Egeria Pilgrimage to Holy Land description

Egeria is the name of one of the most ancient Christian pilgrims to be documented, who visited some of the pilgrimage destinations considered essential between 384 AD and 381 AD in the eastern Mediterranean. She also wrote an account of all her journeys, which is considered to be one of the earliest pilgrimage travel descriptions to the Holy Land and other areas. The identity of Egeria is not much known about, but it is thought that it is most likely that she lived in the western region of the Roman Empire, most probably in the area of Galicia, in Spain. Some scholars, however, argue that she lived and originated in the southern part of modern France[1].

She documented her journeys in a letter or two, which were mainly addressed to her Latin sisters, who she referred to as Sorores, back home. Some like to interpret the word sisters to mean members of a religious society, and, as such, like to think that this particular woman was a nun or a sister. However, it has been indicated that Egeria might have equally used the term to refer to her acquaintances in Christianity. The ability of this pilgrim to make journeys by herself that were considered expensive at the time and the many acquaintances she had in all her places of travel indicate that Egeria either originated from an upper or middle-class background that was also wealthy. This argument is further confirmed by her strong need to see monuments and sites in these places of travel and not only the related traditions and details of the liturgy of Christianity[2].

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This paper, therefore, will describe the travels of Egeria and the obstacles she faced on her way. Further, her reasoning for participating in the journey and pilgrimage is also going to be looked at, in addition to, what happened after she completed her pilgrimage and came back home.

Egeria’s accounts of her travels made in reference to the bible throughout all of the Holy places are described to us in a number of forms. One of the main ones is in the form of the letters she composed and send back home to her fellow sisters. The other texts that survived were in mutilated manuscript form, likely copied out in the eleventh century in Monte Casino. Another source is a letter written in the seventh century in her praise written by Valerius, the Galician monk urging his fellow monks to emulate Egeria. Another source of information of Egeria’s travels is the 12th century compilation by Peter the Deacon made at Monte Cassino. It is from these excerpts that the knowledge of the pilgrimage has been obtained[3].

The first journey that Egeria took was to Mount Sinai. She indicates that it is longing for God that set the fire in her heart to undertake these journeys. She says that she was given strength by the Lord to undertake the journey to the other side of the world fearlessly. She pressed on, guided by God until she reached what she had been searching for, the most holy places of resurrection, birth and passion of Christ. First, she perused all the books of the new and old testaments, and found all the descriptions of the areas. Though it would take years, she set out with eager haste to explore all these areas. She indicates that this desire to explore the holy places was moved by her longing for pilgrimage to pray at these sacred places, and especially at the Lord’s sacred Mount, and, as such, she followed in the footsteps of Israel’s children when they traveled from Egypt[4].

It is said in her letters that she took journeys into each one of the tracts of desert and vast wildernesses described in the book of Exodus. She argues that she hastened to the Lord’s Mount, and went joyfully without fear or delay after she had heard the gospel. She compares herself to the children of Israel as they traveled from Egypt who could not be patient for forty days when Moses went to receive the Lord’s law and made themselves unworthy before the lord. However, unlike them, she indicates that she awaited the coming of the lord as if she could see it already; and while forgetting her female status and weakness, she took the journey to Mount Sinai. Guided by the lord, and determined to reach the most holy place, she arrived at the top of the rocky mountain where God, Himself, descendent and showed Himself to Moses and gave him the holy law[5].

This first part of her travel, which has us arrive at Mount Sinai, is documented in her letters, after which her manuscript relate to us her emulation of other notable pilgrims like Empress Helena. Egeria’s own account of the journey towards Mount Sinai tells us of the hardships she faced during the journey up the mountain and down its valley. She indicates that they were hard to ascent because one cannot possibly go around them but up straight as if one were climbing a wall and then straight again to the bottom, until one approach the central mountain’s foot, where Sinai is located. She indicates that she was able to accomplish this journey mainly because of the strength given to her by Christ, and the prayers of the holy men who were in their company. However, she points that it was almost impossible to climb up, especially because they had to go on foot. She also indicates that the church they found in the location was so small that there was no enough room for them in the summit. For her next journey, she had to descent the mountain to the valley’s bottom where the Burning Bush was located. She noted that the Bush was still alive and sprouting and that around it were excellent water and a pretty garden[6].

