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Fr. Nicola Mazza
4. 9.1857

AMV, Cart. “Missione Africana”

Verona, 4 September 1857

Dearest Superior!
In order to be able to pursue my vocation in the Holy Missions, since I needed 75 (seventy-five) 20 franc pieces for family purposes, you were so kind as to provide them as a free gift, giving me 50 (fifty) 20 franc pieces, taking upon yourself to have twenty-five more sent to my father or mother in Limone, Province of Brescia, within the year. Offering you my most cordial thanks and being prepared to make out a legal receipt should you require it, I declare myself

your most obedient son

Fr Daniel Comboni

Dr. Benedetto Patuzzi
20. 9.1857

ACR, A, c. 15/167

Alexandria, Egypt, 20 September 1857

My dear Doctor!
Although I have thus far gathered no positive news as regards Mr Gio. Batta Massimiliano Arvedi, I am nevertheless taking advantage of this mail so as not to let my dearest friend and companion starve for news, a friend with whom and with whose family I have formed such an affectionate friendship and intimate brotherhood that their temporal limits will only be reached at the edge of the grave. Here, in the meantime, are the measures I have taken hitherto to find something out about the late Arvedi.
Those who know anything about Count Scopoli’s affairs here in Alexandria can be counted on the fingers of one hand: he is a mean aristocrat who tells no one about his business interests; he speaks exclusively to persons of high rank, but not even these know a thing; I recognised him as such on the journey from Trieste to Alexandria: furthermore, he is a person who is considered just and of great counsel; and it is precisely in this capacity that he earns more than a merchant in Alexandria.
Now the persons in Count Scopoli circle, as far as I understand and I do believe, are: Mr Ferrighi, engineer, the Imperial Regio Consul General of Austria; Francesco Gronchi knows him intimately; I think Count Ignazio Frisch knows him very well, because he and the Consul are as one; and Fr Cipriano who assisted him throughout his illness. There are a few others; but if there was any irregularity, I think it will be difficult to discover; two doctors who attended the deceased regularly can do nothing but exaggerate the assistance they provided; hence of no interest to us.
I was unable to extract anything from Count Scopoli, even though I spoke to him a great deal on the ship: as for the Austrian Consul, to tell the truth, when I knew that he was intimate with the Count, I did not have the heart to interrogate him thoroughly. Ferrighi then, the one who got a gold watch as a gift from Scolopi as a reward for the assistance he gave the deceased, can do nothing but protect Count Francesco Gronchi, in whom we Missionaries have full confidence: he is the one who made such an effort for our Mission, and he told us that he knows nothing about the Arvedi affair and his agreements with Count Scopoli. I have not yet been able to speak to Count Ignazio on this point, because we were very busy with him on account of our Mission, since he is our Procurator in Egypt: tomorrow I will speak to him at length about Arvedi
I have not yet been able to catch the doctors because in the few moments I am free, either I do not find them or something else happens: the Franciscan priest who assisted him assured me that he was ill for over a month, that he had servants and assistance of the very best, that he received the Sacraments and died with Christian resignation, truly edifying; and that finally Count Scopoli gave him a sumptuous funeral, attended by many friars and secular priests. That is all I have been able to find out about Arvedi, but I am staying in Alexandria all this month and will perhaps have time to obtain more accurate information. I have certainly been told that Count Scopoli is a person of high esteem, probity and justice: I have therefore no reasonably sound arguments to think that he was responsible for any irregularity: he is of course a lawyer, or a sort of lawyer; so if he spent a cent in one way or another for Arvedi, he will have charged it to the brothers. But let us come to matters that concern us.
My journey from Trieste to Alexandria was excellent. Only from Trieste to Corfu did we have very strong contrary winds, which made all the newcomers aboard very, very sick indeed. The rest, after the Ionian islands, was most delightful. I was amazed as I contemplated the beauty of the smiling islands of Greece, Kephalonia, Xante, Ithaca, Kandia and the thousands in the Archipelago, and much more as I reflected about the great memories they represent.
My wonder grew disproportionately when we reached the prodigious city of Alexandria, home of so many heroes, a land which brings back so many ancient memories. I would have so much to say on my sojourn in Alexandria, on the customs of the Muslims, Greeks, Bedouins, Copts and other immigrants that populate Alexandria and its surroundings etc. etc. But work and things to do are calling me to order: I will write to you about my journeys from Great Cairo, Aswan, Khartoum, Bahar-el-Abiad. Write to me and console me with your news: give a kiss for me to my dearest godmother Annetta who is always in my heart, to Vittorio, to Gaetano and to the other children: my respects to Fr Battistino and Fr Bortolo and believe that I remain with all my heart

Your most affectionate companion and friend

Comb. Daniele

I am in perfect health; at sea I did not have the slightest discomfort; I feel healthier than in Europe, even though it is very hot.

His Parents
N. 13 (11) – TO HIS PARENTS

ACR, A, c. 14/115 n. 1

Dearest Parents!

Jerusalem, 12 October 1857
I shall attempt to give you a brief account of my journey in Palestine, where I have been for about a fortnight. You were not physically here to accompany me in the Holy Places; but I was always with you in spirit, so much so that I did not take a single step without imagining that I was with you in this, my religious pilgrimage. As you know, I left Alexandria on the 29th, crossing the sea which separates Asia from Africa north of Egypt, and touching Caesarea, we happily reached Jaffa, which is an important Asian port, and the first step in Palestine, for which there is a plenary indulgence.
Having thanked the Lord, singing the Te Deum in the Church of St Peter, we sixteen religious entered the Franciscan Convent, where they gave us their charitable hospitality. This hospitality is granted indiscriminately to all Europeans, whether Catholic or of other creeds, and to all Eastern Orthodox faithful of whatever rite: so that these convents are a meeting place for princes and paupers, seculars and regulars, since there are no real hotels or safe places for travellers to stay in the Holy Land: all this is the fruit of the offerings of the Catholics of Europe collected during Holy Week.
While the Franciscan Fathers were busy finding us a means of transport to reach the Holy City I was meditating to myself on the events which account for the fame of this city, which is the ancient Joppa of the Scriptures, since this was where Solomon had the cedars of Lebanon unloaded from the ships to use them in the building of the temple: where the prophet Jonah set sail for Tarsus instead of going to Nineveh to preach penance; where St Peter had his famous vision of the sheet; where he raised the charitable Tabitha from the dead; where he received Cornelius’ ambassadors, the ambassadors who were inviting him to Caesarea to baptise him and his whole family: here Our Lady and St John embarked when they sailed to Ephesus after the death of J.C.; here St Louis, King of France, stayed for some time: here so many thousands of saints landed as they went to venerate the Holy Places.
After lunch, having bid farewell to the Missionaries who were staying in Jaffa and to a Polish prince, whom we had met on the ship, we, in the company of a Missionary to China, another from the East Indies, two Missionaries of the Society of Jesus and Monsieur Ratisbonne who, having been converted from Judaism to our faith by the Supreme Pontiff in Rome is going to Jerusalem to found a free school for Christian education, set off at two o’clock for Ramle with the idea of reaching Jerusalem on horseback by the evening of the following day. I was amazed at the fact that the first time that I travelled on horseback, it was to ride over the hills of Judea; I was in fact so out of practice at riding that I asked for the oldest and slowest horse, and this was immediately granted me.
Leaving Jaffa the road is one minute lined by thick hedges of Barbary figs which enclose thickets of orange trees, lemon trees, pomegranate trees, banana, apricot and other fruit trees, the next minute by countryside with no vegetation at all, then it rises over hills with the odd olive tree, half burnt by the sun, all this under a sky which, during the day, bakes the poor wayfarer with its heat. After crossing these places we found ourselves before the boundless plains of the Philistines, from which we were easily able to observe the hills of Judea which converge with those of Samaria, looking quite melancholy to anyone who thought he was travelling in the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.
Before nightfall in the middle of the plains, we were overtaken by two Bedouins on horseback armed with spears and pistols: but as soon as they saw they were outnumbered, they did us no harm. When we questioned them about their intentions, they replied that they were patrolling the road under orders from the Turkish government so as to ensure the safe passage of pilgrims.
M. Ratisbonne, in terror, softened them with a generous baksheesh (tip) of 20 piastres. Deep in the night we reached Ramle. According to St Jerome, this was the Arimathea of the Gospel, home of Joseph of Arimathea, the decurion
who begged for the crucified corpse of J.C. from Pilate and buried it in a tomb newly excavated in the rock, which he had prepared for himself in an orchard he owned on Mount Golgotha. This was the first city to be conquered by the Crusaders in Palestine; it was heavily fortified: today all that remain are crumbling towers and vestiges of antiquity. The most important of these are the tower of the 40 Martyrs of Sebaste and the house of Nicodemus, in which I hope to celebrate Mass on my return from Jerusalem.

