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BY-NC-ND 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter 2020

How to be a Time Traveller: Exploring Venice with a Fifteenth-Century Pilgrimage Guide

From the book Making the Medieval Relevant

  • Laura Grazia Di Stefano


In 1462, an English pilgrim called William Wey visited Venice as the first stage of his itinerary to the Holy Land and defined the city as “the most holy place” for its exceptional architecture and closeness to God. In the present day, millions of tourists every year can potentially experience the same environment as William Wey did in the fifteenth century. This chapter investigates how a fifteenth-century pilgrimage guide may still be used as a unique means to explore a popular destination such as Venice. Indeed, medieval pilgrimage guides offer, on the one hand, unusual itineraries of the most visited medieval places and on the other, the possibility of a new understanding of the symbolic and religious perception of important historical buildings that are still well preserved. Both tourists and civic authorities stand to benefit from understanding how our medieval predecessors understood the urban environment we have inherited from them. Religious symbolism and its deep connection with relics, churches and places of worship typical of medieval experience has declined rapidly over the centuries and it is often absent from our perception and cultural understanding of our surroundings. This research uses the case study of a medieval pilgrimage-guide to Venice to demonstrate the relevance of such texts as modern travel and civic planning sources. Field research was undertaken based on the reconstruction of a pilgrimage itinerary in present- day Venice according to the indications provided by William Wey in his guide. This chapter analyses the results of this reconstruction and argues that not only can the medieval itinerary be rediscovered, but it serves as an eye-opening experience that allows visitors and residents to see the city with new perspectives, perspectives that mean, amongst other features, that we understand our own moment to be fleeting and laden with its own ideological approach to viewing the buildings.

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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