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E05225: The pilgrim Egeria, in her Itinerary, describes her visit to a church outside Carrhae/Karrhai (Mesopotamia) on the precise site of the house of *Abraham (Old Testament patriarch, S00275), a place of great veneration for Christians, 'for the memory' of Abraham; she also mentions tombs of his kin. Written in Latin during Egeria's journey to the East, probably in 381-384.

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posted on 19.03.2018, 00:00 by robert
Egeria, Itinerary 20.2-4 and 20.8


Egeria visits Carrhae (biblical Haran), the home for many years of Abraham, his family and kin:

20.2 Ibi ergo cum uenissem, id est in Charra, ibi statim fui ad ecclesiam, quae est intra ciuitate ipsa. Vidi etiam mox episcopum loci ipsius uere sanctum et hominem Dei, et ipsum et monachum et confessorem, qui mox nobis omnia loca ibi ostendere dignatus est, quae desiderabamus. (3) Nam duxit nos statim ad ecclesiam, quae est foras ciuitatem, in eo loco ubi fuit domus sancti Abrahae, id est in ipsis fundamentis et de ipso lapide, ut tamen dicebat sanctus episcopus. Cum ergo uenissemus in ipsa ecclesia, facta est oratio et lectus ipse locus de genesi, dictus etiam unus psalmus, et iterata oratione et sic benedicens nos episcopus, egressi sumus foras. (4) Item dignatus est nos ducere ad puteum illum, unde portabat aquam sancta Rebecca. Et ait nobis sanctus episcopus: "ecce puteus unde potauit sancta Rebecca camelos pueri sancti Abrahae, id est Eleazari", et singula ita nobis dignabatur ostendere.

'20.2 When I reached Charra I went straight to visit the church inside the city, and was soon seeing the bishop of the place. He was a very godly man, and he too was both monk and confessor. He readily agreed to show us all the places we wanted to see. (3) First he took us to a church outside the city on the site of Abraham's house. According to the holy bishop it was built of the same stones and on the same foundations. In the church we had a prayer and read the passage from the book of Genesis [Genesis 12.1-4], then one psalm and a second prayer; the bishop blessed us, and we went outside. (4) Then he kindly took us to the well at which holy Rebecca used to draw water. "This", said the holy bishop, "is the well where holy Rebecca drew water for the camels of Eleazar the servant of holy Abraham", and he was at pains to show us all there was to see.'

There follows a passage on the tomb and feast of *Helpidius (monk and martyr of Carrhae, S01069), whose martyr shrine was in this same church - for this passage, see $E05226. In this passage Egeria tells us that those who attend the feast of Helpidius also come to commemorate Abraham (propter memoriam sancti Abrahae). Egeria then returns to the subject of Abraham:

20.8 In ipsa autem ciuitatem extra paucos clericos et sanctos monachos, si qui tamen in ciuitate commorantur, penitus nullum christianum inueni, sed totum gentes sunt. Nam sicut nos cum grandi reuerentia attendimus locum illum ubi primitus domus sancti Abrahae fuit, pro memoria illius, ita et illae gentes forte ad mille passus de ciuitate cum grandi reuerentia adtendunt locum, ubi sunt memoriae Naor et Bathuhelis.

'20.8 I found almost no Christians in the city, apart from a few clergy, and any holy monks who happen to be living there. The whole city is heathen, and just as we venerate the place which was originally the house of Abraham for his memory, so they greatly venerate the tombs of Nahor and Bethuel [Genesis 24:24], which are about a mile outside the city.'


Text: Franceschini and Weber 1965, 62-63. Translation: Wilkinson 1971, 118-119, lightly modified.

History

Evidence ID

E05225

Saint Name

Abraham, Old Testament patriarch : S00275

Type of Evidence

Literary - Pilgrim accounts and itineraries

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

381

Evidence not after

384

Activity not before

381

Activity not after

384

Place of Evidence - Region

Mesopotamia

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Edessa Edessa Ἔδεσσα Edessa

Major author/Major anonymous work

Egeria

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Pilgrimage

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Foreigners (including Barbarians) Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits Ecclesiastics - bishops

