The Holy Land Lists of Indulgences and their Bohemian Context

The pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a sort of constant in the history of medieval travelling. First European pilgrims began visiting the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and other holy sites as early as in the 4th century. Gradually, the frequency of these visits as well as the number of written accounts of these visits increased, in particular in the period spanning from the close of the 11th century to the middle of the 13th century when the area was part of the crusader states that temporarily emerged here. However, the intensity of pilgrimages did not decrease even after the fall of Acre and under Mamluk rule over the region; quite contrary, pilgrimages to the Holy Land gained new momentum at that time: the period between the middle of the 14th century and the beginning of the 16th century saw the highest number of pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem as well as the highest number of written accounts of such travels. It is in this period that indulgences for visiting the holy sites in Jerusalem and in the Holy Land in the broader sense, including Syria and Egypt, became an incentive for pious travellers to visit the holy sites. Although the beginnings of the indulgences at those sites are unclear, they are undoubtedly related to the activities of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land (Custodia Terrae sanctae), which was in charge of organizing the pilgrimages.

Formally harmonised lists of holy sites with relevant data concerning the granting of indulgences for visiting these sites began to appear in many travelogues in this period. Stylistically, these lists of the sites featured in the Biblical memory are very minimalistic: they include quotations from the Bible and are characterized by a unified structure in which the grant of an indulgence is frequently marked with a graphic symbol. Certain texts even contain very similar prefaces. Yet, these texts originated in various parts of Europe, both in Latin and in the vernacular languages, and became a (more or less integral) part of travelogues written by travellers from different geographic and social backgrounds. Such texts, collectively referred to as “lists of indulgences”, are at the centre of our interest. The basic question put forward by the project is how these lists were supposed to be drawn up (and then disseminated) and what purpose they were supposed to serve in medieval society. The second important direction of research concerns the presence or impact of these documents in the Bohemical context, including both certain travelogues of domestic provenance and translations of foreign travelogues as well as general descriptions of the Holy Land preserved in the Bohemian lands.