Page last updated at 15:14 GMT, Friday, 4 September 2009 16:14 UK

Medieval travel book on display

A copy of Gerald of Wales' book
Gerald de Barri trekked more than 500 miles around Wales

A 13th Century copy of a medieval travel writer's book has returned to Wales for the first time in 20 years to form part of an exhibition.

Gerald of Wales trekked more than 500 miles (804.5km) in 1188, primarily to recruit soldiers for the third crusade in the Middle East.

A copy of his "Journey through Wales" has been lent to The National Museum in Cardiff by The British Library.

The exhibition is about Wales' links to the Holy Land during the crusades.

It was March 1188 when Gerald de Barri set out with Archbishop of Canterbury Baldwin from Hereford on his tour of Wales to recruit troops.

For most Christians in medieval Europe, Jerusalem was the centre of the world and soldiers fought to reclaim the Holy Land for Christianity.

GERALD'S THOUGHTS OF WALES
There were many hazards from muddy roads and bad weather to impassable fords
Crossing the River Neath the party almost lost a pack-horse
In Haverforwest Gerald preached in Latin and French, and many who understood neither language rushed up to receive the sign of the cross
Only one Welsh prince - Owain Cyfeiliog - did not take the cross and he was excommunicated 'to encourage the others'

At the time, de Barri was aged in his 40s, was the archdeacon of Brecon and a royal official.

The party travelled in a clockwise direction stopping first at New Radnor, in Powys, and ending in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, before returning to Hereford.

Professor Huw Pryce, Welsh historian at Bangor University, said the Latin text was an "entertaining" history of medieval Wales.

'Early travel book'

"He uses this journey to recruit troops around Wales to pick on all sorts of accounts of what had happened in these places in the past or in recent years," he said.

"It includes quite as lot of miraculous material, as you'd expect from Gerald being a churchman.

"In one example, he talks about a church in mid Wales where there was staff, a relic belonging to St Garmon, which was meant to have miraculous properties to cure tumours providing you offered a penny.

"The story is of someone who only offered a halfpenny and his tumour only went down half way. And then later he found another halfpenny and the tumour went completely.

"There are all sorts of descriptions of Wales and the Welsh as well. You could say this was the first book written about Wales as a subject, it's an early travel book, They enter from Hereford and into Radnor, go down along south east, southern coast and up to north Wales.

"They spend a lot less time in north Wales. Gerald of course came from Pembrokeshire, he came from a marcher family and knew the south very well.

"He was a very educated man, a younger son, who was destined for the church, and spent time in Paris, there are all sorts of quotations from the Bible and classical works - he was trying to make an impression, make his name and earn himself promotion in the church."

A National Museum spokeswoman said the display would show the link between Wales to the Holy Land during the crusades.

She added: "Gerald called his book 'a clear mirror, reflecting the wild and trackless places we passed through... it portrays the country itself, as well as the origins, customs and ways of the inhabitants'.

"His account provides remarkable insight into the actions of and attitudes to crusading. Although Gerald did not go on the third crusade, he was committed to the crusading ideal."

Gerald, who died in 1223, wrote 17 books.

Medieval Wales: Some Crusade Stories runs at the National Museum, Cardiff until 3 January 2010.



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