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Huneberc of Heidenheim: The Hodoeporican of St. Willibald, 8th Century

[Talbot Introduction]

The authoress of the following life remained anonymous for a long time until B. Bischoff discovered the interpretation of a cryptogram inserted in an early manuscript between the biographies of the two brothers Willibald and Wynnebald. It then appeared that her name was Huneberc, an Anglo­Saxon nun of Heidenheim. She had evidently taken down the description of Willibald's travels from his own mouth, when, as Bishop of Eichstatt, he related his experiences to his brethren. The changes in the narrative from " he " to " we " seem to point to interruptions in the story, as if the bell for Compline or some other monastic duty had intervened to break the continuiy. The style is unpolished, full of digressions and marred by the piling up of adjectives to emphasize her mean;cng, but between the lines one can sense her intense curiosity to discover all about the places Willibald had visited. The repetitions and amplifications are obviously due to the questions put to him whilst the narrative was being told.

Willibald was first and foremost a pilgrim, and we must not expect to find in his narrative the notes of a scientific observer. He tells us litde about a great number of things we should like to know, such for instance as the character of the people, the conditions of the country and the state of the towns he passed through. The value of the Hodoeporicon lies in its being the only narrative extant of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the eighth century, thus forming a bridge between the works of Arculfus (670) and Bernardus Monachus (865). His notices of the Holy Places at Jerusalem, however, are of the highest interest, and some of them are of great archaeological value. Among these, special attention may be called to his references to the Church of Calvary with its three memorial crosses outside its eastern wall; his statement that the stone in front of the sepulchre was only a copy of the one which the angel rolled away; his allusion to the column that marked the spot where, tradition said, the Jews had tried to carry off the body of our Lady; and his placing of the Church of Sion in the middle of Jerusalem.

Sources: The Hodoeporicon first appeared in Dom Mabillon's Acta Sanctorum Ordinis Sancti Benedicti, vol. iii, 2, pp. 367 seq. The best edition is that of Holder-Egger in Mommenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores, vol. xv, I, pp. 8o-iI7. An English translation was made by Canon W. R. Brownlow for the Palestine Pilg7ims Text Society (London, 1895).



[Thomas Head's alternate translation of the preface is also online]

[153] To the venerable priests, deacons, abbots and brethren beloved in Christ, whom our holy bishop, as a good leader and tender father, has appointed throughout his diocese to be priests, chaste levites, monks and novices, to all these who live under religious observance, I, an unworthy sister of Saxon origin, last and least in life and manners, venture to write for the sake of posterity and present to you who are religious and preachers of the Gospel a brief account of the early life of the venerable Willibald. Although I lack the necessary experience and knowledge because I am but a weak woman, yet I would like, as far as lies in my power, to gather together a kind of nosegay of his virtues and give you something by which you may remember them. And here I repeat that I am not urged on through presumption to attempt a task for which I am so ill fitted. It is your authority and kindness and God's grace which has prompted me to describe the scenes where the marvels of the Incarnate Word were enacted, for Willibald visited and saw these places with his own eyes and trod with his feet in the footsteps of Him who was born into this world, suffered and rose again for our sake. Of all these places Willibald has given us a faithful description. For this reason, it did not seem right to allow these things to pass into oblivion, nor to be silent about the things God has shown to His servant in these our days. We heard them from his own lips in the presence of two deacons who will vouch for their truth: it was on the 20th of June, the day before the summer solstice.

I know that it may seem very bold on my part to write this book when there are so many holy priests capable of doing beter, but as a humble relative I would like to record something of their deeds and travels for future ages. [154] In the hope, then, that you will excuse me and kindly grant me your indulgence, relying also on the grace of God, I present to you this narrative, traced in letters of ink and dedicated to the glory of God, the Giver of all good.

* * *

First of all, I will tell of the early life of the venerable high priest of God, Willibald: how he submitted to the discipline of monastic life, how he followed the examples of the saints and how he imitated and observed their way of life. Then I will speak of his early manhood, the time of his maturity and of his old age, even till he became decrepit, combining and putting into order the few facts that there are and weaving them into a continuous narrative.

When he was a baby in the cradle, a lovable little creature, he was cherished fondly by those who nursed him, especially by his parents, who lavished their affection on him and brought him up with great solicitude until he reached the age of three. At that age, when his limbs were still weak and delicate, he was suddenly attacked by a severe illness: the contraction of his limbs made it impossible for him to breathe and threatened to end his life. When his father and mother saw that he was at the doors of death they were full of fear and grief, and their suspense grew as they saw him, gripped by the disease, hovering between life and death. It seemed that the child, whom they had hoped would be their survivor and heir, would soon be carried to an untimely grave. But God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, did not intend that His servant should be released from the prison of his body and depart unknown to the rest of the world, for he was destined to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and to bring a multitude of neophytes to the faith of Christ.

But let us return to the early infancy of the blessed man. When his parents, in great anxiety of mind, were still uncertain about the fate of their son, they took him and offered him up before the holy Cross of our Lord and Saviour. And this they did, not in [155] the church but at the foot of the Cross, for on the estates of the nobles and good men of the Saxon race it is a custom to have a cross, which is dedicated to our Lord and held in great reverence, erected on some prominent spot for the convenience of those who wish to pray daily before it. There before the cross they laid him. Then they began earnestly to implore God, the Maker of all things, to bring them consolation and to save their son's life. And in their prayers they made a solemn promise that in return for the health of their child they would at once have him tonsured as the first step to Sacred Orders and would dedicate him to the senice of Christ under the discipline of monastic life.

No sooner had they made these vows than they put their words into deeds. They enlisted their son in the senice of the heavenly King; their favour was granted by the Lord, and the former health of the child was restored.

