Asian studies in Lithuania
Authors: Radvila Kristupas Mikalojus, Našlaitėlis
Published in: Vilnius
Published on: 1990
Publisher: Mintis

European counter-reformation ideas reached Polish – Lithuanian commonwealth in the 16th century. Country’s politician, cartographer and traveler Mikalojus Kristupas Radvila Našlaitėlis (1549 – 1616) became its fierce supporter: reopened Catholic churches that were once closed by his father, supported Jesuits activities in Lithuania and went on a pilgrimage journey to Jerusalem. In diary ’’Journey to Jerusalem’’, that soon after its release in 1601 became a bestseller, Našlaitėlis wrote about places he visited in Palestine, Syria and Egypt, his adventures and first impressions.

The author began a 2 year (1582 – 1584) long trip in Italian city of Venice. From there he sailed to Greece, Cyprus and in Syria, Damascus, wrote about his first adventures on this dangerous voyage. Našlaitėlis and his companions almost got killed by local people, who were throwing rocks at them. Due to contempt directed towards Christians and threat to their lives, travelers left for the main destination of the journey – The Holy Land. While in Palestine and Jerusalem, they visited sites worshiped by Christians: Christ Church, Zion gates, Mount of Olives, the Cenacle and many more. Fascinated by the stories of Catholic priest, who Našlaitėlis met in Jerusalem, he decided to visit Egypt as well. There the author bought male and female mummies but because of superstitious ship crew, he was forced to throw them into the sea. Besides these, traveler wrote about other unusual purchases, customs of locals, exotic fruits and animals.

Other peculiar souvenirs of Našlaitėlis included  a piece of cross on which Jesus Christ was tortured, Egyptian chest inlaid with precious stones, rosary from Jerusalem and wild animals. The author was astonished by 2: hippopotamus and chameleon. The latter described as a lizard without a mouth, so incapable of eating or drinking, but able of changing the color of its skin. Meanwhile hippopotamus was compared to Lithuanian bison without horns. In his diary, Našlaitėlis dedicated a whole paragraph for bananas that were like more bent cucumbers. People he met in his travels were as fascinating. In one of the ports he met Indian merchants who had precious stones on their cheeks and foreheads.

Mikalojus Kristupas Radvila Našlaitėlis diary ’’Journey to Jerusalem’’ is a mixture of facts and fiction. The author is critical when judging authenticity of the places he visited and the stories he heard. However, in his records Našlaitėlis too has exaggerated some of his experiences. Nevertheless, it was one of the first travel books in Europe that provided real knowledge about the Middle East.

Initiators of the project: Japan foundation VDU