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E07930: The pilgrim Egeria, in her Itinerary, describes her visit to Mount Nebo (Palestine): on the way she visits the place where *Moses (Old Testament prophet and lawgiver, S00241) struck the rock and brought forth water, which had a church and attendant monks; on the summit she finds a church containing the grave of Moses. Written in Latin during Egeria's journey to the East, probably in 381-384.

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posted on 2020-06-29, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Egeria, Itinerary 10.9-11.3 and 12.1-3

Travelling to Mount Nebo with a presbyter from Livias, who is acting as her guide, he asks if she would like to turn off the road and visit the place where Moses brought forth water from the rock:

10.9 Quod cum dixisset, nos satis auidi optati sumus ire, et statim diuertentes a uia secuti sumus presbyterum, qui nos ducebat. In eo ergo loco ecclesia est pisinna subter montem, non Nabau, sed alterum interiorem: sed nec ipse longe est de Nabau. Monachi autem plurimi commanent ibi uere sancti et quos hic ascites uocati.

11.1 Hi ergo sancti monachi dignati sunt nos suscipere ualde humane, nam et ad salutationem suam permiserunt nos ingredi. Cum autem ingressi fuissemus ad eos, facta oblatione cum ipsis, eulogias nobis dare dignati sunt, sicut habent consuetudinem dandi his, quos humane suscipiunt. (2) Ibi ergo inter ecclesiam et monasteria in medio fluit de petra aqua ingens, pulchra ualde et limpida, saporis optimi. Tunc interogauimus nos etiam et illos sanctos monachos, qui ibi manebant, quae esset haec aqua talis et tanti saporis. Tunc illi dixerunt: "Haec est aqua, quam dedit sanctus Moyses filiis Israhel in hac heremo." (3) Facta est ergo iuxta consuetudinem ibi oratio et lectio de libris Moysi lecta, dictus etiam psalmus unus; et sic simul cum illis sanctis clericis et monachis, qui nobiscum uenerant, perexiuimus ad montem. Multi autem et ex ipsis monachis sanctis, qui ibi commanebant iuxta aqua ipsa, qui tamen potuerunt imponere sibi laborem, dignati sunt ascendere montem Nabau. (4) Itaque ergo proficiscentes de eodem loco peruenimus ad radicem montis Nabau, qui erat ualde excelsus, ita tamen ut pars eius maxima sedendo in asellis possit subiri; modice autem erat acrius, quod pedibus necesse erat subiri cum labore, sicut et factum est.

12.1 Peruenimus ergo ad summitatem montis illius, ubi est nunc ecclesia non grandis, in ipsa summitate montis Nabau. Intra quam ecclesiam, in eo loco ubi pulpitus est, uidi locum modice quasi altiorem, tantum hispatii habentem quantum memoriae solent habere. (2) Tunc ergo interrogaui illos sanctos, quidnam esset hoc; qui responderunt: "hic positus est sanctus Moyses ab angelis, quoniam, sicut scriptum est, "sepulturam illius nullus hominum scit"; quoniam certum est eum ab angelis fuisse sepultum. Nam memoria illius, ubi positus sit, in hodiernum ostenditur; sicut enim nobis a maioribus, qui hic manserunt, ubi ostensum est, ita et nos uobis monstramus: qui et ipsi tamen maiores ita sibi traditum a maioribus suis esse dicebant". (3) Itaque ergo mox facta est oratio, et omnia, quae in singulis locis sanctis per ordinem consueueramus facere, etiam et hic facta sunt: et sic cepimus egredere de ecclesia.

'10.9 When he said this, we eagerly chose to go there, and, at once leaving the road, we followed the presbyter, who was our guide. In that place there is a small church under a mountain, not Nebo, but one further in: but it is not far from Nebo. Many monks live there, truly holy men of those who are here called 'ascetics'.

11.1 These holy monks were kind enough to receive us very hospitably, and at their greeting allowed us to enter. When we had entered with them, after a prayer together, they kindly gave us 'blessings', as they do to those whom they kindly receive. (2) There, between the church and the monks' cells flows from the rock a substantial stream, very beautiful and clear, and of excellent taste. When we asked those holy monks who were there what this stream was that had such a good taste, they said: "This is the water which holy Moses gave to the children of Israel in this desert." (3) We prayed, as is our custom, read from the books of Moses, and recited a psalm; and so along with the holy clergy and monks who had accompanied us headed for the mountain. Many of the holy monks, who dwelt by that spring, were kind enough to ascend Mount Nebo with us, those who were able to take on this challenge. (4) So, leaving that place, we came to the foot of Mount Nebo, which is very high, so that while the greater part of it can be ascended on donkeys, in some parts it is steeper, so that one has struggle up on foot; and so we did.

12.1 We reached the top of that mountain, where there is now a church of no great size, on the summit of Mount Nebo, and inside, where the pulpit is, I saw a slightly raised place about the size of a normal tomb. (2) I asked about it, and the holy men replied, "Holy Moses was buried here - by angels, since the Bible tells us, 'No human being knoweth his burial'. And there is no doubt that it was angels who buried him, since the actual tomb where he was buried can be seen today. Our predecessors here pointed out this place to us, and now we point it out to you. They told us that this tradition came from their predecessors." (3) Soon we had had the prayer and the other things which we were accustomed to do in each place, and so we left the church.'

Text: Franceschini and Weber 1965, 51-52. Translation: Bryan Ward-Perkins, using Wilkinson 2002, 106-107.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Moses, Old Testament prophet and lawgiver : S00241

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

Cult building - independent (church)

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs


Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Women Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - entire body


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).


The story of Moses striking the rock and bringing forth water for the thirsty children of Israel is in Exodus 17: 1-6 and Numbers 20:1-11. With regard to the tomb of Moses on Mount Nebo, Deuteronomy 34:6 states: 'He [God] buried him [Moses] in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows his grave to this day.' At the beginning of the 5th century, in his Commentary on Amos 3.9, Jerome suggests that the tomb of Moses, like those of Henoch and Elijah, are in heaven and so cannot be found in the earth. But the tradition of the tomb of Moses on Mount Nebo grew stronger, and is attested in John Rufus' Life of Peter the Iberian 120–121.(XXXXXXXX), see Cronnier 2016, 31-35 and Wiśniewski 2019, 113.


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: 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: Maraval, P., Lieux saints et pèlerinages d'Orient, (Paris: Les éditions du cerf, 1985). Cronnier, E., Les inventions de reliques dans l'Empire romain d'Orient (IVe-VIe S.), Turnhout: Brepols, 2015. Wiśniewski, R., The Beginnings of the cult of relics, Oxford: OUP, 2019.

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