Friar Felix Fabri

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Friar Felix Fabri

(c. 1483)

Swiss-born Dominican from Ulm. Went on Pilgrimage to Jerusalem between 1480-3.

Fratris Felicis Fabri Evagatorium in Terræ Sanctæ, Arabiæ et Egypti peregrinationem.


Yet it is true that when the deceased has any friends they do what they please with his body, and put it into the sea either without stones or with stones, or with a plank. When the body has been laid out the clerk of the galley makes a list in writing of all the property left by the deceased, and presents it to the captain, and pays the deceased's debts, if he has no friends. If he has friends they manage this for him, and have him buried in the next port at which they touch; and unless pilgrims previously make a covenant with the captain, as we ourselves did, the captain receives the bed and bedding, and clothes, of the deceased. Many think this to be the noblest kind of burial, and preferable to being crushed by the weight of the earth. So at the present day the Aethiopians throw their dead into the river Nile, as we are told by Diodorus, because they hold the river to be the best of all sepulchres, for whether the body be eaten by beasts, or whether it rots there, it defiles neither the air nor the earth. If one of the Venetian grandees dies at sea, they bury his body in the sand which is within the ship, and bring it to Venice; this I have seen

Howbeit, when it was night there came some young Aethiopians, shield-bearers of the Moorish lords, who were very mischievous and vicious, and wanted to come into the cave to pilfer and to plague us ; but the watchmen whom we had hired would not suffer them to come in, and they disputed and strove with one another for some time before the mouth of the cave. When they found that they would not be suffered to enter therein, they sat down before the door and sang all night long howling, barking, and grunting like beasts, dogs, and pigs. For all Easterns have most harsh voices; nor can they form any melody, but their singing is like the noise of goats or calves. So with this disturbance we spent that night.

The aforesaid chapel beneath Mount Calvary belongs to the Nubian Christians, who conduct their services therein, and say that King Melchior, one of the three magi of whom we read in the second chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, was a King of Nubia, and that when he came from Nubia and had drawn nigh to Jerusalem, he would not enter the city, but was entertained near Mount Calvary, and that therefore this place has been assigned to them from old times.

The Georgians, who are also called Nubians, and who are most generally known as Christians of the Cincture, come from parts very far distant from the Holy Land, and are warriors, who even train their women to fight. They are Christians, but tainted throughout with the same errors as the Greeks. In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre they own Mount Calvary, and they always have a guardian of the holy rock shut up in the church. They have not had this holy place long, but only for the last fifteen years ; for they offered presents to the King of Egypt, the Sultan, who turned out the Armenians from it and put in the Georgians in their stead. They also own the place and cave of the Invention of the Holy Cross, and three lamps therein, which, however, they seldom light. They also own the chapel beneath Mount Calvary, wherein the Latin Kings of Jerusalem were buried,

Now, as for the thirty pieces of money, I have read a long rambling story which says that Terah, the father of Abraham, struck them at the bidding of King Ninus, with others of the same mintage; and that Abraham received them and brought them into this land, and that from him they were handed down to Ishmael by inheritance, all together, and that they never were divided from one another. They were paid by the Ishmaelites to the children of Jacob for their brother Joseph, whom they sold to them, and the brethren carried them down into Egypt to buy corn with. From Egypt they were carried into Sheba, as the price of merchandise. The Queen of Sheba gave them to Solomon among other presents, and he cast them into the treasury of the Lord's temple. Nebuchadnezzar carried them off together with the other treasures of the temple, and made a present of them to Godolia (sic!), by whom they were sent to the kingdom of Nubia. When the Lord was born in Bethlehem, Melchior, the King of Nubia, offered them to the Lord, and the blessed Virgin and Joseph lost them in the desert when they were fleeing with the child. A shepherd found them, and kept them for thirty years. This shepherd, hearing the fame of the miracles of the Lord Jesus came to Jerusalem sick; and, having received health from Him, offered the thirty pieces to Jesus, Since He would not receive them, he gave them to the priests of the temple, who set them aside as corhan. When the Lord had been betrayed, they handed them over to Judas, who, moved by remorse, flung them down in the temple. The priests picked them up, and bought this field for them, and thus they became scattered separately throughout the world. I have seen one of them in Rhodes, and Johannes Tucher, of Nuremberg, took a cast of it, had a leaden mould made, and cast silver coins in its likeness, which he distributed among his friends ; indeed, when we were all gathered together in Nuremberg in the year 1485, to celebrate the meeting of the chapter of the province, the aforesaid man gave one of his pieces of silver to a certain brother of our order. It is about as large as those of the coins called blaffardi which are marked with a cross; on one side there is a human face, on the other a lily. There once was an inscription, but it cannot now be seen. So much for Mount Aceldama.

