Egeria

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Egeria (also known as Aetheria) was a western European pilgrim, probably a nun from what is now Spain, who wrote of her pilgrimage to the Holy Land during the late fourth century. She recorded her experiences in a long letter to the nuns of her community.

Of what is known of the life of Egeria comes from her writings. From details of her comparisons of the Red Sea to the "Ocean" it appears she came from the western coast of Spain or France. Her pilgrimage to the East likely took place between 381 and 384. As a tourist she differed greatly from present day tourists, whose interests are mainly of the secular world, in that the interests in her travels was only that of the Christian world. She writes of little of the pagan world around her. Her enthusiasms fill her letter with comments about the environment and Christian world she visited, about the monks, the holy places, and the liturgies and services.

Her experiences were recorded in a book called Itinerarium Egeriae or Travels. The two surviving parts of her book begin, in the first part, as she approached Mount Sinai and end in Constantinople and in the second part with descriptions of the services in Jerusalem.

Discovery

The only surviving copy of Egeria’s book is a manuscript copy in the Codex Aretinus made in the eleventh century. This copy passed through a number of hands until it came in the possession of the Brotherhood of St. Mary in Arezzo, Italy. It was discovered and its importance recognized by J. F. Gamurini, a scholar, in 1884. He published it in 1887, with a corrected edition the next year. A translation in Russian was published in 1889, and in English in 1891.

Initially attributed by Gamurini to St Silvia of Aquitaine, the attribution was challenged by Dom Ferotin who argued the author was Egeria based upon mention of her in a letter of the seventh century by a monk, Valerius, praising her for her travels to the East.

Books in English

  • Egeria's Travels to the Holy Land, ed. John Wilkinson. Aris & Phillips, 1999 (ISBN 0856687103)
  • Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage (Ancient Christian Writers), ed. George E. Gingras. Newman Press, 1970 (ISBN 0809100290)

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