Having received generous hospitality, we left Rama the next morning at about 4.30 and, crossing the most beautiful and fertile plain of Sharon, we reached the foothills of the mountains of Judea, which it took us all day to cross under a baking sun. This trip is particularly arduous, for one thing because in these steep and rugged mountains which are barren, the sun scorches relentlessly without one being able to shelter in the shade of any tree and also because the road is very bad, cluttered at every step with potholes and strewn with rocks.
But the thought that it led to Jerusalem lent wings to my feet and to my heart, and did not allow me to feel the fatigue of the journey. Along the way one encounters the castle of the Good Thief, the one who earned his place in heaven by showing compassion to J.C. on the cross; the desert of Abu-Gosh, of the murderer who assassinated so many victims and was finally killed; the Church of Jeremy; the top of the valley of Terebinth; the city of Colonia; and the ruins of many of Scripture’s famous places. Finally, as evening approached after crossing five mountain ranges, we came within view of Jerusalem. At this point, M. Ratisbonne made us all dismount and, prostrate on the ground, we worshipped the Lord and venerated these holy places where J.C. had so frequently walked and, leaving the horses in the care of the Miior, or guides, we descended into the Holy City.
Oh, how greatly impressed I was by Jerusalem! To think that every inch of this sacred territory holds a mystery made my feet stumble and aroused in me these feelings; J.C. might have been here; here the Virgin Mary; this was where the Apostles passed, etc. After we had paid our respects to the Bishop of the Holy Land, to the French and Austrian Consuls, we retired to the friary where we got some rest. To tell the truth we were all dead from the journey. I was amazed at the other Missionaries who were accustomed to exhaustion: as for me, I expected it, since I had never been riding; and for my first horseback journey I had to ride for a day and a half non-stop across the Philistine plains and over the mountains of Judea.
The following morning, the 3rd, I commenced my visit of the Holy Places; the first of which was the great church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church, built by St Helena, the mother of Constantine, is the world’s foremost shrine, because it contains both the Holy Sepulchre of J.C. and Mount Calvary, on which he died: filled with such religious ideas, I was astonished when I saw that the atrium of this church was filled with Turks using it as a market, the gate and the first quadrangle is guarded by the Turks who smoke, eat and squabble among themselves, schismatic Greeks and schismatic Armenians who shout, quarrel and fight and generally behave thoroughly irreverently.
The church of the Holy Sepulchre contains: 1. the Holy Sepulchre. 2. The pillar of the flagellation, which was brought here from Pilate’s house. 3. The chapel of St Helena. 4. The chapel of the Finding of the Cross, or in other words, where the Cross was found and distinguished from those of the two thieves crucified with J.C. by means of the miracle of the resurrection of a dead man. 5. The Anointment slab on which the body of J.C. was anointed and embalmed by Joseph and Nicodemus before being placed in the Holy Sepulchre. 6. The chapel where J.C. was crucified. 7. The place where the cross was erected, in which there is still the hole to receive the Holy Cross, the kissing of which, like all these places made into chapels, brings a plenary indulgence. 8. The place, or chapel, where the Virgin Mary stood while J.C. was on the cross, and received her dead divine son into her arms. 9. The chapel where the Virgin Mary was while J.C. was being nailed to the Cross; 10. the prison in which J.C. spent the night before his death. 11. The chapel of the sharing of the clothes. 12. The column of the insults, where J.C. was spat upon and beaten, etc. before he was condemned to death, which was originally in the palace of Caiaphas and was brought here later. 13. The chapel of St Mary Magdalen. 14. The chapel where tradition has it that J.C. appeared to the Virgin Mary after his resurrection, as St Jerome says. In these places there is a plenary indulgence for each visit.
This magnificent church covers the whole of Mount Calvary, alongside which is the tomb of Nicodemus, which he had excavated after giving up his own to J.C. I cannot find words to express the great impression, the feelings all these precious shrines that recall the Passion and death of J.C. aroused in me. The Holy Sepulchre left me ecstatic and I said to myself: so this is where Jesus Christ remained for 40 hours? so this is the sacred tomb that had the good fortune to contain the creator of heaven and earth, the redeemer of the world? this the very tomb kissed by so many saints, before which so many kings, so many princes and bishops have prostrated themselves in all ages since the death of J.C.?
I kissed and kissed again that sacred tomb many times, I lay prostrate several times in adoration before it, and on that tomb I prayed, unworthily indeed, for you, and for our beloved relatives and friends and I was granted the consolation of celebrating two Masses there, one for me, for you, and for my Mission; the other for you two, my beloved parents.

After this visit, which was short the first time, because I was chased out by a schismatic Greek, I ascended to Mount Calvary, 30 paces above the Holy Sepulchre: I kissed this ground on which the cross was laid and upon which J.C. was stretched out and nailed: I recalled that painful moment, marked in this place by a slab of marble with mosaics, when J.C.’s arms were pulled open and dislocated so that his hands could reach the place for them to be pierced by nails, and I was touched to the heart by a multitude of feelings of compassion and affection, etc.

One and a half paces away from the site of the crucifixion to the left is the place where the Virgin Mary stood while J.C. was suffering on the Cross: this too greatly impressed me: then when just two paces away from this place I stood over the spot where the Cross was planted, and the Superior of the Franciscans of the Holy Sepulchre told me that this is the very hole in which the Cross was inserted, I burst into floods of tears, and for a moment I stood aside: then, after the others had kissed it, I too approached, and I kissed it, that blessed hole; and these thoughts awakened in me: This then is Calvary?
Ah here is the Mount of Myrrh, here the altar of the Cross, where the great sacrifice was consumed. I am on the top of Golgotha in the very place where the Only Son of God was crucified: the ransom of humanity was accomplished right here; here death was conquered; hell was vanquished here; here is where I was redeemed. This mount, this place reddened with the blood of J.C.: these slopes heard his last words: this atmosphere received his last breath: when he died the graves opened, mountains broke apart: and just a few steps away from the spot where the Cross was planted one is shown an enormous crack of incalculable depth, which tradition claims appeared at the death of J.C.
I also venerated the pillar of the flagellation; the Anointment Slab; the Prison of J.C.; the Column of the Insults; the chapel of the Finding of the Cross, etc. And to tell you something of the church of the Holy Sepulchre, it is in the hands of the Turks, the schismatic Greeks, the schismatic Armenians and the Observant Franciscan Fathers.
The Turks have the keys to the temple, which they open at the request of the European dragoman at the service of the Catholics and schismatics twice a day, from 6 in the morning until 11, and at 3 to remain open until 6; and to have it opened each time one must pay its Turkish porter, by order of the Turkish government, two piastres, the equivalent of 60 centimes. The Turk has no other duty than to guard and keep the keys to the temple. The Holy Sepulchre is in the hands of the schismatic Greeks and the schismatic Armenians; the Catholics can say no more than three Masses, one of which is sung, and only between 4 and 6. If the sung Mass is not over by 6, the Greeks enter the Sepulchre and chase the celebrant out with fists and sticks, whether the Mass is finished or not. This is why so many Catholic priests have been injured or even killed on the Holy Sepulchre.
On Calvary, the chapel on the site where the Cross was erected is exclusively in the hands of the schismatic Greeks, and no Catholics may celebrate Mass there, under pain of death. The place where the Virgin Mary stood, which is two paces to the left of the hole, and place of the Crucifixion which is one and a half steps from the Lady Chapel, itself three and a half paces from the Holy hole, are in the hands of the Catholics and I celebrated two Masses there; the 1st, on the spot where Our Lady agonised for three hours, I celebrated for you, dearest mama; and the 2nd, on the site of the Crucifixion, I celebrated for you, dearest papa.
In the chapel where Mary stood as J.C. was stretched out and nailed to the Cross, which is 5 paces away from the hole of the cross, I celebrated Mass for Eustachio, Uncle Giuseppe, Cesare, Pietro and all his family, especially for Eugenio, that Mary Most Holy may protect him in his dangerous education. All the other places are in the hands of Catholics. However, these are all open for veneration by both Greeks and Catholics; that is why the Franciscan Fathers organise a procession every evening at 4, reciting public prayers and incensing the Holy Sepulchre, on Calvary and in all the above-mentioned places, and as a priest I also took part and was given the candle of the Holy Sepulchre, which I am sending you divided into three parts, as I will explain later.
To celebrate Mass in the Holy Sepulchre I stayed inside the temple for two whole nights, to be ready to start Mass at 4. During these two nights I was most happy, because I was able to venerate all the shrines in this Holy temple, and to offer prayers, quite unworthy ones, but fervent, for my mission, for you and for all those who in some way are close to me.
It is true that we are the object of a few insults, especially on the part of the Greeks, who are more hostile to us than the Turks; but what is a mere insult in this place where J.C. received so many and was crucified? But I must say that the Holy Sepulchre, which is the world’s supreme shrine, is the most profaned church in the world; each year there are woundings and killings; everyday there are shouts, arguments and blows; and the Greeks, whose priests are married, even consummate their marriage near the Sepulchre and Calvary, committing the most enormous irreverences, of which I shall say nothing in modesty, and which I cannot express in words, for no one can have an idea without seeing it with their own eyes. Enough of that.