Source

Egeria's work survives in a single eleventh-century manuscript, copied probably at Monte Cassino, which lacks both its opening and its close (where she might have told us something about herself). Consequently even her name is a little uncertain, though she was almost certainly 'the most blessed Egeria', whose dedication and devotion on pilgrimage was praised in a letter written in the mid-seventh century by Valerius of Bierzo (or Vierzo, near Léon in north-west Spain). She was unquestionably a woman of some means (given her ability to travel for several years) and she belonged to an association or community of religious women, since her work takes the form of a letter to these women sent from Constantinople during her journey home, and since she addresses them periodically throughout her account: in Itinerary 3.8, for instance, she asks these dominae venerabiles sorores, 'ladies, venerable sisters', to pay particular attention to her description of Mount Sinai. Exactly where she travelled from is unknown, though it was certainly somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean in the far west of Europe: in 18.3 she compares the flow and size of the Euphrates with the Rhône, which she presumably crossed on her journey; in 19.5 she was greeted by the bishop of Edessa as having journeyed de extremis porro terris, 'from the far ends of the earth'; and Valerius of Bierzo (who was certainly better informed than us) describes her as extremo occidui maris Oceani litore exorta, 'coming from the Ocean's western shore' (Gracia 1910, 393-394). It is therefore certain that she came from the western seaboard of the Atlantic; probably from Galicia, since Valerius was from near Galicia and he is likely to have selected her to write about because he saw her as a compatriot. Her work is a detailed, and highly informative, account of her pilgrimage, and it is a great pity that much of it is lost - what survives opens, in mid-sentence, with an account of her visit to the holy sites of Sinai and on to the Egyptian delta, but she tells us that this was her second visit to Egypt (and that on her first visit she had travelled as far south as the Thebaid and as far west as Alexandria), and she had certainly already spent much time in the Holy Land. After reaching Egypt, she headed back to Jerusalem, and from there made two journeys out: the first eastwards to the Jordan and Mount Nebo; the second a long journey up the Jordan valley to Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee), before striking East to Carneas, to visit the grave of the Old Testament patriarch Job. Some time after returning to Jerusalem from this second expedition, 'since it was already three full years since my arrival in Jerusalem, and I had seen all the places which were the object of my pilgrimage' (Itinerary 17.1, Wilkinson 1999, 113), Egeria started for home, but from Antioch took a long detour eastwards into Mesopotamia, to Edessa and Carrhae. Returning to Antioch, she then crossed Asia Minor to Chalcedon (but not before again detouring, to Seleucia and the shrine of Thecla), and so to Constantinople, from which she despatched the account of her travels. Although heading home, she still planned to visit Ephesus and the shrine of John the Apostle and Evangelist at Ephesus. Although much of Egeria's text is missing, it was available in the early twelfth century to Peter the Deacon, a monk at Monte Cassino, when he compiled a work about the Holy Land, and, from Peter's text it is possible reconstruct the parts of her journey that are now lost (see Franceschini and Weber 1965, 93-103; Wilkinson 1999, 179-210). Egeria, whose enthusiasm and energy appear to have been boundless, visited mostly biblical sites, but she was also interested in monasteries and martyr shrines (for instance detouring to visit Thecla's at Seleucia). The second part of her Itinerary contains a description of the Easter liturgy in Jerusalem (which has no references to the cult of saints). Thanks to the places, persons, and buildings which are mentioned by her, her travels can be dated with some confidence to the two last decades of the 4th century. A more exact dating, generally accepted, is based on the observation by Devos (1967) that 384 was the only year in this period in which it was possible to arrive in Carrhae (in Mesopotamia) for the feast of St Helpidius (23 April) having spent Easter in Jerusalem, which Egeria tells us she did on the first leg of her journey home (having already told us that she had spent three years in the Holy Land). As with all the pilgrim texts from the Holy Land, it has been difficult to decide what to include, and what to exclude from our database, focused as it is on the 'cult of saints'. We have necessarily excluded the vast number of sites associated exclusively with the life and miracles of Jesus, and have, of course, included all obvious references to cult sites of Christian saints: their graves, churches, and references to important places in their lives, such as their place of martyrdom. A problem, however, arises when our pilgrims write about sites associated with figures from the Old Testament, since in time many of these certainly acquired Christian cult, but it is generally impossible to tell whether our pilgrims regarded these figures as saints in the Christian tradition, whose power and aid they might invoke, or whether they record the holy sites associated with them through a broader and looser biblical curiosity and veneration. The compromise position we have taken with regard to these Old Testament figures is to include all references to places associated with them where our Christian writers record miraculous occurrences or where there was a church or oratory, and also all references to their graves (though with these latter there is often no explicit reference to Christian cult).

Discussion

The church on the site of the house of Abraham was a place of active Christian cult, serving as the martyrium of Helpidius, and it was also a place where Abraham was remembered, but it is not evident from Egeria's text that Abraham himself attracted cult there. It is difficult to say from Egeria's text who the pagans/gentes were who venerated the tombs (memoriae) of Abraham's kin, Nahor and Bethuel, and whether these personages attracted any cult from the Christians of Carrhae.

Bibliography

Text: Franceschini, A. and Weber, R. (ed.), Itinerarium Egeriae, in Itineraria et alia geographica (Corpus Chistianorum, series Latina 175; Turnholti: Typographi Brepols editores pontificii, 1965), 27-90. Text, French translation and commentary: Maraval, P., Égérie: Journal de Voyage (Itinéraire), Sources Chrétiennes 296 (Paris: Les éditions du cerf, 1982). English translation and commentary: J. Wilkinson, Egeria's Travels (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 3rd edition, 1999). Dating: Devos, P., "La date du voyage d'Égérie", Analecta Bollandiana 85 (1967), 165-194. Hunt, E.D., "The date of the Itinerarium Egeriae", Studia Patristica 38 (Leuven: Peeters, 2001), 410-416. Further reading: Maraval, P., Lieux saints et pèlerinages d'Orient, (Paris: Les éditions du cerf, 1985).

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