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24 Aug

Travels to the East

Two monks and a guide (Odoric of Pordenone and James of Ireland) encounter a group of naked cannibals outside city walls.

Odoric of Pordenone and James of Ireland in Sumatra.
gallica.bnf.fr / BnF Français 2810, f.104r, 15thC

Ireland is famous, of course, for the peregrinato who left Ireland for the continent in the Early Middle Ages and their scholarly successors. Some, however, went further afield. When the Franciscan missionary Odoric of Pordenone was to Asia (c. 1316–18), he was accompanied by James of Ireland for at least part of this journey. On Odoric’s return to Italy he dictated an account of the things he had seen, dying a few months later (January 14, 1331) on his way to papal court at Avignon1 On the 5th April after Odric’s death, a gift of two marks was given to James by the city of Udine, described by the public books of “companion of the blessed Brother Odoric, loved of God and Ordoric”2.

Odoric’s account was popular in the later Middle Ages, and Odoric was lauded by later writers, including Luke Wadding.

  1. Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016) “Odoric of Pordenone” in Encyclopaedia Britannica (online).
  2. “Socio Beati Fratris
    Odorici, amore Dei et Odorici”. See Henry Yule (1913) Cathay and the Way Thither, Series 2, No. 33, Hakluyt Society, p. 11. (Archive.org). James is the likely origin of a Irish myth mentioned by Odoric: when he is questioning a story he is told of a melon that splits when ripe to reveal a lamb, he comments “though…some might find that hard to believe it may be quite true; just as it is true that in that there be in Ireland trees that bear birds”[3. Yule (1913), p. 241

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