"The Pilgrimage of S. Silvia of Aquitania to the Holy Places (circ. 385 A.D.)"
by Egeria, 4th/5th cent.
Translated by J. H. (John Henry) Bernard, 1860-1927
With an appendix by Sir Charles William Wilson, 1836-1905.
"The Letter of Paula and Eustochium to Marcella, About the Holy Places (386 A.D.)"
by Saint Paula, 347-404 and Saint Eustochium, 370?-419
Translated by Aubrey Stewart, 1844-,
And Annotated by Sir Charles William Wilson, 1836-1905.
I've long been intriqued by Egeria, one of the first women writers, and first women travel writers known. A partial account of Egeria's pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in Latin, was found in 1884 by an Italian scholar, Gian Francesco Gamurrini, in a monastic library in Arezzo. The Codex Aretinus which he found contained fragments of several early works which had been recopied at Monte Cassino in the eleventh century. Only the middle of the unnamed woman's pilgrimage account was included; the beginning and end were already lost. As a result, we do not certainly know her name, origin, the dates when she wrote, or her own title for the work.
Scholars have had great fun debating all of the above over the last century. Recent translations tend to agree on the name Egeria, though she has also been known as Eiheria, Etheria, Aetheria, Galla Placidia, and Silvia. Her book has appeared variously as "Itinerarium Egeriae", "Peregrinatio Aetheriae", "The Pilgrimage of St. Silvia", "Diary of a Pilgrimage" and "Egeria's Travels". Lots of speculations have been made about her possible social and religious status, but scholars tend to agree that she was probably a nun of fairly high status. Internal evidence has been used to narrow the date of her account to the late 4th or early 5th century, possibly 381-384. A letter by the 7th century Galician monk Valerio of Bierzo refers to a Galician nun's account of a 3-year pilgrimage which may have been the original complete text.
The first extant section of Egeria's diary describes parts of her three-year pilgrimage, while the second gives detailed information about the liturgy of the church of Jerusalem. The significance of her account is tremendous as an eye-witness description of the early church in the Near East. She travelled extensively to a wide variety of religious sites which she describes in vivid detail for her "sisters" at home, pointing out variations in religious practice which may be unfamiliar. Her accounts are extremely valuable to the archaeologist, historian, liturgist and geographer. They are also readable and enjoyable if you are none of the above. Egeria is an avid traveller, constantly curious, thankful, and determined to share her enthusiasm with her reading friends. As such, it is a pleasure to read her account.
Jane Robinson, the author of "Wayward Women", suggests that Egeria should be the patron saint of all women travellers. I heartily agree!
If Egeria's account is a travelogue, then Paula's letter is ... well, in all honesty, a travel brochure! Paula and Eustochium appeal to their friend Marcella to leave Rome and join them in the Holy Land. The first part of the letter extolls the virtues of rustic Palestine in comparison to unclean Rome.
"Whithersoever you turn yourself, the ploughman, holding the plough-handle, sings Alleluia; the perspiring reaper diverts himself with psalms, and the vine-dresser sings some of the songs of David while he trims the vine with his curved knife."
The second part of Paula's letter is pure advertising gush: a dizzying list of the many religious attractions to be seen, if only their dear Marcella will join them. Underlying the hectic itinerary is passionate fervour:
"We will sing constantly, we will often weep, we will pray without ceasing, and, wounded by the dart of our Saviour, we will repeat together, 'I have found Him whom my soul sought for; I will hold Him fast and will not let Him go.'"
Alas, Paula and her daughter Eustochium were unable to convince Marcella to join them; she remained in Rome where she worked with the poor.
For those interested in Medieval Women's Letters, there's a wonderful collection at http://epistolae.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/ with originals in Latin and translations in English by Professor Joan Ferrante of Columbia University.