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E05226: The pilgrim Egeria, in her Itinerary, describes her visit to the tomb of *Helpidius (monk and martyr of Carrhae, S01969), in Carrhae/Karrhai (Mesopotamia), and how, with many monks from the surrounding region, she attended his feast on 23 April. 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, Bryan
Egeria, Itinerary 20.5-7

The passage below is from Egeria's account of her visit to Carrhae (biblical Haran, modern Harran in Turkey), which she calls Charra or Charris, and which began with a visit to the church built over the house of *Abraham (the Old Testament Patriarch, S00275), for which see E05225.

20.5 Nam ecclesia, quam dixi foras ciuitatem, dominae sorores uenerabiles, ubi fuit primitus domus Abrahae, nunc et martyrium ibi positum est, id est sancti cuiusdam monachi nomine Helpidi. Hoc autem nobis satis gratum euenit, ut pridie martyrium die ibi ueniremus, id est sancti ipsius Helpidii, nono k. Maias, ad quam diem necesse fuit undique et de omnibus Mesopotamiae finibus omnes monachos in Charra descendere, etiam et illos maiores, qui in solitudine sedebant, quos ascites uocant, per diem ipsum, qui ibi satis granditer attenditur, et propter memoriam sancti Abrahae, quia domus ipsius fuit ubi nunc ecclesia est, in qua positum est corpus ipsius sancti martyris.

(6) Itaque ergo hoc nobis ultra spem grate satis euenit, ut sanctos et uere homines Dei monachos Mesopotamenos ibi uideremus, etiam et eos, quorum fama uel uita longe audiebatur, quos tamen non estimabam me penitus posse uidere, non quia inpossibile esset Deo etiam et hoc prestare michi, qui omnia prestare dignabatur, sed quia audieram eos, eo quod extra diem paschae et extra diem hanc non eos descendere de locis suis, quoniam tales sunt ut et uirtutes faciant multas, et quoniam nesciebam, quo mense esset dies hic martyrii, quem dixi. Itaque Deo iubente sic euenit, ut ad diem, quem nec sperabam, ibi uenirem. (7) Fecimus ergo et ibi biduum propter diem martyrii et propter uisionem sanctorum illorum, qui dignati sunt ad salutandum libenti satis animo me suscipere et alloqui, in quo ego non merebar. Nam et ipsi statim post martyrii diem nec uisi sunt ibi, sed mox de nocte petierunt heremum et unusquisque eorum monasteria sua, qui ubi habebat.

'20.5 At this church where originally Abraham's house used to stand, which, as I have told you, was outside the city, there is also a martyrium. This my ladies and reverend sisters, is the tomb of a certain monk called Helpidius, and things turned out very well for us, since we happened to arrive on the eve of this holy Helpidius' martyrium day, the twenty-third of April. This is a day when all the monks of Mesopotamia have to come in to Charra, including the illustrious ones called ascetics who dwell in the desert. The feast itself is kept with great solemnity, but they also come in to commemorate holy Abraham, since it was his house that stood on the site of the church in which is buried the body of the holy martyr.

(6) So we had the unexpected pleasure of seeing there the holy and truly dedicated monks of Mesopotamia, including some of whose reputation and holy life we had heard long before we got there. I certainly never thought I would actually see them, not because God would be unable to grant it - after all he has granted me everything else! - but because I had heard these monks never come in from the places where they live, except at Easter and for the feast of this martyr, and also because these are of the kind who perform many miracles. What is more I had no idea of the month of the martyrium's feast-day, so the fact that I happened to arrive on the very day was providential, and completely unexpected. (7) We stayed there for two days, to keep the festival and meet the holy men, and they were far kinder than I deserved, greeting me warmly and having conversations. But after the martyrium day there was not a monk to be seen. Whilst it was night every single one of them made off for his cell in the desert.'

Text: Franceschini and Weber 1965, 63. Translation: Wilkinson 1971, 118-119.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Helpidius, monk and martyr of Karrhai/Charan : S01969 Elpidios and Hermogenēs, martyrs at Melitene : S01014

Saint Name in Source

Helpidius Helpidius

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 - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - tomb/grave

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

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


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).


According to the Syriac Martyrology (E01487), in Melitene the feast of the martyrs *Elpidios and Heromegenes (S01014) was celebrated on 3 May. Since Melitene is not very far from Carrhae and 3 May is not long after 23 April, it is possible that Egeria (whose dating is not always precise) and the Martyrology refer to the same saint.


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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