Egeria (pilgrim)

Egeria (pilgrim)

In early Christian history, Egeria, also known as Aetheria, is the name of a Spanish or Gallic woman who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land about 381–384, taking about four years to do it, and who wrote a long letter to her beloved circle of women at home (possibly Iberia or the west coast of Gaul) describing her travels. Unfortunately, we only have part of her text (and it is only a later copy). In the 7th century a monk named Valerius wrote a letter of praise about Egeria that helps fill in some gaps. Because Valerius called her a nun, and because she writes to her "sorores" (Latin for "sisters"), she has generally been assumed to be a nun. However, others (including Hagith Sivan, 1988) have pointed out that during her time it was common to address fellow lay Christians as "sisters" and "brothers." Moreover, pilgrimages by lay women were not unheard of at that time. Those who defend such a view claim that seems possible that Valerius himself was merely fooled by her use of "sorores" and the fact that she, a woman, went on such pilgrimage; these later writers do not take into account Valerius' temporal proximity to the culture at the time. Those who suggest that Egeria was not a monastic claim that there is much to suggest that she was not a nun, including: her freedom to make such a long pilgrimage and to change plans as it suited her, the high cost of her pilgrimage, her level of education, and her subject matter which focused on the sights and not miracles like letters we have by monks at that time. Realistically, however, considering social constraints on women at the time, these points make it equally likely that she was a nun, since such social freedoms were not as available to middle-class women within their households, and such lone pilgrimages were rare among lay women at the time and miracles may well have been recorded in other parts of the texts. Ignored by those who argue that Egeria was a layperson is the fact that she spent over three years and was in no rush to return home, which would indicate that she was not middle-class, but either financially self-sufficient alone, or more possibly a monastic such as a "gyrovague", or "wandering monastic" as described in the rule of St Benedict, who travels from monastery to monastery.

Egeria wrote down her observations in a letter now called "Itinerarium Egeriae", or the Travels of Egeria. It is sometimes also called "Peregrinatio Aetheriae" (the Pilgrimage of Aetheria) or "Peregrinatio ad Loca Sancta" (Pilgrimage to the Holy Lands) or some other combination. The middle part of Egeria's writing survived and was copied in the "Codex Aretinus", which was written at Monte Cassino in the eleventh century, while the beginning and end are lost. This "Codex Aretinus" was discovered in 1884 by the Italian scholar Gian Francesco Gamurrini, who found the manuscript in a monastic library in Arezzo. Egeria describes the monks, many holy places and geographical points in her travels and even the early details of the liturgical practices of the church at Jerusalem.

The manuscript has been translated several times, but perhaps the most recommended translation for the average reader is John Wilkinson, "Egeria's Travels: Newly Translated" (1999), especially since it includes supporting documents and notes. Another translation of Egeria's writing for the average reader is the Gingras edition in the Ancient Christian Writers series.

The "Itinerarium Egeriae" has provided scholars with valuable information about developments in the grammar and vocabulary of Vulgar Latin. For example, expressions such as "deductores sancti illi" ("those holy guides" meaning "the" holy guides") help to reveal the origins of the definite article now used in all the Romance languages (except Sardinian) - such as French ("les saints guides") or Italian ("le sante guide"). Similarly, the use of 'ipsam' in a phrase such as "per mediam vallem ipsam" ("through [the] middle of [the] valley itself") anticipates the type of definite article ("péri sa mesanía de sa bàdhe") that is found in Sardinian ("sa limba sarda") - at least in its standard form.

Literary references

*In Joseph Conrad's novel "Under Western Eyes", Madame S_____ is compared to Egeria (book 2, chapter 4).

ee also

*Vulgar Latin

External links

* [ Introduction to Egeria and further links to e-texts and commentaries]
* Excerpts from the " [ Peregrinatio Ætheriae] " (Latin)
* [ Iteneraria] Article from The Catholic Encyclopedia
* ["The Pilgrimage of Etheria"] , published 1919 by SPCK

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