When this remarkable boy had reached the age of five he began to show the first signs of spiritual understanding. His parents hastened to carry out the promises they had made, and as soon as they had taken council with their noble friends and kinsfolk they lost no time in instructing him in the sacred obligations of monastic life. Without delay they entrusted him to the care of Theodred, a man both venerable and trustworthy, and begged him to be responsible for taking the child to the monastery, where he should make suitable arrangements and dispositions on his behalf. So they set out and took him to the monastery which is called Waldheim [Bishops Waltham]. There they handed him over to the venerable Abbot Egwald, offering him as a novice, because of his age, to be obedient in all things. In accordance with the rules of monastic life the abbot immediately laid the case before the community and asked them if they would advise and allow this to be done. The response of the monks was immediate, and by their unanimous consent he was accepted and received by them into the community to share in their life.

Afterwards this boy of unassuming manners was initiated and perfectly trained in sacred studies. He gave careful and assiduous attention to the learning of the psalms and applied his mind to the examination of the other books of Holy Writ. Young though [156] he was in age, he was advanced in wisdom, so that in him through the divine mercy the words of the prophet were fulfilled: " Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise." Then, as his age increased and his mental powers developed, and more so as the growth of divine grace kept pace with his increasing strength and stature, he devoted his energies to the pursuit of divine love. Long and earnest meditation filled his days. Night and day he pondered anxiously on the means of monastic perfection and the importance of community life, wondering how he might become a member of that chaste fellowship and share in the joys of their common discipline.

Next he began to inquire how he could put these ideas into effect so that he could despise and renounce the fleeting pleasures of this world and forsake not merely the temporal riches of his earthly inheritance but also his country, parents and relatives. He began also to devise means of setting out on pilgrimage and travelling to foreign countries that were unknown to him. After some time had elapsed, when he had outgrown the foolish pranks of childhood, the unsteadiness of youth and the disturbing period of adolescence, through the ineffable dispensation of divine grace he came to manhood. By that time he was greatly beloved by the community because of his obedience and his meekness. All held him in the deepest affection and respect. By assiduous application to his daily duties and continual attention to his studies he disciplined his mind with such vigour and firmness that he made unbroken progress in the way of monastic perfection.

The young servant of Christ, as we have already mentioned, was eager to go on pilgrimage and travel to distant foreign lands and find out all about them. When he had decided to brave the perils of the pathless sea he went immediately to his father and opened his heart to him, telling him the secrets he had concealed from others. He begged him earnestly to advise him on the project and to give his permission; but not content with that, he asked his father to go with him. He invited him to share in this hazardous enterprise and to undertake this difficult mode of life, eager to detach him from the pleasures of the world, from the delights of earth and from the false prosperity of wealth. He [157] asked him to enter, with the help of God, into the divine service and to enroll in the heavenly army, to abandon his native country and to accompany him as a pilgrim to foreign parts. Using all his powers of persuasion, he coaxed him to join his sons on a visit to the sacred shrine of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles. At first his father declined, excusing himself from the journey on the plea that he could not leave his wife and small children. It would be cruel, and unchristian, he said, to deprive them of his protection and to leave them at the mercy of others. Then the soldier of Christ repeated his solernn exhortations and his long and urgent entreaties, beseeching him, now with fearful threats of damnation, now with bland promises of eternal life, to consent, softening his heart by describing the beauty of paradise and the sweetness of the love of Christ. In this way, employing every means of persuasion and speaking to him heart to heart, he strove to extort from him his agreement to the plan. At last, by the help of Alrnighty God, his insistence prevailed. His father and his brother Wynnebald gave their promise that they would embark on the enterprise he had in mind and in which he had persuaded them to join.

Following this discussion, a certain time elapsed. At the change of the seasons, towards the end of summer, his father and unmarried brother set out on the journey to which they had agreed. At a suitable time in the surnmer they were ready and prepared. Taking with them the necessary money for the journey and accompanied by a band of friends, they came to a place, which was known by the ancient name of Hamblemouth, near the port of Hamwih. Shortly afterwards they embarked on a ship. When the captain of the swift­sailing ship had taken their fares, they sailed, with the west wind blowing and a high sea running, amidst the shouting of sailors and the creaking of oars. When they had braved the dangers at sea and the perils of the mountainous waves, a swift course brought them with full sails and following winds safely to dry land. At once they gave thanks and disembarked, and, pitching their tents on the banks of the river Seine, they encamped near the city which is called Rouen, where there is a market.

[158] For some days they rested there and then continued their journey, visiting the shrines of the saints that were on their way and praying there. And so going by degrees from place to place they came to Gorthonicum. [1] Pursuing their journey, they came to Lucca. Hitherto Willibald and Wynnebald had taken their father along with them on their journey. But at Lucca he was struck down almost at once by a severe bodily sickness and after a few days it seemed that his end was near. As the sickness increased, his weary limbs grew cold and stiff, and in this way he breathed his last. As soon as the two brothers saw that their father was dead they wrapped his body in a flne shroud and with filial piety buried it in the Church of Saint Frigidian at Lucca, where it still rests.[2] Immediately afterwards they set out on their way, going steadily on foot through the vast land of Italy, through the deep valleys, over the craggy mountains, across the level plains, climbing upwards towards the peaks of the Apennines. And after they had gazed on the peaks covered with snow and wreathed in banks of cloud, with the help of God and the support of His saints they passed safely through the ambushes of the fierce and arrogant soldiery [3] and came with all their relatives and company to the shrine of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles. There they besought his protection and gave many thanks to God, because they had escaped unscathed from the grievous perils of the sea and the manifold difficulties of travel in a foreign land, and been accounted worthy to climb the Scala Santa and reach the famous basilica of St. Peter.

[1] Possibly Dertonicum or the neighbourhood of the chief town in Liguria, called Chortina m the ancient Life of Charlemagne.

[2] In 721 the Saracen conquerors of Spain had been defeated by Duke Eudes beneath the walls of Toulouse. Liudprand, King of the Lombards, held armed possession of the greater part of Italy, while the Exarchs of Ravenna represented the tyranny of the Eastern Empire, ruled at that time by Leo, the Isaurian. The reigning Pope was Grezory II.

