University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E05223: The pilgrim Egeria, in her Itinerary, describes her visit to Edessa (Mesopotamia), where she prayed at the tomb of *Thomas the Apostle (S00199), containing his 'entire body', read from his writings, and also visited other martyr shrines (martyria) in the city. Written in Latin during Egeria's journey to the East, probably in 381-384.

online resource
posted on 2018-03-19, 00:00 authored by robert
Egeria, Itinerary 17.1 and 19.2-4

17.1 Item in nomine Dei, transacto aliquanto tempore, cum iam tres anni pleni essent, a quo in Ierusolimam uenisse, uisis etiam omnibus locis sanctis, ad quos orationis gratia me tenderam, et ideo iam reuertendi ad patriam animus esset: uolui, iubente Deo, ut et ad Mesopotamiam Syriae accedere ad uisendos sanctos monachos, qui ibi plurimi et tam eximiae uitae esse dicebantur, ut uix referri possit; nec non etiam et gratia orationis ad martyrium sancti Thomae apostoli, ubi corpus illius integrum positum est, id est apud Edessam, quem se illuc missurum, posteaquam in caelis ascendisset, Deus noster Iesus testatus est per epistolam, quam ad Aggarum regem per ananiam cursorem misit, que epistola cum grandi reuerentia apud Edessam ciuitatem, ubi est ipsud martyrium, custoditur.

'17.1 Some time after that, 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, I felt that the time had come to return in God's name to my own country. But God also moved me with a desire to go to Syrian Mesopotamia. The holy monks there are said to be numerous and of so indescribably excellent a life that I wanted to pay them a visit; I also wanted to make a pilgrimage to the martyrium of the holy apostle Thomas, where his entire body is buried. It is at Edessa, to which Jesus, our God, was sending Thomas after his ascension into heaven, as he tells us in the letter he sent to King Abgar, by the messenger Ananias. This letter has been most reverently preserved at Edessa where they have this martyrium.'

Egeria eventually reaches Batanis, and proceeds to Edessa:

19.2 Vnde denuo proficiscens, peruenimus in nomine Christi dei nostri Edessam. Vbi cum peruenissemus, statim perreximus ad ecclesiam et ad martyrium sancti thomae. Itaque ergo iuxta consuetudinem factis orationibus et cetera, quae consuetudo erat fieri in locis sanctis, nec non etiam et aliquanta ipsius sancti Thomae ibi legimus. (3) Ecclesia autem, ibi que est, ingens et ualde pulchra et noua dispositione, ut uere digna est esse domus Dei; et quoniam multa erant, quae ibi desiderabam uidere, necesse me fuit ibi statiua triduana facere. (4) Ac sic ergo uidi in eadem ciuitate martyria plurima nec non et sanctos monachos, commanentes alios per martyria, alios longius de ciuitate in secretioribus locis habentes monasteria.

'19.2 From there we set out again, and came, in the name of Christ our God, to Edessa. As soon as we arrived, we went straight to the church and martyrium of holy Thomas; there we had our usual prayers and everything which was our custom in holy places. And we read also from the writings of the holy Thomas himself. (3) The church there is large and very beautiful, and built in the new way - so it is truly worthy to be a house of God. There was so much I wanted to see that I had to stay there three days. (4) And so I saw in this city a great many martyria and visited the holy monks, some of whom lived among the martyria, whilst others had their cells further away from the city where it was more secluded.'

There follows the story of King Abgar and the letter of Christ, and a detailed account of Egeria's visit to sites associated with the king.

Text: Franceschini and Weber 1965, 58-60. Translation: Wilkinson 1971, 113-115. lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Thomas, the Apostle : S00199 Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

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


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

Edessa Edessa Ἔδεσσα Edessa

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Foreigners (including Barbarians) Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body Handwriting of a saint


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).


Egeria visited the tomb of Thomas, prayed at it. She also read a passage from an apocryphal text connected to Thomas - it is not clear whether this passage came from the Gospel of Thomas or the Acts of Thomas. It is interesting to remark that the majority of the long account of Egeria's visit to Edessa is not focused on the tomb of Thomas (though this is the very first site she visits), but on an even more important holy object kept in this city: the letter of Jesus to Abgar, which protected Edessa from its enemies. Accompanied by the bishop, Egeria visits, and describes in detail, a number of places in the city associated with Abgar. Amongst these was the tomb of Abgar, which she refers to as a memoria. This term was widely used in reference to the tombs of saints, but like its Greek equivalent, mneme, could denote the tomb of an ordinary individual. Thus, the use of this word does not prove that Egeria considered Abgar a saint; indeed she did not stop and pray at the tomb, as she normally would at the grave of a particularly revered person.


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).

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager