Author: Victoria Wotton (page 2 of 2)

The Book of the Wanderings of Felix Fabri: Valscian

Felix Fabri describes the town of Valscian, also known as In der Burg, in his second pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Fabri’s party rode through Valscian on their way from Trent, Italy to Spiteli, Italy, stopping only for a “short rest” in the town (17). The journey from Trent to Spiteli was only one day’s travel; they left Trent on the 22nd of April after Mass and arrived at Spiteli during the night. Most of Fabri’s account of Valscian is centered on the history of the town’s name and the geography of the surrounding area, with a focus on language.

Fabri describes Valscian as a “long, wide, and fertile valley” with inhabitants that speak both German and Italian (17). In his first mention of the town’s name, Fabri notes that it is only called Valscian in the “vulgar tongue,” which refers to and shows Fabri’s bias against the Italian language. When he finds a resident that speaks German, Fabri asks why Valscian is called as such, which highlights Fabri’s interest in language and the meaning and history behind the name. In telling the history of Valscian, the man from Valscian tells Fabri that the name ‘Valscian’ translates to ‘the dry valley’ and details how the valley had been filled with water in ancient times. The recounting of Valscian’s history reveals that there are iron rings to moor ships on the sides of the mountains surrounding the valley, which illustrates the level of water previously in it and how the culture and uses of the valley have changed over time. Fabri specifically writes that he gains a greater understanding of the local geography from the townsperson’s story, but words it in a way that makes it seem as if he is giving himself all of the credit for discovering this revolutionary fact that the townsperson just told him: “[f]rom this story [Fabri] was able to note that all the valleys in these mountains which trend towards the sea were once full of water, and were channels leading into the Mediterranean Sea, even as now happens in lands close to the sea, as [Fabri had] said before” (17).  By seeming to give himself the credit for making this connection, Fabri places himself above the townsperson in intellect or possibly just ignores the role of the townsperson in general to focus on himself. In the next sentence, Fabri writes that the “Germans call Valscian In der Burg,” reestablishing the role of Germany and the German people in his recount and in the identity of the town, even though Valscian is in Italy and should probably therefore be called by its Italian name (17-18). Including a brief statement about why Germans call the town In der Burg, Fabri reasserts his interest in the histories and names of places. Alternatively, it could be argued that Fabri is comparing the history and relevancy of each name, although the connotation of his descriptive phrase about the history of the German name In der Burg comes off as fairly neutral. From his added tangent of the reason behind Germans calling Valscian In der Burg, Fabri includes more geographic information about the Vascian: “there are two castles overlooking the town, and the town lies within the castle wall,” which highlights his interest in the physical and geographic aspects of location (18).

The Book of the Wanderings of Felix Fabri: Feltre

Felix Fabri describes the town of Feltre, Italy in the account of his second pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In his writing, Fabri explains that his party only wanted to pass through Feltre, but ended up being detained for a day due to the weather. Most of the account of Feltre focuses on the effects of the weather on their travel, the people of the inn Fabri’s party stayed in, and the general layout of and a brief explanation of the history of the town.

Fabri’s party experienced heavy rains on their journey and planned to stop at Felte for a few hours, or until the rain stopped. Fabri recounts with annoyance, however, that the rain instead grew worse, and they had no choice but to stay. Even now, it is undesirable to drive through heavy rain, so it makes sense that the weather would be such a cause of delay in their plans. Upon a break in the storm, Fabri’s party left Feltre and rode on despite the “rising waters,” “swift rivers,” and overflowing torrent beds that made travel extremely dangerous. Their insistence to travel despite the overwhelming danger of post-storm conditions reflects the serious nature of their purpose for journey; Fabri’s party was willing to risk dangerous conditions to complete their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Fabri writes that staying in the inn in Feltre longer than absolutely necessary was “disagreeable” due to the landlord, landlady, and household.  As it was an inn in Italy, everyone except Fabri’s party only spoke Italian. His annoyance at the language barrier seems strange because all of the blame is placed on the local people. He does not place the blame on his party for not knowing Italian when they knew they would be traveling through Italy for a while, but focuses on the fact that the local people do not speak his foreign language that they have little reason to know. This misplaced annoyance reveals the Fabri’s ego; he expects to be accommodated. This annoyance is not only placed on the language barrier, but also on the landlord, landlady, and household’s lack of knowledge on how to serve nobility and the proper materials to serve them “with proper respect.” Again, the people of the inn should not be expected to know how to serve German nobility property since they are not German and it is assumed that they do not serve nobility in general often, if at all. Fabri puts himself on a pedestal as a compassionate and understanding man because he realized that they were “good, simple people, and did all that they could” and wrote that because of this, he was more considerate than the lordships’ servants. Through these comments, Fabri’s demonstrates his condescending and ‘holier than thou’ attitude towards both the people of the inn and the lordships’ servants, which tells us more about his mentality and personality.

