Item 34, The Stations of Jerusalem: Introduction


1 Campbell, “Object of One’s Gaze,” p. 12.

2 Lines shared by both accounts include lines 104, 143–44, 357–58, 371–72, 421–22, 467–70, and 485–96 of the Ashmole 61 text; see Wey’s Itineraries, pp. 9–12. But the two texts differ in too many respects for one to be a revision of the other.

3 Howard, Writers and Pilgrims, p. 38.

4 This text’s most unusual (though not unique) treatment of medieval Jerusalem is its appraisal of the various clergy who sing Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Felix Fabri often engages in this sort of cultural commentary, but it appears less frequently in other pilgrimage texts.

5 Kempe, Book of Margery Kempe, pp. 81–82.

6 For these practices, see the chapters by Morris and Duffy in Davidson and Dunn-Wood, Pilgrimage in the Middle Ages. The shrine at Walsingham, with its replica of the Virgin’s house, was only the most famous of the numerous sites throughout England that were based on simulacra.

7 The NIMEV entry incorrectly suggests that an edition of The Stations of Jerusalem appears in EETS o.s. 212 and does not list Horstmann’s edition.

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Item 34, The Stations of Jerusalem: Introduction

Origin, Genre, and Themes

Christian pilgrims had toured the sites of the Holy Land in the early centuries of the Church and throughout the following millennium, but the fifteenth century may have marked the high tide of pilgrimage traffic. It was certainly a golden age for writing about pilgrimage in Latin and most of the European vernaculars. This increased interest in pil­grimage derived from the deepening of lay piety (thus enlarging the pool of potential pilgrims), the longing for the Holy Land following the end of the Crusades, and the establishment of a sophisticated industry based on transporting, sup­plying, host­ing, and guiding pilgrims. This industry, dom­inated by Venice and the Franciscan order, made travel to the Holy Land possible for pilgrims of only modest wealth. While the journey remained a dangerous, exhausting, and often deadly affair, individual pilgrims found well-established networks of support at every stage.

The Stations of Jerusalem is a witness to the standardization of the Jerusalem pilgrimage in the fifteenth century. It describes what Mary Campbell has called a “pointillistic collection of officially administered sites,” a standard set of ports, sites, and biblical episodes to be reimag­ined; it resembles a list more than a fluid narrative account.1 The text is probably a revision of one or more guides to the Holy Land, and in places it closely resem­bles the Middle English verse account in William Wey’s manuscript, now Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Bodley 565. Wey was a fellow of Eton College who went to Jeru­salem twice in the fifteenth century and left accounts of his journeys in both Latin and English. The Mid­dle English verse in his manu­script may not be his, and in any case it is not a direct source for the text here, though many couplets and phrases are identical.2 The most likely explan­ation is that the two texts share a common ancestor, a Middle English text no longer ex­tant. But the interchangeable nature of many of the Latin and vernacular texts on this subject makes the question of source essentially irrelevant. Many mention nearly the same list of sites, relics, indulgences, biblical and apocryphal anec­dotes, and sentiments, with variation primarily in the order and scope of the list. These lists may have derived from texts used or distributed by the Franciscan guides in the Holy Land.

As these close resemblances between different texts suggest, most pilgrimage accounts (including this one) do not imagine the trip to the Holy Land as a subjective experience that differed widely between individuals. In some respects, the standard­ization of the pilgrimage routes and the limitations imposed by the Mamluk overlords of the region ensured that pilgrimages were indeed very similar (aside from the crucial but random afflictions of weather, war, thievery, and disease). Nor was this likely to be seen as a problem; as a ritual, pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land was meant to follow set patterns of prayer, reverence, confession, and the receiving of indulgences. The Sta­tions of Jerusalem uses the past tense to describe the trip as an event, but the frequent first person “we” also suggests an impersonal detachment: these are the holy sites and they can be seen by anyone in exactly the ways described here. The text could conceivably be the product of someone who had no direct experience of the Holy Land at all.

Several more famous texts do indeed describe the pilgrimage as an intensely per­sonal experience, or display a precision of detail that departs markedly from the patterns described here. The pilgrimage described in The Book of Margery Kempe involves as much inward contem­plation as outward ritual, and even though Margery was hardly an average pilgrim, her account may preserve something of the way many pilgrims actually exper­ienced the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and other important sites. The remarkable writings of Felix Fabri, a fifteenth-century German Dominican, demonstrate how a curious, perceptive pilgrim might approach the trip; however, Felix’s dedication was even more unusual than Margery’s piety. Donald Howard is surely right to call him “the Proust of the genre.”3