In the bottom of the valley where the Burning Bush was located, Egeria indicates that there were many cells used by holy men, and a church. Today, the same church is surrounded by walls, and has been renamed to St. Catherine of Alexandria monastery. Without these walls and the additional legend of the current monastery, the place is as described by Egeria in the 4th century, with all these biblical areas clustered together at the mountain and it valley. In fact, when one makes this journey, it never really matters whether the Mount Sinai pilgrim is the true Mount Sinai or not. The fact that numerous pilgrims have made this same journey with the belief that it is the real one endows this mountain sanctity. The fact that that one gets to witness what is thought to be the Burning Bush is what creates the Shekinah[7].

The other texts have us travel from Mount Sinai to other areas of Christian value with Egeria. The available script of the pilgrimage Egeria took of the holy places is not complete, as it does not have the ending, the beginning and some pages from its body. It is most likely the script, which was copied in Monte Cassino in the 11th century. When intact, the script had been used by other writers to compile accounts of these holy areas. Peter the deacon, is one of these writers who is thought to have used the manuscript; he was a monk at Monte Cassino, and he is thought to have made use the works of both Egeria and Bede. Therefore, it is from these descriptions of Peter the deacon of that the descriptions of the journey Egeria took to Galilee can be found. In these descriptions, pilgrims can see Egeria talks of the House of St. Peter being converted into a church at Capharnaum, and she talks of the adjacent synagogue, which up to today is visible[8].

She also describes a nearby Tabgha which has some stone steps that lead into the waters of the lake where Jesus had stood, and of the stone on which Jesus placed the miracle bread of the fishes and loaves, which according to Egeria, has been converted into an alter. She also notes that the Mount of Beatitudes is located in a nearby location. According to the surviving manuscript text, she also took journeys to such places as the Well of Jacob, the brook of Cherith of Elijah, and also the Holy Euphemia shrine and the Holy Thecla shrine. Next, she goes to Constantinople, after which she relates to her sisters the Jerusalem liturgy full account[9].

Although Egeria’s account of Mount Sinai is of essential importance to her work, her description and discussion of the liturgy in Jerusalem is also another significant section in her work. One thing that becomes apparent is that, she seems pleased with the liturgy’s utilization of lessons that are appropriately juxtaposed from the New and Old Testaments in line with readings from the Gospel books. With the Catechetical Lectures of the Cyril of Jerusalem delivered in the basilica of Constantine in the 348 AD, and with the pilgrimage of Egeria we can understand a number of things about the liturgy. For example, it is clear that the liturgy was carried out or practiced by the Primitive Church, and especially the one in Jerusalem, started by James and the Christ, versus that one begun in Rome by Paul and Peter.  From her manuscripts, Egeria has more to say about the liturgy in the east more than she does of the west, nevertheless, she is passing valuable information to her fellow sisters. As it follows, it can be said that the Church is indebted to such women pilgrims as Egeria and her fellow pilgrims like Paula, Helena, and Eustochium for peacefully establishing once more the connections between Rome and Jerusalem, between the West and the East, despite the underlying tensions[10].

In her account of the liturgy, Egeria begins by first telling the story of the ordinary activities that take place in the Holy Sepulchre church. According to her, the activities begin at dawn and are repeated up to three times a day with the Sunday ceremonies being more elaborate. Next, she talks of the Epiphany celebrations at Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and then this description is followed by an Easter account. She next talks of the Easter or Lenten catechesis, which is conducted by the Cyril of Jerusalem bishop of the candidates of baptism, in which he reads ad teaches the Creed and the entire bible for forty days, three hours each day. At this point, the manuscript that describes her travels breaks off as it has lost a number of pages. Egeria observed accurately, the Christian religious practices and rites of different people in different regions from Asia to Africa to Europe, and most importantly, left an essential account of them. She was ready to pay heed of the liturgy utilized in Jerusalem to the Greek though she wrote her original accounts in Latin. During her travels, she noted that the great Bethlehem and Jerusalem basilicas were put up by Constantine, and decorated by Helena. She shows us, in addition to the intended audience (the 4th century nuns) a figure who in a landscape participated eagerly and fully in the pilgrimage of the sacred regions, bible in hand, responding to her observations with notable knowledge and joy[11].

Her journey was not void of challenges as we saw in the beginning of this account. A difficult and long journey needed her to summon all her spiritual, as well as, physical strength. This was because the terrain was difficult, and hard, especially on a woman. It is also clear that the journey was not cheap. She had to commit a large price for her journey, and, as a result, she had to use a lot of money to partake this journey. However, as it has been seen, she was determined to undertake and complete the journey as she had an immense need and desire for the lord, which spark fires in her heart and led her to belief that she had to take the journey. With the lord giving her strength, she was able to overcome the challenges she faced, and she was able to complete the journey[12].

