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Church History: Egeria and the Crusades


The starting point of the present research should be the justification of the actuality and necessity of it. It is evident that in the study of historical events the primary role is always played by the study and analysis of the primary sources (documents, letters, etc.) as they the most reliable sources of information as they may be considered a part of historical event. The comparative and contrastive analysis of the primary sources can be of great use as it may be possible to find the common point of contact of the sources that will provide multidimensional analysis on the basis of similarities and differences of the primary sources, the contexts of their creation, the methods used by the authors in the presentation of their point of view. The aspects, which have been mentioned, will create the basis of the present research. As for the ground of the analysis, the primary sources, “Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage” and “The Crusades: A Short History” will be compared and analyzed. The choice of the analyzed sources may be justified by the fact that the first source is considered to be of great significance for the archeologist and church historian, philologist, and linguist (Gingras, 1970, 1). As for Riley-Smith, he is reputed one of the most outstanding crusading historians. The common point of contact between the sources may be defined as the religious motivation of both historical events described in the texts and its reflection in the analyzed documents.

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Main Body

The general information about the historical events and personalities

In the first place, it is necessary to create some background information on Egeria and the Crusades in order to be able to establish further connections and competent analysis. Thus, Egeria was “a pious woman from Spain who recorded a pilgrimage to Sinai and Palestine” (Mullin, 2008, 58). The historic figure of the woman, her name, status, homeland are wrapped up in mystery. However, the assumption suggested by Valerius, which says that Egeria was a nun and she wrote her message in the form of letters to her fellow religious is supported by the editor of the book who also defines her homeland as Galicia (Gingras, 1970, 11). Unfortunately, there is no scientifically proven information concerning the age of the authoress, her education, family background, and theological views. As for the date of the pilgrimage, the editor offers his analysis of the hypotheses suggested by the numerous scholars, making a conclusion that there is no ground to assert that the pilgrimage took place in the early fifth century, and he rejects suggestions of later dates (Gingras, 1970, 15).

As for the Crusades, it is necessary to create the basic ground for understanding the document under analysis as well. Encyclopedia Britannica gives the following definition of the Crusades: “Military expeditions, beginning in the late 11th century, that was organized by Western Christians in response to centuries of Muslim wars of expansion”. Though, seven separate crusades took place during the period of 1096-1272, all of them accomplished not much, in comparison with the first crusade, the original goal of which was the recapture of Jerusalem and the Holy Land that was caused by the Muslim expansion (Mullin, 2008, 102).

The difference of the author’s contexts

On primary reading of both texts that are meant for comparative analysis, it is possible to state that the prevailing number of differences concerning all aspects burst upon the eye. In the first place, the difference of the contexts of the authors is unquestionable. In fact, the author of “Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage” is the main character and historical witness of the situation, even more, the main participant of the whole affair, Egeria. George Gingras’ mission was just the presentation of the primary source, though he should get his praise for the information that was absolutely necessary for the audience’s adequate perception of Egeria and her pilgrimage. Gingras performed the detailed analysis of the existing scientific materials on the historical personality of the woman who undertook the religious journey, and provides the critical summary of existing research presenting the most reliable information about the authoress of the “Diary”. Besides, the scientists provides notes to the text that are sufficient and necessary basis for its adequate understanding. However, the actual author text of “Diary of a Pilgrimage” is Egeria herself who gives her personal account of the pilgrimage. Thus, it is only possible to make suppositions about the author’s social status, that she was a woman “of high rank”, however, she had no connection with history as a science, as she “never mentions the names of any contemporaries” (Gingras, 1970, 9). Her narration is based on true emotions that she felt during the trip and on the correspondence of the places and objects to Scripture, for the text abounds in references to Holy Writ.

As for the second text under consideration, “The Crusades: A Short History”, its author is Egeria’s absolute opposite. The author is professional scientist, the gap between their existences is rather sufficient, it is about fifteen centuries. If Egeria is the actual participant of the event described in the book, Jonathan Riley-Smith is the person connected with situation by means of professional education and study of such sources as Egeria’s letters. If she is entitled to present the primary information, Riley-Smith is entitled to analyze it. The question of the biases of the author should be tackled as well. In fact, Egeria may be considered more biased because her narration has personal character, while “The Crusades: A Short History” is the text that is based on the existing sources and presents scientific point of view, which presupposes absence of bias, of the situation that is connected with the present only through its historical significance. Even the events described in the sources occurred within the time gap of six centuries, for this is the period between Egeria’s pilgrimage and the first Crusade.

