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  • A New Look at the Itinerarium Burdigalense1
  • Laurie Douglass (bio)

The anonymous Itinerarium Burdigalense, the Bordeaux itinerary, 2 dated 333 of the common era, is the earliest surviving Christian account of travel to what came to be known as the Holy Land. 3 It lists over three hundred stops and cities between Bordeaux and Jerusalem, and back, via [End Page 313] Rome, to Milan, 4 and includes a thicker mid-section which describes places listed in the Bible that could be seen in and around Jerusalem.

The itinerary includes no details that suggest that this trip was extraordinary, or even dangerous. 5 Infrequently, geographic features are individualized as landmarks, and only some half dozen places outside of Judea have any sort of explanatory description which could be categorized as cultural markers. 6 This paucity of detail may suggest that this document does not have much to say. Yet because the itinerary depends in part upon the use of measurable source material—in this case, Holy Scripture and the lands traversed between western France and the eastern shores of the Mediterranean—it says quite a bit to readers who gauge what has been mentioned in this document against what could have been mentioned, but was not.

As the earliest extant account of European Christian pilgrimage in Palestine, this document has generally been studied either as a sort of ground zero for analysis of the development of Christian pilgrimage to places mentioned in the Bible, 7 or as a source for data about overland [End Page 314] travel in the Mediterranean world in late antiquity. 8 Hypotheses about the Bordeaux itinerary have begun with the premise that it was prepared for western Christians who wished to travel to the holy sites in Palestine, 9 and that the pilgrim recorded all that there was to see. 10 Yet the document itself seems to belie the full sweep of this supposition; for if what is reported in the itinerary is all that there was to see, how can one explain the silences? Was there nothing to see in Milan, in Constantinople, in Antioch, in Rome, or in the other cities through which the pilgrim passed? Although silence is a dangerously elusive textual element, what is recorded in this document suggests the eloquence of what is not. These silences make what is reported appear in higher relief. Certain categories emerge which seem to indicate characteristic ways in which the Bordeaux traveller particularizes place; some may even suggest that this anonymous traveller was a woman. 11

Overall, my intention is to illumine some unnoticed aspects of this document. Among the elements in this itinerary which, as far as I have been able to determine, have not been discussed before is a suggestion of the Bordeaux pilgrim’s familiarity with Palm Sunday liturgical practice in Jerusalem several decades before Egeria’s well-known account (see page 327). Other elements I have noticed in the itinerary may also be significant, even if no definitive conclusions can be drawn from them. Thus, to [End Page 315] suggest that the Bordeaux itinerary was not written as a guidebook for other travellers to the Holy Land may not add anything to our understanding of the text itself. Yet the same suggestion encourages a shift of attention to the writer that can engender further reflection on the phenomenon and experience of travel and Christian pilgrimage in late antiquity.

What is This Document?

A. Its Form

Although the Bordeaux itinerary was circulated, copied, and bound with both geographic and monastic texts, 12 it is not a treatise on geography or eremitic life. Instead, it appears to be a personal document, written (probably underway) for the traveller’s own use. Most of it is like a verbal map organized by division into units determined by pairs of important stopping points, 13 with the route from one side of the unit to the other marked by “changes,” “halts,” and “cities” (each one listed as mutatio, mansio, or civitas). 14 This passage is linear, from point to point to point, and traverse is emphasized, not the traveller. Yet, although the itinerary’s compactness suggests that it would be handy for reference on the road and...

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pp. 313-333
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