During the Middle Ages Christian pilgrims would journey across Europe and the Middle East, visiting churches, holy sites and shrines. It could take months for someone to travel to cities like Jerusalem, and such a venture would require extensive planning. Hopefully these pilgrims could make use of the travel tips offered by the 15th century writer William Wey.
Wey (c.1407-76) was an English scholar and one of the first fellows of Eton College. He is best known for writing accounts of his pilgrimages, including two trips to the Holy Land – the first in 1458, and then going again in four years later. He even gives his medieval readers several tips when travelling for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Wey begins his travel tips section by explaining how one arranges for maritime passage across the Mediterranean Sea, from Venice to port of Jaffa in the Holy Land. This involves making a contract with a ship captain to have him take you across the sea. Wey adds that this contract should be done in writing, even made in presence of officials from the Venetian government, with details sorted out such as how many days the ship can stopover at a port along the way. The writer also advises:
Choose for yourself a place in the said galley on the highest deck, because below, in the lowest, it is right smouldering hot and stinking. If you are going to get a good place and be comfortable in the galley and be well looked after, you will have to pay forty ducats for your galley and for your meat and drink to the port of Jaffa and back to Venice.
Once the transportation arrangements have been made, Wey gives advice on what should be bought in Venice for the journey. His first suggestion is to get three barrels, each large enough to hold ten gallons, with two for wine and one for water. “Put red wine in one barrel,” he writes, “and keep it until you return from the Holy Land because it is good for the flux. Once you have left Venice, even if you were were prepared to pay twenty ducats for a barrel, you would not get one. You can drink from the other barrel and refill it at a port on the way.”
The next thing to be bought is a chest – “In this way you will be able to protect the things which belong to you, like bread, cheese, spices, fruit and other essentials.”
Even though the captain of the ship will provide two meals a day, Wey says that much more food is needed, including pork, cheese, eggs, fruit and a six-month supply of biscuits; otherwise “you will often be very hungry.” He goes on to list many other items to be needed for the voyage including laxatives, a small frying pan, mixing bowls, plates, candles and a lantern. “You should also buy in Venice a small chamber pot,” he adds, “because if you become ill and are unable to climb up the upper parts of the the galley you will be able to do what you have to in it.”
Once food is taken care of the next matter is proper bedding: “you can buy a set of bedclothes in Venice near St. Mark’s. For three ducats you will get a feather bed, a mattress, two pillows, two pairs of small linen sheets and a small quilt. When you return to the seller in Venice he will take them back and give you one and a half ducats for the set of bedding.” Wey adds that you should also buy a little cord to wrap up the bedding.
The author next gives advice about changing money into Venetian currency, which will allow you to buy more items along the voyage. As the ship stops in various ports on the way to the Holy Land, Wey suggests that you quickly disembark and be the first to buy more food, before the others arrive and the sellers increase their prices. However he warns that one “be very careful of the fruits because they often loosen the bowels and, in those parts, lead to death for Englishmen.”
Once the ship arrives at its destination, the port of Jaffa, Wey explains that you will need to take your food with you for the overland journey to Jerusalem, as the city doesn’t have much to sell. He goes on to write:
Have an eye to your knives and the things hanging from your belt because the Saracens want to steal what hangs from your belt, if they can. When you come to get donkeys at Jaffa arrive there in good time and then you will be able to select a better donkey. You will not pay any more for a better donkey than for a poorer one. Do not be too far ahead, not too far behind, in case of evil men.
Remember all these things written above and, with God’s grace, both going and coming, you will speed well on your journey to please God and to increase your bliss, which Jesus grant you.
You can read more about William Wey’s travels, including pilgrimages to Rome and Compostella, in The Itineraries of William Wey, translated by Francis Davey (Bodleian Library, 2010)