After I had visited the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary, my first thought was to follow and visit the Via Dolorosa which starts at Pilate’s Praetorium and finishes at Calvary: this is the way trodden by J.C. after he was condemned to death and carried his Cross to Golgotha. Here I made the Via Crucis, stopping to say each station, such as the one beginning with the word Crucifigatur in the very spots where the 14 mysteries took place, and which may be contemplated in the Via Crucis: it is 820 paces long. Pilate’s Praetorium, which stands on Mount Acra, was first converted into a church and then into barracks as it remains today; by giving a tip to the guard, it may be visited: in this Praetorium, I saw the place where J.C. was condemned to death; the place where J.C. was scourged; and here I celebrated Mass for my Mission, for me, for you and for our relatives, which are the intentions for which I applied all the other Masses I celebrated in the Holy Land.
I saw the Lithostrotos, and all those places in the palace where J.C. suffered. It is now divided in two parts: 1. the place where J.C. was sentenced to death. 2. the Hall of Insults, in which J.C. was accused of being a blasphemer, a coward, a rebel against Caesar, a usurper of the Name of God; what accusations, ignominies, calumnies, humiliations, vituperations, insults and tortures J.C. received in this place! His face was smeared with spittle, he was stripped of his own garments, clothed in a threadbare purple rag; it was here that he was condemned to vicious flagellation, crowned with the spikiest thorns, made to hold a marsh reed instead of a real sceptre, hailed as King in jest and counted as less than Barabbas. 3. Pilate’s palace includes the Church of the Flagellation, the place where the Lord was tied to a pillar and was cruelly scourged. 4. The Lithostrotos, or the loggia, from which Pilate presented Jesus to the people, crowned with the sharpest thorns, and covered by a purple threadbare rag, with the words: Ecce homo: this loggia now crosses the via dolorosa like a bridge, and has been turned into soldiers’ quarters. It is from this palace that I began the via Crucis: one goes down into the street and says the 2nd station, the one where J.C. receives the Cross on his back: the steps leading from Pilate’s Praetorium down to the street were transported to Rome.
Proceeding along the Via Dolorosa one reaches the place of the 1st fall, which is marked by two pillars lying on the ground: two paces further on there is the Church of Suffering, which is built on the spot where the B.V. met her Divine Son bearing the Cross on his shoulders. The Turks have turned it into a hammam. Up to this point the road is flat: it begins to rise steeply on the spot where J.C. was helped by the Cyrenean to carry the Cross.
Veronica’s house is indicated by a door, which leads to a stable. It is said to be the place of her house, but the more critical writers maintain that it is the place where Veronica wiped J.C.’s face: proceeding a little further one reaches the judgement gate leading to Calvary, which in Christ’s times was 400 paces outside Jerusalem, whereas now it is inside. J.C. passed through this gate when he was going to die for us; and it is called judgement gate precisely because all those who were sentenced to death passed through it; it was on this very gate that his death sentence pronounced by Pilate was posted: it has been destroyed several times; nothing more remains than one column, kept standing at two arms’ length from the gate, on which tradition has it the iniquitous sentence was posted.
The place of the 2nd fall is not precisely known: so one says this station of the Via Crucis between the judgement gate and the place where he met the women of Jerusalem, which is 100 paces from the judgement gate; the 3rd fall occurred 10 paces from the place of the Crucifixion, and is marked by a piece of the rock of Calvary, which is spat upon by the Muslims to spite the Christians. The other stations are said within the church on Calvary, as you can imagine from what I have told you of Calvary. This Via Crucis, I was told in Jerusalem by the Franciscan Fathers, was done by Archduke Maximilian, Governor of the Kingdom of Lombardy and Venice; and he did it on his knees weeping tears of emotion to the edification of the whole of Jerusalem.
After the visit to the Via Dolorosa we went to visit mount Zion, on which there is the Holy Cenacle. How sublime is Mount Zion! Sublime due to its excellent location; sublime due to its profound mysteries: it rises to the southwest of Jerusalem, and dominates the valley of Gehenna, Hakeldama and the valley of the Giants. It was to Mount Zion that David brought the Ark of the Covenant from the house of Obededon: David himself was buried there. Here J.C. celebrated his last Passover, washed the feet of his Apostles, and instituted theMost Holy sacrament of the Eucharist; it was here that he ordained the first priests and the first bishops of his Church.
It was on this mount that the palace of Caiaphas stood, where Jesus was taken on the night of his capture; here, Peter disowned his divine Master three times, repented at the cock’s crow and wept bitterly at his sin; here, the Lord spent his last night in the depths of a prison; here, he was accused of bearing false witness, named a blasphemer, had his face spat upon and slapped and was sentenced to death; and after he was crucified, this was where he appeared for the first time after his Resurrection to the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room, and conferred upon them the power of absolving sins, thus instituting the Sacrament of Penance; here, he appeared to them again behind closed doors after eight days and bade the unbelieving Thomas touch his wounds; this was where he made his last appearance on earth before rising into heaven on the day of the Ascension.
It was on Mount Zion that the disciples returned after they had accompanied him on that glorious journey to the top of the Mount of Olives; there, they persevered together in prayer for ten full days, preparing to be worthy to receive the Divine Paraclete, the Holy Spirit; it was in this place that Matthias was received into the apostolic college to take the place of Judas the traitor; this was where after the days of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended upon them as tongues of fire; the first seven deacons were chosen here; it was here that the first Council of the Church was held, presided over by St Peter; this was where St James the Less was appointed Bishop of Jerusalem; here, the Apostles divided among themselves the world that they were to evangelise; here, according to the most reliable sources, was where Our Lady passed from this life to the next; here is the place where the bones of the Protomartyr St Stephen remained for a long time; here, finally, is where so many Christians from Jerusalem are resting in the sleep of death, and so many martyrs of the Church, who in this place testified with their blood to the divinity of our Religion.
I visited nearly all the remarkable sites to be seen on Mount Zion, and the first among them is the Most Holy Cenacle, where J.C. instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist: this is near the tomb of David, the summit of which communicates with the Cenacle or Upper Room; this sublime shrine has now been under Muslim control for three centuries, being used as a dormitory for soldiers. One cannot go inside, but with good manners and a generous baksheesh, we entered in the company of a Missionary of the Holy Land; and I was able to worship this sacred remnant of antiquity, without however being able to go beneath to see David’s tomb, because those who enter are punished by death: nor was I able to celebrate Mass there, in order not to risk receiving the charming kiss of a little Muslim pistol-shot, though I would have been most grateful for it. There is a plenary indulgence for visiting the Upper Room.
Other indulgences are obtained in different parts of the Cenacle and outside it; for instance where the Easter lamb was prepared for the Lord’s supper; where J.C. washed the feet of the Apostles; where the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles; the top of David’s tomb which communicates with the Upper Room; the place where Matthias was chosen; where St James the Apostle was elected bishop of Jerusalem; where the Apostles divided up to preach the Gospel throughout the world. All this may be acquired in the Cenacle.
I also visited the palace of Caiaphas, almost ruined in fact and restored by the Turks; and here there are four indulgences, that is to say: in the place where the Lord spent his last night in prison, where Peter disowned him, where this same Apostle heard the cock’s crow and where Our Lady waited, after she heard of the capture of her divine Son. Oh the insults and ignominies J.C. must have had to bear in this palace! As well as being disowned by Peter, spat upon, blindfolded, etc.; and those who had struck him taunted him to guess who had struck him, etc., etc. From the palace of Caiaphas one goes to the place where the body of St Stephen was transferred, to the place where St John the Evangelist is said to have celebrated the sacrifice of the Mass in the presence of the Virgin, to the place where Our Lady lived for some time after the Ascension of J.C. to heaven, there is a plenary indulgence, and where, when she returned from Ephesus with St John, she died. A few paces further on is the house of Annas, where J.C. received that terrible slap from an iron-clad hand.
The feelings aroused in me on seeing those sacred places, now so profaned, God alone and those who visit Jerusalem can understand. In Jerusalem there is also the Church of the Holy Saviour where the Franciscan Fathers live and which contains three very ancient panels that were saved from the Upper Room before it became a Turkish barracks.
The palace of Herod is on Mount Abisad; although it is almost completely destroyed I was pleased to see it because it recalls the Lord’s Passion. Apart from these places in Jerusalem I visited the prison where St Paul was kept, when he appealed to Caesar; the Church of St James, which is one of the most magnificent in Jerusalem: it is in the hands of the schismatic Armenians, and inside I was shown the place where the Apostle was decapitated at the order of King Agrippa. There is also the house of Mary the mother of John Mark, controlled by the schismatic Syrians, which is famous because inside one venerates the place where St Peter sought refuge when he was liberated from prison by the Angel.
I also entered the prison where St Peter was held by order of king Agrippa; and this was precisely where, in the deep silence of the night, he was set free by the Angel. The Christians of the early centuries had turned it into a church. Now substantial remains can be seen, which are being used as a workshop by some tanners and stinks so much that only the spirit of religion can bring one to enter. The house of the Pharisee stands on Mount Abisad: it consists in the walls of a church dedicated to St Mary Magdalen, who was converted in this house: it is now controlled by the Turks.
The church of the Presentation of Our Lady was erected in memory of this mystery in the place where Solomon had built the palace of the forests of Lebanon: it has now been reduced to a mosque. But what can I say of the church of the Lord? It was built on the same spot as the temple of Solomon, and not even the smallest stone remains: the very site where it stood is pointed out and there is a plenary indulgence. On top of it a magnificent temple was built by the Caliph Omar, the second successor of Mohammed, after the conquest of Jerusalem. In the 11th century the Crusaders converted it into a church; but Saladdin declared it again a Mosque (a temple of Mohammed); which is what it still is today. It is the most majestic building to be seen in Jerusalem, built in the Moorish style. Entering it is punishable by death, because apart from being the temple of Mohammed, it still contains the harem of the concubines of the Pasha of Jerusalem.
Nevertheless I was able to go through the whole of the atrium in the company of two Missionary Fathers of the Society of Jesus; but we fled as soon as we saw the armed soldiers, despite the powerful Muslim who was at our side. Below the site of Solomon’s temple is the Probatic pool which is one of the most ancient ruins in Jerusalem; dating from the time of Solomon himself: it is in rather bad condition, but its name alone is enough to remind one of the prodigious cure of the Paralytic, who had lain on his stretcher for 38 years and who was healed by the Redeemer.
In ancient times it was used for the washing of victims to be offered as sacrifice in the temple. Now it is full of Barbary figs and other shrubs. It communicates with the temple of the Presentation of Our Lady which I mentioned above; in the side of which there are some exceptionally large stones that, according to erudite writers on the Holy Land, were certainly used for the walls of Jerusalem. Around these stones the Jews go and weep each Friday around sunset; this is a sight worth seeing. These are the remarkable places that I visited in Jerusalem, there are many others. Some extra-devout reverend gentlemen would like to give celebrity to some of those, but as I do not believe in it, because I am not aware of sufficient grounds, so I shall pass over them in silence: all my faith is vested in the ones I have described and shall describe, because these are confirmed by the most ancient tradition recognised by the greatest writers and by the voice of the Church, which grants a plenary indulgence each time they are visited.
Now we leave Jerusalem for you to contemplate with me places that are worthy of a Christian’s consideration. But first, as one goes through St Stephen’s Gate, 40 paces to the right one passes the Golden Gate, which is walled up. It is called the Golden Gate to honour it in memory of the solemn entry into Jerusalem J.C. made on the day of the Palms.
Heraclius also, after vanquishing Cosroes, King of Persia, entered through this gate with the wood of the Cross he had won. Architecturally it is the most beautiful in Jerusalem; nor have I ever seen a better one: but the Turks closed it and walled it up, because there is an ancient belief of theirs that the Franks (that is what they call Europeans in the East) would conquer Jerusalem and enter triumphantly through this gate. Then descending into the valley (of Jehoshaphat) down the slope of Mount Moriah, before reaching the bottom of the slope, there is a quite shapeless rock where St Stephen was stoned to death: thirteen places higher up is the place where Saul (later to become the Apostle Paul) stood guarding the clothes of those who were stoning him; and to the left one is shown the place where the Empress Eudocia had a church built dedicated to the glorious Protomartyr. Reaching the bottom of the valley, one crosses the stream of Kidron to leave the valley of Jehoshaphat and enter Gethsemane.
I took a look at this valley, going up and down in length and breadth several times; so is this – I said to myself – where I am to be judged by our eternal Judge? Where all the peoples of the earth will congregate on the last day? Where the sentence without appeal to eternal life, or eternal death will be pronounced on all those who were, are and ever will be! Is it here then that the earth will split open its entrails to swallow up hell’s reprobates, and from here that the elect will fly up to heaven?
Oh valley! Most terrible valley! It runs between the Mount of Olives and Mount Moriah and walking its whole length takes no more than a quarter of an hour. It starts at the tomb of Our Lady and finishes at the tomb of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, which has been preserved intact because it is carved out of the rock face. The valley of Jehoshaphat is intersected by the now dried-up stream, Kidron, and is full of the ruins of Jerusalem. At its widest point it measures approximately the range of a shotgun.
To the north of this valley there is the tomb of Our Lady which forms a part of Gethsemane. This tomb is an almost entirely subterranean temple, to which one descends by a majestic set of 47 steps. The Virgin Mary lay three days inside this tomb before she was bodily assumed into heaven: you know the episode of the Apostles and Thomas, who did not have the grace of seeing Mary after her death. This tomb is similar to J.C.’s, more or less, and is in the hands of the schismatic Greeks who hold long services in it every day. This underground church also contains the tombs of St Joseph, St Anne and St Joachim, to which partial indulgences are attached for those who kiss them, whereas at Our Lady’s a plenary indulgence is granted.
Beyond this point, and penetrating inside Gethsemane, one finds the Cave of the Agony, as it is called, because this was where the Lord withdrew to pray to his Eternal Father the night before he died, and feeling mortally oppressed, he was overcome by anguish and sweated blood. A stone’s throw away from this cave is the Garden of Gethsemane proper: the Cave of the Agony and the Tomb of Our Lady, as well as other places I shall mention, are all Gethsemane, but the friars have enclosed a part of Gethsemane with a wall, calling it the Garden of Gethsemane, to protect 8 ancient olive trees whose trunks are said to have existed in J.C.’s lifetime. I do not know whether this is true: they certainly have a girth at their base many [ … ] times that of our olive trees.
The place where the Lord bade farewell to his Apostles is indicated outside the enclosure of Gethsemane itself, and so also, seven paces away is the place where Judas betrayed J.C. with a kiss. Returning to the valley, almost at the bottom of it, and walking along the banks of the dried up Kidron there is a knee-print in a hard rock in the middle of the stream bed. This is said to have been made by J.C. on the night he was captured. When he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and pushed by the soldiers, he fell on this spot: a plenary indulgence is granted to those who kiss this knee-print; just as it is in the Garden of Gethsemane and the Cave of the Agony, where I celebrated Mass on the true spot where J.C. sweated Blood, which has a beautiful altar, and is in Catholic hands.
A few steps away from the Knee-print of Jesus Christ is the vast hollow where St James the Apostle withdrew after the death of his divine master with the firm intention of not eating or drinking until he saw that he had risen. Before one reaches this hollow there is the tomb of Jehoshaphat which is all in one piece, and is like the church of St Rocco in Limone: likewise, there is the monument of the rebel Absalom who built it in his lifetime, in the hope of entering it after his death; he was wrong. It is a marvel: I went right to the middle of it: then there is Zacharias’ urn and a thousand tombstones, enclosing the ashes of those who came from all over the world to end their days in Jerusalem, so that their bones might rest in the shade of that temple which no longer exists, and never will again, except in the imagination.
All these things are in the valley of Jehoshaphat, which is on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Oh what a dear mountain, the Mount of Olives! What an unclouded view that exalted point affords! How consoling are mysteries where
everything is marked! This mount was the Lord’s oratory, the seat of his divine teachings, the witness of his oracles about Jerusalem; and it became his ladder to heaven. Now I shall take you almost by the hand to contemplate in your imagination that which is worthy of contemplation for a fervent Christian.

