Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land during the first centuries AD

"From the earliest times Christians felt a desire to see for themselves the places hallowed by the incarnate God, where Christ was born and preached and suffered. (...)

During the first two centuries of the Christian era it was not easy to make the pilgrimage to Palestine. Jerusalem itself had been destroyed by Titus (70 AD, TN), and the Roman authorities did not approve of journeys thither. The fall of Jerusalem had resulted in the triumph of St. Paul's conception of Christianity over that of St. Iames', and the church sought to stress its universality at the expense of its ]ewísh origins. But the holy places were not forgotten. (...) When, after the triumph (of Emperor Constantine under the sign of Christ during the battle of the Milvian Bridge - 312,TN)  the empress Helena came to Palestine, the tradition that she found there was strong enough for her to be able to identify all the sacred sites.

The official recognition of Christianity, combined with Helena's voyage and her pious labors, which her son Constantine endorsed by building the great churches of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem and the Nativity at Bethlehem, let loose a stream of pilgrims bound for Palestine. (...) By the beginning of the 4th century the number of monasteries and hostels in Jerusalem where pilgrims could be housed was said to be over three hundred."

This blog quotes form Baldwin, M. W. (ed.): The first hundred years (1969); illustration www.oldbookillustrations.com

11th Century Benedictine participation in the Toledo School of Translators

King Alfonso X
"Toledo, with a large population of Arabic-speaking Christians (Mozarabs) had been an important center of learning and translation since as early as the end of the 10th century, when European scholars traveled to Spain to study subjects that were not readily available in the rest of Europe. (...)


The translating efforts at Toledo are often overemphasized into a “school of translation”, however the representation of Toledo translating activity creates a false sense that a formal school arose around the Archbishop Raymond. Only one translation, by John of Seville, can be definitively dedicated to the archbishop. It is more accurate to consider Toledo as a geographically bilingual environment where local interests were favorable to translation efforts, making it a practical and appealing location for translators to work. As a result, many translators became active in the area and Toledo became the focus of translating activity.

However translating efforts were not properly organized until Toledo was reconquered by the Christian forces in 1085. (Archbishop) Raymond of Toledo started the first translation efforts at the library of the Cathedral of Toledo, where he led a team of translators that included Mozarabic Toledans, Jewish scholars, Madrasah teachers and (Benedictine, TN) monks from the Order of Cluny. They worked in the translation of many works from Arabic into Castilian, from Castilian into Latin, or directly from Arabic into Latin or Greek, and also made available important texts from Arabic and Hebrew philosophers who the Archbishop deemed important for an understanding of Aristotle. As a result of their activities, the cathedral became a translations center known as the Escuela de Traductores de Toledo (Toledo School of Translators), which was on a scale and importance not matched in the history of western culture."


Source of text and illustration Wikipedia

8th to 10th century pilgrimage to the Holy Land

"In the 8th century the numbers increased. Pilgirmage was now promoted as a means of penance. (...) Relations between the west and the Moslems soon improved. When in the 760s Charlemagne entered into an alliance with the Abbasid caliph Härün ar-Rashid from Baghdad, with the apparent objective of cooperating against the Umayyads of Spain, there was a sufficient number of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem tor the emperor to ñnd it worth while to obtain permission to have a hostel set up for them in the holy city. There were women again amongst the pilgrims, and there were Spanish nuns living attached to the Holy Sepulcher.”

There was another slight interruption in the course of the ninth century, owing to the growth of  Moslem power in the Mediterranean and the establishment of Arabs in Crete and Sicily and southern Italy. When (in 870, TN) the Breton Bernard reached Jerusalern he found Charlemagne's establishments still in working order, but they were shabby and the number of visitors had sadly declined.

By the beginning of the 10th century conditions in the Mediterranean had improved. The Moslems had lost their foothold in southeast Italy and were soon to lose their last pirate-nests in southern France. Crete was recovered for Christendom half way through the century; and the Byzantine fleet was already able to provide an effective police force. The Italian rnaritime cities were beginning to open up direct commerce with the Moslem ports.

In the east the Abbasid (...) vice-roys in Palestine were ready to welcome visitors who brought
money into the country and who could be taxed; and when the Ikhshïdids, and after them the Fätímids, succeeded to the possession of Palestine, the appearance of good-will increased. It was now not difficult for a pilgrim to take a boat at Venice or Bari or Amalfi which would take him direct to Alexandria or some Syrian port. Most pilgrirns, however, preferred to sail in an Italian ship to Constantinople and visit the renowned collection of relics there, and then go on by land to Palestine. (...)