[3]  On the legend created by Reginald of Eichstatt about St. Richard, the father BfolWI inlldbald, seue M. Coens, Legende et Miracles du Roi S. Richard", Analecta

The two brothers remained there from the feast of St. Martin until Easter of the following year. During that time, whilst the cold and bare winter was passing and spring with its flowers was beginning to appear and Eastertide was shedding its sunny [159] radiance over the whole earth, the two brothers had been leading a life of monastic discipline under the prescriptions of the Holy Rule. Then with the passing of the days and the increasing heat of the summer, which is usually a sign of future fever, they were struck down with sickness. They found it difficult to breathe, fever set in, and at one moment they were shivering with cold, the next burning with heat. They had caught the black plague. So great a hold had it got on them that, scarcely able to move, worn out with fever and almost at the point of death, the breath of life had practically left their bodies. But God in His neverfailing providence and fatherly love deigned to listen to their prayers and come to their aid, so that each of them rested in turn for one week whilst they attended to each other's needs. In spite of this, they never failed to obsene the normal monastic Rule as far as their bodily weakness would allow; they persevered all the more zealously in their study and sacred reading, following the words of Truth, who said: "He who perseveres unto the end shall be saved."

After this celebrated bearer of Christ's Cross had continued to pursue the life of perfection with great steadfastness of mind and inward contemplation, he grew more eager to follow a stricter mode of life. A more austere and rigorous obsenance of the monastic Rule, not an easier one, was what he most desired. He longed to go on pilgrimage to a more remote and less wellknown place than the one in which he was now staying. So, energetic as ever, he sought the advice of his friends and asked permission from his kinsmen to go. He begged them to follow him on his wanderings with their prayers, so that throughout the course of his journey their prayers would keep him from harm and enable him reach the city of Jerusalem and gaze upon its pleasant and hallowed walls.

So after the solemnities of Easter Sunday were over this restless battler set off on his journey with two companions. On their way they came to a town east of Terracina [Fondi] and stayed there two days. Then, leaving it behind, they reached Gaeta, which stands at the edge of the sea. At this point they went on board a ship and crossed over the sea to Naples, where they left the ship [160] in which they had sailed and stayed for two weeks. These citieS belong to the Romans: they are in the territory of Benevento, but owe allegiance to the Romans. And at once, as is usual when the mercy of God is at work, their fondest hopes were fulfilled, for they chanced upon a ship that had come from Egypt, so they embarked on it and set sail for a town called Reggio in Calabria. At this place they stayed two days; then they departed and betook themselves to the island of Sicily, that is to say, to Catania, where the body of St. Agatha, the virgin, rests. Mount Etna is there Whenever the volcanic fire erupts there and begins to spread and threaten the whole region the people of the city take the body of St. Agatha and place it in front of the oncoming fiames and they stop immediately. [l] They stayed there three weeks. Thence they sailed for Syracuse, a city in the same country. Sailing from Syracuse, they crossed the Adriatic and reached the city of Monembasia,[2] in the land of Slavinia, and from there they sailed to Chios, leaving Corinth on the port side. Sailing on from there, they passed Samos and sped on towards Asia, to the city of Ephesus, which stands about a mile from the sea. Then they went on foot to the spot where the Seven Sleepers lie at rest.[3] From there they walked to the tomb of St. John, the Evangelist, which is situated in a beautiful spot near Ephesus, and thence two miles farther on along the sea coast to a great city called Phygela, where they stayed a day. At this place they begged some bread and went to a fountain in the middle of the city, and, sitting on the edge of it, they dipped their bread in the water and so ate. They pursued their journey on foot along the sea shore to the town of Hierapolis, which stands on a high mountain; and thence they went to a place called Patara, where they remained until the bitter and icy winter had passed. Afterwards they sailed from

[1] This is reported in her Acta to have taken place for the first time in A.D 252, when the pagans took her veil. See Acta Sanctorum for 5 February.

[2] Monembasia is a small town near the south of Morea. The Slavonic Bulgarians were all­powerful at Constantinople, where they had placed Leo III on the imperial throne. It is not surprising, then, that Morea should have been occupied by them   [Halsall note: Talbot seems to overlook widespread Slavic settlement in the Morea -- i.e. the Peloponnese -- at this period.]

[3] See Bollandists, Acta Sanctorum, 27 July. These seven martyrs suffered under the Emperor Decius about A.D. 250. He stopped up the mouth of the cave where they had taken refuge and so starved them to death. The names are: John, Constantine, Maxuninian, Malchus, Martinian, Denys and Serapion.

[161] there and reached a city called Miletus,[l] which was formerly threatened with destruction from the waters. At this place there were two solitaries living on " stylites ", that is, colurnns built up and strengthened by a great stone wall of immense height, to protect them from the water. Thence they crossed over by sea to Mount Chelidonium and traversed the whole of it. At this point they suffered very much from hunger, because the country was wild and desolate, and they grew so weak through lack of food that they feared their last day had come. But the Almighty Shepherd of His people deigned to provide food for His poor servants.

[1] If Miletus is meant, the pilgrims must have landed there before reaching Patara. The only place between Patara and Chelidonia is a town, now a village, called Myra, mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles xxvii. 27 in the Greek version. The Vulgate calls it Lystra.

Sailing from there, they reached the island of Cyprus, which lies between the Greeks and the Saracens, and went to the city of Pamphos, where they stayed three weeks. It was then Eastertime, a year after their setting out. Thence they went to Constantia,[2] where the body of St. Epiphanius rests, and they remained there until after the feast of St. John the Baptist.

[2] Costanza near Famagosta, anciently called Salamis. St. Epiphanius was Bishop of Salamis for thirty­six years and died in A.D. 403.

Once more they set saii and reached the town of Antarados,[3] which lies near the sea in the territory of the Saracens. Then they went on foot for about nine or twelve miles to a fort called Arche,[4] where they had a Greek bishop. There they sang a litany according to the Greek rite.[5] Leaving this place, they set out on foot for the town named Emesa,[6] about twelve miles distant, where there is a large church built by St. Helena in honour of St. John the Baptist [7] and where his head was for a long time preserved. This is in Syria now.

[3] Called Antaradus by the Greeks and Tortosa in the Middle Ages. The r uns of a magnificent Gothic cathedral can still be seen. The modern name ps Tartus.

