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E07856: The pilgrim Egeria, in her Itinerary, mentions a church built at the well where *Jacob (Old Testament patriarch, S000280) met his wife Rachel (S00701), and other places connected with his history around Carrhae/Karrhai (Mesopotamia). Written in Latin during Egeria's journey to the East, probably in 381-384.

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posted on 2020-02-12, 00:00 authored by robert
Egeria, Itinerary 21.1-3

21.1 Post biduo autem, quam ibi feceram, duxit nos episcopus ad puteum illum ubi adaquauerat sanctus Iacob pecora sanctae Rachel, qui puteus sexto miliario est a Charris. In cuius putei honorem fabricata est ibi iuxta sancta ecclesia ingens ualde et pulchra. Ad quem puteum cum uenissemus, facta est ab episcopo oratio, lectus etiam locus ipse de genesi, dictus etiam unus psalmus competens loco, atque iterata oratione benedixit nos episcopus. (2) Vidimus etiam loco iuxta puteum iacente lapidem illum infinitum nimis, quem mouerat sanctus Iacob a puteo, qui usque hodie ostenditur. (3) Ibi autem circa puteo nulli alii commanent nisi clerici de ipsa ecclesia, quae ibi est, et monachi habentes iuxta monasteria sua, quorum uitam sanctus episcopus nobis retulit, sed uere inauditam. Ac sic ergo facta oratione in aecclesia accessi cum episcopo ad sanctos monachos per monasteria ipsorum, et deo gratias agens et ipsis, qui dignati sunt me per monasteria sua, ubicumque ingressa sum, libenti animo suscipere et alloqui illis sermonibus, quos dignum erat de ore illorum procedere.

'21.1 We stayed there for two days. Then the bishop took us to the well, where holy Jacob watered the animals of holy Rachel, which is six miles from Carrhae. A holy church has been built there in honour of this well; the church is very large and beautiful. When we reached the well, the bishop said a prayer, the passage was read from Genesis, we had one psalm suitable to the place, and then after another prayer the bishop gave us his blessing. (2) Beside the well was the enormous stone which Jacob rolled away from it, and it is still to be seen today. The only people who lived near the well were the clergy of the church, and some monks who had cells near by. (3) The bishop told me some amazing things about their way of life, so, after we had had our prayer in the church, I went round with the bishop and visited the holy monks in their cells. I gave thanks to God, and to them too, since they were so kind and welcoming when I entered their cells, and entertained me with the kind of conversation which befits monks.'

Egeria is also shown the village and tomb of Laban, Jacob's father-in-law.

Text: Franceschini and Weber 1965, 65. Translation: Wilkinson 1971, 120, lightly modified.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Jacob, Old Testament patriarch : S00280

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

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

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


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).


This was the well where, in Genesis 29, Jacob met Rachel, who was to be his favourite wife and the mother of Joseph and Benjamin. The church at the well commemorated this well-known biblical episode and was certainly a place of Christian cult when Egeria visited, but it is difficult to say whether Jacob and Rebecca were being venerated there as saints. This is even more true of Laban's tomb and house - Egeria did not stop and pray at these places, and there is no evidence of cultic buildings or cultic activities there. For the house of Abraham at Carrhae, which Egeria also visited, see E05225.


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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