Touring a Holy Land Symbolic Geography and Travel in Late-Antique Egypt

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Rebecca Krawiec



The study of both pilgrimage and monasticism in late-antique Egypt has long included a notion of sacred geography—of making a land holy. This paper extends this idea to how language about travel and geography shapes particular texts about late-antique monasticism in Egypt for which such topics have been overlooked. Symbolic geography infuses the landscape not simply with holiness but with particular roles in defining a people in relationship to that land. Drawing on the idea that pilgrimage includes travelling to and among the monks for the purpose of instruction, these texts traditionally regarded as “monastic” can be reread as “pilgrimage” texts infused with this symbolic geography. In doing so, it becomes apparent that Egypt as a land is made sacred not simply by the presence of holy monks sanctifying the desert but by the acts of pilgrimage to these men. The accounts of John Cassian and Palladius create the very status of Egypt that they assert is the rationale for their journey.



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