The world’s first travel guide will be restored| National Catholic Register

Through an online campaign, the library of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium will finance the restoration of the 15th-century Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam.

It is considered to be the first illustrated travel guide in history and one of the first faithful representations of the land of Christ decades after the invention of printing. Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (A Pilgrimage to the Holy Land), a rare book from the 15th century, will soon be restored as part of the “Adopt-a-Book” program, a crowdfunding campaign launched by the library of the Catholic University of Leuven, .

The work depicts a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Mount Sinai undertaken by the German cleric and diplomat Bernhard von Breydenbach between 1483 and 1484. Breydenbach’s text is illustrated by one of his traveling companions, the Dutch artist and engraver Erhard Reuwich.

The Voyage was first published in Latin and German in 1486 and was such a success that it was reprinted several times in the following years and translated into several languages.

“Journey from Europe to the Holy Land mapped and illustrated; the cityscapes, inhabitants and language were described by and for the pilgrim,” Griet Dobbelaere, in charge of the fundraising campaign for the restoration project, told the Register.

From Venice to Cairo

The journey began in Rödelheim, Germany. The travelers then reached Venice and sailed via Corfu, Modoni and Rhodes to Jaffa. After visiting Jerusalem and Bethlehem, they passed through the Sinai desert to the Monastery of Saint Catherine and returned via Cairo and Alexandria. The journey ended in February 1484 in the German city of Mainz, where printing was invented by Johannes Gutenberg some 30 years earlier.

Panoramic views of Venice, Parenzo, Corfu, Methoni, Herakleion, Rhodes and Jerusalem were faithfully reproduced in the book, which also contains a description of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, as well as plates with figures of Saracens, Jews, Greeks, Syrians. , Abyssinians and Turks, and tables of the letters of the Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopian, Armenian, and Greek alphabets.

Giulia Bartrum, curator of German prints at the British Museum, noted that most descriptions of places like Jerusalem were inaccurate before this book was published. “Very few people in Europe had ever visited these places, so they had no real idea of ​​what they looked like until this wonderful detailed guide came along,” she said.

The 500-year-old book also contains chapters on the various religious doctrines of the time, indications of distances between places on the road from Venice to Jaffa, a detailed calendar of pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Mount Sinai, as well as advice and remedies. to protect travelers from the dangers associated with travel to unknown lands.

The drawings of animals, present in the first version of the work, are not present in the Leuven copy, that is, the Latin edition of Peter Drach, printed in 1490 in the German city of Speyer.

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land is considered a key work of book printing before 1500,” Dobbelaere told the Register. “The University of Leuven is truly fortunate to have a copy of this extraordinary treasure that is now in poor condition, unfortunately .”

Reversing the Passage of Time

The precious incunabulum belongs to the collection of the Maurits Sabbe Library, the research and heritage library of the Leuven faculty of theology and religious studies.

According to its experts, the work’s poor condition is the result of damage from time, along with an earlier unsuccessful restoration attempt in the 19th century. They estimate the total cost of the restoration work at around €8,000 (US$8,200), explaining on the website that the conservation work will be carried out at the university’s Book Heritage Laboratory under the leadership of Lieve Watteeuw.

Dobbelaere said, “We are still looking for funds to help us fund the restoration and save this work so that many generations can be touched by a well-preserved heritage that is the tangible evidence of a fascinating past.”


The project, which was the subject of a video presentation, is open to contributors from around the world through the “Adopt-a-Book” crowdfunding campaign, a program launched by the university to ensure the preservation, management and evaluation of its values . heritage collection. Once the work is complete, the guide will be fully digitized and made accessible to the public.

Leave a Comment