Month: March 2022 (Page 2 of 8)

The Book of Margery Kempe: Jerusalem

When Margery Kempe finally made it to Jerusalem, she is overcome with joy. She, “arrived on an ass- she thanked God with all her heart, praying him for his mercy that, just as he had brought her to see this earthly city of Jerusalem, he would grant her grace to see the blissful city of Jerusalem above, the city of heaven” (Kempe 103). She nearly fell off of the donkey she was riding because she was so overcome with how the Lord had blessed her soul.  She visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the place of the Lord’s Passion (The Mount of Calvary). Again, Margery was so moved by the Lord’s compassion that she wept and wailed as if she felt as though she should have suffered too. She received communion at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and saw the grave where Mary was buried. She says the Our Lady spoke to her soul, reassuring her that she will receive more grace than she will know what to do with from Jesus and people will be in awe of her. She jumps around a lot in this section, talks about crying in Rome and England, before returning back to her story about her time in Jerusalem. She compares and contrasts her crying in Jerusalem to her crying in these other places. Margery then continued to Bethlehem where her pilgrimage continued.

Margery finally makes it to Jerusalem! After enduring so many hardships of being abandoned several times and falling ill, Margery arrives in Jerusalem. She is over joyed and amazed to be there and continues her crying and wailing at each site she visits. Arguably, this is one of the most important moments for Margery because she is so devout. Witnessing the places like the place of the Lord’s passion and the Virgin Mary’s burial site is incredibly moving and overwhelming for her. Margery writes a lot about how what she is doing and justifies it by saying that she will see make it to heaven. Ever time she is abandoned throughout her journey or gets judged by others for her wailing, she justifies it by saying that they don’t know that she knows and that she will go to heaven after she dies. This is reinforced by her supposed conversation with Mary while she is at Mary’s burial site when Mary tells her that she will be blessed with grace and that she will see the “blissful city of Jerusalem above, the city of heaven.” This is very revealing of Margery’s goal- to get to heaven. She is only concerned with where her soul will go after she dies that she doesn’t care what other people think of her. She seems to think that everyone else is lesser than her because they don’t understand. This is why she insists on eating alone and constantly wailing. The public display of devotion, she seems certain, will guarantee her  a spot in heaven. This pilgrimage to Jerusalem is yet another obvious and public action of devotion, proving her piety over and over again.

The Book of Wanderings of Felix Fabri: The Port of Joppa (Travel Annotation #4)

Felix Fabri begins his description of his time at The Port of Joppa with its extensive historical, mythical, and religious significance. He details the Greek tale of Andromeda, her romantic entanglement with Perseus, and the sea monster he saves her from before he swipes her off to Persia. He also explains Joppa’s ties to Biblical figures and affairs, noting that Noah’s son Japhet and Job are associated with the land. Overall, Fabri’s description of the Port of Joppa serves to explain its poor condition. Because of its extensive history of hosting violent, destructive events, the port remains in ruin upon Felix Fabri’s arrival.

Throughout the rest of this section, Felix Fabri details the process of retrieving an “ass-driver” for travel, which is very similar to that of catching a cab in a busy city, besides the grabbing of the passenger that takes place in Fabri’s case. Felix Fabri discusses his good fortune in interaction with Saracens and their workers, saying that he always received favored treatment from all the people he encountered during his time in Joppa. 

Despite this section of his account being one of the most uninteresting and uneventful, Felix Fabri’s intentions are clear. He wants his readers to understand his exceptionalism, which he believes is God-provided. Such exceptionalism is a clear contrast to that which he experienced in The Holy Land, where he was extorted, robbed, and uncomfortably settled. 

