Tag Archives: Pilgrimage

Malcom Barber and Keith Bate on letters from crusaders and pilgrims

Posted by David Cota, Senior Marketing Coordinator

Letters from the East presents translations of a selection of the letters sent by crusaders and pilgrims from Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine. There are accounts of all the great events from the triumph of the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 to the disasters of Hattin in 1187 and the loss of Acre in 1291.

In this guest blog editors Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate reflect on the letters they selected for their volume.

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There are fascinating and vivid chronicles in the Ashgate series, many of which have been expertly analysed with the aims of determining the motives of the writers, the influences upon them, and the circumstances in which they were composed. We see the letters complementing these, since, even in the hands of a self-conscious author like James of Vitry, Bishop of Acre, they were subject to the more immediate pressures of life in a frontier society, whereas the chronicles were often polished and rewritten in order to demonstrate the literary accomplishments of the authors or to promote the cause of a patron. Letters from the eastAs with the chronicles we’ve tried to translate most of the letters in their entirety because we wanted to limit editorial steer as much as possible, and because future trends in analysis can’t easily be forecast. Parts of the text which might seem inconsequential today may well be the subject of study tomorrow.

Of course the act of selection is in itself an imposition not faced by the translator of a complete chronicle, but in the case of letters the quantity of material available makes this inevitable. It might be helpful to explain some of the considerations which lay behind our choices. Some letters are presented as stand-alone texts, but we have tried to group others in a variety of different ways: thus we have participants in a common enterprise like the First Crusade, the huge but ultimately fruitless effort to persuade Louis VII of France to lead a new expedition to the East in 1160s, and the collection put together by individuals such as James of Vitry. In the end, though, there’s no real consistency of approach among the writers themselves; indeed, this might be seen as part their attraction as sources. At one extreme there are pragmatic appeals for help, often in the wake of disasters; at the other, an extraordinary description of the fantasy land of Prester John, produced in Germany around 1165 as part of the imperial propaganda campaign against the papacy. Less elaborate but equally intriguing is a forged letter of 1193 purporting to be from Rashid al-Din, leader of the Syrian Assassins, emanating from the chancery of Richard I. Here, the Assassin leader assures Leopold of Austria that, despite allegations to the contrary, the king had nothing to do with the murder of Conrad of Montferrat in Acre in April the previous year. Other letters, while basically factual, may for different reasons not be quite what they seem: it’s been argued, for instance, that the two famous letters by Terricus, the Templar preceptor, apparently written in 1187 and 1188 after the battle of Hattin, are in fact compilations intended to excite a reaction in the West from which aid in the form of men, money and supplies might flow.

Particularly eye-catching are the personal touches. These men and women lived in a very different world, but their humanity still resonates. When, in 1097, Stephen of Blois described to his wife, Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, the generosity of Alexius, the Byzantine emperor, one sentence reflects on what must have been a source of continual irritation between the two of them. ‘Your father, my love, gave many great presents, but he was almost nothing in comparison with this man.’ Stephen was not the only one whose thoughts turned to home. In 1120, Ansell, Cantor of the Holy Sepulchre, sent a cross made from wood taken from the True Cross to his friends at Notre Dame in Paris. In the accompanying letter, he recalled his time with them. ‘Although it is now twenty-four years since I left you and your church where I was nourished and educated, my love for you remains fervent and in my mind I still live in your church with you.’ Sometimes, though, the letters betray frustration and anger caused by the bitter experience of failure. Conrad III, King of Germany, who felt humiliated by the retreat from Damascus in 1148, believed he had been betrayed, apparently by local Franks, despite the fact that it had been ‘a unanimous decision’ to attack the city. Nor was the Muslim enemy the only hazard. In 1216, James of Vitry was on board a ship which was, accidentally, almost rammed by another vessel, causing panic among the voyagers. ‘And there arose a great cry from everybody; and there was heard crying and weeping, and people confessing their sins in both ships. Some people began jumping from one ship to the other, according to which they thought to be the stronger, while others took off their clothes and tied any silver and gold they had around their bodies in case they could swim to safety.’ In contrast, bravery, both mental and physical, is the outstanding impression left on the reader of the letter of John of Villiers, the Hospitaller Master, writing from Cyprus in late May, 1291, after Acre had disintegrated around him. He knew he had not long to live, having been ‘mortally wounded by a spear’, but had nevertheless escaped to Cyprus, ‘our heart heavy and our body in pain’.

Taken as a whole, the book is intended to provide a series of pegs on which to hang a general history of the crusade in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. To that end there’s an attempt at a chronological and thematic balance, enabling newcomers to the subject to use the letters in conjunction with good concise histories of the crusades such as Bernard Hamilton’s The Crusades (Sutton Pocket Histories, 1998). Key events – the First Crusade, the defeat at Hattin in 1187, the fall of Acre in 1291 – are all covered even though (indeed because) they are well known. The letters help to explain the enduring appeal of the crusades as an undergraduate subject; there are many more which could be mined.

