- Inflamed with Seraphic Ardor: Franciscan Learning and Spirituality in the Fourteenth-Century Irish Pilgrimage Account
In March 1323 two Franciscan friars, Simon Semeonis and Hugo Illuminator “inflamed with seraphic ardor” left Ireland to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, having attended the provincial chapter in Clonmel in October the previous year. 1They sailed across the Irish Sea, and travelled via London, “the most famous and wealthy city under the sun” to Canterbury, where they venerated the relics of Thomas Becket. In France having made their way through Amiens and Paris, they travelled down the Saone and the Rhone. From there they passed through the mountainous area of Lombardy to Bobbio, where “reposes the body of the blessed Irish abbot Columbanus,” and then went to Padua and Venice. From Venice they traversed through Dalmatia and sailed to Crete and Alexandria, which they reached in October. When they [End Page 283] travelled up the Nile to Cairo, they saw exotic animals, crocodiles, elephants and giraffes, and admired a chicken farm. It was here in Cairo that Hugo died, and the grief-stricken Simon continued his journey. Simon’s account of the Holy Land is incomplete in its surviving format and it breaks at the description of Jerusalem. Simon was back in Cairo in February 1324 as may be gathered from passing references. He most probably visited Rome on his return journey.
This paper places the text of Simon Semeonis’s Itinerarium in the context of a Franciscan intellectual and spiritual tradition. Firstly, by discussing the surviving copy of the text, it suggests its possible means of transmission as well as its significance as being representative of a particular genre. Secondly, by looking at references to literary sources, the paper illustrates how travelling friars acted as important agents in the transfer of cultural ideas, including those on Islam. Finally, through an analysis of the references to Bonaventure in Simon’s Itinerarium, the paper argues that the Irish friar was not only familiar with the Legenda maior, but used the text in a nuanced and creative manner to convey his attitude to the Franciscan vows of obedience and poverty, that were hotly debated amongst the friars at that time.
This colorful, though incomplete description of the friars’ journey survives in a manuscript preserved in the Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 407. The codex also includes two other Franciscan travel texts: an account of a mission to the Mongols by William of Rubruck, a Flemish friar who went East between 1253–55 at the instigation of King Louis IX, and a very popular Itinerarium of friar Odoric of Pordenone describing his missionary travels to Tartary, between 1314/18–1329, compiled sometime before Odoric’s death in 1331.2 Each of the three itineraries in MS 407 is [End Page 284] written in a different hand and bound in a separate collection of quires, suggesting that originally they were copied as individual texts.3
What brought these three texts together into a single codex would not only have been their Franciscan origin, but more than likely the manuscript’s owner’s interest in each text’s detailed description of both places and people. From the Irish friar’s wonderment at the sight of Paris as the place of moral and theological virtues, or the wonderfully woven silk clothes worn by Cairo inhabitants, to Rubruck’s feeling that he was “entering some other world” as he arrived at the encampment of the Mongol Great Khan, to Odoric’s descriptions of Hinduism and Buddhism, the three authors shared [End Page 285] interests in new sites, customs and beliefs.4 The arrangement of the three narratives in the Cambridge manuscript presents the reader with a description of the areas gradually removed farther and farther from the center of the Latinitas. The three authors wrote polemically about non-Latin Christians or non-Christians, and they were acutely aware of the challenges of a culturally and religiously diverse society, in which they themselves had to function.5 The alien places and [End Page 286] people they encountered are described with a great attention to detail, but their wonderment...