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13.05.08, Pringle, Pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land, 1187–1291

13.05.08, Pringle, Pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land, 1187–1291

At the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in New Orleans, in January 2013, nineteen papers explicitly addressed the medieval European crusades. Three focused on military issues, two on popes, and the other fourteen explored a diverse range of topics including memory, material culture, display, identity, preaching, literary traditions, and emotion. If the AHA program provides a snapshot of current trends, the Crusades have become an inclusive and expansive field of study, rich with possibilities.

The inclusion of Denys Pringle's excellent collection of translated pilgrimage texts in Ashgate's impressive series, Crusade Texts in Translation, speaks to the expanding nature of Crusade Studies. For most of Pringle's fifteen western and two Greek accounts of travel in the Holy Land, the Crusades themselves are peripheral. Instead, the Holy Land itself takes center stage, and only rarely do recent military and political events emerge within the sources to provide context or explain a particular problem a pilgrim faced. The sources span from 1181-1291 and provide an excellent overview of both the details of pilgrimage and the world that the pilgrims encountered.

The book opens with a concise introduction to pilgrimage in the Western tradition. Pringle divides his period into three sections: 1187-1229, 1229-1244, and 1244-1291. He traces the routes of the various pilgrimages that took place during each period, a process he supplements with several helpful maps. He notes the emergence of Venice as the primary provider of shipping and credits the general increase in galley size with the lowering of cost per pilgrim. He also notes the relative stability of the route chosen by pilgrims between 1229 and 1291, despite the fall of the city in 1244. In general, political control over Jerusalem does not correlate to frequency of visitation or knowledge of the city, at least according to the narrative accounts; instead, new sites become grafted on to the older traditions. The introduction concludes with a brief overview of both pilgrim motivations and the "practicalities of pilgrimage" (11), focusing particularly on the changing nature of indulgences that come to litter the later texts.

In the second part of the introductory comments, each text receives a short treatment. Pringle divides the texts into three categories: prescriptive accounts of what one ought to do on pilgrimage, actual narrative accounts of individual pilgrimages, and geographic descriptions of the Holy Land. Though brief, the description of each source manages to place the text in its circumstances of production and manuscript history, while noting any scholarly editions. While some of the sources, such as the "Chronicle of Ernoul," are reasonably well known, others, especially the shorter and fragmentary texts, may be less familiar. Pringle's intention here is to gather together a body of texts that speak to each other and reveal the full panoply of possibilities encountered by thirteenth-century pilgrims. And quite a panoply it turns out to be. Not only do we receive the expected descriptions of holy places and the people who venerate them, but the texts contain countless interesting and enjoyable anecdotes. The pilgrims move through Greek, Armenian, Latin, and Islamic lands, often pausing to note specific miracles, rituals, modes of transport, and practical details of clothing and food. This reviewer was particularly struck by Wilbrand of Oldenburg's (1211-1212) description of Epiphany among the Armenians, Germans, Greeks, and Syrians of Sis. At the end of the affair, "the clergy hastened to their monasteries and the king and knights to the fields, where they engage in military games, running about on bedecked horses and smashing lances to pieces" (79). In another enjoyable anecdote, the pilgrim Thietmar, writing around 1217-1218, digressed from his description of the ecclesiastical organization of the region to observe that the archbishop of Caesarea was "more than moderately fat," though Pringle notes that word pinguis might also mean rich (133).

Burchard of Mount Sion's "Description of the Holy Land," written from 1274-1285, one of the longest sources in the collection, contains extended discussions of the fruits and animals of the Holy Land, the diverse modes of life, religious identities, and languages. One favorite passage focuses on wine. He writes, "There are many vineyards in the Holy Land; and there would be more, except that the Saracens who are now in possession of the land do not drink wine, apart from some of them furtively. Therefore they do not cultivate vines, but destroy them, apart from a few perhaps, who live near Christians and grow them for profit in order to sell them to the Christians" (314). The description continues to describe the quality of the wine of the region (excellent) and the harvesting techniques for producing three successive batches of grapes in the region of Ṭarṭūs. He writes, "In the springtime, when the vine first sprouts, the vinedressers take note of the number of bunches of grapes forming that each vine and branch is accustomed to produce in the normal course of things and immediately cut off and throw away all the rest of the branch beyond the bunches themselves. This is done in March. In April another branch sprouts from the branch, with new bunches of grapes. When they see this they again cut off from the branch whatever is beyond those bunches. In May, the stem produces a third branch with its bunches of grapes. Thus they have three series of grape bunches, which all grow the same way, except that those that sprouted in March are gathered in August, those that sprouted in April are gathered in September, and those that sprouted in May are gathered in October. In this way they have three wine harvests a year" (314-315). One can only wonder if vintners today still use this ancient technique.

These brief excerpts demonstrate the rich texture of life in the Holy Land that these sources provide. Such anecdotes are, of course, but secondary to the principal goals of these authors--elucidating the pragmatic and spiritual details of pilgrimage itself. Descriptions of Jerusalem, naturally, are often extremely detailed and one can observe the crystallization of pilgrim practice as the thirteenth century progresses. For this reviewer, the endless descriptions of Jerusalem and recitations of indulgences proved less interesting than anecdotes about fat archbishops and Levantine viticulture, but they do make up the core of most of these sources. More interestingly, during the last decades of this period, Acre gains its own set of sacred sites, potent indulgences, and historical myths, as its status as the capital of Latin Christendom develops.

The scholarly apparatus supporting these translations is generally excellent. The footnotes are relevant and the bibliography is ample, which is not surprising given Pringle's long record of scholarship on the churches of the Holy Land. He provides numerous maps, including detailed plans of Jerusalem, a plan of Acre showing the sites of pardons, and a selected number of route-maps for specific pilgrims. As warranted, Pringle places translations of distinct manuscripts side-by-side, enabling direct comparison. This comparative approach is particularly welcome for his translation of the texts drawn from various versions of the maps of Matthew of Paris' "Itinerary from London to Jerusalem (1250-1259)." For example, the B-text reads, "Here live the best merchants who before the time of Muhammad worshipped Mercury, the lord of merchants." The C text, on the other hand, does not mention Muhammad or Mercury, but rather reads, "Here there are many rich merchants and the people of these parts are rich in gold, silver, precious stones, silk, spices, cattle, mules, camels, and fast horses... They have as many wives as they can support" (199).

Pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land makes available a fascinating array of texts. Students, provided they have a solid introduction to medieval pilgrimage, will find them useful. Serious scholars may well employ this collection for comparative purposes. Overall, this volume represents an outstanding contribution to this important series of translated sources