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E05222: The pilgrim Egeria, in her Itinerary, mentions her visit to a spring at the place known as the 'garden of *John' (the Baptist, S00020), near Salim in the Jordan valley (Palestine); many monks travel here to wash at the spring. Written in Latin during Egeria's journey to the East, probably in 381-384.

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posted on 2018-03-19, 00:00 authored by robert
Egeria, Itinerary 15.2-6

When at Salim in the Jordan valley, Egeria remembers that John the Baptist baptised people near there [John 3.23]; the local presbyter takes her to the place:

15.2 Statim ergo cepimus ire cum eo pedibus totum per uallem amenissimam, donec perueniremus usque ad hortum pomarium ualde amenum, ubi ostendit nobis in medio fontem aquae optime satis et pure, qui a semel integrum fluuium dimittebat. Habebat autem ante se ipse fons quasi lacum, ubi parebat fuisse operatum sanctum Iohannem Baptistam. (3) Tunc dixit nobis ipse sanctus presbyter: "in hodie hic hortus aliter non appellatur Greco sermone nisi cepos tu agiu Iohanni, id est quod uos dicitis Latine hortus sancti Iohannis". Nam et multi fratres sancti monachi de diuersis locis uenientes tendunt se, ut lauentur in eo loco. (4) Denuo ergo et ad ipsum fontem, sicut et in singulis locis, facta est oratio et lecta est ipsa lectio; dictus etiam psalmus competens, et singula, quae consuetudinis nobis erant facere, ubicumque ad loca sancta ueniebamus, ita et ibi fecimus.

'15.2 So we at once set out on foot through a very beautiful valley, then came to a delightful orchard, where he showed us in the middle of it a spring of excellent pure water, which flowed out in a single stream. There was a kind of pool in front of the spring, which is where it seems John the Baptist baptised. (3) The holy presbyter then said to us "This garden still today is always known as cepos tu agiu Iohanni in the Greek tongue, which is what you in Latin would call 'the garden of St John'. A great many brothers, holy monks from different parts, travel here to wash at this place. (4) So once more we had a prayer and a reading at this spring as we did in the other places. We said a suitable psalm, and did everything which was usual when arriving at a holy place.'

On leaving the site, Egeria and her companions, receive 'blessings' from it:

15.6 Nos ergo accipientes de presbytero eulogias, id est de pomario sancti Iohannis baptistae, similiter et de sanctis monachis, qui ibi monasteria habebant in ipso horto pomario...

'15.6 Then the presbyter gave us "blessings" (eulogiae) from St John's orchard, and so did the holy monks who had cells inside the orchard.'

Text: Franceschini and Weber 1965, 56. Translation: Bryan Ward-Perkins.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

John the Baptist : S00020

Saint Name in Source

Iohannes Baptista

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 - Places

Holy spring/well/river

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Foreigners (including Barbarians) 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).


From the context it is clear that the monks travelling here to wash, were doing so for ritual, not functional, reasons.


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: J. Wilkinson, 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: Maraval, P., Lieux saints et pèlerinages d'Orient, (Paris: Les éditions du cerf, 1985).

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