Egeria (pilgrim)

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Cover of a translation into English of The Journey of Egeria published in 1919.

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.


Much of the surviving information about Egeria comes from a letter written by the 7th century Galician monk Valerio of Bierzo. In addition, it is through Valerio's letter that we first see the name Aetheria, for Egeria's primary manuscript was only found with a middle and no beginning nor end. 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." It is possible that Egeria used the term to address her Christian acquaintances.[1] 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. Egeria’s ability to make a long and expensive journey by herself, her numerous acquaintances in the places she visited and her education indicate her middle or upper class wealthy background.[1]


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.[1]

The text is a narrative apparently written at the end of Egeria's journey from notes she took en 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. Along the way, she made excursions to Mount Nebo and St. Thecla's martyrium. The second portion of the text is a detailed account of the liturgical services and observances of the church calendar in Jerusalem, even though she had begun her travels with a three-year stint in Jerusalem and its surrounding area. Upon her return to Constantinople, she planned to make a further trip to St. John's at Ephesus.

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.[2]

Literary references[edit]

  • 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.
  • In Ford Madox Ford's novel Parade's End, Mrs Macmaster is referred to as "an Egeria" by Christopher Tietjens (book 1, part 2, chapter I). This characterization is made, not coincidentally, to his wife Sylvia. Also, in book 1, part 2, chapter V, Valentine Wannop considers Mrs Macmaster in the context of "portentious Egerias."
  • In Julio Cortázar's Rayuela Chapter 43 "Sos nuestra ninfa Egeria"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "About Egeria", The Egeria Project
  2. ^ Connell, Martin (2007). Eternity Today: On the Liturgical Year. New York: Continuum Publishing. pp. 16–18. ISBN 978-0-8264-1871-5. 

Further reading[edit]


  • Eteria, Egeria (2010). Itinerario/Itinerarium Egeriae. Valladolid.Spain: Maxtor. ISBN 84-9761-788-6. [1]
  • 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.

External links[edit]