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The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity

from its origins to circa AD 700, across the entire Christian world

The Piacenza Pilgrim records, on the road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, the graves of *Rachel (wife of the patriarch Jacob, S00701) and *Benjamin (Old Testament patriarch, S00702), and his visit to the church [of the Kathisma] where *Mary (Mother of Christ, S00033), rested on the flight into Egypt and brought forth water from the rock. Account of an anonymous pilgrim, written in Latin, probably in Placentia (northern Italy), c. 570.

Evidence ID


Type of Evidence

Literary - Pilgrim accounts and itineraries

Major author/Major anonymous work

Pilgrim of Piacenza

Pilgrim of Piacenza, Itinerarium 28

First recension
Via, quae ducit Bethlem, ad tertium miliarium de Hierosolima iacet Rachel in corpore, in finis loci, qui uocatur Rama. In ipso loco uidi in media uia de petra exire aquam inmobilem ad arbitratum usque ad sextarios septem, unde conplent omnes et neque minuitur neque ampliatur. Suauitudo ad bibendum innarrabilis, dicentes, eo quod sancta Maria fugiens in Aegyptum in ipso loco sedit et sitiuit, et sic egressa esset ipsa aqua. Ibi et ecclesia modo facta est.

'On the way to Bethlehem, at the third milestone from Jerusalem, lies the body of Rachel, on the edge of the area called Ramah. There I saw still water which came from a rock, of a quantity that could be judged as up to seven
sextarii. Everyone has their fill of it, and the water does not become less or more. It is indescribably sweet to drink, and people say that saint Mary on the flight into Egypt seated herself thirsty on this very spot, and so the water immediately flowed. Now a church has been built there.'

Second recension
Via, quae ducit Bethleem, miliario tertio ab Hierusalem iacet Rachel uxor Iacob, mater scilicet Ioseph.
Et Beniamin iacet in finibus Rama. In ipso loco in media uia uidi aquam surgere, quasi sextarios septem. Vnde complent omnes satietatem bibendi, et nec minuitur nec augetur. Et est suauis ad potandum. Et dicunt, quod fugiens beata Maria in Aegyptum et sederit ibi cum puero et sitiens orauit et continuo ipsa aqua emanauit. Et in ipso loco modo ecclesia constructa est.

'On the way to Bethlehem, at the third milestone from Jerusalem, lies the body of Rachel, wife of Jacob, mother of Joseph. And Benjamin lies within the boundaries of Ramah. There I saw water which surged up to seven
sextarii in quantity. Everyone has their fill to drink, and the water does not become less or more. It is sweet and good to drink, and they say that blessed Mary on the flight into Egypt seated herself there with her son, and, being thirsty, prayed, and the water immediately appeared. Now a church has been built there.'

Text: Geyer 1898,
177 and 208. Translation: Wilkinson 2002, 142, modified.

Cult Places

Cult building - independent (church)
Place associated with saint's life

Non Liturgical Activity



Material support (supply of food, water, drink, money)


This Itinerary was written by an anonymous pilgrim to Palestine whose home town was Piacenza (ancient Placentia) in northern Italy: he explicitly states in the first sentence of his text that he set out from Piacenza, under the protection of the local martyr Antoninus (see E00578), and references later in the text make it clear that he successfully made it home (e.g. E00455). Otherwise we know nothing about him, except that he was male (since he occasionally refers to himself using the masculine gender: e.g. 'ego indignus' in 1.4). Unlike the earlier pilgrim Egeria, who wrote the account of her travels while still abroad (see E05245), our pilgrim wrote up, or at least edited, his account once he was home (see again E00455).

His visit to the East can be dated with reasonable confidence to after 556, and before about 570, because he tells us (in chap. 1) that the terrible earthquake and tsunami that devastated coastal Phoenicia in 551 had occurred 'recently' (
nuper), but also states that it happened 'in the time of the emperor Justinian' (tempore Iustiniani imperatoris), a phrasing that tells us he was writing after Justinian's death in 556.

