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E07941: The pilgrim Egeria, in her Itinerary, records two statues in Lower Egypt, said to be of *Moses (Old Testament prophet and lawgiver, S00241) and *Aaron (Old Testament prophet, S01427), and a health-giving tree said to have been planted by the patriarchs. Written in Latin during Egeria's journey to the East, probably in 381-384.

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posted on 09.07.2020, 00:00 by Bryan
Egeria, Itinerary 8.1-4

8.1 De Arabia autem ciuitate quattuor milia passus sunt Ramessen. Nos autem, ut ueniremus ad mansionem Arabiae, per media Ramesse transiuimus: quae Ramessen ciuitas nunc campus est, ita ut nec unam habitationem habeat. Paret sane quoniam et ingens fuit per girum et multas fabricas habuit; ruinae enim ipsius, quemadmodum collapsae sunt, in hodie infinitae parent. (2) Nunc autem ibi nichil aliud est nisi tantum unus lapis ingens thebeus, in quo sunt duae statuae exclusae ingentes, quas dicunt esse sanctorum hominum, id est Moysi et Aaron; nam dicent eo quod filii Israhel in honore ipsorum eas posuerint. (3) Et est ibi preterea arbor sicomori, quae dicitur a patriarchis posita esse; nam iam uetustissima est et ideo permodica est, licet tamen adhuc fructus afferat. Nam cuicumque inquomoditas fuerit, uadent ibi et tollent surculos, et prode illis est. (4) Hoc autem referente sancto episcopo de Arabia cognouimus; nam ipse nobis dixit nomen ipsius arboris, quemadmodum appellant eam grece, id est dendros alethiae, quod nos dicimus arbor ueritatis. Qui tamen sanctus episcopus nobis ramessen occurrere dignatus est; nam est iam senior uir, uere satis religiosus ex monacho et affabilis, suscipiens peregrinos ualde bene; nam et in scripturis Dei ualde eruditus est. (5) Ipse ergo cum se dignatus fuisset uexare et ibi nobis occurrere, singula ibi ostendit seu retulit de illas statuas, quas dixi, ut etiam et de illa arbore sicomori.

‘8.1 Four miles from the city of Arabia is the city of Rameses, and on our way to the waystation of Arabia, we travelled right through it. The city of Rameses is now a level site without a single dwelling, but it is still visible, and once it had many buildings and covered a huge area. Even though it is ruined, its remains are still vast. (2) The only thing there now is a great Theban stone, a single piece out of which rise two huge statues. They are said to represent holy men, Moses and Aaron, and they say that the children of Israel set them up in their honour. (3) There is also a sycamore tree there which is said to have been planted by the patriarchs. Though it is now extremely old, and thus small, it still bears fruit, and people who have something wrong with them pick its twigs, which do them good. We learned this from the holy bishop of Arabia, and it was he who told us that the Greek name for this tree is Dendros Aletheias or, in our language, the ‘Tree of Truth’. This holy bishop was kind enough to meet us at Rameses. He is now an old man, of a godly life since the time he became a monk, and an approachable man, who is good at welcoming travellers and also very knowledgeable about God’s scriptures. (5) He very kindly took the trouble to meet us there, showed us everything, and told us about the statues of which I have told you, and the sycamore tree.’

Text: Franceschini and Weber 1965, 48-49. Translation: Wilkinson 1971, 102, lightly modified.

History

Evidence ID

E07941

Saint Name

Aaron, Old Testament prophet : S01427 Moses, Old Testament prophet and lawgiver : S00241

Saint Name in Source

Aaron Moyses

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

Egypt and Cyrenaica

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

Hermopolis ϣⲙⲟⲩⲛ Ashmunein Hermopolis

Major author/Major anonymous work

Egeria

Cult activities - Places

Other (mountain, wood, tree, pillar)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Pilgrimage

Cult activities - Use of Images

  • Public display of an image

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Healing diseases and disabilities

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - bishops

Source

Egeria's work survives in a single manuscript 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 by Valerius of Vierzo (in north-west Spain) in the seventh century. 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 she addresses these periodically in her work (written in the form of a letter to these women from Constantinople, while Egeria was travelling home). 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 a traveller 'from the other end of the earth'; and Valerius of Vierzo (who was certainly better informed than us) describes her as a 'native of Ocean's western shore'. It is therefore surmised that she came from Aquitaine, or further afield; indeed Galicia is likely, since Valerius was from close by and is quite likely to have selected her to write about because she was a local holy woman. Her work is a detailed diary of her pilgrimage, and it is a great pity that much of it is lost - it opens with a visit to Sinai and on to Egypt, but she tells us that this is her second visit to Egypt, and that she had already spent much time in the Holy Land. Egeria, whose enthusiasm and energy appear boundless, visited mostly biblical sites, but was also interested in monasteries and martyr shrines. The second part of her Itinerary contains a description of the Easter liturgy in Jerusalem (with 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 that 384 was the only year in this period in which it was possible to arrive in Carrhae (northern Mesopotamia) for the feast of St Helpidius (23 April) having spent Easter in Jerusalem. Egeria herself tells us that her stay in the East lasted three years. 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 precise location of 'Rameses' is unknown, but it was certainly in the western delta. Egeria evidently encountered two massive Egyptian statues, which the local Christians (including their bishop) believed were statues of Moses and Aaron. It is impossible to tell whether Egeria's repeated use of phrases like 'which they say are' implies a degree of scepticism or uncertainty.

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: Wilkinson, J. 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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