The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in the Old City of Jerusalem is one of the most important resources for understanding the religious history of the Holy Land: in the Patriarchal Library are gathered the ancient manuscript treasures of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and several other monasteries in the region.
The Library’s main holdings comprise the Greek manuscripts previously held at Mar Saba near Bethlehem and the unique Greek and Georgian manuscript holdings of the Monastery of the Holy Cross (a Georgian foundation which is now a Greek house) in west Jerusalem.
In my work tracing the manuscripts held at the now-vanished medieval Franciscan monastery at Mount Zion, I had wondered if any pilgrims’ books might have found their way to a Greek monastery in the region. I was thus intrigued to find that amongst the Patriarchal Library’s holdings – which are overwhelmingly Greek and Georgian in origin – there is one Latin manuscript: MS Taphou 27.
Thanks to the assistance of Archbishop Aristarchos of Constantina, I was recently able to examine MS Taphou 27, to see if the book could be more securely associated with its medieval owners. What follows is very much a preliminary account of the manuscript, a starting-point for plotting the biography of a manuscript that seems to be ‘out of place’.
Taphou 27 is a copy of Eutropius, a Classical chronicle dealing with Roman history. It was a very widely-read work, in both humanist circles and as a school text-book. Taphou 27 dates from the later fifteenth century, and includes some exceptionally beautiful illustrations and fine decorated lettering. The manuscript was almost certainly made in Italy, perhaps in Milan or Naples. It has a post-medieval binding, apparently British of c. 1800, and some of the book’s folios have been clipped.
There are a few clues in the book about its history and its journey from Italy to Jerusalem and the Greek Patriarchate. First, on the book’s first folio, are two Greek inscriptions, in different hands. The first, hard to decipher, suggests that the book was at Constantinople, at the Metochion of the Holy Sepulchre, by the year 1677. The second says that the book comes from “the belongings of Panayotis…which are useful to him” – it’s not clear exactly who or what this refers to. Over the coming months I hope to explore the possible meanings of these inscriptions with members of the Pilgrim Libraries project who are more familiar with Greek materials.
As Christopher Wright has shown, the manuscript was part of a large number of ancient books that were taken from the Ottoman empire to England, c. 1801, by Joseph Dacre Carlyle, Professor of Arabic at Cambridge, via the British embassy in Constantinople. Carlyle certainly took at least six books from Mar Saba, as a surviving receipt shows (now The National Archives, FO 78/81, f. 56r), and a number of manuscripts from the Metochion, lent by the Patriarch of Jerusalem Anthimos, who at that time resided in Constantinople. The manuscript passed to Carlyle’s sister Maria in 1804, and she retained it as a memento, having given the bulk of her brother’s collection to Lambeth Palace Library. The manuscript was returned by Maria Carlyle to the Greek Patriarchate around 1813, via the Patriarch Polycarpus. A Greek note on the front of MS Taphou 27 confirms the return of the book from England.
An important though previously overlooked aspect of MS Taphou 27 is that it contains the name of its scribe. On f. 138v, the final folio of the text, the scribe has written in his beautiful humanistic hand
I A C O B U S Laurentianus scripsit.
This Iacobus Laurentianus was the scribe of the whole volume. Laurentianus is by no means an unknown scribe: on the contrary, he was evidently a prestigious and highly-productive scribe in late fifteenth-century Italy, his work including commissions for the Aragonese court in Naples and the Sforza family in Milan. My preliminary research shows that a group of surviving Laurentianus manuscripts can be traced, now in collections around the world (given in a working hand-list below).
MS Taphou 27 can therefore be added to the known works written by Jacobus Laurentianus. It is not clear from the book however if it was written to commission – in my inspection of the book, I did not see any heraldic devices or similar evidence that would point to a medieval patron. As W. S. Monroe has shown, Laurentianus’ manuscripts were sometimes copied from printed texts, and MS Taphou 27 was likely copied from the printed edition of Eutropius (Rome, 1471); Laurentianus copied another manuscript of this text, now in the Escorial in Madrid.
This still doesn’t get us any closer to establishing how the book got from Italy to the Middle East, although the Greek inscriptions suggest that it was there by the mid-seventeenth century. The library of the Dukes of Aragon, based at Naples, shows that it held three books by Jacobus Laurentianus, including the copy of Eutropius, now in the Escorial, dedicated to Ferdinand/Ferrando of Aragon and, as Tammaro de Marinis shows, written at some point between 1471 and 1480. The Jerusalem manuscript is therefore almost certainly closely connected to this prestigious commission, although as I have not yet inspected the Escorial manuscript I cannot be sure of the relationship between the two. The Aragonese library at Naples was broken up in the later fifteenth century.
