In 1483 Bernhard von Breydenbach, a German clergyman from an ancient noble family, set off on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that would result in the publication of one of the most extraordinary early printed books.

Bernhard von Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam [Pilgrimage to the Holy Land] was first published in Latin in Mainz by Erhard Reuwich in 1486 and was quickly translated into German, Flemish, French and Spanish. Our copy is of the second Latin edition, published in 1490 in Speyer, Germany, by Peter Drach, with the illustrations printed from the original woodcuts.

The marvel of the book is its illustrations, which include huge, detailed, fold-out panoramas of the cities of Venice and Jerusalem, as well as pictures of the places visited and peoples met along the way. Nothing like it had been published before. It is also the first printed book to have been illustrated by a known artist, Erhard Reuwich, who travelled with Bernhard all the way and published the earliest editions. His images influenced artists and illustrators such as Albrecht Dürer.

 

 

The book came to Hereford Cathedral through the bequest of Sir John Prise, who died in 1555. Careless handling over the centuries meant that the paper was tattered and torn, so it was unable to be read or displayed. Last year, with support from the Radcliffe Trust and a private donor, it underwent a two-month programme of conservation with leading bookbinder and paper conservator Julian Thomas MBE. A decision was made to keep three of the folding woodcuts out of the binding (they can be easily re-inserted) to enable them to be exhibited separately.

The newly conserved book and the panoramas of Venice and Jerusalem are on display in this exhibition, along with other early illustrated printed books from the Chained Library, until 1 April 2017.