Tracing the Footsteps of Jesus
From the fourth through the sixth centuries, people across the Mediterranean world flocked to the Roman province of Palestine. They were drawn by a new Christian understanding of the historical and spiritual significance of the region. The church father Jerome described his friend Paula's response when she arrived in Jerusalem from Rome: "Before the Cross she threw herself down in adoration as though she beheld the Lord hanging upon it: and when she entered the tomb which was the scene of the Resurrection she kissed the stone which the angel had rolled away from the door of the sepulchre. Indeed so ardent was her faith that she even licked with her mouth the very spot on which the Lord's body had lain, like one athirst for the river which he has longed for." Many foreign visitors settled in Palestine, embracing the monastic life of prayer.
The Christian Holy Land of this era can be seen most clearly through the eyes of a fourth-century woman named Egeria, a nun from Spain who traveled to the East and recorded what she witnessed for her monastic sisters back home. Not all of her account survives and little is known about her, but what has been preserved shows us how Christians responded to the land of the Bible and celebrated Christ's resurrection in Jerusalem.
By Camel, Mule, and Foot
Egeria's account is unusual for the time because a woman wrote it, but her activities were not out of the ordinary. There is ample evidence that wealthy Western women, often widows, traveled to the Holy Land and Egypt and gave generous donations to monasteries they visited. They were motivated by a desire to see the places where Jesus had lived, to visit the sites associated with the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs, and to meet holy men ...