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Souvenir-Taking And Souvenir-Leaving: Pilgrim’s Remembrances in Late-Medieval And Early Modern Travel To The Holy Land

Souvenir-Taking And Souvenir-Leaving: Pilgrim’s Remembrances in Late-Medieval And Early Modern Travel To The Holy Land

By Paris O’Donnell

Trinity College Dublin Journal of Postgraduate Research, Vol.5 (2005)

Introduction: The collection of relics by travellers is a major preoccupation for both late-medieval narratives of pilgrimage and post-Reformation narratives of travel by Englishmen to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The impulse to accumulate relics, which can be identified in the writings of both devout pilgrims and sceptical travellers, is in part a response to the demand to furnish proof of the traveller’s arrival at his or her destination, of the identity between narration and achievement. For pilgrims who assume the sanctity of the places described as holy, chippings from the monuments there, clusters of Jerusalem earth and vials of the river Jordan contain powers of healing or protection, and help to prolong the relation with the place beyond the moment of physical presence. Relics are to holy places as holy places are to Christ and the saints: they provide a physical interface to holiness and divinity in spite of absence.

Less obvious, but occasionally glimpsed in such travel narratives, is the inverse function of relic-taking: pilgrims’ markings of their presence at the holy places in Palestine. This paper will examine several instances of pilgrim or traveller markings as represented in travel narratives, exploring the implications of these acts for an understanding of late-medieval and early-modern perceptions of the sanctity of the monuments and the significance of gestures of writing on them. It will also address contemporary responses to such “unauthorised” and “improvised” writing acts.

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