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E05195: The pilgrim Egeria, in her Itinerary, describes her ascent to the top of Mount Sinai, where she found a church, tended by a monk, and the cave of *Moses (Old Testament prophet and lawgiver, S00241); descending the mountain she visited the Burning Bush, where there was also a church and monks' cells. Written in Latin during Egeria's journey to the East, probably in 381-384.

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posted on 2018-03-16, 00:00 authored by robert
Egeria, Itinerary 3.2-5 and 4.6-8

After a long climb, Egeria and her party reach the summit of Mount Sinai:

3.2 ... hora ergo quarta peruenimus in summitatem illam montis Dei sancti Syna, ubi data est lex in eo, id est locum, ubi descendit maiestas Domini in ea die, qua mons fumigabat. (3) In eo ergo loco est nunc ecclesia non grandis, quoniam et ipse locus, id est summitas montis, non satis grandis est; quae tamen aecclesia habet de se gratiam grandem. (4) Cum ergo iubente Deo persubissemus in ipsa summitate et peruenissemus ad hostium ipsius ecclesiae, ecce et occurrit presbyter ueniens de monasterio suo, qui ipsi ecclesie deputabatur, senex integer et monachus a prima uita et, ut hic dicunt, ascitis, et - quid plura? - qualis dignus est esse in eo loco. Occurrerunt etiam et alii presbyteri, nec non etiam et omnes monachi, qui ibi commorabantur iuxta montem illum, id est qui tamen aut etate aut inbeccillitate non fuerunt impediti. (5) Verum autem in ipsa summitate montis illius mediani nullus commanet; nichil enim est ibi aliud nisi sola ecclesia et spelunca, ubi fuit sanctus Moyses. (6) Lecto ergo, ipso loco, omnia de libro Moysi et facta oblatione ordine suo, hac sic communicantibus nobis, iam ut exiremus de aecclesia, dederunt nobis presbyteri loci ipsius eulogias, id est pomis, quae in ipso monte nascuntur.'

'3.2 ... So at the fourth hour we arrived on the summit of Sinai, the Mount of God where the Law was given, and the place where God's glory came down on the day that the mountain was smoking. (3) The church which is now there is not impressive for its size (there is too little room on the summit), but it has a grace all its own. (4) And when with God's help we had climbed right to the top and reached the door of this church, there was the presbyter, the one who is appointed to the church, coming to meet us from his cell. He was a healthy old man, a monk from his boyhood and an 'ascetic' as they call it here - in fact just the man for the place. Several other presbyters met us too, and all the monks who lived near the mountain, or at least all who were not prevented from coming by their age or their health. (5) All there is on the actual summit of the central mountain is the church and the cave of holy Moses. No-one lives there. (6) So when the whole passage had been read to us from the Book of Moses (on the very spot!) we made the offering in the usual way and received communion. As we were coming out of the church the presbyters of the place gave us 'blessings', some fruits which grow on the mountain itself.'

During her descent from the summit, Egeria visited a number of other sites associated with Moses and the passage of the Israelites. At one of these, she again found a church and monks:

4.6 Propterea autem ad caput ipsius uallis exire nos necesse erat, quoniam ibi erant monasteria plurima sanctorum hominum et ecclesia in eo loco, ubi est rubus; qui rubus usque in hodie uiuet et mittet uirgultas. (7) Ac sic ergo perdescenso monte Dei peruenimus ad rubum hora forsitan decima. Hic est autem rubus, quem superius dixi, de quo locutus est Dominus Moysi in igne, qui est in eo loco, ubi monasteria sunt plurima et ecclesia in capite vallis ipsius. Ante ipsam autem ecclesiam hortus est gratissimus, habens aquam optimam abundantem, in quo horto ipse rubus est. (8) Locus etiam ostenditur ibi iuxta, ubi stetit sanctus Moyses, quando ei dixit Deus: "Solve corrigiam calciamenti tui" et cetera. Et in eo loco cum peruenissemus, hora decima erat iam, et ideo, quia iam sera erat, oblationem facere non potuimus. Sed facta est oratio in ecclesia nec non etiam et in horto ad rubum; lectus est etiam locus ipse de libro Moysi iuxta consuetudinem: et sic, quia sera erat, gustauimus nobis loco in horto ante rubum cum sanctis ipsis: ac sic fecimus ibi mansionem. Et alia die maturius uigilantes rogauimus presbyteros ut ibi fieret oblatio, sicut et facta est.