Again, Felix Fabri presents an interaction he has with a “black” person, but this time he is more gracious about his description of him, as he is reassured by Father Guardian that the moor is just doing his job when he grabs Felix Fabri to lead him to an ass. Fabri says that the black man’s face “had a cruel look,” but he goes on to learn the man’s name, and he learns that the man is enslaved by another individual. Felix Fabri and Cassa grow fond of one another, so much so that when they meet again they grab one another to embrace. Felix Fabri’s treatment of this particular black person strongly contrasts that which he provided for the Ethiopians in The Holy Land. Granted, the Ethiopian burglars invaded his private space in hopes of stealing his property, but to see that Fabri’s recount of the black moor is not dehumanizing comes as a surprise. 

The Book of John Mandeville: Tartary and Prussia

In chapter twelve, Mandeville presents a route to Jerusalem that does not take travelers by sea at all, instead allowing them to travel entirely by land. He claims that this route is “extremely long and dangerous and so full of hardships” that people generally take a different route (61). The hardships he describes come primarily when travelers reach Tartary and Prussia, and take the form of terrain, weather, and the people one might meet there. In Tartary, he describes both the people and the environment as “wretched,” claiming that it is an infertile land with very little agricultural potential and “no wine, no beans, no pulses” (61). There are a lot of animals, however, and Mandeville says that the people there eat all kinds of meat, from cats and rats and mice and other wild animals (61). He describes the weather as different extremes, either extremely cold or extremely hot, with “gales and thunderstorms” in the summer “which kill a large number of people and many animals” (61). In Prussia and the other areas surrounding Tartary, Mandeville focuses on the environment and its hazards, explaining that it is hard to travel through this area unless the seas are completely frozen. However, while the extreme cold allows travelers to cross rivers more easily when they are frozen, it presents other challenges, such as making areas uninhabitable and forcing travelers to carry all the provisions they will need until they reach the next habitable place (61-62).

Based on his description of Tartary, Prussia, and the surrounding areas, Mandeville seems unaccustomed to harsher environments where food does not grow easily and temperatures are more extreme. His description of the food that is and is not available reveals what he kinds of food he is used to; he makes the point that there isn’t any wine, beans, or pulses (part of the legume family), and he sees eating meat from cats, rats, and mice as unusual and perhaps even uncivilized, as he follows this observation with the claim “they are extremely wretched people and have a wicked nature” (61). Mandeville is most concerned with the agricultural potential of the land and the diets of the people there; he does not see them as substantial enough, seeming to be concerned about a lack of resources when he says “Princes and other gentlemen eat only once each day, and a very small amount at that” (61). He is also very judgmental towards the people who live in this area, describing them and their habits as wretched; he also warns travelers about the journey between Prussia and “the habitable lands of the Saracens,” saying that local spies will alert people when they see Christian travelers arriving in order to take them captive (62).


(pp. 61-62)

The Wanderings of Felix Fabri: The Landing of the Pilgrims from the Galley, and Their Entrance into the Holy Land (Travel Annotation #3)

This section of Felix Fabri’s account discusses his and the other pilgrims’ experiences, both positive and negative, during their time spent in The Holy Land. His description begins with their arrival in The Holy Land, which they all revere as “sacred earth” worthy of their kisses and adoration. Felix Fabri claims that their mere contact with The Holy Land grants him absolute remission of sin, and he says that “where there is a double cross, it means a plenary indulgence remitting both penance and sin…” Felix Fabri goes on to describe the difficulty the Saracens experienced when attempting to pronounce his name, saying that even an Italian-speaking Saracen could not properly pronounce the name ‘Felix.’ Fabri then recounts his stay in St. Peter’s Cellars, which he ultimately describes as extremely unpleasant. According to Fabri, the cellars were filthy and smelled rancid, but he copes with the poor living conditions by imagining what Jesus would say in response to a pilgrim’s bickering about such living conditions. Ultimately, he concludes that if Jesus could live his entire life as an outcast in unpleasant living conditions, a mere pilgrim should not expect or be entitled to anything better. He then recounts the arrival of merchants to the cellars, all of which sold pleasant fragrances and cleaning products that could be used to improve the cleanliness of his abode.

