Fra Niccolò di Poggibonsi

Libro d'Oltremare, 1346-1350

One of the most representative pilgrims of the 14th century, Fra Niccolò, spent the entire year of 1347 in Jerusalem, and at his request the Franciscan brothers allowed him to serve for four months at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
His accurate description of the church serves as a rich source of precise architectural annotations as well as of traditions, not only liturgical, linked to the Sanctuary. His account has been published in English as “A Voyage Beyond the Seas”.

Description of the ornamentation on the dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

“Above the columns in the wall of the chapel there is a very beautiful mosaic work. Therein the Emperor Constantine is represented, with the cross in hand; and on the side is his mother St. Helena, cross in hand, and around are the prophets, who foretold the coming of Christ, each one with a scroll in hand.” 

A Voyage Beyond the Seas, II, chap. XVII

The Saracens at the door of the Edicule of the Tomb

“I want to relate how this holy Chapel is guarded, that is, locked. As said, it has three doors: two are sealed and locked so that they never open; the other door, to the east, opens, and is well furnished with key and seal, after our fashion. And these seals and keys are held by Saracens, other than those who hold the keys of the door of the church; and they open the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre and allow one to stand within, for the space of three Our Fathers; and then they throw him out and lock. And if one wishes to hire the keys from the Saracen who holds them, one agrees with him on a certain sum of money, and he leaves it open for him, and he who has paid can stay there, all day and all night: for the Saracens go out, and lock the sanctuary door.” 

A Voyage Beyond the Seas, II, chap. XXI

Mount Calvary

“Returning to the said steps, and facing the altar on our right, there is a small door, leading to a stone stairs of X steps; on either side of the stairs there is a wall; and it leads to Calvary. On the mount has been raised a chapel XX feet high from the ground, all done in mosaic. […] Inside the entrance of the said doors that open is the holy mount covered with beautiful marble slab. And where was fixed the Holy Cross of Christ, there is a marble slab, four a half feet long, and it is pierced: and there is the hole where was planted the holy Cross: and in the said hole one puts one’s hand and arm, that is, for devotion. At the end of the holy stone is fixed a marble column, a foot and a half long; on the side, that is to the south, the said mount is exposed [...]. The mount is all white as of milk curds. Beside the mount, in mosaic, is Christ on the Cross; on one side is the Blessed Virgin and on the other St. John the Evangelist; four lamps burn there continually.” 

A Voyage Beyond the Seas, II, chap. XXVII

Description of the chapel of Golgotha, beneath Calvary

“Beneath the chapel of Mount Calvary I indeed was; and there is a chapel, which is called Golgotha, where the body of Adam was placed. The entrance is on the west, in front of the said door of the church; the door is small and enclosed with a dry wall; by each side the door, right and left, is a tomb, supported on four marble columns three feet high. One of the said tombs was that of the noble, wise and powerful lord, whose name was Godfrey de Bouillon by whose ability and sagacity the Holy Land was retaken, in the current year MCVIII. The other tomb was that of his brother, who, after his death, was crowned King of Jerusalem. Whose name was King Baldwin. And as you enter this chapel of Mount Calvary, within it is very dark; to the east is a beautiful altar. Between the base of the holy mount and the altar there is space sufficient to allow a man to pass through. The stone of the mount covers a good half of the said grotto so that it cannot be seen well without light. And there Solomon had the body of Adam laid, and from there one can see how the mount was rent from top the bottom, when our Lord Jesus Christ was there crucified. Here there are Jacobite monks, who serve the said chapel. There is an indulgence of VII years and how much more I knew not.” 

A Voyage Beyond the Seas, II, chap. XXVIII

Fra Niccolò of Poggibonsi, A Voyage beyond the Seas (1346-1350). Translated by T. Bellorini and E. Hoade. Jerusalem 1945. Reprinted 1993. XLIX-144 pp.; ills.