[4] Akkar on Jebel Akkar? It has a ruined Saracenic castle, but is quiet off the road. The place corresponding to Willibald's description may be Husn el-Akrad, or the Kurds' castle, which is fifteen miles from Antaradus.

[5] The Greek liturgy with its constant repetition of the Kyrie would naturally strike the pilgrims as a litany, and this is the word they use here.

[6] The modern name is Homs, with extensive ruins dating from the first century. It was captured by the Saracens [Halsall: i.e. Muslims] in A.D. 636.

[7] The church which is mentioned by Eusebius as among those built by the Empress Helena; but he says ( Vita Constantini, iii, 47) that at the same time that Helena was building churches in Jerusalem and Bethlehem Constantine was buildinz them " in all the other provinces ".

[162] At that time there were seven companions with Willibald and he made the eighth. Almost at once they were arrested by the pagan Saracens, and because they were strangers and came without credentials they were taken prisoner and held as captives. They knew not to which nation they belonged, and, thinking they were spies, they took them bound to a certain rich old man to find out where they came from. The old man put questions to them asking where they were from and on what errand they were employed. Then they told him everything from the beginning and acquainted him with the reason for their journey. And the old man said "I have often seen men coming from those parts of the world; fellow­countrymen of theirs, they cause no mischief and are merely anxious to fulfil their law." Then they left him and went to the court, to ask permission to pass over to Jerusalem. But when they arrived there, the governor said at once that they were spies and ordered them to be thrust into prison until such time as he should hear from the king what was to be done with them. Whilst they were in prison they had an unexpected experience of the wonderful dispensation of Almighty God, who mercifully deigns to protect his servants everywhere, amidst weapons of war and tortures, barbarians, and soldiers, prisons and bands of aggressors, preserving and shielding them from all harm. A man was there, a merchant, who wished to redeem them and release them from captivity, so that they should be free to continue their journey as they wished. He did this by way of alms and for the salvation of his own soul. But he was unable to release them. Every day, therefore, he sent them dinner and supper, and on Wednesday and Saturday he sent his son to the prison and took them out for a bath and then took them back again. Every Sunday he took them to church through the market place, so that if they saw anything on sale for which they had a mind he could buy it for them and so give them pleasure. The citizens of the town, who are inquisitive people, used to come regularly to look at them, because they were young and handsome and clothed in beautiful garments. Then whilst they were still languishing in prison a man from Spain came and spoke with them inside the prison itself and made careful inquiries about their nationality and homeland. And they [163] told him everything about their journey from first to last. This Spaniard had a brother at the king's court, who was the chamberlain of the King of the Saracens. And when the governor who had sent them to prison came to court, both the Spaniard who had spoken to them in prison and the captain of the ship in which they had sailed from Cyprus came together in the presence of the Saracens' king, whose name was Emir­al­Mummenin. And when the conversation turned on their case, the Spaniard told his brother all that he had learned about them whilst speaking to them in the prison, and he asked his brother to pass this information on to the king and to help them. So when, afterwards, all these three came to the king and mentioned their case, telling him all the details from first to last, the king asked whence they came; and they answered: "These men come from the West where the sun sets; we know nothing of their country except that beyond it lies notbing but water." Then the king asked them, saying: " Why should we punish them? They have done us no harm. Allow them to depart and go on their way." The other prisoners who were in captivity had to pay a fine of three measures of corn, but they were let off scot­free.

With this permission they at once set out and travelled a hundred miles to Damascus, in Syria, where the body of St. Ananias rests. They stayed there a week. About two miles distant stands a church on the spot where St. Paul was first converted and where our Lord said to him: " Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me ", etc. After praying in the church, they went on foot to Galilee, to the place where Gabriel first came to our Lady and said: " Hail Mary." There is a church there now, and the village where the church is is called Nazareth. The Christians have often had to come to terms with the pagan Saracens about tbis church, because they wished to destroy it. After commending themselves to the Lord there, they set out on foot and came to the town of Chana [Halsall: i.e. Cana], where our Lord changed water into wine. A vast church stands there, and in the church one of the altars has on it one of the six water pots which our Lord ordered to be filled with water and then changed into wine; from it they drank some wine. They stayed for one day there. Departing thence, they reached Mount Thabor, [Halsall: i.e. Tabor] [164] where our Lord was transfigured. At the moment there is a monastery of monks there, and the church is dedicated to our Lord Moses and Elias, and the place is called by those who live there Holy Mount. There they prayed.

Then they made for the town called Tiberias. It stands at the edge of the sea on which our Lord walked dry­shod and where Peter sank when walking on the waters towards Him. Many churches and synagogues of the Jews are built there, and great honour is paid to our Lord. They remained there for several days. At that point the Jordan flows into the lake. Thence they set off round the lake and went to the village of Magdalene and came to the village of Capharnaum, where our Lord raised to life the ruler's daughter. Here there was a house and a great wall, and the people said that Zebedee used to live there with his sons John and James. Then they went to Bethsaida, the native place of Peter and Andrew. A church now occupies the site where their home once stood. They passed the night there, and on the following morning set off for Corazain, where our Lord cured the man possessed of the devil and drove the demons into a herd of swine. A church stands there now.

After praying there, they departed and came to the spot where two fountains, Jor and Dan, spring from the earth and then pour down the mountainside to form the river Jordan. There, between the two fountains, they passed the night and the shepherds gave usl sour miik to drink. At this spot there are wonderful herds of cattle, long in the back and short in the leg, bearing enormous horns; they are all of one colour, dark red. Deep marshes lie there, and in the surnmer­time, when the great heat of the sun scorches the earth, the herds betake themselves to the marshes and, plunging themselves up to their necks in the water, leave only their heads showing.

[l] It will be noticed that the writer seerns to be reporting the very words of Willibald as she introduces the pronoun us.