The Stations of Jerusalem presents a fairly standard route, beginning in Venice, with stops in the Venetian-held ports of the Adriatic and eastern Mediterranean, and landing in Joppa. From there pilgrims rode overland to Jerusalem and arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which had been built up since the fourth century on what was be­lieved to be the site of Jesus’ burial and Resurrection. After discussing many of the sites and religious practices within the church itself, the text then moves around the city of Jeru­salem in a roughly clockwise direction. The tour starts in the northeastern corner, where the Temple Mount (and the Muslim Dome of the Rock, forbidden to Christians) was located, and leaves the city walls to visit the sites in the Kedron Valley (the “Vale of Jehosephat”) and then moves on to the Mount of Olives, east of the city. From there the text moves south and then turns west to reenter the city and ascend towards Mount Zion, site of a Franciscan church built on the supposed location of the Last Supper. Finally, the account then tours the sites to the south, east, and northeast of Jerusalem (Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Jericho, the Jordan river, etc.) before its pious conclusion.

Though this route has a basis in the topography of the real Jerusalem as a pilgrim would find it, The Stations of Jerusalem is only occasionally concerned with the realities of the medieval Holy Land.4 Instead, it charts a textual Holy Land comprised of biblical episodes and apocryphal legends (particularly of the Virgin Mary). Each site prompts the recollection of a biblical passage, and the route of the Passion is described with frequent quotation of the gospels. When the account reaches Bethlehem and considers the image of Mary and the Christ Child, it includes a miniature Marian lyric. The other surviving copy of this text, in S, goes even further, inserting a lengthy section of Lydgate’s Life of Our Lady.

Just how a text like this one might be used remains uncertain; it is obviously not a practical guidebook in the manner of William Wey’s Middle English prose text or the Infor­mation for Pilgrims, which discusses currency exchange, precautions against theft and ill­ness, and even offers useful Greek and Arabic phrases. Indeed, texts like this one might not have been used by pilgrims at all, and certainly many who read it would never make the demanding trip to the Holy Land. For those readers, it offered an imaginary tour as a spiritual exercise, another approach to contemplating biblical episodes, legendary events, and the stages of the Passion. In The Book of Margery Kempe, Christ promises Mar­gery that she will receive the same pardon for worshipping the sites of his Passion in her mind as she received for worshipping them in situ.5 This seems to have been an excep­tional privilege, but readers could also visit one of the replicas of the Holy Sepulcher or the “image” relics (i.e., paintings and simulacra) that bestow­ed similar indulgences on those who traveled to them.6 The Stations of Jerusalem might allow a devout reader to conjure up the absent Holy Land within the bounds of her parish. Though workmanlike and largely devoid of literary flourish, this text might thus contribute to the medieval Church’s increasingly flexible understanding of pilgrimage.

Manuscript Context

The Stations of Jerusalem shares some obvious connections with other narratives located in the Holy Land, including The Northern Passion and The Legend of the Resurrection (items 28 and 36). All three texts work to create a sense of intimacy with the events of the Passion and the biblical world, and all three rely extensively on the vast apoc­ryphal literature that supplements the canonical books of the Bible. Many of the other texts in Ashmole 61 con­cern the duties of daily worship (prayer, attendance at Mass, etc.); the pilgrimage to the Holy Land marked a lifetime’s devotion.

Though The Stations of Jerusalem would seem to have little in common with the romances of Ashmole 61, the titular hero of Sir Isumbras (item 5) undertakes a pilgrimage as a peniten­tial act, and the high point in his recovery is a victory over the Saracens and the recovery of the Holy Land. That fantasy appears here at the tombs of Baldwin and Godfrey of Boulogne, where the narrator wistfully hopes for two more such crusading heroes (lines 375–80).


The Stations of Jerusalem survives in only one other manuscript, S. The text appears there amidst fifteenth-century devotional works as well as Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee. The Huntington manuscript ap­pears to date from the same period as Ashmole 61, and neither text of The Stations of Jerusalem looks to have been the copy-text of the other. Each text features considerable defects and signs of extensive scribal revision. The Huntington text omits many lines present in Ashmole 61, lines that are un­likely to have been Rate’s own additions, and shows an unusual indifference to rhyme endings. Rate has undoubtedly rewritten many lines according to his usual practice, and at least two sections of the text appear out of order. Nevertheless, the Ashmole text often provides superior readings. The lines omit­ted in the Huntington manuscript have been recorded in the Explanatory Notes, but the notes discuss only the most important of the many variant readings.

Printed Editions

Horstmann, Carl, ed. Altenglische Legenden, neue Folge mit Einleitung und Anmerkungen. Pp. 355–66. [Based solely on Ashmole 61.]

Reference Works

NIMEV 9867
MWME–2247, 2460

See also J. Bernard, Biddle, Davidson and Dunn-Wood, Duff, Duffy (2002), Dyas, Fabri, Howard (1980), C. Morris, Peters, Poloner, Wey, and Zacher in the bibliography.

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