By Boleslaw Szczesniak
PhD Dissertation, University of Ottawa, 1950
Introduction: This is a study of the life and achievements of the Franciscan, Benedict the Pole of Vratislavia, who was sent with an Apostolic mission by Pope Innocent 17 in 1245 to the Great Khan of the Mongols. He and Friar Giovanni de Piano Carpini, an Italian Minorite of wisdom and virtue constituted this mission. It was hoped that the two friars might establish peaceful relations with the Mongols and thus prevent a second invasion, believed to be imminent, by the Mongolian armies into Europe.
The journey started on April 16, 1245, from Lyons, where Innocent IV called the Council, Friars went from Poland via Halich and Kiev to the Mongol Khan Badu on the Volga River and from there to the Great Khan’s camp near Karakorum in Mongolia. They were received in solemn audience by Khakan (great Khan) Guiuk, presented their Papal letters, and, receiving his answer, returned to the Pope at lyons in November, 1247. They brought back with them significant intelligence regarding the Mongols and a description of the countries through which they had traveled.
Scholars who have been interested in the historical journey of the Apostolic ambassadors and in the discovery of the Northern continental route to the Far East have dwelt on the question relating to Friar John of Piano Carpini, Benedict’s participation in the achievements of the mission and his life has been neglected. This neglect may be ascribed to the emphasis put on Friar John’s role and to the paucity of source material regarding Friar Benedict. The present author has attempted through an exploration of Polish-Latin and Slavonic sources to (a) bring out from historical obscurity the person of Friar Benedict, (b) demonstrate his contribution to the work of the Papal mission to Mongolia, and (c) establish his co-authorship in the report which became the first historical and geographical document of value for the study of an unknown part of the world and of an Asiatic nation. Another purpose of this study is to reveal that the Friars had fulfilled on their way to Mongolia another significant mission which has been overlooked. This is the successful negotiations between the Schismatic principality of Halich-Vladimir and the Roman Catholic Church. The negotiations resulted in a union with Rome which lasted from 1246 to 1256, This union was furthered by the Polish monarch and the princes who were close relatives of the Dukes of Volynia and Halishia, Prince Daniel and Wasilko. During the sojourn and conferences of the mission in Poland and Halich, Benedict played a prominent role as an expert on the Polish-Ruthenian question involved in the Union.
For a comprehensive study of Benedict’s works, it seemed advisable to translate into Polish the Narrative of their travel to Mongolia, Relatio Fratris Benedicti Poloni, from the Latin text. It was collated from the MS Colbert of the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, and from the MS Vindobonensis of the Orterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Wien. This is the first Polish translation of the Narrative, just as the dissertation itself is the first attempt to evaluate the work and life of Friar Benedict the Pole.