Departing thence, they came to Caesarea, where there was a church and a great number of Christians. They rested there for a short time and set out for the monastery of St. John the Baptist, where about twenty monks were living. They stayed the night [165] and then went forward about a mile to the Jordan, where our Lord was baptized. At this spot there is now a church built high up on columns of stone; beneath the church, however, the ground is dry. On the very place where Christ was baptized and where they now baptize there stands a little wooden cross: a little stream of water is led off and a rope is stretched over the Jordan and tied at each end. Then on the Feast of the Epiphany the sick and infirm come there and, holding on to the rope, plunge themselves in the water. Barren women also come there. Our Bishop Willibald bathed himself there in the Jordan. They passed the day there and then departed.

Thence they came to Galgala, which is about five miles away. In the church there, which is small and made of wood, there are twelve stones. These are the twelve stones which the children of Israel took from the Jordan and carried more than five miles to Galgala and set up as witnesses of their passage. After saying prayers there, they went on towards Jericho, which is more than seven miles distant from the Jordan. The fountain which bubbled up there on the brow of the hill was barren and quite useless to man before the prophet Eliseus came and blessed it and made it flow. Afterwards the people of the city drew it off into their fields and gardens and other places that needed it, and now wherever this fountain flows, the crops inaease and promote health, all by reason of the blessing given by Eliseus the prophet. They went on from there to the monastery of St. Eustochium, which stands in the middle of the plain between Jericho and Jerusalem.

Then they came to Jerusalem, to the very spot where the holy cross of our Lord was found. On the site of the place called Calvary now stands a church. Formerly this was outside Jerusalem, but when Helena discovered the cross she placed the spot within the walls of Jerusalem. There now stand three crosses outside the church near the wall of the eastern end, as a memorial to the cross of our Lord and those who were crucified with Him. At present they are not inside the church, but outside beneath a pent roof. Nearby is the garden in which the tomb of our Saviour was placed. This tomb was cut from the rock and the rock stands above ground: it is squared at the bottom and tapers towards a point at the top. 

[166] On the highest point of it stands a cross, and a wonderful house has been constructed over it. At the eastern end a door has been cut in the rock of the sepulchre, through which people can enter into the tomb to pray. Inside there is the slab on which the body of our Lord lay, and on this slab flfteen lamps of gold burn day and night; it is situated on the north side of the interior of the tomb and lies at one's right hand as one enters the tomb to pray. In front of the door of the sepulchre lies a great square stone, a replica of that first stone which the angel rolled away from the mouth of the sepulchre.

On the Feast of St. Martin our bishop came there, and as soon as he reached the spot he began to feel sick and was confined to his bed until a week before Christmas. Then when he recovered and began to feel a little better he got up and went to the church called Holy Sion, which stands in the centre of Jerusalem. He prayed there and then went to Solomon's Porch, where there is a pool at which the sick used to lie waiting for the angel to move the waters, after which the first who went down into them was cured: this is where our Lord said to the paralytic: "Arise, take up thy bed and walk."

Willibald himself said that in front of the gate of the city stood a tall pillar, on top of which rose a cross, as a sign and memorial of the place where the Jews attempted to take away the body of our Lady. For when the eleven Apostles were bearing the body of Holy Mary away from Jerusalem the Jews tried to snatch it away as soon as they reached the gate of the city. But as soon as they stretched out their hands towards the bier and endeavoured to take her their arms became fixed, stuck as it were to the bier, and they were unable to move until, by the grace of God and the prayers of the Apostles, they were released, and then they let them go. Our Lady passed from this world in that very spot in the centre of Jerusalem which is called Holy Sion. And then the eleven Apostles bore her, as I have already said, and finally the angels came and took her away from the hands of the Apostles and carried her to paradise.

Bishop Willibald came down from the mount and went to the valley of Josaphat: it is situated to the east of the city of Jerusalem. [167] In the valley there is a church of our Lady andl the church is her tomb (not that her body lies at rest there, but as a memorial to her). After praying there, he climbed Mount Olivet,which is near to the valley at its eastern end-the valley lies betveen Jerusalem and Alount Olivet. On Mount Olivet there is now a church on the spot where our Lord prayed before His passon and said to his Disciples: " Watch and pray that ye enter nct into temptation." Then he came to the very hill whence our lord ascended into heaven. In the centre of the church is a bsautiful candlestick sculptured in bronze: it is square and stands ia the middle of the church where our Lord ascended into heavel In thle middle of the bronze candlestick is a square vessel of glass, and in the glass is a small lamp, and round about the lamp, c]osed on all sides, is the glass. The reason why it is closed on all sides is that the lamp may burn both in good weather and bad. The church has no roof and is open to the sky, and two pillars stad there inside the church, one against the northern wall, theother against the southern wall. They are placed there in remembrance of the two men who said: "Men of Galilee, why standye looking up into heaven?" Any man who can squeeze his body b\etween the pillars and the wall is freed from his sins.

Then he came to the place where the angel appeared to the shepherds and said: "I   announce to you tidigs of great joy." Thence he came to Bethlehem, where our Lord was born, about six miles distant from Jerusalem. The place where our Lord was born was formerly a cave underneath the glound and is now a square chamber cut out of the rock; the earth has been dug away on all sides and thrown aside, and now the church has been built above it. There our Lord was born. An altar has been raised above it also, but another small [portable] altar has been made, so that when they wish to celebrate Mass within thecave they can take up the small altar whilst Mass is being saidad afterwards can take it out again. The church which stands over the spot where our Lord was born is built in the form of a cross, a house of great beauty.

After praying there, they departed and care to a large town called Thecua: this is the place where the Holy Innocents were  [168] slaughtered by Herod. A church stands there now. In it rests the body of one of the prophets. Then they came to the Laura [Halsall" i.e. monastery] in the valley: it is a great monastery and there resides the abbot and the doorkeeper who keeps the keys of the church. Many are the monks who belong to that monastery, and they dwell Scattered round the valley on the summits of the hills where they have little cells cut out for them from the stony rock of the hills. The mountain surrounds the valley in which the monastery is built: there lies the body of St. Saba. [l]

[1] St. Saba founded the monastery in A.D. 483 and was made by the Patriarch of Jerusalem archimandrite over all the monasteries of Palestine.

