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E07940: The pilgrim Egeria, in her Itinerary, travelling up the Jordan valley comes to Sedima (biblical Salem, Palestine), where she visits a church 'at *Melchizedech' (Old Testament king and priest of Salem, S01783). Written in Latin during Egeria's journey to the East, probably in 381-384.

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posted on 2020-07-02, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Egeria, Itinerary 13.3-15.5

Travelling up the Jordan valley, Egeria sees a fertile valley descending to the river:

13.3 Nam in ea valle vicus est grandis, qui appellatur nunc Sedima. In eo ergo vico, qui est in media planitie positus, in medio loco est monticulus non satis grandis, sed factus sicut solent esse tumbae, sed grandes: ibi ergo in summo ecclesia est et deorsum per girum ipsius colliculi parent fundamenta grandia antiqua: nunc autem in ipso vico turbae aliquantae commanent. (4) Ego autem cum uiderem locum tam gratum, requisiui, quisnam locus esset ille tam amenus. Tunc dictum est michi: "Haec est ciuitas regis Melchisedech, quae dicta est ante Salem, unde nunc, corrupto sermone, Sedima appellatur ipse vicus. Nam in isto colliculo, qui est medio uico positus, in summitatem ipsius fabricam, quam uides, ecclesia est, quae ecclesia nunc appellatur greco sermone opu Melchisedech. Nam hic est locus ubi optulit Melchisedech hostias Deo puras, id est panes et uinum, sicut scriptum est eum fecisse."

14.1 Statim ergo ut haec audiui, descendimus de animalibus, et ecce occurrere dignatus est sanctus presbyter ipsius loci et clerici: qui nos statim suscipientes duxerunt suso ad ecclesiam. Vbi cum uenissemus, statim iuxta consuetudinem primum facta est oratio, deinde lectus est ipse locus de libro sancti Moysi, dictus est etiam psalmus unus competens loco ipsi, et denuo facta oratione descendimus.

'13.3 For in that valley there is a large village which is now called Sedima. In that village, which is set in the middle of the plain, at its centre is a hillock of no great size, rather like a large tumulus: there at its summit there is a church, and below, all around that hillock, there are massive ancient foundations, whereas now in that village there live only a few groups of people. (4) So, when I saw such a pleasant place, I asked what such a fine place was. I was told: "This is the city of Melchizedech, which earlier was called Salem, whence the name of the village has been corrupted to Sedima. For on that hillock, which is in the middle of that village, that building at its summit, which you see, is a church, which is now called in Greek opu Melchizedech ['at Melchizedech']. For this is the place where Melchizedech made pure offerings to God, that is bread and wine, as it is written that he did.

14.1 As soon as I heard these things, we got off our animals; and, see, the holy presbyter of this place kindly approached us with the clergy: receiving us, they took us up to the church. When we arrived there, at once, as is our custom, we first said a prayer, then read of this place in the book of holy Moses, recited a psalm suitable for the place, and then after a further prayer descended.'

Egeria is shown round by the presbyter, who points various details mentioned in the bible. She then remembers that John the Baptist baptised at a spring near this place, and, accompanied by the presbyter, visits it (see E05222).

15.5 Illud etiam presbyter sanctus dixit nobis, eo quod usque in hodierna die semper cata pascha, quicumque essent baptizandi in ipso uico, id est in ecclesia, quae appellatur opu Melchisedech, omnes in ipso fonte baptizarentur, sic redirent mature ad candelas cum clericis et monachis dicendo psalmos uel antiphonas et sic a fonte usque ad ecclesiam sancti Melchisedech deducerentur mature omnes, qui fuissent baptizati.

'15.5 The holy presbyter told us that to the present day, always at Easter, whoever in this village is to be baptised, that is in the church which is called opu Melchizedech, all of them are baptised at that spring, and speedily return by candlelight with the clergy and the monks reciting psalms and antiphons, and thus all who have been baptised process from the spring to the church of holy Melchizedech.'

Text: Franceschini and Weber 1965, 56-57. Translation: Bryan Ward-Perkins.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Melchizedek, Old Testament king and priest of Salem : S01783

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

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)


Egeria's work survives in a single manuscript 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 by Valerius of Vierzo (in north-west Spain) in the seventh century. 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 she addresses these periodically in her work (written in the form of a letter to these women from Constantinople, while Egeria was travelling home). 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 a traveller 'from the other end of the earth'; and Valerius of Vierzo (who was certainly better informed than us) describes her as a 'native of Ocean's western shore'. It is therefore surmised that she came from Aquitaine, or further afield; indeed Galicia is likely, since Valerius was from close by and is quite likely to have selected her to write about because she was a local holy woman. Her work is a detailed diary of her pilgrimage, and it is a great pity that much of it is lost - it opens with a visit to Sinai and on to Egypt, but she tells us that this is her second visit to Egypt, and that she had already spent much time in the Holy Land. Egeria, whose enthusiasm and energy appear boundless, visited mostly biblical sites, but was also interested in monasteries and martyr shrines. The second part of her Itinerary contains a description of the Easter liturgy in Jerusalem (with 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 that 384 was the only year in this period in which it was possible to arrive in Carrhae (northern Mesopotamia) for the feast of St Helpidius (23 April) having spent Easter in Jerusalem. Egeria herself tells us that her stay in the East lasted three years. 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).


Melchizedech, in Genesis 14: 18-20, was the king of Salem who greeted Abraham and 'brought out bread and wine', which in Christian times was believed to be a prefiguration of the eucharist. This passage - a classic example of Egeria's boundless enthusiasm and curiosity - highlights the issue of whether Old Testament 'saints' attracted the same levels of cult as saints of the Christian era. In 15.5 Egeria describes the church at Salem as ecclesia sancti Melchisedech, 'the church of saint Melchizedech' (though, as always, sanctus can be translated more neutrally as 'holy'); but it is clear that this is actually a shortened version of its usual name, the church 'at Melchizedech'. This fuller name, suggests that the church was primarily commemorating a holy place in the bible, rather than focused specifically on 'saint Melchizedech'. Besides one mention in the church calendar of Ioane Zosime (E03826), there is no evidence in our database that Mechizedech attracted cult outside Sedima/Salem.


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).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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