How to travel to the physical and heavenly Jerusalem without leaving home (Oxford, Queen’s College, MS. 357)
By Kathryn Rudy
The Queen’s College Library Insight, Issue 1 (2011)
Introduction: Have you ever walked into Daunt Books in London—probably the greatest independently owned travel bookstore in the world—and perused their shelves? All of the books are organized by region, such as Africa, Asia, and Europe, then by country within those regions. They do not just sell guidebooks such as the Lonely Planet or Frommer’s, but also essays, short stories, novels, and memoirs featuring those places, and they display the various genres side-by-side. I sometimes stop in not because I am planning a voyage to Madagascar, but precisely because I cannot go to Madagascar however much I would like to. (I would like to write a scratch-n-sniff history of vanilla production, one that cannot be turned into an e-book. Please do not steal this idea!) The shop has a shelf full of illustrated guides, plus travel memoirs, essays about Madagascar, and accounts by the other writers who have written about the island’s fascinating history of vanilla cultivation (theirs, albeit, without the olfactory panels). These books speak to my goals for traveling to Madagascar, which have earthly and more ethereal components (if you count the smell-a-rama as ethereal). Because I cannot get away just at the moment, I have to put off this trip into the indefinite future. But reading the Madagascar shelf at Daunt Books satisfies many of the urges for traveling there in the first place. I can plot and plan and prepare myself for this eventual trip and visualize it through the many photos in these books.
Virtual travel undertaken through the proxy of an illustrated book is not a new phenomenon, nor even one borne of the post-photography era. Western literature is full of early travel accounts that served such purposes. Of course people conducted travel in order to trade or wage war, but a large number of the surviving accounts were those of pilgrims such as Egeria, a nun who lived in the fourth century; they were the medieval predecessors of the great travel writers such as Patrick Leigh Fermor, who wrote A Time of Gifts about making his way on foot from Rotterdam to Constantinople. In so doing, he followed in the footsteps of 1600 years’ worth of Western Europeans, including Egeria, who were magnetized by the promise of the Middle East. That promise included the relics related to the Passion such as the True Cross, which Helen, the mother of Constantine, had unearthed. Pilgrims desired above all to go to Jerusalem in order to see with their own eyes the things and places Jesus had touched.