Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pilgrimages The Great Adventure Of The Middle Ages - John Ure

Pilgrimages The Great Adventure Of The Middle Ages
John Ure
Caroll & Graff Publishers
Copyright: 2006

From the cover of Pilgrimages:
From his starting-point of travel and adventure, using contemporary accounts, John Ure relates the stories of medieval Christian pilgrimage during the 500 years of its peak between 1066 and 1536. Through the often forgotten records of Erasmus, John of Gaunt, and Margery Kempe among others, the author brings to life a colorful cast of characters.

Also embracing military expeditions described as religious journeys, Ure recounts tales of armed ventures such as the Albigensian Crusade and the Pilgrimage of Grace. The Great Pilgrimages considers these journeys as literary and allegorical manifestations via Sir John Mandeville and John Bunyan. Ultimately, Ure uses his practiced skills as a travel writer to give vignettes of these pilgrim routes today, some accessible and popular, others as remote and haunting as in medieval times.

First thing I'm going to admit in this review: I didn't fully read Ure's book from cover to cover. When I bought it a year ago, I bought the book looking for information on a very specific period, so I focused on that while I was reading the book. As a result, my dissatisfaction stems as much from not finding the information I wanted as from anything else in this book.

Still, I expect certain things from a history book, as I've said in other reviews, such as the one I wrote for Malcolm McGregor's book The Athenians And Their Empire. In this case, as in that one, I'm referring to footnotes and end-notes. I expect them when an author cites another work, or to add in more information. John Ure's book didn't have a single footnote or end-note. When he cited another work (usually an account of a medieval pilgrimage) it was in the body of the text, and only the title. No mention of where in the work the author is quoting from. My finding this annoying probably comes from years of writing term papers where that kind of citation would earn docked marks. Also, he's only included a Select Bibliography (which I'll admit I'm going to go through and see if I can find some of the books he's mentioned in local libraries), rather than a complete bibliography. I wouldn't mind knowing what works he's left out of this book.

As I said right at the beginning, I was focusing on finding information about a specific period, namely that of the tenth through thirteenth centuries. While the blurb on the back of the book looked promising for the period, in actuality, the accounts of the pilgrimages to the Holy Land, were both from 1480 and beyond, so the pilgrims circumstances and the surrounding situation were completely different.

Everything else goes with expectations, namely mine. I came into this book expecting a serious historical work, which it isn't really. John Ure wrote in a rather entertaining, light way, which does get the information across, but rather casually. This might be a better fit for somebody looking for something closer to travel literature, which is the author's normal area of writing, rather than an in-depth examination of the subject. The accounts of the pilgrimages are interesting, as he liberally uses quotes from the sources, but he moves fairly quickly from one pilgrimage route to the next.

For somebody looking for an introduction to the subject, this is a good book, but not so much for me.

Other books on medieval history that I have reviewed:
The Worlds Of Medieval Europe - Clifford R. Backman
Reading The Middle Ages - Barbara Rosenwein
The Crusades - A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Tyerman
Life In A Medieval Village - Francis And Joseph Gies
1215: The Year Of The Magna Carta - Danny Danziger and John Gillingham
By Sword And Fire - Sean McGlynn

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