Jerusalem illustration
Detail from
plate of Jerusalem.
Larger image

The incunable 'Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam' by Bernhard von Breydenbach (1440-1497) is remarkable for a number of reasons. It includes the first detailed and accurate printed illustrations of some of the most important European and Middle Eastern cities such as Venice and Jerusalem. It is regarded as the first illustrated travel book and as such acted as a preparatory guide for pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

Breydenbach's pilgrimage which took place from April 1483 to January 1484 was ostensibly undertaken in the hope of obtaining salvation for his soul. He had lived an apparently reckless life in his youth. He and two companions started out from Oppenheim near Mainz, though it seems that the pilgrimage proper did not begin in earnest until they reached Venice two weeks later. They spent three weeks in Venice which would have given the illustrator Reuwich ample time to make sketches for his views of the city. En route to the Holy Land they took in Corfu, Modon and Rhodes. All of the main holy sites, including Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Mount Sinai, were visited before the party proceeded to Cairo and down the Nile to Rosetta. After enduring some storms in the eastern Mediterranean they got back safely to Venice in late January.

Although Breydenbach is generally described as the author of this work, it seems that the Latin text may have been compiled by Martin Roth of the Dominican convent of Pforzheim, who did not make the journey.

Other editions

A veritable 15th-century bestseller, there were no less than eight incunable editions and 12 editions in all between 1486 and 1522. There were also a few reprints of the text-only and abridgements in various languages. In spite of the vulnerability of the woodblocks, it appears that they were used in the Lyon (1489-90), Speier (1490) and Zaragoza (1498) editions — so the blocks must have travelled right across Europe.

Saracens illustration
Saracens and
Arabic alphabet.
Full Saracens

The author

Breydenbach was born about 1440. He was made a canon of Mainz Cathedral around 1450 and was appointed Dean in 1484. It does not appear that he was ever ordained. Breydenbach died in 1497 and was buried in the cathedral. When his tomb was opened in 1582, his body was found to be perfectly preserved, having being embalmed with substances brought back from his journey in the Near and Middle East.

Colophon depicting
arms of Berthold von
Archbishop of Mainz.
Larger coat of arms

The illustrations

The book was illustrated by Erhard Reuwich of Utrecht, described by the author as a 'skilful painter'. However, nothing more is known about Reuwich - no other specimens of his work have been recorded. The woodcutter is unknown, though it may have been Reuwich himself. In terms of the illustrations themselves, the frontispiece — of a richly dressed female bearing the armorial escutcheons of the three principal pilgrims — was the earliest known woodcut to show cross-hatching. Additionally the panoramic views of six Mediterranean towns were the first folding plates to appear in a printed book. Many of the large views were printed from more than one block — that of the Holy Land and Egypt, was printed from three blocks. In the words of Davies, the views 'are distinguished from other woodcut views published in the XV cent. by their air of truth as well as their liveliness, being full of groups of figures, some pursuing their everyday occupations'.


This copy comes from the sale of David Steuart's Library in Edinburgh in May 1801 and may have been bought by the library of the Faculty of Advocates at that time. The description in the sale catalogue states: 'This book is printed with the same type as that principally used by first printer Caxton, and the capitals are fine illuminated; it is elegantly bound in Russia, in the antique style'. According to an inscription on the front free endpaper, the price paid was £4 10 shillings. Steuart was a well-known bibliophile and served as Provost of Edinburgh in the 1780s.

Details of this book

Breydenbach, Bernhard von. 'Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam'. Mainz: Erhard Reuwich, 1486. (Shelfmark: Inc.8)

Further reading

Davies, Hugh Wm. 'Bernhard von Breydenbach and his journey to the Holy Land 1483-4: a bibliography'. London: J & J Leighton, 1911. (Shelfmark: KR.31.b)


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