Thence they came to the spot where Philip baptized the eunuch A small church stands there in the wide valley between Bethlehem and Gaza. From there they made towards Gaza,[2] where there is a holy place, and after praying there they went to St. Mathias, where there is a large temple to the Lord. And whilst solemn High Mass was being celebrated there, our Bishop Willibald, standing and listening, lost his sight and was blind for two months. Thence they went to St. Zacharias, the prophet, not the father of St. John the Baptist, but the other prophet. Thence they went to the town of Hebron, where lie the bodies of the three patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with their wives.

[2] The pilgrims seem to have gone back on their tracks. The ruins of the church built by Constantine at Gaza may still be seen.

Then he returned to Jerusalem, and, going into the church where the holy Cross of Christ was found, his eyes were opened and he received his sight. He stayed there for a little while and then set out for a place called Lydda, to the Church of St. George,[3] which lies about ten miles distant from Jerusalem. Thence he came to another village Joppa , where stands a church to St. Peter, the Apostle: this was where St. Peter raised up the widow Dorcas to life. He prayed there and set out once more and came [169] to the Adriatic sea at a great distance from Jerusalem, to the cities of Tyre and Sidon. These two cities are six miles apart and stand on the edge of the sea. Thence he went to Tripoli on the seashore, and crossed over Mount Libanus to Damascus. From there he went to Caesarea and back once more, for the third time, to Jerusalem, where he spent the whole winter.

[3] The remains of the church of St. George, who was said to have been born there, are still to be seen: they have been restored as a Greek Church. Arculf gives the first account of St. George known to have been circulated in Britain. It is worthy of notice that the north of England where his narrative was well known, had a great devotion to St. George, a piace being assigned to him in the Anglo­Saxon ritual of Durham, which is probably of the early ninth century. A "Passilon of St. George " was written by Aelfric, Archbishop of York, A.D. 1021­51. Arculf describes the marble column to which St. George was bound whilst being scourged.

He then travelled over three hundred miles to the town of Emesa in Syria, and thence he came to Salamias[1] which is on the farther borders of Syria. He spent the whole season of Lent there because he was ill and unable to travel. His companions, who were in his party, went forward to the King of the Saracens, named Murmumni, to ask him to give them a leter of safe conduct, but they could not meet him because he himself had withdrawn from that region on account of the sickness and pestilence that infested the country. And when they could not find the king they returned and stayed together in Salamias until a week before Easter. Then they came again to Emesa and asked the governor there to give them a letter of safe conduct, and he gave them a letter for every two persons. They could not travel there in company but only two by two, because in this way it was easier for them to provide food for themselves. Then they came to Damascus.

[1] Now Salfimebeh. {?}

From Damascus they came for the fourth time to Jerusalem, and after spending some time there they went to the town of Sebaste, which was formerly called Samaria; but after it was destroyed they built another town there and called it Sebaste. At the present time the bodies of St. John the Baptist, Abdias and Eliseus the prophet rest there. Near the town is the well where our Lord asked the Samaritan woman to give Him water to drink. Over that well there now stands a church, and there is the Mount on which the Samaritans worshipped and of which the woman said to our Lord: " Our forbears worshipped on this mount, but Thou sayest that Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Then, after praying there, they passed through the country of the Samaritans to a large town on the far borders of their land and spent one night there.

[170] Then they travelled across a wide plain covered with Olive trees, and with them travelled an Ethiopian and his two camels, who led a woman on a mule through the woods. And as they went on their way, a lion with gaping jaws came out upon them growling and roaring, ready to seize and devour them; it terrified them greatly. But the Ethiopian said: "Have no fear-let us go forward." So without hesitation they proceeded on their way and as they approached the lion it turned aside and, through the help of Almighty God, left the way open for them to continue their journey. And they said that a short time after they had left that place they heard the same lion roaring, as if in his fury he would devour many of the men who went there to gather olives. When they came to the town which is called Ptolomaeis, which stands by the edge of the sea, they continued their journey and reached the summit of Libanus, where that mountain juts out into the sea and forms a promontory. There stands the tower of Libanus. Anyone who lands there without having a safe conduct cannot pass through the place because it is guarded and closed; and if anyone comes without a pass the citizens arrest him immediately and send him back to Tyre. The mount is between Tyre and Ptolomaeis. Then the bishop came to Tyre for the second time.

When Bishop Willibald was in Jerusalem on the previous occasion he bought himself some balsam and filled a calabash with it; then he took a hollow reed which had a bottom to it and filled it with petroleum and put it inside the calabash. Afterwards he cut the reed equal in length to the calabash so that the surfaces of both were even and then closed the mouth of the calabash. When they reached the city of Tyre the citizens arrested them, put them in chains and examined all their baggage to find out if they had hidden any contraband. If they had found anything they would certainly have punished them and put them to death. But when they had thoroughly scrutinized everything and could find nothing but one calabash which Willibald had, they opened it and snuffed at it to find out what was inside. And when they smelt petroleum, which was inside the reed at the top, they did not flnd the balsam which was inside the calabash underneath the petroleum, and so let them go.

[171] They were there for a long time waiting for a ship to get ready. Afterwards they sailed during the whole of the winter, from the feast of St. Andrew [30 November] until a week before Easter. Then they landed at the city of Constantinople, where the bodies of three saints, Andrew, Timothy and Luke the Evangelist, lie beneath one altar, whilst the body of St. John Chrysostom lies before another. His tomb is there where, as a priest, he stood to celebrate Mass. Our bishop stayed there for two years and had an alcove in the church so that every day he could sit and gaze upon the place where the saints lay at rest. Thence he went to Nicea, where formerly the Emperor Constantine held a council at which three hundred and eighteen bishops were present, all taking an active part. The church there resembles the one at Mount Olivet, where our Lord ascended into heaven; and in the church are all the portraits of the bishops who took part in the Council. Willibald went there from Constantinople to see how the church was built, and then returned by water to Constantinople.

