Navigating a Pilgrimage

Posted on Posted in History, Practicalities

Toward the end of our preparations, we were lucky to have some help in identifying Luther’s route to Rome–one that changed our original prospective route along the Santiago de Compostela for the first few days to go through Ilmenau and Eisfeld instead. Though we’re not trying to retrace his steps exactly (that would involve too much pedestrian time on major autoroutes), we are trying to hit the major points. The map below vindicates our other sources and route, at least as far as Vercello—where we will veer aside and follow the Via Francigena (again for reasons of the autoroute–built on the oldest paths in Europe, alas).

The image here is a map printed in 1500 in Nürnberg by one Erhard Etzlaub. It was almost certainly the one used by Luther, since it is explicitly a “Romerpilgerkarte” (Rome pilgrim map), and Etzlaub himself is known to have been active at the University of Erfurt in 1500 as a doctor and astronomer. The route corresponds to what we know from Luther himself about his journey as well.

It’s a fascinating little window into the time. Note that north is on the bottom; look for Rome at the top. This isn’t because they didn’t know which way was up, but because it made perfect sense to have your goal ahead of you while walking south. (I’m sure you’ve had the experience of having to flip a map upside down to figure out which was to turn.) The title reads: “Here is the Way to Rome, from Mile to Mile, with Points drawn from one City to another through German lands.” “Erffurt” is clearly visible right beneath the green belt at the middle of the image that represents the Thuringian Forest. Above it lie “Arnstet, Ylmeno, Eysfelt, Koburg, Babeberg, Forchem, Erlang, Nurenberg” (which we’d now call Arnstadt, Ilmenau, Eisfeld, Coburg, Bamberg, Forchheim, Erlangen, and Nürnberg). After that it gets a little difficult to decipher, but we can pick up at “Nordlingen,” whence Luther and his companion headed off these noted routes to Ulm, then Kempten. From there they passed through the Alps via “Lindau, Bregenz, Feldkirchen, Chur, Cleff (=Septimer Pass), Como, Mylano, Pavia, Piazenza,” and so on.

Though this map doesn’t exactly meet our standards for navigation today, its proportions are remarkably accurate. And in a time when there was basically only one road between towns, and the road is named for the town it leads to, there was really none of the guesswork that characterizes our own contemporary constant navigational frustrations.

3 thoughts on “Navigating a Pilgrimage

  1. I am totally geeking out on the pilger karte. Very cool — and good to know that the night at Camping Meyersgrund was not for naught! I found the hi-res version of the map at
    I think I can help with the names of the towns after Nuernberg.
    south of (above) “nurenberg” is “roet” = Roth.
    Next is “weysenburk” = Weissenburg in Bayern.
    Not sure what’s after weysenburk, but I’m guessing it’s = Monheim.
    Then comes “werd” = Donauworth, site of the first bridge across the Donau. Had Luther continued directly south, he would have gone through Augsburg, but we know he went through Ulm.
    You two cut over to Noerdlingen on your way to Ulm. Is it possible that Luther walked all the way to Donauwoerth and then followed the Danube to Ulm?

  2. I am truly enjoying these maps. After Ulm, its Biberach an der Riß, where I visited relatives in September after walking one day with Sarah and Andrew.
    Then Kempten, Lindau, then Bregenz, then Feldkirch, Austria. However, considering the geography, it looks to me like he did not go through Kempten as the circle for Kepmten may be to the left of the K, instead of to the lower right of “Kempte” and the circle on the PilgerWeg would then belong to that town which is very unclear to me: xafeldburg (?) which comes before Lindau. …enough geeking out.

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