I am not at present in a position to make any firmer or larger conclusions about the book’s history but it is clear that Taphou 27 presents an intriguing piece of evidence in our attempts to understand the movement of books in the late medieval and early modern Eastern Mediterranean.
A provisional hand-list of manuscripts written by the scribe Jacobus Laurentianus
Florence, Biblioteca Marucelliana MS ACB.IX.83
Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana MS 1569.s.15 (“Iacobus de s. Laurentio”)
Jerusalem, Greek Orthodox Patriarchal Library MS Taphou 27
Madrid, Escorial MS H.II.2; produced for the Aragonese court at Naples
Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli MS XI.AA.51
Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli MS XIII.C.76
I would like to thank the following for the help in drafting this blogpost: William S. Monroe, Marina Tompouri, Kostya Tsolakis, Nickiphoros Tsougarakis, and Archbishop Aristarchos of Constantina, Elder Secretary-General of the Greek Patriarchate, Jerusalem.
Professor Anthony Bale shared a strong vision for our joint project on Medieval Pilgrims Libraries when we met in London December 9-10, 2016. We’re all grateful for his leadership and helpful push in new directions and especially for bringing together researchers from such diverse fields. Here are some reflections based on our initial conversations.
Many medieval pilgrims belonged to lively lectoral communities. They carried their libraries with them on their way to Jerusalem, Rome or Santiago even when there were no books at hand. Memories of books read before leaving home were fondly rehearsed aloud among bands of sacred sojourners, texts that scripted the experience even while walking and sailing to distant shores. Some deliberately bade farewell to their books for a while as a personal discipline or as part of the acetic rigor of the trip, somewhat like foregoing bathing or haircuts. At opportune stops along the way they may have read or listened to the recitations of unfamiliar writings, purchased souvenir texts, or either made or commissioned copies of admired works to take home. Not a few pilgrims eventually composed their own travelogues as itineraries, diaries and guidebooks for subsequent travelers.
Complementing those who enjoyed full agency as readers – the ones who were personally literate – almost all pilgrims participated in ever rotating communities of secondary literacy. Many who could not read for themselves because of lack of education or failing eyesight listened to texts being read aloud and participated in their interpretation. Throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages almost all reading was done aloud and routinely by young adults whose eyes were better suited for the task. Pilgrims probably carried few books with them and in any case one literate reader among any given travelers’ band would be enough.
Most importantly there was the internal library shared equally among the literate and illiterate, the vast oral stream they all grew up with. Medieval sojourners carried a rich imaginary of their journey spun out of their memory hoard stocked by prior reading plus all their accustomed folk genres as they moved through their newly fluid discursive landscape. Some of their more pious texts they accessed “from within”: a common stock of Latin prayers and rituals, hymnody in Latin reliably re-encountered at hosting institutions, and vernacular devotional songs learned by heart back home and happily belted out along the trail or on arrival. To lift their spirits and anticipate possible spiritual adventures there was the reverent recounting of hagiography and miracle stories associated with the shrine sites they visited.
On the secular side were ballads and ordinary walking songs, and epic stories in prose or verse. Some medieval travelers had their recollections of itineraries or topographical plans, but even without them all had mental maps that constituted a “consensus cartography” that fused sites and anticipated encounters. When their accounts of physical geography seem defective, they are probably reporting a traveler’s topography of significance and holiness.
Much of their remaining common oral culture was plainly utilitarian: medical knowledge and techniques (as distinct from miraculous cures), guesstimates of diverse monetary exchange, knowledge of equivalents for local weights and measures, calculation of distances, seasons, climate, and folk tales and games to pass the time. Any of these could end up in written records but the bulk of it churned through the living oral stream, the cultural “soup” everyone swims in without recognizing one’s conceptual environment always known from within.
The accounts that most attract our attention now – what pilgrims who made it home again wrote down and left unsystematically among family papers and local archives – are their own compositions in the form of itineraries and daybooks. Most are middle brow, repetitive in their sequence of places and sights, and doggedly anonymous. This is probably not because generally poor writers took up the task. It would have been hard to actually compose anything serious while traveling in the Middle Ages. Toting reliable supplies of ink, quills and parchment or paper – much less wax tablets – is pretty much ruled out by the tiny satchels shown in most contemporary painting and sculpture.
