Whose words?

Dr Mary Boyle
Dr Mary Boyle

Blog-post author: Dr Mary Boyle, Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow, Maynooth University IE


The co-opting, or re-presenting, of other pilgrimage or travel texts is an integral aspect of pilgrimage writing. This doesn’t mean that pilgrim writings are simply generic – in fact this essential repetition could be seen as getting to the heart of the practice by re-personalising the words of another. The words have become part of the new account, while the repetition itself is crucial in validating the experience. Conformity denotes authenticity. With the advent of print in the second half of the fifteenth century, it was easier and faster than ever to ensure this conformity. One chain, or web, of pilgrimage accounts, stretching at least from Nuremberg to Norfolk, via Mainz, Cologne, Koblenz, and Kent, and covering German, Latin, and English, illustrates the opportunities offered in this area by the new technology.

Image 1. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the pilgrimage account of Bernhard von Breydenbach (f.28v). Source: Münchener DigitalisierungsZentrum, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).
Image 1. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the pilgrimage account of Bernhard von Breydenbach (f.28v). Source: Münchener DigitalisierungsZentrum, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

The key printed accounts are Hans Tucher’s Reise ins Gelobte Land, Bernhard von Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio in terram sanctam, and the Pylgrymage of Sir Richard Guylforde. Associated manuscript accounts include Peter Fassbender (or Fasbender)’s Betuartt nahe dem heiligen Grabe zu Jerusalem and the Pylgrymage of Syr Rychard Torkyngton (usually now spelt ‘Torkington’), as well as the Pilgerfahrt des Ritters Arnold von Harff. The connection between most of these accounts comes as no surprise, but it’s nonetheless worth looking at and considering what it means for these men’s written experience of pilgrimage, and how that was affected by print. These accounts span the period 1479-1517, and the sections which made it all through this chain belong to the heart of the pilgrimage: the holy places.

Hans Tucher (1428-91) was in the vanguard of German published pilgrims. He travelled from Nuremberg in 1479 with Sebald Rieter (1426–1488). Rieter also produced an account which is in places so similar to Tucher’s that it’s not clear which sections originated with which man, although it’s probably safe to assume that the Rieter family’s accounts of previous pilgrimages were consulted. Rieter’s account, however, wasn’t printed until the nineteenth century, whereas in 1482, Tucher’s appeared from the press of Johann Schönsperger in Augsburg. Over the next two years it was reprinted several times.

Bernhard von Breydenbach (c. 1440-1497) needs little introduction. A canon of Mainz Cathedral, he departed on pilgrimage in 1482. Publication must have been in his mind from the start, for he took an artist with him to Jerusalem. It took around three years for Peregrinatio in terram sanctam, which he misleadingly described as a ‘bůchlyn’ (little book), to reach the press. This work drew on a large number of other texts, of which Tucher’s was only one. In 1486 it appeared in Latin (February), and then in German (June). It wasn’t long before it had been translated into Flemish, French, and Spanish as well.

Only part of Peregrinatio made it into English (from Latin), and it didn’t do so attached to Breydenbach’s name, but as part of the Pylgrymage of Sir Richard Guylforde, which was printed in 1511, four years after the pilgrims’ return. Guylforde himself, though, had died shortly after arrival in the Holy Land. Until 2013, the identity of this account’s anonymous author was unknown, but he has now been identified by Rob Lutton as Thomas Larke, the man whose book on Jerusalem was recommended by Robert Langton, when his pilgrimage ‘to saynt James in Compostell and in other holy places of Crystendome’ was printed in 1522.

By virtue of being printed, these texts were widely distributed and able to influence other accounts in turn – we will probably never know how many. I’d like to outline some examples of manuscript accounts which borrowed from this tradition on the way.

Firstly we have an offshoot midway through the chain: Peter Fassbender (c. 1450-1518), a Jerusalem pilgrim from Koblenz in the Rhineland. When he returned, Fassbender produced an account of his 1492 pilgrimage, which survives in only one manuscript. This certainly draws on Bernhard von Breydenbach, and perhaps also on Hans Tucher.

At the English end of the line, we have Richard Torkington, a priest from Norfolk, who wrote a manuscript account of his pilgrimage in 1517. This work is heavily indebted to Larke’s, and wasn’t printed until 1884, when it managed to obtain the title Ye Oldest Diarie of Englysshe Travell.

I’d also like to point to the knight Arnold von Harff (c.1471-1505), a knight from near Cologne, because his use of Breydenbach is quite different from Fassbender’s, Larke’s, or Torkington’s. He took little from the descriptions of holy sites, but he drew inspiration from Breydenbach’s images and alphabets, as well as some text. Harff’s account circulated after 1499, along with a set of illustrations, amongst the Rhineland nobility, and fifteen manuscripts survived into the modern era. He called on many previous travel reports and other sources in addition to Breydenbach, amongst them John Mandeville (probably in Michael Velser’s translation), Marco Polo, and Odoric of Pordenone.

With each step, changes in the copied sections were introduced. These could be omissions or additions, and some of these changes are simply the result of switching languages or dialects. On several occasions, the chain passed back out of print, but print was key to its spread. Breydenbach, for example, drew on the manuscript of Paul Walther von Guglingen, a fellow traveller, when describing the non-Christian inhabitants of the Holy Land, but for the visits to the holy places themselves, he chose Tucher’s published work rather than the manuscript account of his acquaintance – it mattered that he was conforming to an image already widely distributed.

Print, of course, was by no means the only reason for the conformity of pilgrim writing. What it did was make that conformity quicker and easier to spread, and easier to present to a wide audience. The works circulating in Europe upheld and broadcast the experience of the Franciscan package deal in Jerusalem.