The first guidebook in the world will be restored| National Catholic Register

Thanks to 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 believed to be the first illustrated guidebook in history and one of the first true depictions of Christ’s land decades after the invention of printing. Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (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 tells about the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Mount Sinai made by the German clergyman and diplomat Bernhard von Breidenbach between 1483 and 1484. Breidenbach’s text is illustrated by one of his traveling companions, the Dutch painter and engraver Erhard Rojwicz.

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

“The journey from Europe to the Holy Land was charted and illustrated; the cityscapes, inhabitants and language were depicted by and for the pilgrim,” Greet Dobbelaer, who is in charge of the restoration project’s fundraising campaign, told the Register.

From Venice to Cairo

The journey began in Redelheim, Germany. Then the travelers reached Venice and sailed through Corfu, Modon 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 Johannes Gutenberg invented printing about 30 years ago.

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

Julia Bartrum, Curator of German Prints at the British Museum, pointed out that most depictions 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 amazingly detailed guide came along,” she said.

The 500-year-old book also includes chapters on the various religious doctrines of the time, directions for distances between places on the road from Venice to Jaffa, a detailed calendar of pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Mount Sinai, and advice and cures. protect travelers from the risks associated with traveling to unknown countries.

The drawings of animals present in the first version of the work are absent in the Leuven copy, i.e. the Latin edition of Peter Drach, printed in 1490 in the German city of Speyer.

Pilgrimage to the Holy Land is considered a key piece of printing before 1500,” Dobbeler told the Register. “The University of Leuven is truly fortunate to have a copy of this wonderful treasure, which is now unfortunately in poor condition.”

Reversing the flow of time

The precious incunabula 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 poor condition of the work is the result of the destruction of time, as well as a previous unsuccessful attempt at restoration in the 19th century. They estimate the total cost of the restoration work at around €8,000 ($8,200), explaining on the website that the conservation work will be carried out at the university’s book heritage laboratory under the direction of Liv Watteau.

Dobbeler said: “We are still looking for funds to help us fund the restoration and preserve this work so that many future generations can touch a well-preserved heritage that is a real testament to a fascinating past.”


The project, which was the subject of a video presentation, is open to participants from around the world through the crowdfunding campaign “Adopt a Book”, a program launched by the university to ensure the preservation, management and valorization of its valuable heritage collections. Upon completion, the guide will be fully digitized and available to the public.

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