Monday, April 10, 2006

The Book of Wanderings

3 years ago I was researching for my dissertation, (The Knights of St. John, 1453-1566: A Mediaeval Hangover? since you ask,) when in between looking for Hospitallers and mediaeval porn I came across - not literally - "The Book of Wanderings of Brother Felix Fabri." Procrastination immediately set in, so I read it. And boy is it some read. Or it is to me. Brother Felix was a Dominican monk from Ulm in Germany who went on a pilgrimage not once, but twice to the Holy Land. Woohoo I hear you say, what's so special about that? Well, the first pilgrimage is in 1480 and the second is in 1483. Pilgrimage was one of the most dangerous things you could undertake. The chances of snuffing it were incredibly high, whether through disease, accident, or murder, not to mention the high risk of robbery or being taken as a slave by the dreaded Turk. This incredible man was one of the best selling authors of his day. His writings were principally for his Dominican Brothers who were unable to make the journey. He deliberately structured his account so that there was a chapter a month and a paragraph a day. Through this we get an incredibly vibrant account of his journey, which gives us a feel for the man, his hopes, his fears, his prejudices and his humanity. One thing that really struck me was the similarities with the world today, especially the current conflict with the War on Terror and the poor relationship between the Christian and Muslim world. Of course he is a biased writer, but what really hit me is the false pride we have in ourselves and our society. We think we have come so far, that we are above barbarity. I fear we are far closer to the dark side of our nature than we would like to admit. If you read this account, why not use it as a mirror to hold up to yourself and your friends and family as much as anything else. And don't worry about doing it either, History has always been used this way, even if its just on a subconscious level.

What I would have loved to have done with this would have been to have reconstructed Felix's exact journey in a documentary, so we could directly contrast modern and mediaeval. But as its never likely to happen, why not take the journey with me in your minds. I'm going to go from his account of his second journey as its a fuller description. But there are a few choice snippets from the first that I really have to throw in along the way. His account starts from the 13th of April, 1483. (Yes, this is the Julian calendar, but lets not get hung up about this.) Over the next two days I'll provide his introduction to his journey, and then post a paragraph a day, so you can check in as you go and see where dear old Felix is now and what the hell has happened to him this time. Its entertaining. I promise.

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