mysteries of faith in situ.
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[g. e. gingras]
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