Itinerary opens with the pilgrim travelling (evidently by sea) to Cyprus and then on to Tripolis (modern Tripoli in northern Lebanon), and from there by land to Palestine and the holy sites of the Old and New Testaments. Within the Holy Land he travelled extensively, and his individual itineraries can be reconstructed with some precision (Wilkinson 2002 has excellent maps showing these). After this (he gives no indication of the passage of time) he travelled to Lower Egypt by way of Mount Sinai, ending up in Alexandria. The Itinerary then jumps back to Jerusalem (suggesting a leg by sea), where the pilgrim was delayed by illness. He then sets off northwards for home, but from Antioch takes a long detour eastwards into Mesopotamia. The text ends abruptly, and without comment, on the Euphrates close to Rusafa/Sergiopolis, suggesting that the final pages of the account are lost.

For the most part it is evident from our pilgrim's phrasing that he saw the places he lists in person - 'then we came', 'we saw', etc. - but on occasion he introduces the impersonal third person singular - 'two miles from the city is the shrine of', etc. - and he also mentions places that were not on his direct route; so he may have derived some of his information at second hand (Wilkinson 2002, 13).

Itinerary is extant in two recensions. The first recension is accepted to be essentially what our pilgrim wrote. The second recension, which cannot be dated, is not massively different but makes some small alterations to the text: some deletions, some explanatory additions (e.g. E00513), and some 'corrections'. It is evident that the author of the second recension had not visited the Holy Land, and some of his supposed corrections in fact introduce obvious errors (e.g. E00413, and, most egregiously, E00571). We have ignored the second recension wherever changes from the first are not substantive; but quoted its text where there are significant differences, for two reasons: because some of these differences are interesting in themselves, even though they are undatable (e.g. E00457), and because sometimes., for instance with a name, the manuscripts of the second recension may actually preserve the pilgrim's text better than do those of the first recension (see, for instance, E00456 and E00513).

Itinerary can be readily compared with an earlier pilgrim's diary written in the 380s by another western pilgrim, Egeria. The Piacenza pilgrim's text is less detailed than her account, but shows the development of cultic practices and infrastructure which had taken place in the course of two hundred years: there are more places to visit, more objects to see, and more saints to venerate.

As with all the pilgrim texts from the Holy Land, it has been difficult to decide what to include, and what to exclude from our database, focused as it is on the 'cult of saints'. We have necessarily excluded the vast number of sites associated exclusively with the life and miracles of Jesus, and have, of course, included all obvious references to cult sites of Christian saints: their graves, churches, and references to important places in their lives, such as their place of martyrdom. A problem, however, arises when our pilgrims write about sites associated with figures from the Old Testament, since in time many of these certainly acquired Christian cult, but it is generally impossible to tell whether our pilgrims regarded these figures as saints in the Christian tradition, whose power and aid they might invoke, or whether they record the holy sites associated with them through a broader and looser biblical curiosity and veneration. The compromise position we have taken with regard to these Old Testament figures is to include all references to places associated with them where our Christian writers record miraculous occurrences or where there was a church or oratory, and also all references to their graves (though with these latter there is often no explicit reference to Christian cult).

(Bryan Ward-Perkins, Robert


Rachel's burial close to Bethlehem is mentioned in Genesis 35:19. There is no evidence from our pilgrim's account of her and Benjamin's graves that they were attracting Christian cult.

The church, where Mary sat down and a miraculous flow of water appeared, was, however, a major shrine, known as the Kathisma (where a large centrally-planned fifth/sixth-century church has been excavated). According to Cyril of Scythopolis in his
Life of Theodosius, it was built by a certain Hikelia (see E06769).


Geyer, P. (ed.), Antonini Placentini Itinerarium, in Itineraria et alia geographica (Corpus Chistianorum, series Latina 175; Turnholti: Typographi Brepols editores pontificii, 1965), 129-174. [Essentially a reprinting of Geyer's edition for the Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 39, Wien 1898.]

English translations:
Stewart, A.,
Of the Holy Places Visited by Antoninus Martyr (London: Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, 1887).

Wilkinson, J.,
Jerusalem Pilgrims Before the Crusades (2nd ed.; Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 2002).

Record Created By

Robert Wiśniewski

Date Last Modified


Related Saint Records
IDNameName in SourceIdentity
S00033Mary, Mother of ChristMariaCertain
S00701Rachel, wife of the Old Testament patriarch JacobRachelCertain
S00702Benjamin, Old Testament patriarchBeniaminCertain

Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL:
Robert Wiśniewski, Cult of Saints, E00482 -