Baring-Gould’s Lives of the Saints – Blessed Ordorico, O.S.F.

Article

(A.D. 1331)

[His life, by several writers on the Franciscan Saints. His travels were dictated by him to Friar Guglielmo, who wrote them down, and addtd an account of his death. No copy of his original Latin MS. exists, and the Italian and Latin copies we have vary so much from one another that it is difficult to know which is the most correct. Copyists, not considering the things related in his travels as sufficiently marvellous, have supplied by their fancy what Ordorico never dictated. Although no copy of the original manuscript exists, we can trace the progress of amplification and error by comparing the oldest and best account of the travels extant, with some of the later narratives of Friar Ordorico’s life and adventure.]

Among the early travellers in the East a conspicuous place is due to Friar Ordorico de Pordenone, commonly called II Beato, the Blessed. He was bom in the district of Pordenone, in the Friuli, about the year 1286. Early in life he entered the Order of Friars Minors, or Franciscans, and took the vows in their house at Udine. After many years of exemplary life and industry he girded up his loins for the perilous pilgrimage and great mission — that is, he proceeded to the remote countries of the East to convert the infidel and idolater. He is believed to have been absent from Italy for the long space of sixteen years. He took with him his monastic habit, his cord, and his pilgrim’s staff”, and apparently no other thing. Where there were Christians, he claimed their charity; and where there were none, he threw himself upon the hospitality of the unbelievers. Friar Ordorico went from the Adriatic Sea to Constantinople, and proceeding from that great city to the Black Sea, he landed at Trebizond. From Trebizond he travelled through Armenia and Persia, and came to Ormuz on the Persian Gulf. At Ur of the Chaldees, he was shocked to find that the men did the knitting and spinning; and he was surprised that they liked a head of venison more than four fat partridges. At Bagdad, says he, the men are handsome and the women ugly; the women carry loads and the men saunter about in idleness. But this, alas! is not confined to Bagdad. At the port of Balsora he embarked, and crossing the Indian Ocean, he reached the coasts of Malabar. There, says he, he much surprised, the people prefer dates to venison. Thence he turned round upon Ceylon. He landed in that magnificent island, and travelled through the greater part of it. He describes the quantities of elephants which are found in the interior of that country; the blood-sucking land-leeches, so well-known to the Indians, which render the passage through the jungle so painful to Europeans; he correctly describes the general qualities of that remarkable tree, the talipot, which flourishes in the island of Ceylon, and in the contiguous Malabar country. He mentions Adam’s Peak, and the lake at its side, which the natives told him was formed of the tears of Adam and Eve after their fall. “But,” adds the friar, “I perceived this to be false, for I saw the water flowing from the mountain into the lake, and filling it.” He adds that on the sides of the lake rubies are discovered. His account of the pearl fishery is without exaggeration. In the neighbouring continent some of the Brahminical superstitions are correctly set down. The excessive cruelty and indisputable cannibalism of the Andaman Islanders, who are called natives of Bodan, are accurately noted. So shocked was the friar with what he saw there, that he remained there some while preaching, but he admits with no success. Then he voyaged to Meliapore. After this he ran down the Indian Ocean to Sumatra and Java, whence he appears to have reached some of the islands of Japan, which he calls Zapan. He next entered the empire of China, and there he remained several years. He travelled through various of the vast provinces of China, and then turned West, and after long and dangerous wayfaring, he entered the country of Thibet.

In company with three other friars, he was one day resting with them under a tree, when the Khan passed by. Then one of the friars, who was a bishop, put on his pontifical vestments, and took his pastoral cross, and all four advanced to meet the Khan chanting the Vetii Creator. Then the Khan stopped his car, and asked who these were, and when told that they were four Frank missionaries, he called them to him, and kissed the cross of the bishop. Then, because it is the custom of the country not to approach the king empty-handed, the friars offered him a plate with some apples on it The Khan took two, ate one, and drove away tossing the other about in his hands. From his kissing the cross the friars were satisfied that he knew something of the Catholic faith.

The account left of these travels breaks oft abruptly in Thibet, leaving us entirely in the dark as to the route and the manner by which the friar reached Europe. It is known, however, from a postscript to his book, that he returned in 1330, when he was forty-four years old. His health appears to have been much broken by the fatigues and privations he had undergone during his peregrinations; and he died within a few months after his return to his native country.

MLA Citation

  • Sabine Baring-Gould. “Blessed Ordorico, O.S.F.”. Lives of the Saints, 1897. CatholicSaints.Info. 13 January 2014. Web. 24 August 2017. <>