Odoric of Pordenone

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Bl. Odoric of Pordenone, O.F.M.
Odoryk z Pordenone.jpg
Born 1286
Pordenone, Patriarchal State of Aquileia, Holy Roman Empire
Died January 14, 1331(1331-01-14)
Udine, Patriarchal State of Aquileia, Holy Roman Empire
Honored in
Roman Catholicism
(Order of Friars Minor)
Beatified 1755 by Pope Benedict XIV
Major shrine Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Udine, Italy
Feast January 14

Odoric of Pordenone, O.F.M. (Odorico Mattiussi or Mattiuzzi) was an Italian late-medieval Franciscan friar and missionary explorer. His account of his visit to China was an important source for the account of John Mandeville; many of the incredible reports in Mandeville have proven to be garbled versions of Odoric's eyewitness descriptions.

Life[edit]

Odoric was born at Villanova, a hamlet now belonging to the town of Pordenone in Friuli (Italy), in or about 1286. He came from a Czech family named Mattiussi.[1] According to the ecclesiastical biographers, in early years he took the vows of the Franciscan order and joined their convent at Udine, the capital of Friuli.

Departure of Odoric of Pordenone.

In 1296 Odoric went as a missionary to the Balkans, and then to the Mongols in southern Russia.[2]

Friar Odoric was dispatched to the East in April 1318. Starting from Padua, he went to Constantinople via Venice and then crossed the Black Sea to Trebizond.[1] From there he traveled and preached in Armenia, Media, and Persia. In all these countries the Franciscans had founded mission centers.[2] From Sultanieh he proceeded by Kashan and Yazd, and turning thence followed a somewhat indirect route by Persepolis and the Shiraz and Baghdad regions, to the Persian Gulf. With an Irish confrere, Friar James, he sailed from Ormus to India,[2] landing at Thana, near Bombay.

At this city four brethren of his order, three of them Italians and the fourth a Georgian, had shortly before suffered martyrdom [1] at the hands of the Muslim governor. The bones of the martyred friars had been collected by Friar Jordanus Catalani, a Dominican (first bishop in India, Diocese of Quilon) who carried them to Supera - the Suppara of the ancient geographers, near the modern Vasai, about 26 miles north of Bombay, and buried them there. Odoric tells that he disinterred these relics and carried them with him on his further travels. In the course of these he visited Malabar, touching at Pandarani (20 m. north of Calicut), at Cranganore, and at Kulam or Quilon, proceeding thence, apparently, and to Ceylon.[1]

From India he sailed in a junk to Sumatra, visiting various ports on the northern coast of that island, and thence to Java, to the coast (it would seem) of Borneo, to Champa (Indochina), and to Guangzhou (Canton), at that time known as Chin-Kalan or Great China (Mahachin). From Guangzhou he travelled overland to the great ports of Fujian, at one of which, then called Zayton Xiamen (Amoy) harbour, he founded two houses of his order; in one of these he deposited the bones of the brethren who had suffered in India.

From Fuzhou he struck across the mountains into Zhejiang and visited Hangzhou, then renowned, under the name of Cansay, Khanzai, or Quinsai (i.e. Kin gsze or royal residence), as the greatest city in the world, of whose splendours Odoric, like Marco Polo, Marignolli, or Ibn Batuta, gives notable details. Passing northward by Nanjing and crossing the Yangzi, Odoric embarked on the Grand Canal of China and travelled to the headquarters of the Great Khan (probably Yesün Temür Khan), namely the city of Cambalec (AKA Cambaleth, Cambaluc, &c.) or present-day Beijing, where he remained for three years, probably from 1324 to 1327, attached, no doubt, to one of the churches founded by Archbishop John of Monte Corvino, at this time in extreme old age.

He did not return till the end of 1329 or beginning of 1330; but, as regards intermediate dates, all that we can deduce from his narrative or other evidence is that he was in western India soon after 1321 (pretty certainly in 1322) and that he spent three years in China between the opening of 1323 and the close of 1328. On one of his trips, his ship was nearly capsized by a typhoon but they landed safely in Bolinao, Pangasinan, Philippines. He is said to have held a mass there, in around 1324. That would have predated the mass held in 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan, which is generally regarded as the first mass in the Philippines, by some 197 years. However, historian William Henry Scott concluded after examining Oderic's writings about his travels that he likely never set foot on Philippine soil and, if he did, there is no reason to think that he celebrated mass.[3]

His return voyage is less clearly described. Returning overland across Asia, through the Land of Prester John (possibly Mongolia), and through Casan, the adventurous traveller seems to have entered Tibet, and even perhaps to have visited Lhasa. After this we trace the friar in northern Persia, in Millestorte, once famous as the Land of the Assassins in the Elburz highlands. No further indications of his homeward route (to Venice) are given, though it is almost certain that he passed through Tabriz. The vague and fragmentary character of the narrative, in this section, forcibly contrasts with the clear and careful tracing of the outward way.

