Giovanni de' Marignolli
Giovanni de' Marignolli (Latin: John Marignolli; English: John of Marignola), a notable traveller to the Far East in the fourteenth century (fl. 1338–53), born probably before 1290, and sprung from a noble family in Florence. The family is long extinct, but a street near the cathedral (Via de' Cerretani) formerly bore the name of the Marignolli.
In 1338 there arrived at Avignon, where Pope Benedict XII held his court, an embassy from the great khan of Cathay (the Mongol-Chinese emperor), bearing letters to the pontiff from the khan himself, and from certain Christian nobles of the Alan race in his service. These latter represented that they had been eight years (since Monte Corvino's death) without a spiritual guide, and earnestly desired one. The pope replied to the letters, and appointed four ecclesiastics as his legates to the khan's court. The name of John of Florence, i.e. Marignolli, appears third on the letters of commission.
A large party was associated with the four chief envoys; when in Peking the embassy still numbered thirty-two, out of an original fifty. The mission left Avignon in December 1338; picked up the Tatar envoys at Naples; stayed nearly two months in Constantinople (Pera, May 1-June 24, 1339); and sailed across the Black Sea to Caffa, whence they travelled to the court of Mohammed Uzbeg, khan of the Golden Horde, at Sarai on the Volga. The khan entertained them hospitably during the winter of 1339-1340 and then sent them across the steppes to Armalec, Almalig or Almaligh (Kulja), the northern seat of the house of Chaghatai, in what is now the province of Ili. "There," says Marignolli, "we built a church, bought a piece of ground ... sung masses, and baptized several persons, notwithstanding that only the year before the bishop and six other minor friars had there undergone glorious martyrdom for Christ's salvation." Quitting Almaligh in 1341, they seem to have reached Peking (by way of Kamul or Hami) in May or June 1342. They were well received by the reigning khan, the last of the Mongol dynasty in China.
An entry in the Chinese annals fixes the year of Marignolli's presentation by its mention of the arrival of the great horses from the kingdom of Fulang (Farang or Europe), one of which was 11 feet 6 inches in length, and 6 feet 8 inches high, and black all over.
Marignolli stayed at Peking or Cambalec three or four years, after which he travelled through eastern China to Zayton or Amoy Harbor, quitting China apparently in December 1347.
He reached Columbum (Kaulam or Quilon in Malabar) in Easter week of 1348. At this place he found a church of the Latin communion, probably founded by Jordanus of Severac, who had been appointed bishop of Columbum (Diocese of Quilon) by Pope John XXII in 1330. Here Marignolli remained sixteen months, after which he proceeded on what seems a most devious voyage.
To Ceylon and return to Avignon
First he visited the shrine of St Thomas near the modern Madras, and then proceeded to what he calls the kingdom of Saba, and identifies with the Sheba of Scripture, but which seems from various particulars to have been Java. Taking ship again for Malabar on his way to Europe, he encountered great storms. They found shelter in the little port of Pervily or Pervilis (Beruwala or Berberyn) in the south-west of Ceylon; but here the legate fell into the hands of "a certain tyrant Coya Jaan (Khoja Jahan), a eunuch and an accursed Saracen," who professed to treat him with all deference, but detained him four months, and plundered all the gifts and Eastern rarities that he was carrying home. This detention in Ceylon enables Marignolli to give a variety of curious particulars regarding Adam's Peak, Buddhist monasticism, the aboriginal races of Ceylon, and other marvels. After this we have only fragmentary notices, showing that his route to Europe lay by Ormuz, the ruins of Babel, Bagdad, Mosul, Aleppo and thence to Damascus and Jerusalem. In 1353 he arrived at Avignon, and delivered a letter from the great khan to Pope Innocent VI.
In the following year the Emperor Charles IV, on a visit to Italy, made Marignolli one of his chaplains. Soon after, the pope made him bishop of Bisignano; but he seems to have been in no hurry to reside there. He appears to have accompanied the emperor to Prague in 1354-1355; in 1356 he is found acting as envoy to the Pope from Florence; and in 1357 he is at Bologna. We do not know when he died. The last trace of Marignolli is a letter addressed to him, which was found in the 18th century among the records in the chapter library at Prague. The writer is an unnamed Archbishop of Armagh, easily identified with Richard Fitz Ralph, a strenuous foe of the Franciscans, who had broken lances in controversy with Ockham and Burley. The letter implies that some intention had been intimated from Avignon of sending Marignolli to Ireland in connexion with matters then in debate—a project which stirs Fitz Ralph's wrath.
The fragmentary notes of Marignolli's Eastern travels often contain vivid remembrance and graphic description, but combined with an incontinent vanity, and an incoherent lapse from one thing to another. They have no claim to be called a narrative, and it is with no small pains that anything like a narrative can be pieced out of them. Indeed the mode in which they were elicited curiously illustrates how little medieval travellers thought of publication. The emperor Charles, instead of urging his chaplain to write a history of his vast journeys, set him to the repugnant task of recasting the annals of Bohemia; and he consoled himself by salting the insipid stuff by interpolations, a propos de bottes, of his recollections of Asiatic travel. Nobody seems to have noticed the work till 1768, when the chronicle was published in vol. ii of the Monumenta hist. Bohemiae nusquam antehac edita by Father Gelasius Dobner.
But, though Marignolli was thus at last in type, no one seems to have read him till 1820, when a paper on his travels was published by J. G. Meinert. Friedrich Kunstmann of Munich also devoted to the subject one of his papers on the ecclesiastical travellers of the Middle Ages.
- Fontes rerum bohemicarum, iii. 492-604 (1882, best text)
- Gelasius Dobner, Monumenta historica Bohemiae nusquam antehac, vol. ii. (Prague, 1768)
- J. G. Meinert, in Abhandl. der k. bohm. Gesellsch. der Wissenschaften, vol. vii.
- F. Kunstmann, in the Historisch-politische Blatter of Phillips and Görres, xxxviii. 701-719, 793-813 (Munich, 1859)
- Luke Wadding, Annales minorum, A.D. 1338, vii. 210-219 (ed. of 1733, etc.)
- Sbaralea, Supplementum et castigatio ad scriptores trium ordinum S. Francisci a Waddingo, p. 436 (Rome, 1806)
- John of Winterthur, in Eccard, Corpus historicum medii aevi, vol. i., 1852
- Mosheim, Historia Tartarorum ecclesiastica, part i., p. 115
- Henry Yule, Cathay and the Way Thither, ii. 309-394 (Hak. Soc., 1866)
- Charles Raymond Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, iii. 142, 180-181, 184-185, 215, 231, 236, 288-309 (1906).
- "Giovanni de' Marignolli". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.