Twelfthly, this knighthood of Jerusalem is wiser, because of the various experiences which a man under- goeth therein. A nobleman who sets out for Jerusalem gains much experience about the way of the world at sea and on either side of the sea, about the customs of men and their differences ; for he receives knowledge both of the faithful and of infidels, because he sees and dwells with Christians, Turks, Saracens, Mamelukes, Tartars, Arabs, Jews, Samaritans, Moors, Greeks, Nubians, Jacobites, Abyssinians or Indians, Georgians, Armenians, Hungarians, Dalmatians, Pannonians, Achaeans, Italians, Gauls, Angles, Teutons, and, in short, he gains knowledge about men of all lands, both Eastern and Western, if he be a man of reflection.

After dinner we met upon Mount Sion, took with us Elphahallo, the sub-Calinus, and entered Jerusalem by the Dung Gate or Gate of the Dunghill, whereof mention is often made in Scripture, more especially in Nehemiah. It was called the Dung Gate of old, and is so called at this day, because all dirt and dung is carried out through it and cast down toward the valley, wherefore out of the mass of rubbish thrown there a heap has grown up like a little hill, so high that it overlooks the city wall at that place. When we had passed through it we came to the sheep market, from thence we went into a narrow street wherein dwelt many Nubian Christians, and we knocked at the door of their church. When the door was opened we went in and said a prayer there. This church was pretty large, but dark ; and, indeed, all the Eastern churches are dark and gloomy. This church stands upon the place where once stood the house of Mary, the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, at whose door Peter knocked when he was brought out of prison by the angel, whereof the sweet story may be read in the twelfth chapter of the Acts.

When I came out of the grotto I went up to Galilee, and from thence along the ridge of the Mount of Olives I came to the Church of the Lord's Ascension, which I entered, and found therein a choir of Jacobites praising God with music which was strange to me. Moreover, Abyssinians or Indians likewise came thither to hold their services, and Nubians were waiting there for the same purpose; indeed, the whole Mount of Olives was crowded with Eastern Christians on that day, but what the cause of this gathering of Easterns on that day was, I do not know. I went about, the only Latin Christian among these Easterns, and no one did me any harm, nor did they drive me away from their services ; but they wondered at me, and gazed curiously at me, my dress, and my ways. These aforesaid Easterns are all as a rule black, and differ from us in colour, dress, language, ritual and customs.

We settled ourselves down in these caves to rest during the heat of the day; for we could not have stayed under our tents because of the excessive heat of the sun, which pierced through the cloth of the tents and made the inside of them like ovens. For this cause the Midianites, Arabs, and Aethiopians have tents made of leather to keep out the sun's heat.

Beyond the gulf of the sea toward the south, we saw as we looked down toward the west an exceeding high mountain, which they call Olympus of Aethiopia, to distinguish it from Olympus of Macedonia. At sunrise this mountain pours forth flames in a terrible fashion for five hours. From this mountain Aethiopia begins, which country was of old named Atlanta, and is bounded by the river Nile. It is a very wide land, and brings forth strange men and wondrous beasts in its wildernesses. Some of these men look upon the sun when he rises and sets with dreadful curses, and always angrily abuse the sun because of their sufferings from the heat. There satyrs run about, who are so like men that they are reckoned to be men indeed, though they are not so, and there are many wonders in that country. It is bounded by Libya, a great district of Africa, and by Egypt

Selected editions

Felix Fabri (Circa 1480 — 1483 A.D.), trans. A. Stewart (2 volumes. London: 1893-1896).