After two years they set sail from there with the envoys of the Pope and the Emperor[1] and went to the city of Syracuse in the island of Sicily. Thence they came to Catania and then to Reggio, a city of Calabria. They embarked again for Volcano, where the Hell of Theodoric is. [2] When they arrived there they disembarked to see what this inferno was like. Willibald, who was inquisitive and eager to see without delay what this Hell was like inside, wanted to climb to the top of the mountain underneath which the crater lay: but he was unable to do so because the ashes of black tartar, which had risen to the edge of the crater, lay there in heaps: and like the snow which, when it drops from heaven with its falling masses of flakes, heaps them up into mounds, the ashes lay piled in heaps on the top of the mountain and prevented Willibald from going any farther. All the same, he saw the black and [172] terrible and fearful flame belching forth from the crater with a noise like rolling thunder: he gazed with awe on the enormous flames, and the mountainous clouds of smoke rising from below into the sky. And that pumice stone which writers speak of he saw issuing from the crater, thrown out with flames and cast irlto the sea, then washed up again on the seashore by the tide, where men were collecting it and carting it away. After they had satisfied their curiosity with the sight of the fearsome and terrible burnirlg fire, its fumes, its stinking smoke and its shooting flames, they weighed anchor and sailed to the church of St. Bartholomew the Apostle [at Lipari], which stands on the seashore, and they came to the mountains which are called Didyme, and after praying there they spent one night. Embarking once more, they came to a city called Naples and remained there several days. It is the seat of an archbishop whose dignity is great there. Not far away is the small town of Lucullanum, where the body of St. Severinus is preserved. Then he came to the city of Capua, and the archbishop there sent him to the bishop of another town; that bishop sent hiln to the Bishop of Teano, and he in turn sent him to St. Benedict's [at Monte Cassino]. It was autumn when he reached Monte Cassino, and it was seven years since he first began his journey from Rome and ten years in all since he had left his native country.

[1] The return of the legates to Rome was occasioned by the excommurucation clf Leo the Isaurian in 728, who had threatened Pope Gregorv II.

[2] See the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, iv. c. 30. Theodoric was supposed to have been cast into hell for having imprisoned and caused the death of Pope lohn V and for having killed Symmachus, the Senator. Arculf's narrative, Vvritten by Adamnan, also describes the volcano. This island, the ancient I liera, known as Volcani Insula from its volcanic phenomena, is the southernnost of the Lipari islands. It lies twelve miles from Sicily.

And when the venerable man Willibald and Tidbercht, who had travelled everywhere with him, came to St. Benedict's, they found only a few monks there under Abbot Petronax. Without delay he joined the community, for which he was so well fitted both by his great self­discipline and his natural aptitude for obedience. He learned much from their careful teaching, but he in turn taught them more by his outward bearing; he showed them not so much by words as by the beauty of his character what was the real spirit oftheir institute; and by proving himselfto be a model of monastic virtue he compelled the admiration, love and respect of all.

In the first year that he spent there he was sacristan of the church, in the second a dean of the monastery, and for eight years afterwards he was porter in two monasteries, four years as porter in the monastery which is perched on a very high hill, and four years more in the other monastery which stands lower down near [173] the river Rapido, about two miles away. So for ten years the venerable man Willibald tried to observe, as far as possible, every detail of the monastic observance as laid down by the Rule of St. Benedict. And he not only observed it himself but led the others, whom he had brought over long distances by foot and by sea, to follow him in the traditional path of regular life.

After this, a priest who came from Spain to St. Benedict's and stayed there asked permission of Abbot Petronax to go to Rome. When the permission was asked Petronax without hesitation begged Willibald to accompany him and take him to St. Peter's. He gave his consent at once and promised to fulfil the mission. So they set out, and when they came to Rome and entered the basilica of St. Peter they asked the protection of the heavenly keeper of the keys and commended themselves to his kindly patronage. Then the sacred Pontiff of the Apostolic See, Gregory III, hearing that the venerable man Willibald was there, sent for him to come into his presence. And when he came to the Supreme Pontiff he fell down at once on his face to the ground and greeted him. And immediately that pious Shepherd of the People began to question him about the details of his journey and asked him earnestly how he had spent seven years travelling to the ends of the earth and how he had contrived to escape for so long a time the wickedness of the pagans.

Then the active servant of Christ humbly recounted to the glorious Ruler of the People all the details of his travels as they occurred. He told him how he had passed from place to place, how he had visited Bethlehem and prayed in the birthplace of his heavenly Creator, how he had seen where Christ was baptized in the river Jordan and had himself bathed there. He described his four visits to Jerusalem and Holy Sion, where our Holy Saviour had hung on the cross, was killed and buried and then ascended into heaven from Mount Olivet. All these things he told him and described.

After they had discussed these matters during a pleasant and intimate conversation, the sacred and holy Pontiff intimated to Willibald in a serious and unmistakable tone that St. Boniface had asked him to arrange for Willibald to leave St. Benedict's and [174] come to him without delay in the country of the Franks. And after the Apostolic Lord, Pope Gregory III, had made known to him the desires of St. Boniface, he tried to persuade him, now with peaceable words of exhortation, now pleading, now commanding, to go to St. Boniface. Then the illustrious athlete of God, Willibald, promised that he would carry into immediate effect the request and command of the Pontiff provided he could ask permission, according to the prescriptions of the Rule, from his abbot. The Supreme Pontiff, in whom is vested the highest authority, at once replied that his command was sufficient permission, and he ordered him to set out obediently without any qualm of conscience, saying: "If I am free to transfer the abbot Petronax himself to any other place, then certainly he has no permission or power to oppose my wishes." And so Willibald replied on the spot that he would willingly carry out his wishes and commands, not only there but anywhere in the world, whereever he had a mind to send him. He then pledged himself to go in accordance with his wishes without any further delay. After this, the discussion being ended, Willibald departed at Easter­time, reaching his journey's end on the Feast of St. Andrew. Tidbercht, however, remained behind at St. Benedict's.