The Mount of Olives rises to the east of Jerusalem, facing Mount Moriah, from which it is separated by the valley of Jehoshaphat. Thus having crossed the rivulet of Kidron near the tomb of the Virgin Mary and skirting the Garden of Gethsemane to the north, at the beginning of the slope one finds a very hard rock which recalls the place where, thoughtful and sad, the inconsolable Thomas was seated when the divine mother, already assumed into heaven, lowered her belt to him, as we are told by, among others, Nicephorus and Bishop Juvenal of Jerusalem. Half way up the mount and turning right the distance of a gunshot one reaches the place where J.C. wept for Jerusalem. This is marked by a ruined tower which was once the bell-tower of a great church built here in memory of the tears J.C. shed here for this prevaricating city. One sees the whole of Jerusalem from this point: I looked over it; oh how desolate and melancholy this city seemed to me, once the most famous in the world! Oh how this daughter of Zion had lost its beauty! She had found such desolation as to move the hardest of hearts to tears, at the thought of what she had been at the time of the Redemption.
A little further up there is a cavern cut in the rock to the entrails of the Mount of Olives, serving as an entrance to a series of underground tombs known as the tombs of the prophets. Over these tombs is the place where J.C. predicted to his disciples the many tribulations, the bloody wars, the persecutions of every kind, the abomination and desolation that were to precede the last day of the Universal Judgment. I stopped here for a moment and, at the sight of the valley of Jehoshaphat below, I imagined the imposing spectacle that will be offered by the whole of mankind gathered in this valley to receive the final sentence. About fifty paces before one reaches the top is the place to which the Apostles withdrew to compose the Credo before scattering all over the world: this place is marked by a cistern within which 12 niches have been carved, in memory of the 12 Apostles.
Not far from here is the place where J.C. taught the Pater Noster to the 12 Apostles, where there was once a church. Here I am at last on the summit of the Mount of Olives: but where is the spot J.C. ascended into heaven? There are many humble houses here, clustered around a rather well preserved holy place. The site of the Ascension is in the centre of this sanctuary. With a generous tip we persuaded a wise old Turk to open up the door of a courtyard in the midst of which there is a church without doors. On the pavement I saw a small square made of stone which enclosed a hard slab on which there is the left footprint of a man facing west: this footprint was made by J.C. when he ascended to heaven. I kissed and kissed reverently this last vestige imprinted on the earth by our divine Redeemer, so as to gain the plenary indulgence attached to it. Seventy paces from this spot, walking along the top of the Mount of Olives, I visited the place known as Viri Galilei, which marks the spot where the Apostles, on their way back from the Mount, had halted and were gazing ecstatically into the sky, when an Angel appeared to them.
On the other side to the right, there is Bethpage, a ruined village which stands on the place from which the Lord sent his disciple to fetch the ass that was tied up close to a nearby castle to make his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the day of the Palms. From here, one can gaze upon the mountain where J.C. fasted for 40 days, the vast plain of Galgala, the river Jordan, the Dead Sea, where Pentapolis once stood, Mount Frank, the heights of Ramatzaim Sophim (Jericho), and many other famous places of Scripture, which I visited closely later.
I wanted to send you a bottle of Jordan water with the rosaries, but as these will not arrive until a month after Easter, as I will explain further, it would go bad so I gave up and instead I am taking it to Alexandria, to someone who asked me for a small bottle. Now following the path to Jehoshaphat’s Tomb to the south of Jerusalem one reaches the Pool of Siloam, famous because in it J.C. healed the man who was blind from birth; I drank some of this water and was fascinated by its constant flow without knowing why. Not far from the Pool of Siloam I climbed into the branches of a very old mulberry in the middle of the road. It indicates the place where the prophet Isaiah was sawn in half with a wooden saw on the orders of King Manasseh.
Twenty paces down from there is Nehemiah’s well, which is over 300 feet deep and contains very cold water. On this matter, it is said that Nehemiah, after the slavery in Babylon, had thick dark water drawn from this well, with which he sprinkled the logs and the victims for the Sacrifice, which flared up prodigiously as soon as the sun rose; so say the Scriptures.
It is in this well that the Priests hid the sacred fire when the Sacred City was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. This is where the Valley of Siloam joins the Valley of Hinnom, which is the Gehenna of the Gospel: it is so dark, deep, remote, sad, melancholy and frightening that Jesus Christ made it the symbol of Hell. I went all the way down it and saw where that brazen idol Moloch had stood, with a hole at the top where live children were thrown to burn in honour of Moloch. In this valley there are cells excavated in the rock where the Apostles hid when their divine Master was made prisoner in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Higher up, I went into Hakeldama, which is the field that was bought for the price of the blood of J.C. It is only large enough for two olive trees. As one leaves through the Gate of Ephraim, one finds Jeremiah’s cave, where the grieving Prophet sought refuge after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar to weep over the glowing ashes of his beloved city, and as he wept he composed those moving sequences and Prophecies that are read in Holy Week.
Below, there is Jeremiah’s actual prison, which is a cistern where, tradition has it, the Prophet was flung at the orders of King Zedekiah as a punishment for having spoken freely to the people of Israel on God’s behalf. Turning westward I climbed Mount Gihon, memorable because upon it King Solomon was anointed and consecrated. Proceeding down behind the walls of Jerusalem one sees a very large pool, 240 paces long, 105 wide and 50 deep, entirely carved out of the rock: this is still known as the Pool of Beersheba because Solomon had it built for her use and in her honour.
I could tell you many other things about Jerusalem and its surroundings, but enough, because I am tired of writing. I have quoted you only a few religious memories, authenticated and confirmed by the Church, which grants in all those I have described the most ample indulgences. Jerusalem now is barely twice the size of Brescia; the streets are narrow, steep, dirty and pitiful; it is the see of many Schismatic Bishops, a Turkish Pasha and the Patriarch, who welcomed us most kindly; it is more fortified than Verona, and gives a great idea of what it once was.
There are 80 Catholic Missionaries, and altogether more than 100 schismatic Greek and Armenian ones. Russian Protestants and Jews have now come in, indeed the former have a bishop. In the midst of this confusion of beliefs, nothing can be done about conversion, because for the Turks anyone who tries to convert is punishable by death; and the other heretics, with a profusion of money, prevent their followers from becoming Catholic. It so happens, therefore, that certain miserable Catholics, when they cannot have from the Missionaries the money or maintenance they want, try to become Protestants, as has occurred this year. All the Catholics in Palestine are poor; and the majority are maintained by the Franciscan Convent. I will tell you later of several other places I have visited in Palestine that merit your attention and consideration.

(Fr Daniel Comboni)

Eustachio Comboni


Jerusalem, 12/10 1857

My dear cousin!
Oh, it seems a thousand years since I have spoken to you, discussed with you, about you, about Eugenio and about my dearest cousins! How often I felt, in between the roaring of the wind and the fluctuation of the waves, my heart beat with the weight of so much separation, also from all of you. How often, as I climbed the rugged and steep mountains of Judea, did I remember when, with you, with dearest Eugenio and Erminia, etc. we used to climb the slope of Dalco and through the pleasant rocks of Prealzo! Now I am in the Holy City; but I say to myself! O if I could have with me here those dear ones who are tied to me by the most sacred ties of blood! Should you write to Eugenio however, do not forget to remind him of what I told him before I left; if I have enough time left, I want to write to him.
Let me tell you that I celebrated Mass for you on Mount Calvary, for Eugenio, for Uncle and for all the family that is known as The Comboni Brothers. I said it in the place where the Virgin Mary stood as her divine Son was being stretched out and nailed to the Cross; it was also pleasing to me to say the Memento for you all, and especially for Eugenio, in all the shrines of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and in every part of the Holy Land, so that in future I will never again forget, each day I celebrate Mass: I tell you this not just so you should set great store by my prayers, for you know that I am poor, very poor, in the eyes of the Lord; but I say this to oblige you to say a few Hail Marys for me, and especially for the success of my Mission. After Easter you will be receiving from Jerusalem a few souvenirs I have sent for you, for Erminia and for all of you.
Now what else should I tell you? It is my greatest wish, my dearest and fondest Eustachio, that you and all my cousins etc., should set about saving your souls. God has bestowed his blessing with the prospering of your domestic affairs; God has placed in your hands a fair number of children to educate, and show the path of virtue; God also gave you a mother, my dear departed Aunt Paola, who from your birth taught you good religious principles, which is why you are known among the merchants for your honesty, justice and rectitude.
But let me say this as a true brother: I praise your concern with acquiring and ensuring an ever greater improvement in your condition, because yours is a large family; but this concern seems too excessive to me: you should first take care of your soul, which has much to lose through excessive agitation over secular things; you have your physical health to preserve, which is still very precious in the interest of your children; therefore moderate your dealings, I ask nothing more of you: yes I do, that you should have forever engraved in your memory that if you save your soul, you save everything, and if you lose it, you lose everything, for we will shortly find ourselves before God’s judgement, at the latest in as little as fifty years; but I am sure you will do it.
Please remember one other thing: my poor parents. You have always been my poor family’s benefactor; and I will be grateful to you for this until I die, and I would not wish to speak of things you are always ready to do without any need of my recommendations; but it is the wish to express my affection that makes me say it to you; and being a son and a father you will forgive me for it: so thank you for everything; I leave my parents to you. God will let you too share in the good he will deign to bestow through our great Mission. Again I implore you to write to me, often, as I shall write to you; giving me news of my parents, of Eugenio, of Erminia, of the good Enrico, of Cesare, Pietro, Uncle and the rest of you, of how your business is going, etc., etc. Give my greetings to all those of whom I am so fond, and as I send you an affectionate kiss, I remain with all my heart

Your most affectionate cousin

Daniel C.