During a part at least of these long journeys the companion of Odric was James of Ireland, an Irishman, as appears from a record in the public books of Udine, showing that shortly after Odorics death a present of two marks was made to this Irish friar, Socio beau Fratris Odorici, amore Dei et Odorici. Shortly after his return Odoric betook himself to the Minorite house attached to St Anthony's at Padua, and it was there that in May 1330 he related the story of his travels, which was taken down in homely Latin by Friar William of Solagna.

Travelling towards the papal court at Avignon, Odoric fell ill at Pisa, and turning back to Udine, the capital of his native province, died there.

Odoric in context[edit]

Odoric's tomb in Udine

Odoric's journey is perhaps best seen as a diplomatic mission, in addition to its religious dimensions. Nearly a century earlier, Mongols had entered Europe itself in the Mongol invasion of Europe. Between 1237 and 1238 they pillaged most of Russia, and by 1241 they had devastated Poland and Hungary. Then they suddenly retreated. Pope Innocent IV organized the first missions to the Great Khan Tartary in 1254, entrusted to the Franciscans, as were subsequent Papal missions over the next century. Niccolò, Marfeo, and Marco Polo made two voyages in 1260 and 1271, and in 1294 the missionary John of Monte Corvino made a similar journey for Pope Nicholas IV.

Contemporary fame of his journeys[edit]

The fame of his vast journeys appears to have made a much greater impression on the laity of his native territory than on his Franciscan brethren. The latter were about to bury him - without delay or ceremony, but the gastald or chief magistrate of the city interfered and appointed a public funeral; rumours of his wondrous travels and of posthumous miracles were diffused, and excitement spread like wildfire over Friuli and Carniola; the ceremony had to be deferred more than once, and at last took place in presence of the patriarch of Aquileia and all the local dignitaries. Popular acclamation made him an object of devotion, the municipality erected a noble shrine for his body, and his fame as saint and traveller had spread far and wide before the middle of the century, but it was not till four centuries later (1755) that the papal authority formally sanctioned his beatification. A bust of Odoric was set up at Pordenone in 1881.

The numerous copies of Odoric's narrative (both of the original text and of the versions in French, Italian, &c.) that have come down to our time, chiefly from the 14th century, show how speedily and widely it acquired popularity. It does not deserve the charge of mendacity brought against it by some, though the adulation of others is nearly as injudicious. Odoric's credit was not benefited by the liberties which "Sir John Mandeville" took with it. The substance of that knight's alleged travels in India and China is stolen from Odoric, though amplified with fables from other sources and from his own invention, and garnished with his own unusually clear astronomical notions.

We may indicate a few passages which stamp Odoric as a genuine and original traveller. He is the first European, after Marco Polo, who distinctly mentions the name of Sumatra. The cannibalism and community of wives which he attributes to certain races of that island do certainly belong to it, or to islands closely adjoining. His description of sago in the archipelago is not free from errors, but they are the errors of an eye-witness.

In China his mention of Guangzhou by the name of Censcolam or Censcalam (Chin-Kalan), and his descriptions of the custom of fishing with tame cormorants, of the habit of letting the fingernails grow extravagantly, and of the compression of women's feet, are peculiar to him among the travellers of that age; Marco Polo omits them all. Many people say that his embarkments were far more memorable than those of Marco Polo. For Odoric was one who not only discovered many countries, but wrote about them so that he could share his knowledge with others.

Beatification[edit]

Moved by the many miracles that were wrought at the tomb of the Odoric, Pope Benedict XIV, in the year 1755, approved the veneration which had been paid to Blessed Odoric. In the year 1881 the city of Pordenone erected a magnificent memorial to its distinguished son.

Manuscripts and published editions[edit]

Seventy-three manuscripts of Odoric's narrative are known to exist in Latin, French and Italian: of these the chief, of about 1350, is in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris (Manuscripts lat. 2584, fols. 118 r. to 127 v.. The narrative was first printed at Pesaro in 1513, in what Apostolo Zeno (1668–1750) calls lingua inculta e rozza.

Giovanni Battista Ramusio first includes Odoric's narrative in the second volume of the second edition (1574) (Italian version), in which are given two versions, differing curiously from one another, but without any prefatory matter or explanation. (See also edition of 1583, vol. ii. fols. 245 r256 r.) Another (Latin) version is given in the Acta Sanctorum (Bollandist) under 14 January. The curious discussion before the papal court respecting the beatification of Odoric forms a kind of blue-book issued ex typographia rev. camerae apostolicae (Rome, 1755). Friedrich Kunstmann of Munich devoted one of his papers to Odoric's narrative (Histor.-polit. Blätter von Phillips und Görres, vol. xxxvii. pp. 507–537).

Some editions of Odoric are:

See also[edit]

References[edit]


Popular translations[edit]

  • Odoric of Pordenone, translation by Sir Henry Yule, introduction by Paolo Chiesa, The Travels of Friar Odoric: 14th Century Journal of the Blessed Odoric of Pordenone, Eerdmans (December 15, 2001), hardcover, 174 pages, ISBN 0802849636 ISBN 978-0802849632