The Slawinia of Vita Willibaldi

According to the composer of his Vita, Hugeburc of Heidenheim (!), Bishop Willibald of Eichstätt (700 – 787) went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the year 722.  During his journey he passed through the Peloponnese reaching the city of Monemvasia in the land of Slavinia (“….venerunt ultra mare Adria ad urbem Manamfasiam in Slawinia terrae.”)  Slavic presence in the Peloponnese is attested in numerous sources (such as the Scholium of Arethas of Caesaria, the Chronicle of Monemvasia, the much later Chronicle of Morea).  Here we present Hugeburc’s Vita Willibaldi (translation by C. H. Talbot).

As a point of further interest both Willibald (born in Wessex) and Hugeburc were Anglo-Saxons. Also Hugeburc (also Hygeburg or Huneberc) was a nun at the Abbey of Heidenheim.  She wrote the Vita at some point between 767 and 778.

“…So after the solemnities of Easter Sunday were over this restless fighter set off on his journey with two companions.  On their way they came to a town east of Terracina [Fondi] and stayed there two days.  Then, leaving it behind, they reached Gaeta, which stands at the edge of the sea. At this point they went on board a ship and crossed over the sea to Naples, where they left the ship in which they had sailed and stayed for two weeks. These cities belong to the Romans: they are in the territory of Benevento, but owe allegiance to the Romans.  And at once, as is usual when the mercy of God is at work, their fondest hopes were fulfilled, for they chanced upon a ship that had come from Egypt, so they embarked on it and set sail for a town called Reggio in Calabria. At this place they stayed two days; then they departed and betook themselves to the island of Sicily, that is to say, to Catania, where the body of St. Agatha, the virgin, rests.  Mount Etna is there.  Whenever the volcanic fire erupts there and begins to spread and threaten the whole region the people of the city take the body of St. Agatha and place it in front of the oncoming fiames and they stop immediately.  They stayed there three weeks. Thence they sailed for Syracuse, a city in the same country.  Sailing from Syracuse, they crossed the Adriatic and reached the city of Monembasia [Monemvasia], in the land of Slawinia, and from there they sailed to Chios, leaving Corinth on the port side.  Sailing on from there, they passed Samos and sped on towards Asia, to the city of Ephesus, which stands about a mile from the sea.  Then they went on foot to the spot where the Seven Sleepers lie at rest.  From there they walked to the tomb of St. John, the Evangelist, which is situated in a beautiful spot near Ephesus, and thence two miles farther on along the sea coast to a great city called Phygela, where they stayed a day.  At this place they begged some bread and went to a fountain in the middle of the city, and, sitting on the edge of it, they dipped their bread in the water and so ate. They pursued their journey on foot along the sea shore to the town of Hierapolis, which stands on a high mountain; and thence they went to a place called Patara, where they remained until the bitter and icy winter had passed.  Afterwards they sailed from there and reached a city called Miletus, which was formerly threatened with destruction from the waters.  At this place there were two solitaries living on ” stylites “, that is, colurnns built up and strengthened by a great stone wall of immense height, to protect them from the water. Thence they crossed over by sea to Mount Chelidonium and traversed the whole of it.  At this point they suffered very much from hunger, because the country was wild and desolate, and they grew so weak through lack of food that they feared their last day had come.  But the Almighty Shepherd of His people deigned to provide food for His poor servants.  Sailing from there, they reached the island of Cyprus, which lies between the Greeks and the Saracens, and went to the city of Pamphos, where they stayed three weeks. It was then Eastertime, a year after their setting out.  Thence they went to Constantia, where the body of St. Epiphanius rests, and they remained there until after the feast of St. John the Baptist…”

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January 29, 2017

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