Medieval travel accounts were likely put together after a return to a writerly environment and perhaps before the pilgrim company disbanded. For pilgrims returning from Jerusalem, the logic site would be on disembarking at Venice. A troop which had shared the journey could share the reminiscing and the most able scribe among them could stitch together what each individual agreed was true. That would help explain the depersonalized and often pedestrian accounts that come down to us. The stationers’ shops in Venice could also supply enough raw materials to make multiple copies for as many of the companions who wanted a set of reliable notes to embellish orally for family, friends and fellow parishioners. Producing a “corporate report” from a whole group of travelers usually makes for dull reading but would lend a certain weight and credence to the narrative.
Bands returning from Jerusalem enjoyed the advantage of a fairly stable party from start to finish, or at least from departure from Venice until their return there. Venice would have also marked a psychological “homecoming” even if individuals had started out from more distant parts of Christendom, and no other pilgrim node along the thousands of sacred routes in medieval Europe provided the same urban nexus of launch point, site of return and time to linger. There are points of convergence along the trails to Santiago (Ostabat and St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the eastern slopes of French Pyrenees) and to Rome (certain Alpine passes on the descent into Italy) but none in an urban center that invited potential writers to linger and compose. Of course, Rome was the most heavenly and best provisioned writers’ environment of all, but writers in residence on the Tiber did not routinely overlap with visiting pilgrims and they produce different sorts of works.
All these factors would have favored greater numbers of travelogues about the Holy Land, somewhat less so for Rome and relatively few for Santiago and other pilgrim shrines, and extant archival witnesses seem to corroborate this scenario.
Herbers, Klaus. “Peregrinaciones a Roma, Santiago y Jerusalén.” El mundo de las peregrinaciones. Roma, Santiago, Jerusalén. Ed. Paolo Caucci von Sauken. Barcelona/Madrid, 1999. 103-34. Subsection on “Relatos de los peregrinos en el medievo tardío,” 128-34]
Herbers, Klaus, y Robert Plötz. Caminaron a Santiago. Relatos de peregrinaciones al »fin del mundo«. Santiago de Compostela: Xunta de Galicia, 1998.
Howard, Donald R. Writers and Pilgrims. Medieval Pilgrimage Narratives and Their Posterity. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1980.
Plötz, Robert. “Santiago de Compostela en la literatura odepórica.” Santiago de Compostela: ciudad y peregrino. Actas del V Congreso Internacional de Estudios Xacobeos. Eds. María A, Antón Vilasánchez; José Luis Tato Castiñeira. Santiago de Compostela: Xunta de Galicia, 2000. 33-99. [on mapmaking and the concept of space]
Reynolds, Roger E. “A Precious Ancient Souvenir Given to the First Pilgrim to Santiago de Compostela.” Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 4.3 (Spring, 2014): 1-30.
Stones, Alison. “Medieval Pilgrimage Writing and its Manuscript Sources.” Encyclopedia of Medieval Pilgrimage, ed. L.J. Taylor, et al. Leiden: Brill, 395-413. [see bibliography 411-12 for list of travel narratives]
Stones, Alison, & Jeanne Krochalis. “Qui a lu le Guide du pèlerin ?” Pèlerinages et croisades. Ed. L. Pressouyre. Paris: CTHS, 1995. 11-36.
Linguistic anthropologists working in Chiapas, Mexico have observed how leaders of base Christian communities (comunidades de base) could be illiterate yet function as the most insightful and trusted commentators of scriptural and inspirational texts. (As reported by Vincent Barletta, now at Stanford, from field work in the 1990s during doctoral studies at UCLA. Personal communication.)
The phrase was coined by Mary Carruthers in her classic The Book of Memory. A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge, 1990).
The “Pilgrims Guide” in the Codex Calixtinus describes how various nationalities, clustered together in their respective corners of the tribune level of the cathedral in Santiago, would loudly compete as they sang hymns in their native tongues.
The earliest and one of the most intriguing prose epics about the adventures of Charlemagne and Roland in Spain is consecrated in the “Historia Turpini” of the Codex Calixtinus, the twelfth-century master compilation on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. The connection to Charlemagne’s supposed devotion to St. James and the saint’s instructions to have the French secure the pilgrimage route against the Muslim foe is tenuous in the narrative, entirely fictional in terms of history.
Folk tales contain many stories about the intervention of saints on behalf of their devotees. A version of hopscotch became the pilgrim game of Juego de la Oca or Goose’s Game, a modern version of which has been laid in the paving outside the church of Santiago the Elder in Logroño along the main route to Compostela.
Anxiously sincere personal narratives of travel along the Camino de Santiago have repopulated this genre in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, most of them just as artless as their medieval forerunners if more heartfelt.