The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, by John Mandeville

Chapter VIII

Of the Isle of Sicily; of the Way from Babylon to the Mount Sinai; of the Church of Saint Katherine AND OF ALL THE Marvels There

NOW will I return again, ere I proceed any further, for to declare to you the other ways, that draw toward Babylon, where the sultan himself dwelleth, that is at the entry of Egypt; for as much as many folk go thither first and after that to the Mount Sinai, and after return to Jerusalem, as I have said you here before. For they fulfil first the more long pilgrimage, and after return again by the next ways, because that the more nigh way is the more worthy, and that is Jerusalem; for no other pilgrimage is not like in comparison to it. But for to fulfil their pilgrimages more easily and more sikerly, men go first the longer way rather than the nearer way.

But whoso will go to Babylon by another way, more short from the countries of the west that I have rehearsed before, or from other countries next to them — then men go by France, by Burgundy and by Lombardy. It needeth not to tell you the names of the cities, nor of the towns that be in that way, for the way is common, and it is known of many nations. And there be many havens [where] men take the sea. Some men take the sea at Genoa, some at Venice, and pass by the sea Adriatic, that is clept the Gulf of Venice, that departeth Italy and Greece on that side; and some go to Naples, some to Rome, and from Rome to Brindisi and there they take the sea, and in many other places where that havens be. And men go by Tuscany, by Campania, by Calabria, by Apulia, and by the hills of Italy, by Corsica, by Sardinia, and by Sicily, that is a great isle and a good.

In that isle of Sicily there is a manner of a garden, in the which be many diverse fruits; and the garden is always green and flourishing, all the seasons of the year as well in winter as in summer. That isle holds in compass about 350 French miles. And between Sicily and Italy there is not but a little arm of the sea, that men clepe the Farde of Messina. And Sicily is between the sea Adriatic and the sea of Lombardy. And from Sicily into Calabria is but eight miles of Lombardy.

And in Sicily there is a manner of serpent, by the which men assay and prove, whether their children be bastards or no, or of lawful marriage: for if they be born in right marriage, the serpents go about them, and do them no harm, and if they be born in avoutry, the serpents bite them and envenom them. And thus many wedded men prove if the children be their own.

Also in that isle is the Mount Etna, that men clepe Mount Gybelle, and the volcanoes that be evermore burning. And there be seven places that burn and that cast out diverse flames and diverse colour: and by the changing of those flames, men of that country know when it shall be dearth or good time, or cold or hot or moist or dry, or in all other manners how the time shall be governed. And from Italy unto the volcanoes ne is but twenty-five mile. And men say, that the volcanoes be ways of hell.

And whoso goeth by Pisa, if that men list to go that way, there is an arm of the sea, where that men go to other havens in those marches. And then men pass by the isle of Greaf that is at Genoa. And after arrive men in Greece at the haven of the city of Myrok, or at the haven of Valone, or at the city of Duras; and there is a Duke at Duras, or at other havens in those marches; and so men go to Constantinople. And after go men by water to the isle of Crete and to the isle of Rhodes, and so to Cyprus, and so to Athens, and from thence to Constantinople. To hold the more right way by sea, it is well a thousand eight hundred and four score mile of Lombardy. And after from Cyprus men go by sea, and leave Jerusalem and all the country on the left hand, unto Egypt, and arrive at the city of Damietta, that was wont to be full strong, and it sits at the entry of Egypt. And from Damietta go men to the city of Alexandria, that sits also upon the sea. In that city was Saint Catherine beheaded: and there was Saint Mark the evangelist martyred and buried, but the Emperor Leo made his bones to be brought to Venice.