'4.6 Our way out took us to the head of this valley because there the holy men had many cells, and there is also a church there at the place of the Bush (which is still alive and sprouting). It was about the tenth hour by the time we had come down from the Mount and reached the Bush. This, as I have already said, is the Burning Bush out of which the Lord spoke to Moses, and it is at the head of the valley with the church and all the cells. The Bush itself is in front of the church in a very pretty garden which has plenty of excellent water. Near by you are also shown the place where holy Moses was standing when God said to him: "Undo the fastening of thy shoes", and so on. Since it was already the tenth hour by the time we got there, it was too late for us to be able to make the offering, but we had a prayer in the church, and also in the garden by the Bush, and as usual the appropriate passage was read from the book of Moses. Then, because it was late, we had our meal with the holy men in the garden near the Bush, and stayed there for the night. Next morning we were awake early, and the presbyters made the offering there at our request.'

Text: Franceschini and Weber 1965, 42-43. Translation: Wilkinson 1971, 96.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Moses, Old Testament prophet and lawgiver : S00241

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Pilgrim accounts and itineraries


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine with Sinai

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Caesarea Maritima Καισάρεια Kaisareia Caesarea Kayseri Turris Stratonis

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits

Cult Activities - Relics

Ampullae, eulogiai, tokens


Egeria's work survives in a single eleventh-century manuscript, copied probably at Monte Cassino, which lacks both its opening and its close (where she might have told us something about herself). Consequently even her name is a little uncertain, though she was almost certainly 'the most blessed Egeria', whose dedication and devotion on pilgrimage was praised in a letter written in the mid-seventh century by Valerius of Bierzo (or Vierzo, near Léon in north-west Spain). She was unquestionably a woman of some means (given her ability to travel for several years) and she belonged to an association or community of religious women, since her work takes the form of a letter to these women sent from Constantinople during her journey home, and since she addresses them periodically throughout her account: in Itinerary 3.8, for instance, she asks these dominae venerabiles sorores, 'ladies, venerable sisters', to pay particular attention to her description of Mount Sinai. Exactly where she travelled from is unknown, though it was certainly somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean in the far west of Europe: in 18.3 she compares the flow and size of the Euphrates with the Rhône, which she presumably crossed on her journey; in 19.5 she was greeted by the bishop of Edessa as having journeyed de extremis porro terris, 'from the far ends of the earth'; and Valerius of Bierzo (who was certainly better informed than us) describes her as extremo occidui maris Oceani litore exorta, 'coming from the Ocean's western shore' (Gracia 1910, 393-394). It is therefore certain that she came from the western seaboard of the Atlantic; probably from Galicia, since Valerius was from near Galicia and he is likely to have selected her to write about because he saw her as a compatriot. Her work is a detailed, and highly informative, account of her pilgrimage, and it is a great pity that much of it is lost - what survives opens, in mid-sentence, with an account of her visit to the holy sites of Sinai and on to the Egyptian delta, but she tells us that this was her second visit to Egypt (and that on her first visit she had travelled as far south as the Thebaid and as far west as Alexandria), and she had certainly already spent much time in the Holy Land. After reaching Egypt, she headed back to Jerusalem, and from there made two journeys out: the first eastwards to the Jordan and Mount Nebo; the second a long journey up the Jordan valley to Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee), before striking East to Carneas, to visit the grave of the Old Testament patriarch Job. Some time after returning to Jerusalem from this second expedition, 'since it was already three full years since my arrival in Jerusalem, and I had seen all the places which were the object of my pilgrimage' (Itinerary 17.1, Wilkinson 1999, 113), Egeria started for home, but from Antioch took a long detour eastwards into Mesopotamia, to Edessa and Carrhae. Returning to Antioch, she then crossed Asia Minor to Chalcedon (but not before again detouring, to Seleucia and the shrine of Thecla), and so to Constantinople, from which she despatched the account of her travels. Although heading home, she still planned to visit Ephesus and the shrine of John the Apostle and Evangelist at Ephesus. Although much of Egeria's text is missing, it was available in the early twelfth century to Peter the Deacon, a monk at Monte Cassino, when he compiled a work about the Holy Land, and, from Peter's text it is possible reconstruct the parts of her journey that are now lost (see Franceschini and Weber 1965, 93-103; Wilkinson 1999, 179-210). Egeria, whose enthusiasm and energy appear to have been boundless, visited mostly biblical sites, but she was also interested in monasteries and martyr shrines (for instance detouring to visit Thecla's at Seleucia). The second part of her Itinerary contains a description of the Easter liturgy in Jerusalem (which has no references to the cult of saints). Thanks to the places, persons, and buildings which are mentioned by her, her travels can be dated with some confidence to the two last decades of the 4th century. A more exact dating, generally accepted, is based on the observation by Devos (1967) that 384 was the only year in this period in which it was possible to arrive in Carrhae (in Mesopotamia) for the feast of St Helpidius (23 April) having spent Easter in Jerusalem, which Egeria tells us she did on the first leg of her journey home (having already told us that she had spent three years in the Holy Land). As with all the pilgrim texts from the Holy Land, it has been difficult to decide what to include, and what to exclude from our database, focused as it is on the 'cult of saints'. We have necessarily excluded the vast number of sites associated exclusively with the life and miracles of Jesus, and have, of course, included all obvious references to cult sites of Christian saints: their graves, churches, and references to important places in their lives, such as their place of martyrdom. A problem, however, arises when our pilgrims write about sites associated with figures from the Old Testament, since in time many of these certainly acquired Christian cult, but it is generally impossible to tell whether our pilgrims regarded these figures as saints in the Christian tradition, whose power and aid they might invoke, or whether they record the holy sites associated with them through a broader and looser biblical curiosity and veneration. The compromise position we have taken with regard to these Old Testament figures is to include all references to places associated with them where our Christian writers record miraculous occurrences or where there was a church or oratory, and also all references to their graves (though with these latter there is often no explicit reference to Christian cult).