The similarities in the analyzed sources

On analyzing all these principal differences, it is possible to state the main similarity of the works under analysis. This similarity is in the presentation of religion and faithfulness as the motivation and the driving force of historical events. Both, pilgrimage and the Crusades were inspired by religious views, though the ultimate aims of the journeys differed. One more similarity between the sources is their reliance on the existing literature. As for the authoress of “Diary of a Pilgrimage”, her main guide and the source she based her pilgrimage and the letters on was the test of Holy Scripture. This may be proven by numerous references to the Bible the text abounds in, for instance: “the place where the Glory of God descended, as it is written Scripture” (Gingras, 1970, 50), or “he was there for forty days and forty nights” (Gingras, 1970, 49-50), “where the Glory of the Lord descended on the day when a mountain smoked” (Gingras, 1970, 52). Riley-Smith, in turn, bases his investigation of the analysis of the existing literary sources. Though, the method of literary analysis was successfully applied by both authors, the fact remains that in Egeria’s case it was intuitive and drawn by her religious views, and in Riley-Smith case it was the scientific method.

The military aspect

Since both texts deal with ecclesiastical aspects to a considerable degree, the comparative analysis of them promises nontrivial results. As for Egeria, her whole journey was inspired by the statements of Holy Scripture. The choice of Mount Sinai was determined by its religious significance for the Christian world, as it was the place “where Moses read to the people” (Rogerson, 2001, 8) and the Arabic name is translated as “the mountain of Moses” (Rogerson, 2001, 8). The aspect of monasticism is brightly observed in the “Diary of a Pilgrimage”. Egeria mentions “monastic cells” (Gingras, 1970, 51) and hospitable monks are frequently mentioned by her as “”. The book enables the reader to define the authoress’ positive attitude towards monasticism. In the first place, she is considered to be a nun (Gingras, 1970, 4), and, in the second place, the quotation describing the priest: “He was an old man, beyond reproach, a monk from his youth, and, as they say here, an ascetic; in a word, he was a man worthy of being in this place” (Gingras, 1970, 52).

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The aspect of monasticism

As for the aspect of monasticism, it is also present in the second source under analysis. Riley-Smith compares the crusaders with monks; the scientist justifies his comparison by the vows made by lawmen, which were similar to monks’ vows despite their temporal nature. The common features that were characteristic of the crusaders and the monks were also celibacy and poverty imposed by the campaign (Riley-Smith, 1980, 37). The scientists state that “like monks they [crusaders] were ‘exiles’ from the normal world, who had taken up their crosses to follow Christ … Like monks they engaged in regular public devotions and made a corporeal [journey to Jerusalem]” (Riley-Smith, 1980, 37). However, the difference of the authors’ perception of monks and monastic life is, evidently, different: if Egeria defines them as “holy men” (Gingras, 1970, 53), Riley-Smith calls them “exiles” as it may observed in the above mentioned quotation. Still, the very comparison of crusaders and monks inspires the idea of the Crusades as pilgrimage. If whole Christian life was considered a pilgrimage towards God in Europe of the time of the Crusades (Mullin, 2008, 121), then crusaders were strictly following the code of life. Thus, the common feature of the analyzed sources in the description of pilgrimage of numerous crusaders and the woman with several companions (Gingras, 1970, 49).

The gender aspect

As for the military aspects, they are absolutely absent in “Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage” that may be explained by the motivation of the authoress. Her primary aim is to inform about the religious pilgrimage, while the crusades cannot be defined as religious pilgrimage only because they need additional characteristic mentioned, their military nature. Riley-Smith gives the account of the first Crusade as military campaign inspired by piety among its other causes.

The aspect of economics

Considering gender issue in both texts, it is necessary to state that the primary difference is that the pilgrimage of Egeria was carried out by a woman, while the crusaders were mostly men (though even children were sometimes the participants of the Crusades as there was opinion that it rendered absolution). However, the author also mentions women involved into the Crusades, for instance, “an army of at least 40,000 men and women now found itself engaged in a siege that was to last until June 1098” (Riley-Smith, 1980, 28). The analysis of gender aspects considering these two sources suggest an idea that pilgrimage may be carried out by all people who feel its necessity despite their sex.

The analysis of the aspects of economics in both texts suggests that the obvious description of economical situation by Egeria is absent in the text because of the presentation of the trip from spiritual point of view rather than academic. At the same time, Riley-Smith gives details concerning economical situation of Europe of that time, for instance, he mentions that “disputes about provisions led to disorders” that show economical status of the crusaders (Riley-Smith, 1980, 20).


Drawing a conclusion, it should be stated that the texts that showed no connection after primary reading, in fact had the most important thing in common: the presentation of two historical events as pilgrimage. If it is necessary to define the prevalence of common or different features about the sources, let us state that this question is philosophical. There are a lot of differences concerning all aspects in the texts, but it is, evidently, useful to study them both because they provide necessary information about the connection of religion and active action of people inspired by piety. Especially useful would be the study of the sources in their chronological order, as the account of Egeria’s pilgrimage can create suitable ground for the understanding of the nature of crusades.


Crusades. 2009. In Encyclopædia Britannica, Web.

Gingras, George E. 1970. Egeria: Diary of a Pilgrimage. New York: The Newman Press.

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Mullin, Robert B. 2008. A Short World History of Christianity. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan. 1980. The Crusades: A Short History. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Rogerson, John. 2001. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press.

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