Tag Archives: Jerusalem

Medieval Tour Guides and The Stations of Jerusalem

A very belated Happy New Year to you all. After a very busy, post-Christmas few weeks, I am finally getting around to fulfilling one of my New Year’s blogging resolutions: continuing with a second installment of Middle English pilgrimage guides. The Stations of Jerusalem, a fifteenth century work written in the vernacular at the height of the popularity of journeys in search of shrines and sacred places, displays what George Shuffleton refers to as “the standardization of the Jerusalem pilgrimage”. The undertaking of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land remained a dangerous affair but now structures were in place, with the presence of prescribed routes and copious amounts of guidebooks with more detail than today’s satnavs.

The Stations of Jerusalem begins with a list of shrines that one will meet on their outward journey, a list so detailed that the voyage resembles one undertaken by an island hopping relic hunter rather than a pilgrim. The list of saints’ body parts include legs, thighs, kneecaps, teeth and arms. Accompanying these descriptions of the presence of body parts and dismembered limbs, are descriptions of the types of indulgences which can be attained in their presence. For example, in the case of the relics of Saint Christopher in Venice:

For ther is the whyrl-bon of hys kne

And his toth closyd in crystall to se,

Twyse in the yere who theder com

To vyset this cor-seynts in that plas,

He shall have plene remyssyon (33-37)

Miracles associated with the relics visited en route are not ignored. On the Island of Rhodes, a thorn from the Crown of Thorns blooms every Good Friday and “a feyr merakylle it is to se” (54).

Though written in the first person, The Stations of Jerusalem offers no personal experiences during the early stages of the voyage such as encounters with other pilgrims or thoughts on the journey but introduces new shrines and churches by offering generic statements such as “we fond” or “we saw” confirming what Shuffleton describes  as “the product of someone who had no direct experience of the Holy Land at all”, a merging biblical narratives and quotes with another’s account of the pilgrimage. On arriving at Jerusalem, however, a more personal description evolves with the writer expressing joy on the first sight of the city walls and their encounter with a Muslim guard the Temple of the Holy Sepulcher. A sense of the writer’s curiosity can also be seen in the visit to this temple as he emphasises that they got the opportunity to pass through the middle of the world, reflecting his interest in such a topic as the medieval concept of Jerusalem being the centre of the earth :

And thus we passyd by

the mydys of the mundye;

Ther is wroute withouten doute,

The mydys of the werlde ronde aboute. (133-136)

Psalter Mappa Mundi

Along with this interest, we can also see that the author is also attentive to the presence of other cultures in Jerusalem including those carried out by the Indian and Greek Orthodox priests in Jerusalem providing descriptions of their religious practices, comparing them with the practices of what he describes as “prestys of owre [faith]” (227).

Passion imagery is prevalent in this work and it provides a step-by-step account of the movements of Jesus within Jerusalem while the extensive use of biblical narrative forms the basis of the description of Mount Calvary in this guide. This continues for much of the rest of the narrative, a feature which, no doubt, allowed the medieval audience to complete an imagined pilgrimage/tour of the sacred sites of the Holy Land without ever having to leave their home.

Modern Day Jerusalem as seen from the Mount of Olives

There is another reason why I’m particularly interested in The Stations of Jerusalem. I have, over the last year, explored the themes found within the manuscript Ashmole 61, from which this version of the guidebook is taken. My examination of this manuscript is ongoing but once I have a coherent blog post or even an abstract for an upcoming conference http://borderlinesxvii.wordpress.com/call-for-papers/ based on my findings, I will be sure to post. This is not the last we’ll see of The Stations of Jerusalem!

Thanks for reading!

For the excellent introduction and version of The Stations of Jerusalem, referred to in this post and edited by George Shuffleton,  please refer http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/sgas34int.htm


Filed under Medieval, Middle English Literature, Pilgrimage