Pilgrimage to the Holy Land


As the first printed and illustrated account of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the account by Bernhard von Breydenbach (1440–97), a canon of Mainz, of his travels occupies a special position in the history of printing. In particular, the book is renowned for the high-quality, large-format woodcuts by Erhard Reuwich illustrating, among other things, the topography of Palestine, the ethnic and religious groups living in the Holy Land, and the different alphabets used by these peoples. Reuwich’s reproduction of these alphabets is regarded as a milestone in the history of the printing of oriental languages, as it marks the point of transition from handwritten to printed alphabets. For the first time, albeit not with movable type, the Arabic, Chaldean, Coptic, Ethiopian and in later editions the Armenian alphabets were reproduced in print; Hebrew and Greek letters already had been printed in earlier works. The models for the oriental letters and their Latin circumscriptions probably were provided by Paul Walther of Guglingen (born circa 1422), a Franciscan friar who joined Breydenbach and his tour in Jerusalem in the summer of 1483, having previously spent a year there studying the languages of the Holy Land. Walther’s own travel narrative, preserved today in the Studienseminar at Neuburg on the Danube, bears testimony to his knowledge of oriental alphabets. In addition to being used for the printed edition of Breydenbach’s text, Walther’s work was the source of a Latin–Arabic dictionary with colloquial features of the Syrian-Palestinian speech that was included in Breydenbach’s book (folio 134 recto–135 verso). Despite its achievements in reproducing oriental alphabets, Breydenbach’s book had no real influence on printing in the Arab world, which began around 25 to 30 years later. The woodcut above the Arabic alphabet (folio 75 recto) depicts a group of Muslims, or Saracens as they were referred to at the time, wearing various types of clothing, probably modelled on Venetian illustrations.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Erhard Reuwich, Mainz


Title in Original Language

Peregrinatio in terram sanctam

Type of Item

Physical Description

297 pages : illustrations ; 22.43 x 30.26 centimeters


  • BSB shelfmark: 2 Inc.c.a. 1725
  • This description of the work was written by Helga Rebhan of the Bavarian State Library.

Last updated: April 14, 2017