Peregrinatio Aetheriae, 381-384 AD

The pilgrim Egeria, who visited the Holy Land between 381 and 384 AD, joined the Christian community of Jerusalem on the afternoon of Holy Thursday when they began celebrations of the seasonal liturgy of the Easter Triduum in the Church of the Eleona, on the Mount of Olives. From the Eleona, at the first light of dawn on Holy Friday, they went to the Imbomon (Ascension) at the top of the mountain. From there, in procession with the bishop, they descended to the place of Jesus’ prayer in the olive grove, where she mentions there being an “elegant church” in which everyone entered for the Gospel reading and prayer. “Then from there with hymns everyone, including even the smallest children”, descended on foot to Gethsemane along with the bishop.

The travel journal of Egeria, discovered in 1884, contains precious notes of the pilgrim concerning the liturgies she saw in the Holy Land. Thanks to her descriptions, the sacred functions celebrated today in the Sanctuaries are once again following some of the practices used in the Mother Church of Jerusalem from the first centuries.

XXXVI. 1. Ac sic ergo cum ceperit esse pullorum cantus, descenditur de Imbomon cum ymnis et acceditur eodem loco, ubi orauit Dominus, sicut scriptum est in euangelio: “Et accessit quantum iactum lapidis et orauit” et cetera. In eo enim loco ecclesia est elegans. Ingreditur ibi episcopus et omnis populus, dicitur ibi oratio apta loco et diei, dicitur etiam unus ymnus aptus et legitur ipse locus de euangelio, ubi dixit discipulis suis: “Vigilate, ne intretis in temptationem.” Et omnis ipse locus perlegitur ibi et fit denuo oratio.

2. Et iam inde cum ymnis usque ad minimus infans in Gessamani pedibus cum episcopo descendent, ubi prae iam magna turba multitudinis et fatigati de uigiliis et ieiuniis cotidianis lassi, quia tam magnum montem necesse habent descendere, lente et lente cum ymnis uenitur in Gessamani. Candelae autem ecclesiasticae super ducente paratae sunt propter lumen omni populo.

3. Cum ergo peruentum fuerit in Gessamani, fit primum oratio apta, sic dicitur ymnus; item legitur ille locus de euangelio, ubi comprehensus est Dominus. Qui locus ad quod lectus fuerit, tantus rugitus et mugitus totius populi est cum fietu, ut forsitan porro ad ciuitatem gemitus populi omnis auditus sit. Et iam ex illa hora hitur ad ciuitatem pedibus cum ymnis, peruenitur ad portam ea hora, qua incipit quasi homo hominem cognoscere; inde totum per mediam ciuitatem omnes usque ad unum, maiores atque minores, diuites, pauperes, toti ibi parati, specialiter illa die nullus recedit a uigiliis usque in mane. Sic deducitur episcopus a Gessemani usque ad portam et inde per totam ciuitate usque ad Crucem.

W. Heraeus, Silviae vel potius Aetheriae peregrinatio ad loca sancta, Sammlung vulgar la teinischer Texte 1, Heidelberg 1908, pg. 41

XXXVI - 1. And at the first cockcrow they come down from the Imbomon (Ascension) singing hymns, and arrive at the place where the Lord prayed, as it is written in the Gospel: “After withdrawing about a stone's throw from them and kneeling, he prayed”, etc. There is in that place an elegant church. The bishop and all the people enter, a prayer suitable to the place and to the day is said, with one suitable hymn, and the passage from the Gospel is read where he (the Lord) said to his disciples: “Watch, that you enter not into temptation”. The whole passage is read through and a second prayer is then made.

2. Then from there with hymns everyone, including even the smallest children, goes down with the Bishop, on foot, to Gethsemane. On account of the great number of people in the crowd, who are wearied owing to the vigils and weak from the daily fasts, and because they have so great a hill to descend, they come very slowly with hymns to Gethsemane. And over two hundred church candles are made ready to give light to all the people.

3. On their arrival at Gethsemane, first a suitable prayer is made, then a hymn is sung, then the passage of the Gospel is read where the Lord was arrested. And when this passage is read there is so great a moaning and groaning of all the people who are weeping that their lamentation may be heard perhaps as far as the city. From that hour they go to the city on foot singing hymns, reaching the gate about the time when one man begins to be able to recognize another. Then from there right on through the middle of the city all, to a man, both great and small, rich and poor, all are present there, for on that special day not a soul withdraws from the vigils until morning. In this manner the bishop is escorted from Gethsemane to the gate, and from there through the whole of the city to the Cross.