Thursday, July 7, 2011
July 7 -- Feast of Saint Willibald
In the long list of firsts, I don't suppose the first piece of Anglo-Saxon travel writing would deserve bold print. After all, the Anglo-Saxons did not distinguish themselves as travel writers. And while Beowulf made the literary canon, Saint Willibald's Hodoeporicon is somewhat less famous. Still, let's give the saint his due.
Willibald was a West Saxon monk from a notably pious family. His dad, who has come to be known as Richard the King even though he was not a king and was not named Richard, took him and his brother on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which was then under the control of the Saracens. Not Really King Richard (NRKR) died in Tuscany, where his grave is venerated as if he were a saint, but of course he was never really canonized. His brother Winnebald got sick on the way and stayed in Rome. Willibald found some other traveling companions and carried on, getting busted as a spy in Syria at one point. Eventually he made his way from Damascus to Jerusalem, hitting all the New Testament Kodak Photo Spots (e.g. Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Jordan River, Cana). Then he lit out for the desert to visit the monks and hermits, following which he went to Constantinople to see how the Eastern half lived. Actually, they weren't quite the Eastern half yet, but the split was coming soon.
Sometime after he returned, his famous uncle, Saint Boniface, recruited him to evangelize the polytheists of the upper Rhine, around Franconia. He had enough success to establish a congregation so he got a bishop's hat and an order to stay put for the remaining forty-four years of his life. However, in his old age, he dictated the memories of his travels to a nun named Huneberc of Heidenheim. More than a stenographer, we might think of her as the Alex Haley to Willibald's Malcolm X. If you will. With all respect to all parties.
The picture, by the way, is said to be of NRKR. I figure he ought to get some cred here.
Posted by Tom Major at 6:50 AM