||This article possibly contains original research. (August 2008)|
Egeria or Aetheria (often called Sylvia) was a Gallaeci or Galician woman who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land about 381–384. She wrote an account of her journey in a long letter to a circle of women at home which survives in fragmentary form in a later copy. This may have been the first formal writing in prose by a woman in Western European Culture.
Much of the surviving information about Egeria comes from a letter written by the 7th century Galician monk Valerio of Bierzo. He praises Egeria and identifies her as a nun, perhaps because she addresses her account to her "sorores" (Latin for "sisters") at home. However, others (including Hagith Sivan, 1988) have pointed out that during Egeria's time it was common to address fellow lay Christians as "sisters" and "brothers." Valerio may also have believed her to be a nun because she went on such a pilgrimage, although lay women of the time are known to have engaged in such religious tourism.
Those who suggest that Egeria was not a monastic claim that there is much to suggest that she was not a nun, including: her freedom to make such a long pilgrimage and to change plans as it suited her, the high cost of her pilgrimage, her level of education, and her subject matter which focused on the sights and not miracles like letters we have by monks at that time. Realistically, however, considering social constraints on women at the time, these points make it equally likely that she was a nun, since such social freedoms were not as available to middle-class women within their households, and such lone pilgrimages were rare among lay women at the time and miracles may well have been recorded in other parts of the texts. Ignored by those who argue that Egeria was a layperson is the fact that she spent over three years and was in no rush to return home, which would indicate that she was not middle-class, but either financially self-sufficient alone, or more possibly a monastic such as a gyrovague, or "wandering monastic" as described in the rule of St Benedict, who travels from monastery to monastery.
Egeria set down her observations in a letter now called Itinerarium Egeriae, or the Travels of Egeria. It is sometimes also called Peregrinatio Aetheriae (the Pilgrimage of Aetheria) or Peregrinatio ad Loca Sancta (Pilgrimage to the Holy Lands) or some other combination. The middle part of Egeria's writing survived and was copied in the Codex Aretinus, which was written at Monte Cassino in the 11th century, while the beginning and end are lost. This Codex Aretinus was discovered in 1884 by the Italian scholar Gian Francesco Gamurrini, who found the manuscript in a monastic library in Arezzo.
The text is a narrative apparently written at the end of Egeria's journey from notes she took on route, and addressed to her 'dear ladies': the women of her spiritual community back home. In the first part of the text, she describes the journey from her approach to Mount Sinai until her stop in Constantinople. The second portion of the text is a detailed account of the liturgical services and observances of the church calendar in Jerusalem.
The Itinerarium Egeriae has provided scholars with valuable information about developments in the grammar and vocabulary of Vulgar Latin. For example, expressions such as "deductores sancti illi" ("those holy guides" meaning "the holy guides") help to reveal the origins of the definite article now used in all the Romance languages (except Sardinian) - such as Spanish ("las santas guías") or Italian ("le sante guide"). Similarly, the use of 'ipsam' in a phrase such as "per mediam vallem ipsam" ("through [the] middle of [the] valley itself") anticipates the type of definite article ("péri sa mesanía de sa bàdhe") that is found in Sardinian ("sa limba sarda") - at least in its standard form.
Egeria's record of her travels to the Holy Land also provides a late 4th-century account of liturgical worship in Palestine. The liturgical year was in its incipient stages at the time of her visit. This is invaluable because the development of liturgical worship (e.g. Lent, palm or passion Sunday) reached universal practice in the 4th century. Egeria provides a first hand account of practices and implementation of liturgical seasons as they existed at the time of her visit. This snapshot is before universal acceptance of a December 25 celebration of the nativity of Jesus; this is very early and very helpful in cataloging the development of annual liturgical worship.
- In Joseph Conrad's novel Under Western Eyes, Madame S_____ is compared to Egeria (book 2, chapter 4).
- In Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest, Act 2, Miss Prism is referred to as Egeria by Dr. Chasuble, although he clearly was referring to a Roman nymph of the same name.
|Library resources about
|By Egeria (pilgrim)|
- Eteria, Egeria (2010). Itinerario/Itinerarium Egeriae. Valladolid.Spain: Maxtor. ISBN 84-9761-788-6.
- The Pilgrimage of S. Silvia of Aquitania to the Holy Places (circ. 385 A.D.) by Egeria, 4th or 5th century. Translated by J. H. (John Henry) Bernard, 1860-1927. With an appendix by Sir Charles William Wilson, 1836-1905. London: n. publ., 1896.
- The Pilgrimage of Etheria, trans. by M. L. McClure and Charles Lett Feltoe. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919.
- Gingras, George (1970). Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage. The Newman Press. ISBN 978-0-8091-0029-3. [This is a slightly older English translation than Wilkinson.]
- Wilkinson, John (2006). Egeria's Travels. Oxford: Aris & Phillips. ISBN 0-85668-710-3. [this is the most recent English translation, including supporting documents and notes. Previous editions were published in 1971 and 1981; the third revised edition was published in 1999.