Fr. Pietro Grana

ACR, A, c. 15/37

My dearest and kind Fr Pietro!

Jerusalem, 12/10 1857
I do not want to leave the Holy City without letting you know that I keep a sweet and dear memory of the one who so industriously tends the multiform sheep of Limone, and did so much good to me. Perhaps, once I reach Cairo, I will not have time to write. Let me therefore inform you that three of us have come here to lay prostrate on the ground and kiss the Saviour’s tomb and venerate the places of his birth, of his life and of his death, while Fr Beltrame and Fr Oliboni have gone to Cairo to prepare all the things we did not purchase in Alexandria.
From Alexandria we set off for Jaffa, which is 42 hours away by ship. From the ruins of the ancient Joppa we travelled to Jerusalem, which took us a day and a half on horseback, going over mountains that are nothing like ours in Limone though in several places they are steeper and more rugged, and they have to be crossed on horseback. Here in Jerusalem, to tell the truth, if one enters it with a mind to seeing ancient Jerusalem, with the intention of admiring its profane monuments, one is certain to be disappointed. Anyone who comes with the intention of venerating the most precious monuments and places where the greatest events of the Redemption were accomplished, I assure you they are sure to find their satisfaction, of a kind no one can imagine, for there is a mystery at every step.
Among the other things I observed in this holy and cursed city, accomplice and indeed author of the greatest of crimes, is a sadness, a glumness. It depresses the spirit as one enters. The Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Copts in other cities, especially in Egypt, make a great noise, shouting and quarrelling, whereas here everyone minds their own business, working, selling, doing everything without speaking: on the whole it is as though this city still feels great remorse at having condemned and put to death a God.
Bethlehem is not the same however. It inspires an ineffable joy in those who enter it. It can be said that it has preserved nearly all the monuments of our religion, and of those that no longer exist, enough is known about their location, partly because ever since the Apostles were preaching, churches, shrines and monuments were built and whenever these were destroyed, they were built up again anew; and partly because a great issue here is the tradition of Mohammedans, Jews, Greeks and the local people, of whom it may be said that the first thing they learn is to show them and give information to pilgrims and travellers who come here by so many thousands that it is incredible.
I would have liked to give you a brief description of what I saw and observed; but I will tell you about it from Egypt, when I have more freedom. How is my dear Rector by the way? I hope to find a much desired little letter from him in Cairo. Of course you and I must both keep to what we promised to each other. I wish you every happiness; take care of my poor old parents, to whom no subject is of any interest but Religion. Here in Jerusalem I have left a small souvenir for you, for your mother, your sister, for Signor Pietro and your uncle Signor B.o Carboni, consisting of a Jerusalem rosary, blessed on the tomb of Our Lord and on Calvary, to which is attached a plenary indulgence each time you recite it, and to the respective small crucifix, a plenary indulgence each time it is kissed.
I send you my heartfelt greetings; please offer my most sincere regards to the beloved Signor Pierino, to Signor Giuseppe and Giulia Carettoni, to old Fr Ognibene, to the family of Signor L. Patuzzi and especially to the Rev. Dean, for whom there is the same type of rosary. Please accept the best regards and sentiments of greatest affection

from your affectionate Fr Daniel

All my companions send their regards.

Dr. Benedetto Patuzzi

ACR, A, c. 15/168

Dearest and kind Doctor!

Jerusalem, 12/10 1857
Could I possibly leave Jerusalem without writing you one line, and expressing my sincere affection for your beloved family? That will never be true. But first a digression. About the late G. B. Massimiliano Arvedi I wrote you something from Alexandria; now I shall tell you something else I have heard. His sickness lasted more than a month; and before this one, which was the last, he had had another which had nearly taken him to the grave. In both these ailments, he was assisted with what I would call almost heroic care and concern; so much so that Fr Cipriano, who spent a long time at his side until he died, assured me that he had been amazed, saying: then I knew that true Italians are true friends. His resignation in finally receiving death from God was admirable; because Fr Cipriano himself tells me that in all the years he has been a Missionary in Egypt, he had never experienced such consolation as in being beside this man whom he had first thought somewhat misguided.
The conditions of the agreement made with Count Scopoli are unknown. I know that he was an ordinary house agent, not a trader, because Count Scopoli is not a merchant, but rather practises as a lawyer on the basis of the good faith all Alexandria has in him. Moreover I am of the firm opinion that all those expenses which Count Scopoli has presented in Verona to the brother of the deceased, are true; indeed as far as I can reckon, they are even less than what he actually paid; because in more than two months of illness, Count Scopoli provided more than brotherly assistance, and did not spare any expense. In Alexandria medicine costs four times what it costs in Europe: ice alone, which is brought in cargo ships from Greece and England, costs three francs an “oca”, equivalent to about three pounds; and they needed many times that weight every day; they had to consult many doctors. In brief, no one can calculate what it costs to be ill in Alexandria, where everyone is trying to make a fortune and thus uses every means to make money.
I would therefore be inclined to advise the brother of the late Arvedi to be at peace without further investigation, for Scopoli might become aware of his secret mistrust; because if he tried through official channels or through government to obtain a detailed account of all things, he would be mistaken. Government here can use no other means than the Consul General, whose first Councillor is Count Scopoli. Not a meeting is held without Count Scopoli being present, as I saw in the fortnight I spent in Alexandria. Even a friend of Arvedi’s, who visited him every day, and who is rather opposed to Count Scopoli, because the Consul makes more use of the Count than of him, assured me that in all the years he has known him he has always had the strongest arguments to prove his honesty and justice. There are indeed many things, like his frequent visits to the sick man, he did out of religious sentiment, and to please Count Scopoli, who acted truly as a father. I say no more about this because once I was sure of what I have told you, I gave no further thought to investigating the other things which are expressed in the letter Arvedi gave me, things which are difficult to ascertain without using technical terms.
Enough, let us speak of us. I would have liked to give you a brief description of my journey in Palestine; but I have no time now. Here in Jerusalem I found a few small souvenirs for your family and for your Priest uncles, and Luigi, and for Signora Faccioli, Salvotti, etc. but I will tell you more from the banks of the Nile: in any case they will not arrive until after Easter, these small souvenirs consisting of a few rosaries and crucifixes blessed on the Holy Sepulchre. Give my warmest greetings to the beloved Signora Annetta, Vittoria, Gaetano, Fr Battistino, Fr Bortolo, Signor Luigi and family, and with all my affection I sign myself

Fr Daniel

His Parents
On board the Marsey
N. 17 (15) – TO HIS PARENTS
ACR, A, c. 14/115 n. 2

Dearest Parents!

On board the Marsey, a French steamer,which is ferrying me from Jaffa to Alexandria, Egypt