And yet there is at Alexandria a fair church, all white without paintures; and so be all the other churches that were of the Christian men, all white within, for the Paynims and the Saracens made them white for to fordo the images of saints that were painted on the walls. That city of Alexandria is well thirty furlongs in length, but it is but ten on largeness; and it is a full noble city and a fair. At that city entereth the river of Nile into the sea, as I to you have said before. In that river men find many precious stones, and much also of lignum aloes; and it is a manner of wood, that cometh out of Paradise terrestrial, the which is good for many diverse medicines, and it is right dear-worth. And from Alexandria men go to Babylon, where the sultan dwelleth; that sits also upon the river of Nile: and this way is the most short, for to go straight unto Babylon.

Now shall I say you also the way, that goeth from Babylon to the Mount of Sinai, where Saint Catherine lieth. He must pass by the deserts of Arabia, by the which deserts Moses led the people of Israel. And then pass men by the well that Moses made with his hand in the deserts, when the people grucched; for they found nothing to drink. And then pass men by the Well of Marah, of the which the water was first bitter; but the children of Israel put therein a tree, and anon the water was sweet and good for to drink. And then go men by desert unto the vale of Elim, in the which vale be twelve wells; and there be seventy-two trees of palm, that bear the dates the which Moses found with the children of Israel. And from that valley is but a good journey to the Mount of Sinai.

And whoso will go by another way from Babylon, then men go by the Red Sea, that is an arm of the sea Ocean. And there passed Moses with the children of Israel, over-thwart the sea all dry, when Pharaoh the King of Egypt chased them. And that sea is well a six mile of largeness in length; and in that sea was Pharaoh drowned and all his host that he led. That sea is not more red than another sea; but in some place thereof is the gravel red, and therefore men clepen it the Red Sea. That sea runneth to the ends of Arabia and of Palestine.

That sea lasteth more than a four journeys, and then go men by desert unto the Vale of Elim, and from thence to the Mount of Sinai. And ye may well understand, that by this desert no man may go on horseback, because that there ne is neither meat for horse ne water to drink; and for that cause men pass that desert with camels. For the camel finds alway meat in trees and on bushes, that he feedeth him with: and he may well fast from drink two days or three. And that may no horse do.

And wit well that from Babylon to the Mount Sinai is well a twelve good journeys, and some men make them more. And some men hasten them and pain them, and therefore they make them less. And always men find latiners to go with them in the countries, and further beyond, into time that men con the language: and it behoveth men to bear victuals with them, that shall dure them in those deserts, and other necessaries for to live by.

And the Mount of Sinai is clept the Desert of Sin, that is for to say, the bush burning; because there Moses saw our Lord God many times in the form of fire burning upon that hill, and also in a bush burning, and spake to him. And that was at the foot of the hill. There is an abbey of monks, well builded and well closed with gates of iron for dread of the wild beasts; and the monks be Arabians or men of Greece. And there [is] a great convent, and all they be as hermits, and they drink no wine, but if it be on principal feasts; and they be full devout men, and live poorly and simply with joutes and with dates, and they do great abstinence and penances.

There is the Church of Saint Catherine, in the which be many lamps burning; for they have of oil of olives enough, both for to burn in their lamps and to eat also. And that plenty have they by the miracle of God; for the ravens and the crows and the choughs and other fowls of the country assemble them there every year once, and fly thither as in pilgrimage; and everych of them bringeth a branch of the bays or of olive in their beaks instead of offering, and leave them there; of the which the monks make great plenty of oil. And this is a great marvel. And sith that fowls that have no kindly wit or reason go thither to seek that glorious Virgin, well more ought men then to seek her, and to worship her.

Also behind the altar of that church is the place where Moses saw our Lord God in a burning bush. And when the monks enter into that place, they do off both hosen and shoon or boots always, because that our Lord said to Moses, Do off thy hosen and thy shoon, for the place that thou standest on is land holy and blessed. And the monks clepe that place Dozoleel, that is to say, the shadow of God. And beside the high altar, three degrees of height is the fertre of alabaster, where the bones of Saint Catherine lie. And the prelate of the monks sheweth the relics to the pilgrims, and with an instrument of silver he froteth the bones; and then there goeth out a little oil, as though it were a manner sweating, that is neither like to oil ne to balm, but it is full sweet of smell; and of that they give a little to the pilgrims, for there goeth out but little quantity of the liquor. And after that they shew the head of Saint Catherine, and the cloth that she was wrapped in, that is yet all bloody; and in that same cloth so wrapped, the angels bare her body to the Mount Sinai, and there they buried her with it. And then they shew the bush, that burned and wasted nought, in the which our Lord spake to Moses, and other relics enough.

