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22.08.27 Lucas, Rome 1450: Capgrave’s Jubilee Guide

22.08.27 Lucas, Rome 1450: Capgrave’s Jubilee Guide

By the later Middle Ages, Latin Christian pilgrimage had elevated three sacred destinations to a class of their own: Santiago de Compostela, Jerusalem, and Rome. These were the “Three Great Pilgrimages” made for the benefit of one’s soul, but they were also journeys to living cities, each with their own history and present.

Peter J. Lucas’s new edition, with facing-page translation, of John Capgrave’s mid-fifteenth-century guide to Rome is a welcome and valuable resource for understanding the status of the city, especially as it was viewed and understood by international travellers. Rome was in an ongoing state of transformation (or depredation, depending on one’s perspective): there were long periods of papal schism, with popes in Avignon and Pisa, plagues, earthquakes, and fires, and its classical buildings were often either abandoned or re-used. Far from being a glistening tourist destination, late medieval Rome is presented in some visitors’ accounts as a fallen city; Bridget of Sweden, for instance, has a vision of Rome’s desolate altars, scattered about with lust and lechery. As a pilgrimage destination, Rome’s popularity increased hugely with the advent of the “Jubilee” in 1300, a holy year of forgiveness and indulgences, when hundreds of thousands of pilgrims made their way to Rome (amongst them Dante Alighieri); similar Jubilees were proclaimed in 1350, 1390, 1423, 1450, and 1475. The 1450 Jubilee was the occasion for John Capgrave to compose his encyclopaedic Solace of Pilgrimes, written up after Capgrave’s visit for the benefit of future travellers. The Solace of Pilgrimes is a rich compilation of Roman traditions and places, divided into three parts: Part I (9-121) treats the Classical past; Part II (124-317) treats the churches in Rome and their “spiritual treasure” (relics and indulgences); and the shorter and incomplete Part III (320-53), concerning “other churches” that were not part of the Lenten pilgrimage “stations.” As Capgrave wrote in his fascinating prologue, he sought to emulate the many men who, having made a pilgrimage, “haue left memoriales of swech þingis as þei haue herd and seyn þat nowt only here eres schuld ber witnesse but eke her eyne” (have left a record of things that they have heard and seen, so that not only their ears but also their eyes may bear witness) (3-4). His prologue assures us that he will include only what he has seen or found “in auctores”--reliable, reputable, esteemed authors, examples of whom, in Capgrave’s book, include St Jerome, Plato, Livy, Marco Polo, Mandeville (all of whom are mentioned in the prologue) and a wealth of other sources identified by Lucas, from Virgil to Martinus Polonus’ thirteenth-century Chronicle of Popes and Emperors (lvii-lviii).

The most common medieval guidebook to Rome was the Mirabilia Urbis Romae (The Marvels of the City of Rome), which emerged in the twelfth century but developed into a variety of recensions (and, in due course, and after Capgrave’s time, would be widely printed in cheap, portable, international editions). As Lucas shows, Capgrave, an Augustinian friar from the port of Lynn in Norfolk, certainly used the Mirabilia as a major source (lviii) for Part I, dealing with ancient Rome from its foundation to the Emperor Frederick. The Solace is then a major and important source for learning about the encounter with the Classical past in medieval England and its interface with popular Christian traditions and practices; thus, it is an important witness to the later medieval English engagement with what we might now call humanism.

Peter J. Lucas is a leading expert on Capgrave and this edition is the culmination of his many years of investigation into Capgrave’s text. The Solace of Pilgrimes survives in an author’s holograph (now in a composite manuscript, Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Bodley 423 part 5), as well as in fragments of a copy (xciv). Lucas’s introduction gives an overview of the spiritual virtues of medieval Rome, and detailed discussions of the Augustinian Friars in England, Capgrave’s own biography, his education (which included spells at the studium in London and at Cambridge (xli, xlii-xliv)), and his visit to Rome in 1450. There is a brief account of Capgrave’s subsequent career as Prior Provincial of the Augustinians in England (xlix-l) and his death in 1464. The remainder of the introduction is concerned with Capgrave’s sources in the Solace and his treatment of pagan antiquity, but little consideration is given to Capgrave’s prodigious English and Latin literary output outside the Solace and how these texts (including a popular life of St Katherine of Alexandria) may intersect with the Solace.

Lucas has produced a reliable and readable edition, which tracks closely to Capgrave’s Middle English spelling and orthography. The facing-page Modern English translation is crisp and accessible, whilst following Capgrave closely. Lucas has made the decision not to include marginalia from the holograph manuscript, which might have offered an additional resource, but the presentation of the text on the page is clean and very readable. Footnotes are restricted to minor textual matters, and there is an extremely full commentary in the end-pages in which Lucas identifies both Roman locations and Capgrave’s large range of sources. The text is occasionally interspersed with early images of the sites under discussion, which help to transport the reader to the Rome of the past. There is appendix of Roman churches listed alphabetically and an index of names and places.

Lucas’s edition fully updates and surpasses the previous edition of the Solace of Pilgrimes, published in 1911. [1] Moreover, Lucas’s translation could make this an ideal teaching text (although the cost of the volume is high). Nonetheless, Capgrave’s text has much to teach us about late medieval Rome, travel, learning, and imagination, and Lucas’s edition will surely help Capgrave’s important and engaging oeuvre to reach new audiences.



1. John Capgrave, ed. Charles A. Mills, Ye solace of pilgrims a descrition of Rome, circa A.D. 1450 (London: Frowde, 1911).