During their stay in Feltre, Fabri’s party attended Mass at the local church. Their insistence to brave the continued bad weather for their religion again shows their dedication to it. After Mass, they viewed the town of Feltre. Fabri tells of its history as a town built by Antenor to defend the mountain country, telling a short story in his usual romanticized fashion, and comments on the town’s geographical layout. In regards to the contents of the city, Fabri only wrote that it has old buildings, a bishop, and monasteries, which fits with the theme of his focus on religion.

Felix Fabri’s account of the town of Feltre reveals how he thinks about himself in relation to others, his dedication to his religious purpose, and the effect of weather on medieval travelers.

The Book of the Wanderings of Felix Fabri (Circa 1480-1483): Botzen

Felix Fabri describes his Botzen, now modern-day Bolzano, Italy, in the accounts of each of his pilgrimages to Jerusalem. His second account, however, describes the town in much more detail. Fabri focuses his second description on the people and culture of Bolzano, mainly on their tendency to be “sinful, given to drunkenness, luxury, and pride beyond measure” and so often overcome with fever symptoms that it ceases to be considered an illness (13). Interested in the ethnic composition of the town as well, Fabri notes that the majority of its citizens, as of a few years prior, were Italian, making the common language Italian, but that Botzen is now a German town. Commenting on the relationship of the people to their buildings, Fabri highlights that the town had recently almost entirely burned, a recurring incident that left many displaced, with more expensive buildings being constructed in the ruins.

Fabri’s group only stayed in Botzen for one night, the 20th of April , before continuing on their journey. They arrived after dinner on the 20th and left after dinner on the 21st. Fabri mentions that Botzen’s wine is “especially good” and “all fruits are sweet” there, but does not mention what they ate at the monastery or elsewhere (13).

To explain the cause of the widespread fever symptoms, Fabri explains that mountains on one side of the town block the “fresh wholesome air” so that the wind only comes from the nearby “pestilent marshes,” thus briefly describing the terrain of Botzen (13).

The climate of Botzen is described through Fabri’s telling of his previous visit with a friend. The friend jokes that the town must be the coldest town in the world to cause such widespread fever symptoms, but Fabri replies that it may be one of the warmest in actuality. A dry and hot climate would explain the widespread fires, too.

Some of the most interesting details of this account are revealed when Fabri describes the religious buildings, such as the monasteries and churches that were not touched by the flames, “as though by a miracle” (12). It is slightly confusing as to why Fabri refrains from directly calling the event a miracle, even though he readily tells the story of how the convent dormitory roof was saved from being devoured by flames when the Prior “called upon the Blessed Virgin for help” and accepts that the fire was caused by the “vengeance of Heaven” on the sinful town (13). Obviously, he fully believes in the interference of divine power in the town, so his reaction is a bit out of character.

It’s interesting to think that the constantly changing ethnic composition of Botzen and how it seems to directly influence which district and nation the town is considered part of. Fabri says that it was initially Italian, then switched to a German town. That shift caused the Botzen’s convent to switch from belonging to the province of St. Dominic to belonging to Fabri’s province. Since Botzen is now part of Italy again, it would be interesting to revisit the religious affiliations of the town.

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