Also, when the prelate of the abbey is dead, I have understood, by information, that his lamp quencheth. And when they choose another prelate, if he be a good man and worthy to be prelate, his lamp shall light with the grace of God without touching of any man. For everych of them hath a lamp by himself, and by their lamps they know well when any of them shall die. For when any shall die, the light beginneth to change and to wax dim; and if he be chosen to be prelate, and is not worthy, his lamp quencheth anon. And other men have told me, that he that singeth the mass for the prelate that is dead — he shall find upon the altar the name written of him that shall be prelate chosen. And so upon a day, I asked of the monks, both one and other, how this befell. But they would not tell me nothing, into the time that I said that they should not hide the grace that God did them, but that they should publish it to make the people have the more devotion, and that they did sin to hide God’s miracle, as me seemed. For the miracles that God hath done and yet doth every day, be the witness of his might and of his marvels, as David saith in the Psalter: MIRABILIA TESTIMONIA TUA, DOMINE, that is to say, ‘Lord thy marvels be thy witness.’ And then they told me, both one and other, how it befell full many a time, but more I might not have of them.

In that abbey ne entereth not no fly, ne toads ne newts, ne such foul venomous beasts, ne lice ne fleas, by the miracle of God, and of our Lady. For there were wont to be so many such manner of filths, that the monks were in will to leave the place and the abbey, and were from thence upon the mountain above to eschew that place; and our Lady came to them and bade them turn again, and from thence forwards never entered such filth in that place amongst them, ne never shall enter hereafter. Also, before the gate is the well, where Moses smote the stone, of the which the water came out plenteously.

From that abbey men go up the mountain of Moses, by many degrees. And there men find first a church of our Lady, where that she met the monks, when they fled away for the vermin above-said. And more high upon that mountain is the chapel of Elijah the prophet; and that place they clepe Horeb, whereof holy writ speaketh, ET AMBULAVIT IN FORTITUDINE CIBI ILLIUS USQUE, AD MONTEM OREB; that is to say, ‘And he went in strength of that meat unto the hill of God, Horeb.’ And there nigh is the vine that Saint John the Evangelist planted that men clepe raisins of Staphis. And a little above is the chapel of Moses, and the rock where Moses fled to for dread when he saw our Lord face to face. And in that rock is printed the form of his body, for he smote so strongly and so hard himself in that rock, that all his body was dolven within through the miracle of God. And there beside is the place where our Lord took to Moses the Ten Commandments of the Law. And there is the cave under the rock where Moses dwelt, when he fasted forty days and forty nights. But he died in the Land of Promission, and no man knoweth where he was buried. And from that mountain men pass a great valley for to go to another mountain, where Saint Catherine was buried of the angels of the Lord. And in that valley is a church of forty martyrs, and there sing the monks of the abbey, often-time: and that valley is right cold. And after men go up the mountain of Saint Catherine, that is more high than the mount of Moses; and there, where Saint Catherine was buried, is neither church nor chapel, nor other dwelling place, but there is an heap of stones about the place, where body of her, was put of the angels. There was wont to be a chapel, but it was cast down, and yet lie the stones there. And albeit that the Collect of Saint Catherine says, that it is the place where our Lord betaught the Ten Commandments to Moses, and there, where the blessed Virgin Saint Catherine was buried, that is to understand in one country, or in one place bearing one name; for both that one and that other is clept the mount of Sinai. But it is a great way from that one to that other, and a great deep valley between them.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:10