Pilgrim road

So I'm taking the group to the Holy Land, in a major storyline focusing on the Divine and the Infernal (can't wait for Infernal to come out :stuck_out_tongue: ). The plot hook is set, but the road is not. One Magus and a group of Companions are going, following the "Pilgrim Road". But where does this road go? One of my favorite period movies, Kingdom of Heaven, mentions Messina being the "Gateway to the Holy Land". Can anyone give any more details on the Pilgrim Road?


There wasn't a single 'Pilgrim Road' to Jerusalem.

Port cities important for Christian pilgrimages - and crusades - to the Holy Land were:
St. Gilles (early), Aigues-Mortes (after St. Louis) and Marseille in Provence, Brindisi in Puglia, Venice (if the pilgrims were rich enough) and Akkon in the Holy Land.
To reach Brindisi by land, pilgrims used the Via Romea until Rome, and from there followed the Via Appia.
Pilgrimages to Jerusalem by land usually ended fatally latest in Anatolia - the famous exception being the first crusade.

Kind regards,


The "road of the pilgrim" depends in part from where you start. Most pilgrims from the west would travel to Rome first, and from there to one of Italy's port city. They would then take a boat to the coast of the Holy Land, landing in one of the christian controlled port. They would then visit all the important pilgrimages and receive the "Jericho palm" that they would have to bring back to show that they made it to Jerusalem.

The group will be starting in the southern Holy Roman Empire. What would be a good route to the Holy Land from here? Any suggestions? This route should also make up for some interesting sights along the way :slight_smile:


Since my access to the forum crashed late last night (did others experience it as well?) I hacen't replied yet, but now I've been beaten to the point by Berengar. I fully concur with him but can't help to elaborate...


In the middle ages pilgremage was much more than "just" the travel to shrines and holy sites. It was a concept encompasing all of your life - an allegory of entire life being a journey from birth to death, encountering many hardships yet still trying to ensure that on your deathbed you would reach your final destination - heaven. Some medieval writters were confouned at what the exact point of this pilgrimage was: to try to make a better earthly Utopia before passing to the post mortem Utopia, or was it just to pass throu the ritual test to be granted access to heaven? The concept of all life as a pilgrimage and the veneration of saints were factors in the "travelling" pilgrimages.

Most pilgrimages were local to shrines of important saints or places with a history of miracles. Major sites in Europe was not only Rome but also especially Compostella in Spain (where to this day many still walk the amazing pilgrim route from France and across the Pyreenes on foot). The pilgrimages were an important factor in economy, local benificiaries gaining huge revenues from the pilgrims (which might have promted the extensive importance for church/secular leaders interest in securing relics from saints to local cathedrals and churces).

Today, the pilgrimages to the Holy Land are perhaps the most know, not least because of the crusades (that among many other things were percieved as armed pilgrimages). But many christians had travelled there throughout the centuries prior to the crusades and mostly without incident or hindrance from the local muslim lords and population.

The pilgrimages are well documented - many texts remain written by pilgrims enroute and there are even examples of letters being adressed to pilgrims thus being constantly redirected. Some even did pilgrimages by proxy! Either paying trusted vassals or a hermit, in life or as a part of their testament. Some had even had wax effigies made to go on such journies. Pilgrimage wasn't only a willing effort - for what ever reason - but in some instances it was actually a commonly used punishment or sanction. If you wonder why, remember that one seldomly sentenced transgressors to incarceration (as today - rather using other more physical punishments...), but sending someone on pilgrimage didn't just work to prove their penance but also as a vent for sentiments to cool if local local relationships were becoming too tense. Even lords took to pilgrimages, sometimes in the shape of crusades, to avoid other more unwanted sanctions for whatever transgressions they might have committed...

The road to the destination varied a lot, as earlier stated by my sodales, but I think Brindisi was especially popular partly because of the good roads down the Italian peninsular, the opportunity to pass Rome and finally because there was good traveling opportunities from Brindisi - either by ship directly to the Levant or just shipping across the Adriatic to Dyrrachium, where one could take the land route across Greece and Anatolia.

Kingdom of Heaven gets some things right and other horrible wrong, but that's Hollywood for you! I enjoyed it, I'll readily admit. And the soundtrack has become a staple in my repetoire for our sessions. Messina might have been a "gateway to tje Holy Land" but so might many other towns. Actually the third crusade (1190-91 as a reaction to some of the events in Kingdom of Heaven) passed through Messina, but it really originated or set sails from the ports of Genoa and Marseille. Especially Marseille had the major advantage for Northern/Western Europeans that it enabled them to avoid the strenous passing of the Alps. By the way these two towns also saw the disastrous 1212 Children's Crusade - thousand of children, and others, headed for the Holy Land gaining passage on ships from Marsaille and Genoa - many ships whrecked at sea but more distressing, the children that survived where simply sold as slaves.....

