Egeria, one of the earliest documented Christian pilgrims, visited the most important destinations of pilgrimage in the eastern Mediterranean between 381 and 384 AD. She wrote an account of her travels, which is among the earliest descriptions of pilgrimage travel to the Holy Land and beyond.
We do not know much about the identity of Egeria. She most probably lived in the western part of the Roman Empire, perhaps in the region of Galicia, in modern Spain. Some scholars, however, prefer the southern region of modern France as her place of origin.
Egeria described her travels in one or two letters, which she addressed to her "sorores" (Latin for "sisters") back home. Those who interpret the word “sisters” as referring to members of a religious society also accept that Egeria may have been a nun. But it is equally probable that Egeria used the term to address her Christian acquaintances. Egeria’s capability to make a long and expensive journey by herself, her numerous acquaintances in the places she visited and her education indicate her middle or upper class wealthy background. This is further confirmed by her strong interest for the sites and monuments and not only for the related traditions as well as about details of the Christian liturgy.
Egeria visited most of the Christian pilgrimage centers in the Eastern Mediterranean of the 4th century AD. Her itinerary has been reconstructed on the basis of the surviving parts of her travel log, information gathered together from the travel accounts of other pilgrims (for example, the pilgrim of Bordeaux who undertook a similar pilgrimage before Egeria) and references to her trip by later writers who quote from her work, such as the anonymous compiler of a glossary of the 8th or 9th century and Peter the Deacon who wrote in the 12th century.
The preserved parts of Egeria’s account refer to one of her two trips to Sinai in modern Egypt, her return to Palestine via Souez, her various travels to biblical sites within the territory of modern Israel – P.N.A., inlcuding detailed desciptions of Jerusalem, her excursions to Antioche and Edessa and her return trip to Constantinople by travelling through modern Turkey.
Egeria provides us with a rich description of many pilgrimage monuments and sites, her encounters with monks and members of the clergy and the so-called Jerusalem liturgy, namely, the church services she witnessed in the city, which became most influential in the development of Christian liturgy all over the world.
The re-discovery of Egeria’s Travels
The text about the travels of Egeria was lost for about seven hundred years. Only the middle part of Egeria's letter has been preserved in a manuscript known today as Itinerarium Egeriae or The Travels of Egeria. This manuscript is part of the Codex Aretinus VI, 3. In 1884, the Italian scholar Gian Francesco Gamurrini discovered Codex Aretinus in the monastic library of S. Maria in Arezzo in Tuscany. The script of the Codex indicates that the text was copied in the area of Monte Cassino between the 9th and 12th century.