Despite its new-found cleanliness, however, St. Peter’s Cellars were unprotected and provided an entryway for anyone who wanted to enter for whatever reason. As a result of this, Felix Fabri and his roommates were extorted by an individual whom they believed was the land’s owner, but whose true identity remains unproven.

Felix Fabri goes on to describe other events that occurred during his time in The Holy Land, and he ends his account with a violent encounter that leaves him hostage in his cave for an entire day.

In this section, Felix Fabri makes fewer references to the Bible, biblical stories or other tales, presumably because he experienced many things whose descriptions are more enticing to his audience. This leads me to believe that much of Felix Fabri’s biblical rambling found throughout his account is used as filler in scenarios in which he did not have much experiential description to offer to his readers.

The double cross concept he mentions when describing his arrival in The Holy Land is confusing. Are the crosses he speaks of the same crosses that are used for crucifixion throughout the Bible? If so, does Felix Fabri actually witness posts of the same exact crosses that were used to crucify biblical figures, or do the people of Felix Fabri’s time continue the practice of crucifying criminals?

Felix Fabri’s disdain for black people is evident in his vile description of the Ethiopian intruders who enter his cave. He describes these particular intruders as “mischievous and vicious,” and he says that “they sat down before the door and sang all night long–howling, barking, and grunting like beasts, dogs, and pigs.” These are the only intruders whom Felix Fabri likens to animals. This description is comparable to the description of the extortionist, whom he describes as a “(hu)man” bearing arms, and he even assumes that he rules over the land upon which they were staying.

Was the term “Ethiopian” used to describe all people of African heritage, regardless of their country of origin?

Ibn Fadlān and the Land of Darkness: The Bāshghirds

The description of the Bāshghirds is one of the shortest in Fadlān’s account and in it he focuses on violence, war, and religion. The first thing he says about these people is that they “took every precaution against them, for they are the worst of the Turks, the dirtiest and the readiest to kill” (23). He discusses three different religious sects within the Bāshghirds, which could all be considered different “clans” (24). The first carry around wooden phalluses that they pray to for thigs such as, in Fadlān’s example, protection or luck on a journey or when they run into an enemy. When Fadlān asks why they pray to this kind of idol the answer he receives is that they “came from such a thing and cannot imagine anything else to be [their] creator” (24). This supports the idea that physicality is important to this group, as well as the idea that creation and protection go hand in hand. The role of masculinity in this society could be easily extrapolated from this information. The second clan that Fadlān describes view the world as being ruled by twelve different lords that control the season, day and night, men, horses, etc. He comments that the lord of the sky is the most powerful, but that “he is in concord with the others, so that each approves what his companion does” (24). This describes a very organized, democratic religion which could host a detailed understanding of how the world works based on the interactions of the domains of each lord. It might suggest that this clan has democratic government, too, but Fadlān fails to comment on it. He ends his description with a quote from the Quran that, in this context, is very dismissive of other religious beliefs and this value judgment makes them seem silly in comparison. Finally, Fadlān mentions three clans that worship snakes, fish, and cranes, respectively. The crane worshipping clan shares the story of how they accepted the cranes as a deity, saying that when they were going to be defeated by some enemies “the cranes began to give their call behind their opponents. Their enemy was frightened and turned and fled” (24). As with the first clan, it seems that protection is very important to this group. Unlike the clan that worships many lords, Fadlān does not say anything negative about the more monotheistic groups he describes. He simply says things like, “and they worship them for that reason” (24). This gives the impression that monotheistic religions are more palatable for Fadlān. However, he does call all these people “the worst of the Turks,” so the respect is limited. The first thing Fadlān reports is the violent, war-like tendencies of the Bāshghirds before giving more specific religious information about them. It could be that he is scoping out possible northern allies and providing information pertaining to how their religion comparing to Islam to give the caliph an idea about how their working relationship could work or how hard it would be to convert them. Though, this seems unlikely since this section is so short and lacks a lot of information. It may be that Fadlān thought it would be amusing to share this religious information, especially polytheistic example.  


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