16 October 1857
I stayed about seven days in Jerusalem; the others I spent travelling to different parts of Judea always on horseback, generally under a baking sun, so it was a most tiring journey. I visited many places: but the most important and edifying are these. As for Emmaus there is nothing left but the site, without the village, which J.C. entered after the resurrection, to be recognised by the two disciples at the breaking of the bread.
I made a trip to Bethany. To go there, we left through St Stephen’s gate and, after crossing the Valley of Jehoshaphat to the south, we went to the mount of scandals, where the wretched Judas hanged himself after having sold his divine Master. It is called mount of scandals due to the most serious scandals Solomon caused his people on it, building altars there to all the idols of his foreign wives: this hill which recalls the apostasy of the wisest of men stands opposite the temple of Jerusalem; and Solomon chose this hill exactly facing the temple, as if to contrast his adoration of idols with that which he gave to the God venerated in the temple.
A little further on there is the small field where J.C. cursed the fig tree because it bore no fruit and only leaves. In these parts, and around Bethlehem, there are only fig trees, half the size of ours. We soon reached Bethany. Of the houses of Martha, Mary Magdalene and Simon the Leper, not even the ruins are left; all one sees are the remains of a magnificent convent of Benedictine nuns who lived here a long time in memory of St Mary Magdalene.
The tomb of the risen Lazarus consists of a deep cavern into which we descended by means of 28 steps. It is divided into two small cells, in the first of which J.C. stood when he said: Lazare veni foras. The other is the tomb proper. We all entered by the light of a candle; we read the Gospel of St John which speaks of Lazarus, and we found it so identical that, if we had not been so certain due to the tradition of all the centuries and to what has been written, and to the Church, which grants a plenary indulgence to those who have seen it, we would have perceived the truth from having seen it. Of this tomb, you will receive a stone, together with a fragment of the rock, 200 paces from the tomb, where J.C. stopped before he entered Bethany and where Martha and Mary Magdalene went to meet him when he came to raise Lazarus from the dead. Bethany now has only 200 inhabitants.
From Bethany we went down to see the Jordan and the Dead Sea: but we did not reach the latter because it was full of Arab Bedouins who almost always rob and kill, and among other things a short time ago they robbed a French and English caravan and they killed among others two French missionaries, and after having robbed an Englishman, when a Bedouin realised he had two gold false teeth, he threw him to the ground and having opened his mouth, dug them out, endangering the others to see if he found more. In Jerusalem I spoke to the head of the Bedouins. He offered, for 100 piastres (30 svanzichs) a head, to take us to the Dead Sea, but he had such a look in his eyes which I did not like much, that we told him to come back a fortnight later, that perhaps, just maybe, we might do something; but in 15 days I will be in Cairo.
I made another trip to Bethlehem, which took me two days. Leaving Jerusalem through the Bethlehem Gate, we reached the valley of the ravine, famous because this is where 185,000 soldiers of Sennacherib were killed. At the top of this valley, before one descends, there is the Mount of Bad Council, as it is called, because it is where the chief priests and the leaders of the people gathered and decreed the death of Jesus. From the foot of this hillock stretches a wide plain described in the sacred texts as the valley of Rafaim, or of the Giants. This is the valley in which the Philistines twice pitched their tents to seek battle with David who, after consulting the Lord, defeated them. A mile away there is a terebinth tree which marks the place where the Holy Family rested on their way to Jerusalem: but there is no indulgence in this place.
Another 100 paces further on, one comes to the cistern of the Three Wise Men, in memory of the three Kings who were the first of the Gentiles to go and adore the Child Jesus. When they reached this place, they saw that brilliant star which had served them as guide in their journey to Jerusalem and had then disappeared. At this watering hole, as in all the places I am about to describe to you, there is an indulgence, almost always plenary. Four miles on, there is the monastery dedicated to St Elias the Prophet: it is in the hands of the Greeks.
About half a mile to the right, there is the ruin of an ancient church which was built on the spot where the Prophet Habakkuk was when the Angel seized him by the hair and transported him to Babylon, over the lions’ den where Daniel had been thrown, and then brought him back to the same place. Half an hour further on, there are the ruins of an ancient tower known as Jacob’s tower, where the people waited for this Patriarch on his return from Mesopotamia.
Abraham and Isaac were also here; in fact I forgot to tell you that on Mount Moriah they show the place where Abraham received the order from God to sacrifice his son Isaac. One hour before reaching Bethlehem I saw the tomb of Rachel, in which farmers now keep their oxen. Then I visited David’s well near Bethlehem, whose waters this King thirsted for when he was confined in the cavern of Odolla and he wished for a drink from that well outside the gates of Bethlehem; and when he got it, seeing his soldiers were thirsty, threw it away to participate in their lack. Here I also saw the foundations of the house of Jesse, father of David, and the places where David spent his youth as a shepherd.
Before going to Bethlehem we actually went into the town of Betjalla to visit the Patriarch of Jerusalem who stays there in his Seminary for a part of the autumn. He welcomed us kindly and wanted to keep us with him for a few days. But there being 8 of us we refused. Among other things he told me he knew the Bishop of Brescia, with whom he was ordained Bishop in Rome in 1850.
Finally we reached Bethlehem late in the evening. My God! Was that the place J.C. chose to be born in? That very evening I wanted to go down to the blessed Grotto which saw the Creator of the world being born. I entered it and although birth is more joyful than death, I was nonetheless more moved than on Calvary, at the thought of the condescension of a God who humbled himself to the point of being born in this manger. The grotto of Bethlehem where J.C. was born is about 10 paces long and half of it is as wide as the corridor where you live; the other half is like your kitchen. There are three altars: one where Mary gave birth to the divine Infant, and this is in the hands of the schismatic Armenians and Greeks; the other, two paces below, is the site of the Holy Crib, where the Virgin Mary laid the baby, and this is in the hands of the Catholics; the other, one pace away, is on the place where the three Wise Kings knelt to adore him, and this is also in the hands of the Friars.
I celebrated Mass there the following night; and I was so pleased to remain till morning in this blessed grotto, which forms the delight of heaven. Oh in this grotto in the silence of the night I had the joy of saying several times the prayer composed by St Jerome, which he often recited here: “O my soul, it was here in this little hole in the ground that the one who built the heavens was born; here he was wrapped in humble swaddling clothes; here he lay on a little straw in a manger; here the Baby Jesus wailed in the rigours of the winter season; here is where he was warmed by the ox and the ass: this is where he was found by the shepherds; here he was indicated by a star; here he was adored by the Wise Men; here the Angels first sang: Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
“O a thousand times blessed are you, for although you are a miserable sinner, you have been made worthy of seeing what Patriarchs and Prophets ardently wished to see and did not see, and you have contemplated with your own eyes this ineffable place, while so many just souls in the world today are not allowed to see it, etc.” Thus spake St. Jerome. Between the place where the Wise Men knelt, and the Crib (which is in Rome) is the place the Virgin Mary sat after she laid the Child in the manger. I sat there too, and then I kissed the spot a thousand times. I kissed nearly the whole Grotto; I could not tear myself away because it truly evoked in me that blessed moment in which the mystery of the nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ took place in this grotto.
Through a narrow opening, the Grotto of Bethlehem extends into another very long cavity, at the bottom of which is the grotto of St Jerome, also known as St Jerome’s Oratory, which is where he explained the Scriptures and did penance beating his chest with a stone: I said Mass in there, and recited the night office. Between St Jerome’s grotto and J.C.’s, along a sort of corridor, there is the altar of St Joseph where the saint stood while the Virgin Mary gave birth to J.C.; the tomb of the innocents, in which the bones of the children killed in Bethlehem at Herod’s command are buried; the tomb of St Eusebius; that of St Paula and St Eustochius and the tomb of St Jerome.
There are two other very large Churches near the grotto, but they belong to the Schismatics: then there is St Jerome’s school 20 paces away from the grotto, in which the Turks keep their horses. The town of Bethlehem has only 4,000 inhabitants, 2,000 of whom are Catholic; it is the largest Christian presence in Palestine. Jerusalem, with 50,000 inhabitants, only has 1,000 Catholics. Bethlehem is still raided by the Bedouins who, under threat of death, demand the provisions they need; there are always killings. They respect no one but the friars, one of whom is their judge: they will not hear of obedience to the Sultan or the Pasha; they would rather die than show respect even to the palace porter. The night we arrived in Bethlehem a Greek was killed by a Bedouin.
The following day we visited the noteworthy sites outside the walls, which are 1. the grotto of the milk, turned into a church, in which grotto the Child was breast fed during the flight into Egypt: here they point out furthermore that the Virgin Mary spilt a drop of milk on the ground; and the earth from this site is used to some effect by the locals to bring milk to those women who have none. 2. St. Joseph’s house, of which one sees only the foundations. 3.Half an hour away, the village of the shepherds who adored the new-born Redeemer. 4. Boaz’s vast field where the Moabitess Ruth walked in the footsteps of that rich landowner’s reapers gleaning ears of corn: in that field there used to be in the olden days the tower of the flock, where Jacob, the son of Isaac, attracted by the abundance of the pastures, pitched his tent after the death of the beautiful Rachel.
In the middle of that field is the cave where those watchful shepherds were guarding their flocks by night when the Angel of the Lord appeared, and blinding them with celestial splendour, announced to them the good news that the awaited Messiah was born. I kissed the spot where the Angel appeared and the place where the Shepherds were, for which there is a plenary indulgence. There are two altars on this site and these, as are the keys of the Cave, are in the hands of the schismatic Greeks. Beneath the Shepherds’ Cave is the stronghold of Engedi which recalls what happened there between David and Saul.
To the right, one hour’s ride away, is Mount Frank on which Herodion castle stood, built by Herod the Great and later to serve as his tomb, where, in 1200, there were 400 crusaders who remained there impregnably for 40 years despite all the Saracens’ efforts to dislodge them.
In the evening we returned exhausted to Bethlehem, where we planned the next day’s trip. After again kissing and venerating the Holy Grotto, we set off at dawn on the 10th for Ain-el-Qarem (En-Kerem) which is St John on the Mount, to visit the shrines of the Precursor. This journey took two days, including our return to Jerusalem.
The first noteworthy site we encountered and explored thoroughly was the enclosed Garden, which is mentioned in the Song of Songs, and where young saplings were nursed to be transplanted later in other places. It is truly an enclosed garden, locked by nature between two mountains, and a symbol and image of the great Virgin Mother, to whom the Church applies it. It is a marvel of vegetation; it is two miles long; a Protestant has bought it. Next to it are the famous pools of Solomon, which are at the top end of the Enclosed Garden and are 570 paces long and of enormous depth. Higher still there is the Sealed Fountain, the fons signatus of the Canticle, symbol and image of Our Lady, as the Church has proclaimed, whose waters pour into the above-mentioned pools built by Solomon. These waters were channelled into an aqueduct which used to convey them as far as the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, a distance of 50miles. The sealed fountain is so called because it was closed with the seal of the King.
Then after going over three mountains, at 2 in the afternoon we reached the fountain of St Philip, where the deacon St Philip baptised Queen Candace’s Eunuch. At this fountain, we halted to restore ourselves with bread and fruit, with water. Seated around this famous Gospel fountain we began to speak of God and of J.C. to a crowd of Muslims who surrounded us: they were avid listeners, but when I suggested to one of them that he might drink a little of the wine we had in a bottle, he said he did not want to drink any because he feared Mohammed; the others would have drunk a barrel of it, although it is forbidden by their religion.
In the evening we reached the home of John the Baptist, which the Turks call En Kerem. In the morning I celebrated Mass in the underground room where he was born, which is a marvel due to the treasures it contains, offered through the ages by rulers and wealthy men who visited Palestine. Ten minutes away from the birth place is the House of St Elizabeth and St Zachary, the Precursor’s parents, where they received the Virgin Mary when she came to visit them and stayed for three months, where the Magnificat and the Benedictus were composed; and on the very spot where they were composed, we recited them.
After Mass we went out to St John’s desert, three hours from the town on horseback. After an hour’s ride one finds a rock along the roadside, upon which the Baptist would climb to proclaim the kingdom of heaven, and the baptism of penance to the multitudes which crowded around him: I kissed that rock, which nobody has ever been able to break. In contempt of this, a Turk who had managed to hammer a piece off, threw it into a lime-kiln to turn it into lime, but it remained intact and is now kept near the temple of the birth, and I kissed it too.
Descending through some mountains we then reached the bottom of a valley dotted with aromatic herbs and brambles. In the depths of this desert everything inspires silence, meditation, penance. An irregular opening hewn in the hardest of rocks, through which one gains access to a flight of steps carved in the stone itself and a clear spring gushing from cracks in a rock face flowing into a small earthen basin at the foot of this recess, told us that we had reached the threshold of the dwelling of Christ’s Precursor. We crept into it and what did we find?
A bare stone bench which served as a bed to the penitent inhabitant of the deserts, and a small hole overlooking the valley of Terebinth below, are all that we found in this cave. But those thorns, that water, those rocks, that horror, oh! what sublime ideas filled my mind! I really seemed to see St. John the Baptist dressed in camel-hair with a leather belt around his waist, feeding on honey and locusts; and I seemed to hear his voice, preaching in the desert, and exclaiming “prepare the way for the Lord, straighten his paths”. Higher up I saw the tombs of St Elizabeth and St Zachary; I also saw the ruins of the castle of Modein which was the home of the valiant Maccabees. We then returned along the valley of Terebinth, famous because it is the place where the little shepherd David slew the proud giant Goliath; I saw the place where Saul was encamped, and the Philistines, the valley where David took the seven stones; and we imagined to the nearest pace, the place where Goliath fell.
In the evening we returned to Jerusalem via Holy Cross, which is a church built on the site where the tree was cut for the Cross on which J.C. died. There is a magnificent Monastery and Novitiate of the schismatic Greeks, which we visited entirely: it is three times the size of palazzo Bettoni: there are all possible comforts, to ease the way to the devil’s house for those impious wretches. And here we were in Jerusalem for the last time. After settling all our affairs, given a last farewell to the holy places, to friends, to Superiors and to all those who in some way had helped us, we left Jerusalem at 1 o’clock and under the stinging rays of the sun we were able to reach Rama at midnight more dead than alive. Very early in the morning, having said Mass in the room of Nicodemus, we set out across the plain of Sharon and reached Joppa before midday, a journey during which my riding skills improved considerably, since I was accidentally given a horse that was a bit mad; he taught me how to ride him at my expense, so that with Fr Dalbosco, who rides well, we reached Jaffa an hour before the others.
After visiting the church where St Peter had his vision of the sheet, we boarded the Marsey which is taking us to Alexandria and we are already within sight. The sea, although it was not stormy, was nonetheless most dismal, especially at the mouth of the Nile.
Before my thoughts leave Palestine which I have visited, I want to tell you that this was the promised land as you know from Scripture, and in ancient times it was certainly the most fertile part of Asia. Now, apart from the Enclosed Garden, the Valley of Terebinth and the vast plain of Sharon, Palestine has become a land of desolation, all rocks, ashes and thorns, and I am not exaggerating when I say that it has become the most barren part of Asia, after Siberia.
I also want to tell you of the dear friendship I formed with Monsignor Ratisbonne. This truly angelic soul was converted to the Faith from the Jewish religion by the Holy Father; and since he is a wealthy man because he is a millionaire and more, he has now founded an institute of nuns in Jerusalem, which he calls the Sisters of Mount Zion, because that is where the institute is located. His aim is the conversion of Jews, Greek Protestants, schismatic Armenians and all the non-Catholics in the East. He receives these as young girls, maintains them and has them educated free, and strives to imbue them with religious sentiments in due course. He now already has sixty well-trained candidates. He is so enamoured of our Mission in Central Africa that he wished to establish perpetual reciprocal relations with us, and as we were about to leave Jerusalem he assured us that fervent prayers to God would be sent up for us and our Mission from Mount Zion by his nuns, to whom he has apparently imposed his rule, and he gave three of us as a memento a rare crucifix, exquisitely made, which, having been blessed over the Holy Sepulchre, I have chosen as my Missionary crucifix. Pray for his work which is for the greater glory of God. As protectress of this work, he established Princess Dalla Torre, with whom we had lunch in Jaffa.
Here I am now in Cairo. I left Alexandria yesterday in the morning and by midday we reached the Nile by rail which is very fast; we crossed the Nile by ferry and continued by rail, and we reached Cairo yesterday evening quite roasted. There we happily embraced our dear companions Fr Oliboni and Fr Beltrame, who so as to waste no time, had given up the journey to Jerusalem; and instead only three of us went there: Fr Dalbosco, Fr Angelo and myself.
For the time being, goodbye, my dearest parents: there you have more or less the essentials of my journey to the Holy Land. It is a confusion and is written quite badly: but imagine the haste in which I wrote it, always at night, when I needed rest, and at sea in the midst of the rolling waves; nevertheless I hope that with your glasses you will get through it. It is too long, but it is precisely when one is in a hurry that the soup is thin. Apart from the shrines of the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary, Bethlehem and St John in the Mount of which I have spoken, I have told you almost nothing of the rest so after reading about this journey, remember that I have seen 10 times more than I have written, and even more again. Receive my most affectionate kiss