If your group sets out within the empire than maybe it would make most sense to have them continue their travelling within the empire and then passing the Papal State and Rome and onward through the Kingdom of Sicily/Naples - the last one was actually at the time, depending on your saga's timeframe, held by the emperor, as king, which entail some larger security for people of his own realm, even though the two were seperate entities. Then onward it would depend on whether you prefer an exiting journey at sea or across land passing Constantinople and Anatolia. Then there's the other option of setting out from Venice, a city of many sights and with a crucial role in the Roman Tribunal (according to the only sourcebook published, all the local covenants having a house here and plenty of hermetic intrigue).

See - now I've lost myself once more.... long posts.... must stop...

Here are some links that might be useful:

General info and some nice pictures:

Some witness accounts from pilgrims:

Books for further inspiration:

Nice site on Kingdom of Heaven (couldn't url it...so copy it manually into your browser - and remember to add the "(film)"):

The campaign is set in 1221 AD now, and I think the group will set out early 1222 AD.

As for Kingdom of Heaven, it's that way for all "historical movies". The director must carefully balance between being historically correct and entertaining the audience, or as we say in the business, "Get the bums on the seats." (I work as a director in a small production company, and I'm not a full time roleplayer :laughing: ) But not wanting to go into a discussion about movies here, I really want to use Messina, as I loved how they showed that place in the movie. It really felt like it was a place where two cultures came togehter.
So through the Alps, maybe, and through Italy (maybe some old-Roman-ruin-story on the way), through Rome itself and to Messina. Would that work?
Also, I'm interested in getting more mundane politics and history into the campaign at this point, since it's mostly a Companion driven story (only one Magus). Any suggestions on how to use Italy and the Holy Land in this period? What's going on over there in 1220s?


You could combine the path with a tour of the domus magnus, start in germany with crintera, next durenmar, head through irencilla, then up to the cave of twisting shadows. I think the jerbiton house is also in the greater alps, can't remember, then head down into italy for harco first near milan, magvillus south of rome, verdi on sardinia. Then across the adriatic, through the transylvanian alps to Coeris. Thats if you don't want to go through southern france for the tytili and flambeau.

So a pilgramage starting in northern germany, heading down through the alps to central italy, a boat trip across to zagreb and a land journey down to constantinople through the transylvanian alps, and your magus has conducted a pilgrimage of 9 of the domus magni before entering the holy lands.

I'm sure you can come up with any number of reasons for such a tour of the Order. As well as any number of pilgrimage sites on the way, just look up the various saints and figure out places connected with them. Take a look at wikipedia for any number of saints, listing major shrines and countries associated with. Then connect the dots of each site.

Spend a few days cleaning house and business and I miss so much!

Yeah I think the idea of touring the Domus Magi is a great. I've always wanted to write the ultimate Ars adventure that essentially involves seeing all the Domus Magi. I also think this pilgrimage could involve the exploration of a mystery path. The journey to Jerusalem could not only be a spiritual journey, but mystical awakening. I'd elaborate more, but being so close to the MR debut I suspect better ideas will shortly become available.

One possibility - if going hermetic on the journey might be to include the Domus Magna of the Mercere, Harco, because they have special Hermetic Portal to all the Tribunals of the Order. This might give you some interesting hermetic intrigue at Harco (near Genoa) to be permitted to pass through the portal.

Another possibility - which I find more alluring - is to travel by regular means. If you want to know more of Italy or rather the realms there at the time, I can warmly recomend the 3rd ed. ars sourcebook available on PDF.

Besides Rome I would recommend using some time in the Kingdom of Sicily/Naples - which seems appropriate as thats where Messina is situated. Why interesting? Because this was actually in that period one of Europes most open-minded multicultural places. Southern Italy and Sicily having many peoples: besides the original population there are Greek Byzantines, Arabs, Germans and Norman Franks. The last where at this time the most recent invaders and thus the royal line and a great part of the lords of the land. They had come from Normandy and where therefore cultural close to England (also having been invaded by Normans as you know) and often intermarriaged with the English royalty.

The Sicilian kings also intermarriaged with the Hohenstaufens, the family of the Holy Roman Emperor at the time, bringing them closer to the empire - and thus making it a nice opportunity to have your plots at home "follow" or haunt the characters even here. Also the Norman kings of Sicily and Naples were among the frontrunners of the crusades and their extended family delivered kings for the crusader kingdoms in the Levant. In fact in 1225 the the king of Sicily, in preperation for an upcoming crusade, marries the heiress to the throne of Jerusalem. Thus there's amble opportunity to introduce or foreshadow events or NPS to be used later, when the troupe finally arrives in the Middle East.

The Kingdom of Sicily and Apulia are in the 1220'ies closely related to the Holy Roman Empire - this has made it one of the richest kingdoms in the Europe of its time and its court is magnificient - even with a zoo of fantastical animals (any bjoernar around?) - and it gathered scholars from all over Europe (any Jerbitons around?). The King being a patron of arts, science, astronomers and astrology. Maybe even magicians might be accepted publicly (the king = Emperor Frederick II is actually, if my memory serves me right, the very same emperor that in the source covenant book Triamore granted that fief to a hermetic covenant...).

