Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Having fun with Sighelm

Between them Sighelm and Michael Wood have a lot to answer for.

Just before Christmas I'd come to the following conclusions about Sighelm and his journey to India or not:

  • Sighelm the bishop was probably not old enough to be the person Alfred instructed in 883 to take alms to India, but Sighelm the ealdorman was. Nothing precludes Sighelm the bishop travelling in Sighelm the ealdorman's party.
  • The pilgrim route to Rome was well known and well travelled
  • Most pilgrims to Jerusalem took ship from Italy rather than travelling overland
  • There was a flourishing spice trade via Alexandria to Kerala
  • Some early medieval pilgrims travelled via Alexandria and St Catherine's monastery to Jerusalem
  • There was (possibly) an established pilgrim route via the Gulf to Kerala from Jerusalem for nestorian christians
Which has led me to conclude that Sighelm could certainly have made the journey to India following the sea borne spice route he could well also have gone via Judea and followed trading/pilgrimage routes to Baghdad and the Gulf.

To do any more I need more knowledge about christian pilgrimage in the pre-Islamic middle East and christian communities in the east after the advent of Islam. The presence of a community of St Thomas Christians on Socotra in the tenth century is interesting and, there may have been others on the coast of Yemen and Somalia that have left no trace.

Equally the establishment of a monastery and xenodochia at Sir Bani Yas in Abu Dhabi is provocative and suggests that people certainly were travelling that way. And where there's one xenodochia there should be others.

And I was happy to leave it at that, and perhaps occasionally poke at it in a dilletante-ish way. I'd learned a lot and felt happy with what I'd learned.

And then between Christmas and New Year I picked up a second hand copy of Michael Wood's 'In Search of England' as light reading. Bad choice. Wood of course is seriously interested in late Anglo Saxon history and had material that had me scurrying to the library in my lunchtime (one of the joys of working for a university) to follow up on Anglo Saxon links with Pavia, which is a whole set of other interesting stories and problems, eg the formation of early medieval states ...

As I said I'm having fun with this ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Michael Wood's writing is a well-known gateway drug :-) Keep us posted with your findings!