Symon Semeonis – Franciscan Pilgrim

Another well-travelled medieval figure from Co. Tipperary and one that is closer to home for me is the fourteenth century Franciscan friar Symon Semeonis. In the company of Hugo the Illuminator, he left the Franciscan friary in Clonmel, (which still remains in the heart of the town and retains both the original tower and part of the choir wall) on the 16th March 1323, embarking on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This friar’s travels are recorded in the Itinerarium Symonis Semeonis ab Hybernia ad Reeram Sanctam and survives in one manuscript, MS 407, the library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.

Leaving Clonmel, the two friars travelled to Dublin and then continue on to Wales. They travelled extensively throughout England, visiting sites such as Chester, Rochester and Canterbury to name but a few. Symon’s descriptions are detailed and reflect his observational skills. The two friars then travel from Dover to France and from there they journey extensively through Europe, Alexandria and Egypt. In Cairo, however, Symon’s companion Hugo dies and he is forced to continue on his pilgrimage alone. Despite this pilgrim’s attention to detail throughout his travels, we are denied a complete depiction of Symon’s reaction to Jerusalem as the manuscript ends abruptly.

Symon’s account of his travels offers the only detailed description of a pilgrimage from Ireland to the Holy Land during the Middle Ages. It provides important details on the economic and social position of both Europe and also Eastern countries while also providing the personal views of an Anglo-Irish Franciscan friar. His desire to place his pilgrimage within the biblical context, a technique often seen with pilgrims (for example the female pilgrim Egeria who reads her bible in specific locations in the Holy land) is seen in his writing, comparing himself with Abraham and wishing to see the actual landscape where Jesus himself walked.

Two years ago, I attended a play entitled “With my Bare Hands” in the Granary Theatre in Cork, drawn in to its reference to medieval pilgrimage. This play, written by Frances Kay, consisted of one character – Symon. This was my first contact with the friar, despite his Clonmel connections and the fantastic production instilled desire to find out more about this globe-trotting Franciscan.

For more information on this play go to http://www.irishplayography.com/play.aspx?playid=3596

4 Comments

Filed under Medieval, Pilgrimage

4 responses to “Symon Semeonis – Franciscan Pilgrim

  1. Great to see your post. I was aware of Symon and his Clonmel connections. I will resume my pilgrimage to Jerusalem this summer when I attempt to get to Brindisi.
    It would be of considerable interest if details of his route from Clonmel to Dublin and across England were known.
    Do you have any more information?
    Your Blog looks great!

    • Hi Turlough!
      Thanks for taking the time to have a look at my blog. I have to say, I’m very jealous of you heading off to Jerusalem. It’s somewhere I would love to get to at some point.Best of luck with it!
      As for Symon, he does write a little bit more about his travels in England. I use the version edited by Mario Esposito and the translation describes their crossing across a stormy Irish sea and landing in Holy Head. It then states that they passed through “very strongly fortified localities”(25) in Wales including Beaumaris, Conway, Rhuddlan and Flint. They then travel to Chester in England and also to Strafford, Lichfield and Coventry, Dunstable and St. Albans. It appears he lists the places which they pass through and adds a simple memorable fact about them rather than keeping a diary of they’re own personal experiences there. They’re next stop is London and that receives a more substantial description (almost like a medieval Tripadvisor). From there they travel “by way of Rochester”(27) to Canterbury which, like London, receives a more detailed description. They then arrive in Dover and from there travel to Wissant in France, starting their European travels.
      I hope this is of some use to you Turlough. I have heard that a new edition of this work is in the pipeline and more facts may come to light.If you are interested in pilgrimage routes in English you should take a look at the Two Saints Way (connecting Lichfield and Chester) orgnaised by David Potts who got in contact with me a while back also asking about Symon.
      Thanks again for checking out the blog. I hope I provided some useful/interesting details.

      • Very interesting! Turlough beat me to the comment! The Confraternity of Pilgrims to Jerusalem is very interested in this route – and the creation of a Jerusalem Way in Ireland, Wales and then England.

        It would be very interesting to get together some folks interested in the route and project.

        Thanks very much for this work.

        Do have a look at the blog of the walk from London to Jerusalem from 2010.

        Ian Brodrick
        Confraternity of Pilgrims to Jerusalem

  2. Thank you very much Ian! That sounds like a very interesting project and one which I would say is very much in demand. I will definitely take a look at the blog. What I wouldn’t give to undertake a walk like that but unfortunately I’m tied to my desk for now. As I mentioned to Turlough, David Pott’s organising of the Two Saints Way is fascinating and a path I would love to do some day. If I find out any more information on Symon that I think might be interest or use to you I will send it on. Thanks again for the comment!

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