But in the 1220'ies the open multicultural society of the kingdom is in decline and with rising tension between christian and muslims that before had lived peacefully together. In the 1224 the king expels the last of the Arabs. And then there's all the intrigue between the pope and the emperor - but don't get me started on that one - just suffice to say that travelling down the peninsula crossing territory of the Empire, then the pope's and finally the emperors personal kingdom might in itself prove interesting...

All this adds up to all kinds of interesting plots and scenes to drop on your troupe. Besides if they actually live in the Holy Roman Empire, it would at least seem proper to at least pop in at Naples or Palermo to at least see their emperor from a distance - or if they are companions with titles to respectfully seek his audience...

Research for more if you like - there's plenty on the internet alone. Take history and use or abuse it to your liking. That's what I enjoy about Mythic Europe!


If the characters will be travelling through Constantinople -- It was just sacked by Christian invaders in 1204. Hundreds of years as the Jewel of the Empire, and many, many of its treasures have been hauled off to Rome. Could be interesting to explore the burned out husk of the city, which by 1222 would be slowly recovering. There's a heck of a lot of political intrigue going on for the next few years there, as well. And since you mentioned that the saga was going to be spirititual in nature, I would think that there would be plenty of good/evil stories to go around. Christians vs. Christians... is an Infernal agent behind it all?

Judith Tarr wrote a great story with the sacking of Constantinople as the back drop. It's the second book in "The Hound and the Falcon" trilogy: "The Golden Horn."

(I recommend this series highly, btw, for any Ars Magica player.)

Yes, read it many years ago - remember it fondly, but one of those books I would be afraid to revisit in fear of destroying the memories....

If you wanna visit the Golden City then one of the old issues of Ars' "Mythic Perspective" has a splendid piece on the city.

Your group could take one of the most established and famous medieval pilgrimage routes to the Holy Land then: first the Via Francigena/Romea, then the Appia, then by Sea to Akkon.
If they start in Rhine valley or even more from the West, they could reach the Francigena in Saint Maurice latest, and cross the Alps via the Great St. Bernhard.
If they start from the Central and Eastern parts of the Empire, going over the Alps via Augsburg, Muenchen, the Inn valley, the Brenner, the Eisack and Etsch valleys to Verona might be more favorable. In the latter case they would reach the Francigena at Borgo San Donnino (today Fidenza) or Parma.
For the Francigena/Romea there are several websites like en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Francigena .

I've got to hurry off now, and see you in Rome for the next leg of the route another time. :wink:

Kind regards,


Using a portal would go against the penintent nature of a pilgrimage, though. Pilgrims are generally speaking supposed to walk all the way -- if horses and carriages are out, then portals should be too. ,-)



I agree - I just mentioned it as an option, particularly because I have the assumption, bassed on another thread of Ferretz, that the journey might not entirely be a pilgrimage but striving toward another goal... Still if he intends to bring Templars, then the Harco-way is probably under no circumstance recommendable....

That's right, it's not a pilgrimage, but the group must make it look like one. :slight_smile:


Interestiiiiing..... :open_mouth:

Another idea if you are going through Italy over the Alps is to make use of the Roman Roads. The Roman Empire highways, a quick search shows that some of their routes are across the alps from Germany. For game purposes have them created by Roman soldiers and enchanted by high powered Mercurian rituals - things that would ensure safe, fast travelling for all mundanes, but demoralizing for barbarians and nasty effects for mages if the magic thinks you are not Mercurian enough.

After all, likely to have lots of magic aura's of ruined Roman temples on the way. Have some of them inhabited by non hostile ghosts who communicate between each other. The first priest they meet greets them like a fellow mercurian priest, the next temple they meet a ghost in, the ghost greets them by name, at the third one make the ghost a high priest who think the mage is on a Mercurian pilgramage for greater power. Then watch him freak as the christians he's traveling hear this.

Here's some info about the second leg of the pilgrim road from Rome to Brindisi.
It follows the Roman Via Appia, and after Benevento the Via Appia Traiana. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Appia for some first info.

You should be able to research the medieval pilgrims in Rome, the seven large basilicas to be visited by them, the tituli and the medieval Roman nobility yourself - there's hundreds of books on the subject.
One I can recommend is
Ludovico Gatto: Storia di Roma nel Medioevo, terza edizione riveduta e ampliata: June 2003, Newton&Compton editori, Rome, ISBN 88-8289-273-5.

In the 1220s pilgrims will still find in Rome and its surroundings many Germans who came to Rome with the children's crusade 1212, were dissuaded by Pope Innocent III from continuing to Palestine, but also could not return to their native lands. Some of them will also be found along the coast of Puglia, and especially in Brindisi itself.

Brindisi is - far more than Messina - the Italian crusaders' and pilgrims' port par excellence. Any good book on the crusades will allow you to reconstruct its atmosphere. The staging areas for the 5th crusade around Italy were, however, Spalato in Dalmatia, Lisbon and Gaeta south of the Latin Maremma.

I might continue with some more hints at interesting places along the pilgrim road another time - likely Saturday.

Kind regards,