In total, the available texts indicate that Egeria took four journeys. However, because of the many challenges, she faced such as regions that were isolated, inhospitable, rugged and perilous, in addition to the unusually long distances, she travelled and the infrequency with which a normal pilgrim could attain in these particular regions, her journeys are considered to be some of the most special ones in the pilgrimage age[13]. After she came back, and her descriptions of her journeys were discovered of numerous pilgrimage monuments, encounters with the clergy and monks and the Jerusalem liturgy, her work became one of the most influential works in the development of the liturgy of Christianity all over the world. As it follows, her pilgrimage and her accounts of the journeys she took became a great influence for the development of Christianity and the believes utilized in Christianity in those times, and today[14].



Campbell, Mary B. The Witness and the Other World: Exotic European Travel Writing. New         York: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Connell, Martin. Eternity Today: On the Liturgical Year. New York: Continuum Publishing,          2007.

Gingras, George, tr.  Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage.  New York: Newman Press, 1970.

Hunt, E.D.  “St. Sylvia of Aquitaine:  The Role of a Theodosian Pilgrim in the Society of East      and West.” Journal of Theological Studies 24 (1972): 351-373.

Malachi, Zwi. “The Narrative of Egeria’s Travels,” in La Narrativa Christiana Antica: codici     narrativi, strutture formali, schemi retorici (Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianum 50;    Rome: Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, 1995), 501-506, here 504-505.

Meinardus, Otto Friedrich. Holy Land Pilgrimage Cairo: al-Balagh Print, 1962.

Severence, Diane. Egeria’s Pilgrimage Blessed the Ages. Church History, 1986.

Siva, Hagith. “Holy Land Pilgrimage and Western Audiences: Some Reflections on Egeria and    Her Circle.” The Classical Quarterly 38, No. 2 (1988): 528-535.

Spitzer, L. “The Epic Style of the Pilgrim Aetheria.”  Comparative Literature 3 (1949): 225- 58.

Wilkinson, John, tr.  Egeria’s Travels to the Holy Land.  Jerusalem: Aris and Phillips, 1981.


[1] Hagith Siva. “Holy Land Pilgrimage and Western Audiences: Some Reflections on Egeria and Her Circle.” The Classical Quarterly 38, No. 2 (1988): 528-535.


[2] Hagith Siva. “Holy Land Pilgrimage and Western Audiences: Some Reflections on Egeria and Her Circle.” The Classical Quarterly 38, No. 2 (1988): 528-535.


[3] Zwi Malachi. “The Narrative of Egeria’s Travels,” in La Narrativa Christiana Antica: codici narrativi, strutture formali, schemi retorici (Studia Ephemeridis Augustinianism 50; Rome: Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, 1995), 501-506, here 504-505.


                [4] John Wilkinson, tr.  Egeria’s Travels to the Holy Land.  (Jerusalem: Aris and Phillips, 1981), 29-67.


[5] Otto Friedrich Meinardus, Holy Land Pilgrimage (Cairo: al-Balagh Print, 1962) 98- 145.


                [6] John Wilkinson, tr.  Egeria’s Travels to the Holy Land.  (Jerusalem: Aris and Phillips, 1981), 29-67.



[7] Martin Connell, Eternity Today: On the Liturgical Year. (New York: Continuum Publishing, 2007) 78- 108.


[8] Martin Connell, Eternity Today: On the Liturgical Year. (New York: Continuum Publishing, 2007) 78- 108.



[9] Diane Severence, Egeria’s Pilgrimage Blessed the Ages. (Church History, 1986) 67- 93.

[10] Diane Severence, Egeria’s Pilgrimage Blessed the Ages. (Church History, 1986) 67- 93.


[11] E.D. Hunt, “St. Sylvia of Aquitaine:  The Role of a Theodosian Pilgrim in the Society of East and West.” Journal of Theological Studies 24 (1972): 351-373.


[12] Mary B. Campbell, The Witness and the Other World: Exotic European Travel Writing. (New York: Cornell University Press, 1991) 24- 87.


[13] L. Spitzer, “The Epic Style of the Pilgrim Aetheria.”  Comparative Literature 3 (1949): 225- 58.


[14] George Gingras, tr.  Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage.  (New York: Newman Press, 1970) 34- 56.


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