He went to Lucca, where his father was buried, and thence to the city of Pavia, from there to Brescia and thence to a place which is called Garda. Then he came to Duke Odilo and stayed a week with him, and thence to Suitgar, with whom he also stayed a week. Suitgar and Willibald left there for Linthard, where St. Boniface was, and St. Boniface sent them to Eichstatt to see how they li'ked the place. Suitgar handed over the territory there to St. Boniface for the redemption of his soul, and St. Boniface passed it on to our bishop Willibald. At that time it was all waste land-there was not a single house there and the only building was the church of St. Mary, which still stands, smaller than the other church which Willibald afterwards built on the site.

When Willibald and Suitgar had remained together at Eichstatt for some little time, they explored and surveyed the ground and eventually chose a site suitable for a house. After that they went to St. Boniface at Freising and stayed with him until all of them [175] returned once more to Eichstatt. There St. Boniface ordained Willibald to the priestly digmty. The day on which Willibald was ordained was 22 July, the Feast of St. Apollinaris and St. Mary Magdalen.

After a whole year had passed, St. Boniface commanded him to come to him at once in Thuringia. And the venerable man of God, Willibald, set off at once for Thuringia and dwelt as a guest in the house of his brother St. Wynnebald, who had not seen him for the past eight and a half years since he had parted from him in Rome. And they were glad to see each other and congratulated each other on their meeting. It was then the season of autumn when Willibald came to Thuringia.

Soon after he came there, the archbishop St. Boniface, Burchard and Wizo consecrated him and invested him with the sacred authority of the episcopate. He remained there for a week after he was consecrated bishop and then returned once more to the place which had been allotted him. At the time of his consecration Willibald was forty­one years old; he was consecrated at Salzburg in the autumn, about three weeks before the Feast of St. Martin.

The long course of Willibald's travels and sightseeing on which he had spent seven long years was now over and gone. We have tried to set down and make known all the facts which have been ascertained and thoroughly investigated. These facts were not learned from anyone else but heard from Willibald himself; and having received them from his own lips, we have taken them down and written them in the Monastery of Heidenheim, as his deacons and other subordinates can testify. I say this so that no one may afterwards say that it was an idle tale.

At the time that he came to the province from Rome with three of his fellow­countrymen he was forty­one years old, already mature and middle­aged; then he was consecrated bishop. Afterwards he began to build a monastery in the place called Eichstatt, and he shortly afterwards practised the monastic life there according to the obsenance which he had seen at St. Benedict's [Monte Cassino], and not merely there, but also in many other monastic houses, which he had examined with his experienced eye as he travelled through various lands. This observance he taught [176] to others by the example of his own life. With a few fellow labourers he tilled the wide and spacious fields for the divine seed sowing and cultivating them until harvest­time. And so like a busy bee that flits through the meadows, purple with violets, aromatic with scented herbs and through the tree branches yellow with blossom, drinking the sweet nectar but avoiding bitter poison, and returns to the hive bearing honey on its thighs and body, so the blessed man chose out the best from all that he had seen abroad with his own eyes, adopted it, and, having adopted it, submitted it to his disciples for acceptance, showing them good example by word and deed, in zeal for observance, avoidance of evil, piety, forbearance and temperance.

Soon after the energetic champion of our good God had begun to dwell in the monastery men flocked to him from all sides, not only from the neighbouring provinces but even from distant countries, to hear his salutary teaching and wisdom. Willibald and Mother Church, like a hen that cherishes her offspring beneath her wings, won over many adoptive sons to the Lord, protecting them continually with the shield of his kindliness. These he trained with gentleness and sympathy, detaching them from their imperfections until they reached perfect maturity. These, having followed in the steps of their master and absorbed his teaching, have now become famous for the training they give to others.

This, then, was Willibald, who at first began to practise a holy life with the support of but a few helpers, but who at last, after struggling in many ways against the opposition of numerous chieftains and courtiers, gained possession of a people worthy of the Lord. Far and wide through the vast province of Bavaria he drove his plough, sowing the seed and reaping the harvest with the help of many fellow­labourers. And all though the land of Bavaria, now dotted about with churches, priests' houses and the relics of the saints, he amassed treasures worthy of our Lord. From these places antiphons now resound, sacred lessons are chanted, a noble throng of believers shout aloud the miracles of Christ and with joyful hearts echo from mouth to mouth triumphant praises of their Creator.

[177] What shall I now say of Willibald, my master and your devoted brother? Who was more outstanding than he in piety, more perfeu in humility? Who more forbearing in patience, more strict S temperance, greater in meekness? When was he ever backward lo consoling the downcast? Who was more eager to assist the poor ot more anxious to clothe the naked? These things are said not for the sake of boasting but for the sake of recounting what I have seen and heard, things done not by the power of man but by the gran of God, in order that, according to the words of the Apostle: "He who glories may glory in the Lord." Amen.


C. H. Talbot, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany, Being the Lives of SS. Willibrord, Boniface, Leoba and Lebuin together with the Hodoepericon of St. Willibald and a selection from the correspondence of St. Boniface, (London and New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954)

Page numbers are from the Talbot edition.

The copyright status of this text has been checked carefully. The situation is complicated, but in sum is as follows. The book was published in 1954 by Sheed & Ward, apparently simultaneously, in both London and New York. The American-printed edition simply gave 'New York' as place of publication, the British-printed edition gave 'London and New York'. Copyright was not renewed in 1982 or 1983, as required by US Law. The recent GATT treaty (1995?) restored copyright to foreign publications which had entered US public domain simply because copyright had not be renewed in accordance with US law. This GATT provision does not seem to apply to this text because it was published simultaneously in the US and Britain by a publisher operating in both countries (a situation specifically addressed in the GATT regulations). Thus, while still under copyright protection in much of the world, the text remains in the US public domain.

Some years ago, a collection of such hagiographical texts, including some texts from Talbot, was published:-

Thomas F.X. Noble and Thomas Head, Soldiers of Christ: Saint and Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995).

Soldiers of Christ uses, among others, the Talbot translated texts, but is much improved by additional notes by the two editors, and by new translations of some parts. Readers from outside the US should consult this volume, and readers in the US would find it profitable to do so.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, October 1, 2000


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