During her thorough exploration of the holy sites on Mount Sinai, Egeria encounters two places where there was evident active Christian cult: the site of the Burning Bush, from out of which God spoke to Moses in Exodus 3, and the summit of the mountain, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19 and 20). In both places she encounters a church and monks, and at both places she did what she always did at such sites: prayed, listened to a reading of the relevant biblical text, and, where possible, celebrated the eucharist (which she describes as 'making the offering', oblationem facere). Both sites were associated with Moses, but they were also of course closely associated with God, who had made a personal appearance on earth in both places. It was unquestionably God's presence, more than that of Moses, that was being commemorated by the two churches and their surrounding monks.


Text: Franceschini, A. and Weber, R. (ed.), Itinerarium Egeriae, in Itineraria et alia geographica (Corpus Chistianorum, series Latina 175; Turnholti: Typographi Brepols editores pontificii, 1965), 27-90. Text, French translation and commentary: Maraval, P., Égérie: Journal de Voyage (Itinéraire), Sources Chrétiennes 296 (Paris: Les éditions du cerf, 1982). English translation and commentary: Wilkinson, J. Egeria's Travels (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 3rd edition, 1999). Dating: Devos, P., "La date du voyage d'Égérie", Analecta Bollandiana 85 (1967), 165-194. Hunt, E.D., "The date of the Itinerarium Egeriae", Studia Patristica 38 (Leuven: Peeters, 2001), 410-416. Further reading: Garcia, Z., "La lettre de Valérius aux moines de Vierzo sur la bienheureuse Aetheria", Analecta Bollandiana 29 (1910), 377-399 Maraval, P., Lieux saints et pèlerinages d'Orient, (Paris: Les éditions du cerf, 1985).

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