Egeria the Pilgrim
Egeria was a late fourth century woman who recorded a detailed account of her experiences & discoveries on her pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
A Christian pilgrimage was an opportunity to “see and touch the sacred”. Early Christians believed that journeying to holy places would give them an encounter of divine power.
Egeria’s Itinerary was discovered in 1884 in an Italian monastery. It included descriptions of the Holy Land as well as details of the liturgical year at the time. Her writings have been an invaluable resource to understand how the earliest Christians created rhythms of worship and valued sacraments, community and liturgy, church order and roles for women and men.
On Egeria’s journey many who had authority such as local bishops welcomed her, and engaged in theological debate and conversation. Scholars believe Egeria was a part of a group of monastic women who lived and studied the scriptures together.
Egeria’s work broke new ground as literature that fits in with the historical genre of “itinerary” but with the addition of Christianity. “Itineraries” were used by the Roman government to record facts such as topography, roads, water sources, towns and distances. Egeria’s readers would have been familiar with this kind of writing and understood it as a guide to better understand Christian life and remain connected to the Holy Land.
This is significant because historically scholars have tended to look at women’s writings as only existing for personal reflection but Egeria’s Itinerary proves otherwise. Women were writers of officially recognized documents who researched, wrote and gave personal testimony to their own experiences for the use of the developing church.
Egeria used her agency and education to take on a multi-year pilgrimage to discover authentic truths of her faith and recorded findings for those unable to take the journey for themselves.
Her work empowered and established further confidence in the truth of the Bible for those of her time and for centuries after her, influencing the writings of monastics and nuns into the medieval period and beyond.
1. Lynn H. Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes. Christian Women in the Patristic World: Their Influence, Authority, and Legacy in the Second through Fifth Centuries. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, 130.
2. Cohick & Hughes. Christian Women, 130.
3. Cohick & Hughes. Christian Women, 140.
4. Barbara J. MacHaffie. Her Story: Women in Christian Tradition. 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2006),30.
5. Machaffie. “Her Story”. 30.
6. Cohick & Hughes. “Christian Women”, 153.