Since the relatively recent discovery of the parchment reporting the incomplete narrative of a journey undertaken to the Holy Land, the text of the so-called ItinerariumEgeriae (formerly known as Peregrinatio Aetheriae) has attracted an amazing attention from scholars. Actually, the parchment, written at Montecassino and dated to the eleventh century, was found only at the end of the nineteenth century by Gian Francesco Gamurrini in the library of the Confraternita dei Laici in Arezzo.
There is a paradox within the monastic ideal: on the one hand, monks are meant to withdraw from the world into spiritual and ascetic seclusion; on the other hand, scripture enjoins hospitality on all Christians, to emulate the model of Abraham at Mamre – “for in this way some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). This paradox becomes especially pronounced in the course of the fourth and fifth centuries AD, as monastic communities become custodians of the increasingly popular pilgrim shrines in the Holy Land and elsewhere in the Near East. Some practitioners took this paradox to extremes, such as the stylite saints, who maintained a highly visible seclusion while at the same dispensing advice and blessings to large numbers of visitors. Historical texts, such as saints’ lives or pilgrim accounts, describe the tensions that arise from the paradox. Below I explore the scriptural and pious models for hospitality and charity, and the resulting conflict between monastic seclusion and pilgrim hospitality as described in the sources. I will also look at issues such as different levels of access to public and private space, differentiation between monastic and lay guests, and differentiation by gender.