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Letters from the East was chosen by our editors as having played a significant part in the building and reputation of our History publishing programme. View the full list of History Editors’ Choices

Being a Pilgrim – A Guest Post by Kathleen Ashley

Posted by Corey Boudreau, Sales and Marketing Coordinator

Kathleen AshleyTo mark the book’s selection as an Editor’s Choice, Kathleen Ashley describes the events which led to the publication of Being a Pilgrim: Art and Ritual on the Medieval Routes to Santiago

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Published books almost always result from years of thought, research and writing; however, when I was asked in 2005 to write a book on the medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, I can honestly say that the idea had never crossed my mind. Luckily, I had visited Santiago just the year before – a “holy year,” when the saint’s day July 25 falls on a Sunday. During July of holy years, ceremonies in the cathedral are more frequent than usual and the whole town reverberates with performances of music, dance, drama, and processions. Increased numbers of pilgrims and tourists arrive for the festivities, and the excitement continues night and day. With that Santiago experience still fresh in my memory, I was intrigued by the book request.

Being a pilgrimAlthough the subject of pilgrimage had never been my primary research focus, it did intersect with many of the topics I had written about during my scholarly career. A saint’s shrine was the destination of medieval pilgrimage, and I had written two books and many articles about saints and their cults. Pilgrimages typically attract fervent devotees whose personal goals may be at odds with the structures put in place by church authorities; I had always been fascinated by religious phenomena that depended upon an unstable conjunction of popular energy and official control. In particular, the pilgrimage journey — which included traditional stops at other saints’ shrines and local landmarks – demonstrated ritual practices and popular beliefs; exploring the Santiago pilgrimage between the 9th and the 18th centuries would allow me to test my theories about ritual and learn about the folklore alive on the routes. The promise of following my interests with a new focus on pilgrimage was certainly enough to persuade me to take on the project.

I further realized that the Santiago pilgrimage raised larger issues about how we understand history. Who has not wondered when reading about another time and place what it was like to live then? What did pilgrims experience as they traveled across unfamiliar territories and arrived at the shrine in westernmost Spain? I decided to make the pilgrim experience my unifying theme in Being a Pilgrim. I would organize the book by examining the legends of the saint that attracted pilgrims, the individual preparations (both material and ritual) for such an arduous trip, as well as the social infrastructures across Europe that enabled thousands of pilgrims to travel far from home. Imagining them en route, I tried to include the kinds of sights they would have seen – from religious buildings and art to new cities and challenging landscapes – and stories both new and familiar they would have heard. Finally, their arrival in Santiago was surely an exciting culmination of the pilgrimage, with dazzling rituals and festivity in and around the cathedral. To bring the experiences of individuals alive, I could use the many pilgrim narratives produced throughout Europe between the 12th and the 18th centuries.

Once my central concept for the book and a general outline of the nine chapters was accepted by the publishers, the next stage was research and planning for the photography trips along the main pilgrimage routes through France and Spain. I took the trips with my photographer-friend Marilyn Deegan, whose 250 color photos are no doubt the most memorable part of the book. Our travel adventures and the challenges of matching text and image will be the subjects of another blog.

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About the Author: Professor Kathleen Ashley teaches at the University of Southern Maine and has published widely on medieval popular culture, hagiography and cultural history.

New series: Compostela International Studies in Pilgrimage History and Culture

Pilgrims and Politics: Rediscovering the Power of the Pilgrimage is the first book to be published in Ashgate’s new series: Compostela International Studies in Pilgrimage History and Culture.

The series is edited by Antón M. Pazos, IEGPS, Santiago de Compostela. It deals with the universal phenomenon of pilgrimage, understood in a wide sense, making available the latest research sponsored by the IEGPS.

The series focuses on historical, cultural, political and religious aspects of pilgrimage, prioritizing multidisciplinary and diverse approaches and analyses, with volumes covering historical periods from the medieval to the modern and a world-wide geographical range.

Pilgrims and Politics (edited by Antón M. Pazos ) analyses the historical relationships between the phenomenon of Christian pilgrimage and political power within Europe, from the Middle Ages up to the present day. The twelve contributors to the volume compare very different situations, such as the medieval pilgrimages and politics in the Latin East as part of warfare and conflict resolution, the significance and reality of pilgrimages in late medieval England or in Rome during the papacy of Innocent III, the ‘two-way traffic’ pilgrimages in the Tuscan city of Lucca, and the pilgrimages in Eastern European countries as an aspect of opposition to communist power.

A major focus is on the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, an important Christian sanctuary from the time of the discovery of the tomb of the apostle St James in the 9th century. Topics covered include the Way of St James as seen through medieval Muslim sources, the political reading of the apostolic cult as an ideological instrument of the propaganda of the Asturian monarchy, Santa Maria de Roncesvalles as an example of political involvement in the assistance of the Jacobean pilgrims, the Order of St John as protector of the medieval pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela, or the nationalist use of the pilgrimages as an element of national unification and internal cohesion during the Spanish Civil War. The final chapter provides a broader, global perspective on pilgrimages up to present times.

Contributors to the book:  Ana María Carballeira Debasa; Robert N. Swanson; Carlos Baliñas Pérez; Yvonne Friedman; Paula Maria de Carvalho Pinto Costa; Brenda Bolton; Christine Meek; José Andrés-Gallego; Antón M. Pazos; Vincenc Rajšp; Riho Altnurme; Hugh McLeod.

Visit the series page on our website for a description of the series and information on how to submit a proposal.