Your most loving son

Father Daniel Comboni

N.B. I no longer have the time to look through and re-read this: it must be full of mistakes; but excuse me; I am in too much of a hurry.


His father
N. 18 (16) – TO HIS FATHER

Dearest Father!

Cairo, 19/10 1857
In Alexandria I found your letter including one from Mama, which slightly cheered me: I say slightly, because I find you very upset at my absence. Don’t you know that I don’t take a single step without thinking of you? If I write, if I walk, if I take a stroll, if I eat, I always seem to be beside you; and I need to think hard to believe that I am materially separated from you. So take heart! The great shock has passed. Now you have only to say to the Lord: I have made an enormous sacrifice, and you must always support me with those sentiments I had when I gave up my son to you. So be strong: on Calvary I celebrated Mass for you, as I have done in so many other places. I am sorry about the death of Marietta: […]
[Here a few words have been crossed out].

Then in Cairo I found your letters of 23rd September, which I found more comforting. I await news of this year’s yield. The day after tomorrow we leave Cairo and set out for Korosko. On this journey we will be spending a month on the Nile. At Korosko the great Nubian Desert begins which we will cross in 16 days. Then it will take us 13 days to reach Khartoum. On this journey I will take every opportunity to write to you, but you know that it is usually difficult. Therefore do not worry about us. If you do not receive letters during this period, do not be anxious, for the reason is that there is no opportunity to write.
We are all in perfect health. The many privations I had to put up with on land during my journey to the Holy Land have strengthened me enormously. We hope ever in the Lord; and if he wants me to die, fiat voluntas Dei. In any event, we always say: Blessed be the Lord. So what is the world for the righteous?
In the meantime, in Jerusalem I gave a friar the following items to send to you. They will only reach you a month after Easter because they are being taken by the Franciscan driver of Venice, who brings the alms to Jerusalem every year, and this father will give them to Fr Mazza, who will then send them on to you. These are the objects:
1. Two large rosaries made with wire for both of you;
2. Two crucifixes of wood from Gethsemane, with the 14 stations of the Way of the Cross on the back, made of the same material as the places of the stations: e.g., the station in which J.C. was helped by Simon of Cyrene, is marked by a little soil from the spot where he helped J.C. to carry the Cross. Please give one of the other two to Mgr Tiboni and the other to Uncle Giuseppe.
3. Two metal crucifixes for you two, blessed in Articulo mortis, with which you can do the Way of the Cross and acquire every plenary indulgence: also every time you kiss them you will obtain a plenary indulgence.
N.B. All the rosaries I am sending you for others also have a plenary indulgence attached every time they are recited; the mother-of-pearl crucifixes as well as those of metal also have an indulgence. Tell everyone to whom you send them.

Except for your two rosaries, the others are to be strung, and without any medals. Before giving them away I would like you to have them strung, which costs virtually nothing, because then the memento is more complete.
4. One rosary for Eugenio, 1 for Uncle Giuseppe (on which the name is noted inside the bundle, as on so many others), 8 for each of our Comboni relations, 1 big one for the Rector, 1 for the Archpriest of Tremosine, 2 for Mr and Mrs Giacomo and Teresa Ferrari, our former employers, 4 for Teresa, housekeeper of Mrs Giac. Ferrari, Meneghina, their servant and Minico and Maria at Riva. 2 are for Mr Pietro Ragusini and Mr Bortolo Carboni (we agreed to have them strung) (since there are only a few crucifixes, make sure that they are first attached to the rosaries for our Comboni relations, then to the ones for whoever is most appropriate, such as Rag. etc. Three for Fr Giordani, Fr Fogolari and Luigi Prati the Englishman (these three should be sent to Fr Giordani). Seven among Biset and his wife Nina, his father and his mother, Martino Fedrici and his wife and Battista da Odol. 1 is for the Corporal. 1 for Mrs. Minica and 1 for Virginia, and the other for her sister Moneghina in Brescia, 1 for Fr Rovetta, 2 are for Uncle Luigi and Pietro. There are a few others that you can give away as you see fit, e.g. to the relatives of Bogliaco and a few others whom I cannot remember.…

I have sent a lot to Dr Benedetto together with yours, which he will send later when he has had them strung by the Patuzzi Priests, to Mr Luigi G. Carettoni, etc. All these rosaries come with a plenary indulgence every time they are recited. They were all blessed as were the crucifixes above the Holy Sepulchre; they were lowered into the hole where the Cross was raised on Calvary, etc. etc. Then as for the rosaries I am sending for you, that of Uncle Giuseppe, the crucifixes and the white handkerchief in which everything I am sending you is wrapped and which has been securely sewn (and about which you will let me know) in addition to the Holy Sepulchre on Calvary, they have touched the hole and all the other shrines and places of veneration in the Holy Land which I visited; as has the rosary for the Rector and the one for Eugenio.
The candles, which are in three pieces and come from Bethlehem, were given me for the procession which takes place every day to the Crib; they have touched all the places in Bethlehem and were blessed in the place where J.C. was born. I am sending these for our cousins, so that they can light them when their wives, my cousins, give birth. The other three from the Holy Sepulchre have touched the Holy Sepulchre, Calvary, the Garden of Olives, Gethsemane, etc. I am sending them to you, one for Mama and the other to Uncle Giuseppe, so that when you are in agony on your deathbed, and when Uncle Giuseppe dies (which is bound to happen in less than 100 years) you will have them ready to light. If I die, nothing new, but if I return to Europe after a few years, and God keeps all three of us alive, I myself will bring you others from Jerusalem.
Give one of the larger rosaries to one of our landowners. Perhaps they will not like it… do whatever you wish with this one, give it to whoever you please. Then there are a few pebbles from the Valley of Jehoshaphat, from the tomb of Lazarus, from the Grotto of the Apostles, etc. Do whatever you like with the mother-of-pearl medals. This is really confused. I will write to you more clearly from Khartoum, because before I reach Khartoum you will not yet have received the rosaries. Sorry, I have no time! Write to me, and at length. Although it would take a whole volume to express your heartfelt sentiments towards me. Dear Father, I understand you. Do not worry about me. I love you more than words can say; do the same to your most affectionate son,

Fr Daniel

Eugenio Comboni

Dearest Eugenio!

Cairo, 22 Oct 1857
You will now be in Innsbruck, and you will have already started the academic year. What an important enterprise you have embarked on! The enterprise of making yourself an adult. Perhaps you will not understand all the effects of this great thing; but growing up will have enabled you to understand it in part. If you behave well and live up to the hopes that everyone has in you, you will have excellent success, but if you let yourself be swamped by the laxity of modern youth, what will become of you? The academic career is a great adventure for those who are able to make the most of it, but studying can be ruinous for students who seek only the pleasure of entertainment, who pay little or no attention to their duties.
I think of you often. I am glad to have in my dear cousin a very promising subject, but on the other hand you make me afraid, seeing you almost totally left to your own devices without the constant guidance of a Christian supervision and my fear is not that you will fling yourself into the licentiousness and corruption of modern youth, but that little by little it will entice you wretchedly into its snares.
Now what must you do, my Eugenio, to protect yourself and remain unharmed by all this evil? You must remember the advice I gave you two days before I left Limone. You must choose Professor S. Pider as your spiritual director. I am sure he will be a father to you, a counsellor, everything. It is enough that you mistrust yourself and do not allow yourself to undertake anything without his advice or assent. Give him my greetings and tell him that I also recommend you. I do not know him but it is enough that he is a friend of the venerable Mitterrutzner for him to have all my esteem. Remember to have recourse to the sacraments; they are the greatest means of keeping you unharmed by modern corruption. Shun bad company which is the plague of good company, and remember to say some Hail Marys for me too, which I will likewise do for you, especially during my travels in Palestine, Jerusalem, etc. Renewing my recommendations to you, I remain

your own cousin

Fr Daniel Comboni

Apostolic Missionary in Central Africa

His Parents
N. 20 (18) – TO HIS PARENTS

Dearest Parents!

