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A Book of Discovery by  M. B. Synge


 

 

PILGRIM TRAVELLERS

[77] MEANWHILE a new inspiration had been given to the world, which affected travelling to no small extent.

In far-off Roman province of Syria, the Christ had lived, the Christ had died. And His words were ringing through the land: "Go ye and make disciples of all the nations, preach the gospel to every creature." Here at once was a new incentive to travel, a definite reason for men to venture forth into the unknown, to brave dangers, to endure hardship. They must carry their Master's words "unto the ends of the world." The Roman Empire had brought men under one rule; they must now be brought to serve one God. So men passed out of Syria; they landed on the islands in the Mediterranean, they made their way to Asia Minor and across to Greece, until in the year 60 A.D. we get the graphic account of Paul the traveller, one of the first and most famous of the missionaries of the first century.

Jerusalem now became, indeed, the world centre. A very stream of pilgrim travellers tramped to the Holy City from far-away lands to see for themselves the land where the Christ had lived and died.

The pilgrim age begins with the journey of a woman—the beautiful and learned daughter of the King of Britain, Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine. She was a student of divinity and a devoted Christian. In the year 326 she undertook the difficult journey to Jerusalem, [78] where she is reported to have discovered the "true cross," which had been buried, with Pilate's inscription in "Hebrew and Greek and Latin." When the news of her discovery was noised abroad a very rush of pilgrims took place from every part of the world. Indeed, one pilgrim—his name is unknown—thought it worth while to write a guide-book for the benefit of his fellow-travellers. His Itinerary from Bordeaux to Jerusalem  is very interesting, being the first Christian guide-book and one of the earliest travel-documents ever written for the use of travellers. This ancient "Bradshaw" has been translated into English and throws light on fourth-century travelling. Enthusiastic indeed must these early pilgrims have been to undertake the long and toilsome journey.


[Illustration]

THE FIRST STAGES OF A MEDIAEVAL PILGRIMAGE: LONDON TO DOVER.

The guide-book takes them, save for crossing the Bosphorus, entirely by land. It leads them from the "city of Bordeaux, where is the river Garonne in which the ocean ebbs and flows for one hundred leagues more or less," to Arles, with thirty changes and eleven halts in [79] three hundred and seventy-two miles. There were milestones along the Roman roads to guide them, and houses at regular intervals where horses were kept for posting. From Arles the pilgrim goes north to Avignon, crosses the Alps, and halts at the Italian frontier. Skirting the north of Italy by Turin, Milan, and Padua, he reaches the Danube at Belgrade, passes through Servia and Bulgaria and so reaches Constantinople—the great new city of Constantine. "Grand total from Bordeaux to Constantinople, two thousand two hundred and twenty-one miles, with two hundred and thirty changes and one hundred and twelve halts."

"From Constantinople," continues the guide-book, "you cross the strait and walk on through Asia Minor, passing the spot where lies King Hannibal, once King of the Africans." Thus onward through the long dreary miles to Tarsus, where "was born the Apostle Paul," till Syria is reached at last.

Then the "Bradshaw" becomes a "Baedeker." Long and detailed accounts are given of the country through which the pilgrim has to pass. From Cæsarea he is led to Jezreel by the spot "where David slew Goliath," by "Job's country house" to Sichem, "where Joseph is laid," and thence to Jerusalem. Full accounts follow of the Holy City and Mount Sion, "the little hill of Golgotha where the Lord was crucified," the Mount of Olives, Jericho, Jordan, Bethlehem, and Hebron. "Here is a monument of square form built of stone of wondrous beauty," in which lie Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sara, Rebecca, and Leah.

"From Constantinople to Jerusalem is one thousand one hundred and fifty-nine miles, with sixty-nine changes and fifty-eight halts."

Here the guide-book ends abruptly with a brief summary of distances. Thither then flocked the pilgrims, some by [80] land and some by sea, men and women from all parts of the world.

"Even the Briton, separated from our world, leaves the setting sun and seeks a place known to him only by fame and the narrative of the Scriptures."

One of the earliest was Paula of Rome—a weak, fragile woman accustomed to a life of luxury and ease, but, fired with the enthusiasm of her religion, she resolved to brave the dangers and hardships of a journey to the East. Her travels were written by St. Jerome.

"When the winter was spent and the sea was open," he writes, "she longed and prayed to sail. . . . She went down to the harbour, accompanied by her brother, her relatives, her connections and, more than these, by her children, who strove to surpass the affection of the kindest of mothers. Soon the sails were swelling in the breeze, and the ship, guided by the oars, gained the open sea. Little Lexotinus piteously stretched forth his hands from the shore. Rufina, a grown-up girl, by her tears silently besought her mother to stay until she was married. Yet she herself, without a tear, turned her eyes heavenward, overcoming her love for her children by her love for God. . . . Meanwhile the ship was ploughing the sea—the winds were sluggish and all speed slow." But the ship passed between Scylla and Charybdis and reached Antioch in safety. From this spot she followed the guide-book directions until she arrived at Jerusalem. How Paula and one of her young daughters walked over the rough ground, endured the hardships of desert-life, and finally lived twenty years at Bethlehem, would take too long to tell. And she was but one of many.

Sylvia of Aquitaine, travelling at the same time, wrote a strangely interesting account of her travels. The early part of her manuscript is lost, and we find her first in Arabia. All was new and strange.


[Illustration]

JERUSALEM AND THE EAST.

[81] "Meanwhile as we walked we arrived at a certain place, where the mountains between which we were passing opened themselves out and formed a great valley, very flat and extremely beautiful; and beyond the valley appeared Sinai, the holy mount of God. . . This is the same great and flat valley in which the children of Israel waited during the days when holy Moses went up into the Mount of God. . . . It was late on the Sabbath when we came to the mountain, and, arriving at a certain monastery, the kindly monks who lived there entertained us, showing us all kindliness." Sylvia had to ascend the mountain on foot "because the ascent could not be made in a chair," but the view over "Egypt and Palestine and the Red Sea and the Mediterranean which leads to Alexandria, [82] also the boundless territory of the Saracens, we saw below us, hard though it is to believe, all of which things these holy men pointed out to us."

But we must not follow her to Jerusalem, onto Mesopotamia, where she saw "the great river Euphrates, rushing down in a torrent like the Rhine, but greater." She reached Constantinople by the guide-book route, having spent four years in travel, and walked two thousand miles to the very limit of the Roman Empire." Her boundless energy is not exhausted yet. "Ladies, my beloved ones," she writes, "whilst I prepare this account for your pious zeal, it is already my purpose to go to Asia."

But we must turn away for a moment from the stream of pilgrim travellers wending their weary way from Britain, France, Spain, and the east to Jerusalem, to follow the travels of St. Patrick through the wilds of Ireland.


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