That certain holy places endowed the visitor with peculiar spiritual merit was now generally accepted.  (...)  The penitential value of a pilgrimage was also widely recognized. (...) The crime of murder in particular needed such an expiation. "

This blog quotes form Baldwin, M. W. (ed.): The first hundred years (1969); additional text and source illustration Wikipedia, showing Harun al-Rashid receiving a delegation of Charlemagne in Baghdad, a painting by Julius Köckert.

Early christian pilgrimage and relics

"The fathers of the church were not altogether happy about this new fashion (of 4th century pilgrimage to the Holy Land, TN). Even Jerome, though he recommended a visit to Palestine to his friend Desiderius as an act of faith and declared that his sojourn there enabled him to understand the Scriptures more clearly, confessed that nothing really was missed by a failure to make the pilgrirnage. St. Augustine openly denounced pilgrimages as being irrelevant and even dangerous. (...) But the general public ignored such strictures, preferring to believe that the interesting journey brought spiritual merit as well.

To many of the pilgrims crowding to Palestine half the point of the journey was the possibility of buying some important relic with which to sanctify their churches at home. The greater number of the early saints and martyrs had lived in the east, and it was in the east that their relics could be found. It was now generally held that divine aid could be obtained at the graves of the saints, as the Spaniard Prudentius and the Italian Ennodius taught, while St. Ambrose himself believed in the efficacy of relics and sought to discover some. St. Basil of Caesarea was a little more cautious. He was prepared to believe that relics might have some divine power, but he wished to be absolutely certain of their authenticity. Here again popular enthusiasm was undeterred by the caution of the fathers.

The major Christian relics remained in the east, those of Christ being gradually moved from Jerusalem to Constantinople and those of the saints being preserved at their native homes. But it was often possible for a lucky pilgrirn to acquire some lesser relic, while others were brought to the west by enterprising merchants."

This blog quotes form Baldwin, M. W. (ed.): The first hundred years (1969); souce of illustration wikipedia, photo by
John Stephen Dwyer, showing a reliquary at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in the United States, with relics of St. James, St. Matthew, St. Philip, St. Simon, St. Thomas, St. Stephen and other saints.

11th Century Cluniac promotion of pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

"In 910 count William I of Aquitaine founded the abbey of Cluny, and in a few decades Cluny became the center of a vast ecclesiastical nexus, closely controlled by the mother-house, which itself owed obedience to the papacy alone. The Cluniacs took an interest in pilgrimage, and soon organized the journey to the Spanish shrines.

By the end of the 10th century they were popularizing the journey to Jerusalern and were building hostels along the route for the benefit of poorer pilgrims. They particularly encouraged pilgrims from the neighborhood of their great houses. (...) The dukes of Normandy and the counts of Anjou both were devoted patrons of the Cluniac movement; and we find Fulk Nerra of Anjou making three journeys to Palestine, all well merited by his sins, and Richard lll of Normandy collecting alms for the Palestinian shrines, which his brother duke Robert visited at the head of a large company in 1035. But it was the poorer folk that the Cluniacs particularly helped and enabled to go east in smaller independent groups.

Political events aided the Cluniacs in their work. About the beginning of the eleventh century the mad Fâtirnid caliph al Häkim began to persecute the Christians throughout his dominions and to destroy their Churches, including the church of the Holy Sepulcher itself; and during his reign pilgrimage was dangerous. Later, he persecuted the Moslems as well; and after his death there was a reaction in favor of religious toleration. The Byzantine emperor Rornanus III (c. 968—April 11/12, 1034) made a treaty with al-Hâkirns successors allowing him to rebuild the Sepulcher, and the treaty was confirmed in the time of Constantine IX, who sent his own workmen to set about the work."

This blog quotes form Baldwin, M. W. (ed.): The first hundred years (1969); illustration from englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com, depicting The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, as described by Arculf to Admonan. 9th century copy, Vienne, Osterreichisches National Bibliothek, Codex 458, f4v

10th Centrury worldy dominance over the church


"During the ninth and tenth centuries the church had become deeply involved in secular affairs. The extensive lands of the bishops and abbots were held of lay lords by feudal services, and the prelates had to perform the (worldy, TN) functions of vassals either personally or by deputy.

Some doughty bishops led their troops in battle wielding a mace, which they insisted did not violate canon law as it drew no blood, but most had secular agents called advocates to head their levies. But the prelates were appointed by the secular lords and invested by them with the insignia of their holy office. They served the lords as counselors and administrators.

As we have seen, the Capetian (French, TN) monarchy owed what little power it had to the prelates it controlled and the German empire was based on an episcopacy devoted to the emperor. This situation was harmful to the spiritual functions of the church."

This blog quotes form Baldwin, M. W. (ed.): The first hundred years (1969); source illustration thinglink.com