Assiut, 30 Oct. 1857
As I have already told you we left Cairo on the evening of the 22nd; and after a wonderful voyage we reached the capital of Upper Egypt this evening, where we plan to stay half a day before leaving again for Aswan. But before we leave this most pleasant town, I would like to tell you of a scene which took place in the gigantic capital of all Egypt, Cairo.
Every year the grand ministers of the Muslim religion, in the name of the Government of Egypt, have the custom of sending to Mecca a great cloth of the finest damask embroidered with gold and gems, so that it may touch the holy tomb of Mohammed. This cloth remains in Mecca for one year, until the following year when another cloth is sent there from Cairo to replace the one that has been touched by the sacred tomb which, as you know, the Muslims claim is suspended in the air in the great temple of Mecca, where the death penalty awaits any non-Muslim who enters. The person who accompanies the sanctified cloth is generally a figure of distinction. This year it was the King of Egypt’s sister, who was returning with great pomp precisely the day after I arrived in Cairo. So here is the scene which took place during the three days that followed my arrival, and which I witnessed.
This cloth is carried by a camel, which promptly becomes holy, and holy to the point that it brings good luck to anyone who touches it. On the first day of its arrival the cloth is exposed in the temple, the biggest and most devout in Cairo, which I entered with Fr Angelo and Fr Alessandro, but only after having our feet bound up in sandals of the whitest canvas, due the generous baksheesh we gave the man who presides over the doors. This cloth is kissed and touched, first by the grandees, then by the people. On the third day, the camel which has been sanctified for having borne the cloth from Mecca is led in a golden harness to Cairo’s great square, known as Esbichièh, and those who wish to become holy, do you know what they do? They stretch out naked on the ground in the middle of the square on their fronts or on their backs, and for three hours the camel walks over these live and naked bodies, breaking an arm here, an eye there, squashing one here and breaking a leg there, etc. and it is amazing to see the batterings and blows they give one another and the fights that take place because they would all like to be granted the honour of being trampled upon by the holy camel.
After that scene which lasts three hours, the poor injured who become holy are taken in procession to the Qalaa, which is the king’s Mosque, where they are covered in honours by a jubilant multitude and are henceforth considered oracles by the people… (How far fanaticism can go!!) The camel is then fed and looked after with great care; and there is the death penalty for anyone who uses it for any purpose, however noble. The feast of the return from Mecca of the Grand Pasha of Cairo’s sister lasted seven days. It is estimated that a million francs were spent in gunpowder, labour and fireworks, etc. alone, without counting the lavishness of the guests, who incur considerable expenses, because with Orientals there are no limits. During the five days I stayed in Cairo, I visited the palace of the Grand Pasha and the temple of Qalaa built by Mohammed Ali, the magnificence and wealth of which I cannot express. It is made entirely of alabaster; there are countless pearls, gold ornaments and jewels; it is a domed mosque only twice the size of the cathedral of Brescia: but its richness, its shape, which is a single cupola and a single rotunda, made a deeper impression on me than the churches of Florence, Venice and Jerusalem.
According to last year’s statistics, Cairo has 1 million or more souls: it has four hundred and fifty superb mosques (Mohammedan temples) with as many most elegant minarets (a kind of tower)many of which are taller than the tower in Verona; and among all these people there are only (it pains me to say it) about 4,000 Catholics and three Christian churches, in which Maronites, Copts, Greeks, Armenians have their services, so that in two of these particularly a true Babel breaks out.
We visited the Bishop of Cairo several times; he lives in the Franciscan Friary where we were staying, and he was kind enough to give us a very good youth born of a Moorish concubine and an adulterous white Tuscan. We are taking this young man with us into the unexplored regions, and he promises to be a great success despite the sin in which he was born and brought up. I cannot tell you the scandals that take place in the public squares, in the streets and in the bazaars (markets) because I do not want to dirty my pen by describing so many public offences to God. But I will now leave this unfortunate city, which according to a certain writer, is the true modern Babylon, with its 27–mile circumference. And here I am on our dahabiahs (dhows).
The five craftsmen are on the first and biggest one which is the most richly infested with lice. The five Missionaries, the good lad and our native Nubian servant are on the smallest one, more elegant than the former, less lice-ridden, but full to the brim with rats, bedbugs and flies that bite, which are sometimes jolly, sometimes dismal companions. Our journey on the Nile is an absolute delight; its banks are covered in sugar and date palms, banana trees, etc. and the surrounding countryside is fertile with durra grain and cereals. At every stretch there are towns and villages, with huts less than a man’s height made of sun-baked earth and which could be knocked down with a punch. Boys, youths and most of the men are naked and work naked in the sun. Every day we disembark for a quarter of an hour or so to shoot our supplies of wood-pigeons, doves, pigeons and turkeys, of which there are thousands.
You know what a good shot I am; and yet my bag is very poor when I manage to kill only one pigeon or dove with a single shot. When we are in the boats we frequently bring down wild turkeys and ducks weighing 16 or even 20 pounds each, which are exquisite and quite as good as the European ones. They can be shot by the tens and hundreds on the bare sands of some small island; and at the sound of a gunshot, many of the ones that do not fall just sit still, so that there is time to reload the gun and kill some more. It reminds me of the times when Eustachio and I were happy at Dalco to eat four or five thrushes killed with a shot-gun (by him, not by me!!).
But enough: what kind of life are we leading on board? First of all you must know that we are sailing up the Nile, and the Nile rises in the centre of Africa and flows out into the Mediterranean near Alexandria; nevertheless we are making good speed with billowing sails, like our boats racing on Lake Garda when they run under sail that can hardly hold together. The Nile is twice as wide as the Po, perhaps the distance from Reamolo to Navene, and it is very deep in places but quite shallow enough for boats to run aground. We have run aground three times, and once was last night when it took us two hours of hard work to get off again.
[A few words are crossed out]

[…] but this is our life: we rise in the morning at dawn; not from bed of course, because our bed consists in putting a bundle of clothes to be washed or a garment under our head and going to sleep on the boards of the boat! I so often think of the concern with which Mama wanted to make me a soft bed; I consented so as not to displease her and to appreciate her unlimited kindness, but I wanted it hard in order to train myself. Now I am used to it, but since we get up every morning with our ribs feeling as if we had been beaten with a stick, Fr Giovanni thought that we should equip ourselves with pillows on which to lay our head, so that we could put under our middle what we previously used under our head; and indeed, no sooner had we reached the market town of Minieh on the 28th than we bought some cloth and, returning to the boat, all five of us cut ourselves a piece of sheet and made ourselves a pillow. I worked half a day sewing, oh what a laugh we had. We told Fr Checco who had been Professor at the Liceo of Verona: can you imagine your pupils if they saw you now sewing like a tailor?
I thought of my dear Mama who would quietly have taken an hour to do what I did with a great effort in half a day. In the daytime then, after we have fulfilled our religious duties together, which are meditation, the Office, oral prayer, spiritual reading, examining our conscience and the Rosary, we talk about things in Europe, write our records in our diaries, observe the ever increasing beauty of the banks of the Nile and shoot the odd pigeon, etc. Occasionally, naked men with heads all shaven but for a long tail in the middle, swim aboard and, with a whining that inspires both compassion and disgust, ask us for bread and money, which they then put in their mouths and they are so insistent even after they have received alms that we frequently have to chase them away with a stick. Do you know who they are? They are schismatic Christian-Copt monks and priests who live in the neighbouring mountains and beg for a living; and when we pass a cliff dwelling, they dive off the top which is as high as the church in Limone or even higher and jump into the boat completely naked, only to depart by leaping into the river and swimming.
Then we spend our evenings singing and talking especially about our Mission and on how to introduce ourselves for the first time into the Unknown Regions of Central Africa. To tell the truth there is much pain but there is just as much joy in thinking that we are off to propagate the Kingdom of Christ. I am healthier and stronger than I was in Europe. We are happy and calm and at times we laugh behind your back remembering anecdotes concerning you and me: so take courage, O dearest ones; pray and resign yourselves to God’s will.
Excuse me if I cannot tell you all that is happening, all I see, etc. Writing is quite an undertaking here on the rocking boat; and if you see bad letters remember there are no little desks like in S. Carlo or Limone; here one has to write on a suitcase or on one’s knee or lying on the floor, and to say everything I would need to write a book each time. Particularly now, as we are about to enter the port of Assiut, the waves are very strong. The Nile is full of boats, more than the sea in proportion. Each day we see more than 120 boats without sails and very often the ones that are sailing upstream like us collide and the sails get ripped, as happened a few days ago to our large boat, which had to stop half a day to mend the jib.
Goodbye my dear parents; I warmly thank you for having given your generous consent for me to pursue my career in the Mission; rejoice, be calm, for the trials of life are always brief and small when it is a question of avoiding the agonies of hell and gaining Heaven.
Goodbye dear father, dear mother; you are and will always be in my heart. I love you and admire you both so much, because you have done something heroic, which the great men and the heroes of this world are not able to do. Let the world prattle away; let it despise you and call you fools. You have gained a victory which has assured you of eternal happiness.
Since I was rained on with you in Verona, I have not seen a single drop of water. The sky of Egypt is always bright. Give my greetings to all our relatives in Limone and Riva; I am so sorry about Marietta. Give my respects to the Master and the Mistress, Signor Giacomo and Teresa Ferrari, the Rector, the parish priests of Tremosine, the gardeners of Supine and Tesolo, Signor Giuseppe and Giulia Carettoni, Signor Luigi Prudenza, Fr Ben, Ragusini, Vincenzo Carettoni, Minica, Virginia, etc. etc. Caporale, Rambottini, etc. as I declare myself wholeheartedly

Your affectionate son

Fr Daniel Comboni

Apostolic Missionary

N.B. I was leaving out the most critical part of our journey. At Mount Abu-Feda, the Nile is flanked by two high mountains which offer no other course for a distance of three miles; this passage is extremely dangerous and every now and then there are shipwrecks due to the strength and irregularity of the winds. No sooner had we entered this labyrinth with our two boats than a most ferocious gust ripped our mainsail, broke the boat’s sides into a thousand pieces and the six sailors of our small boat did not know what to do any more because one had received a beam on the head as our boats crashed into each other. In this turmoil, Fr Giovanni and myself removed our shoes and clothes except for our shirt and pants ready to jump into the river which at this point is full of whirlpools. Fr Francesco clung to a crossbar, Fr Alessandro to a beam and Fr Angelo, for better or for worse, embraced the crucifix: while we recited the Ave Maria and prepared ourselves to give each other absolution, the wind threw us against a sand bank and we were saved. When we landed we sang two joyful sacred hymns and now we are happily in Assiut where tomorrow morning we hope to celebrate Mass. Blessed be the Lord and blessed be Mary who is always with us. Others have been through this place, so have we!
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