5. Religious Journeys

[Balinese Rāmāyaṇa], circa 1900.


Bali, late 19th century

The gift of Andrea di Castro, in memory of Fabio Formichi, Italian antiquities dealer


Shown here is a lontar, or palm leaf manuscript. The text is in Kawi, old Javanese, and the manuscript dates from the late 19th century. Javanese examples of the Hindu Ramayana date from the 9th century, but the Sanskrit epic is far more ancient in India. The story of the exiled Prince Rama has been passed down over time through the shadow puppet tradition as well as palm leaf manuscripts into the 20th century.




Stultifera nauis : narragonice p[er]fectionis nunq[ue] satis laudata nauis

Sebastian Brant 1458–1521

Stultifera nauis : narragonice p[er]fectionis nunq[ue] satis laudata nauis

Basel : Johann Bergmann, de Olpe, 1497


The Ship of Fools was first published as Narrenschiff in 1494. This is the Latin version with illustrations created by Albrecht Dürer when he was an apprentice. It is an allegorical journey of fools bound for a fools’ paradise.







The vision of Hell


Dante Alighieri 1265–1321

Inferno, Purgatory and Paradise

London: Cassell, 1903–04


Gustave Doré’s illustrations of Dante’s epic poem have become so synonymous with the work that, even now, they evoke our visual and sensory imagination of the Divine Comedy. Lost in a gloomy wood, Dante is guided by Virgil through Inferno and Purgatory. When he journeys through celestial Paradise, he is guided by Beatrice, the object of his affection in real life. The poem’s narrative functions as an allegory of the soul’s journey towards God.






The works of our ancient and learned English poet, Geffrey Chavcer [i.e. Geoffrey Chaucer] : newly printed ...

Geoffrey Chaucer c. 1342–1400

The Works of our Ancient and Learned English Poet, Geffrey Chavcer: newly printed ...

London: George Bishop, 1602


Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is one of the most significant works in English literature. The tales are presented within the frame of a storytelling contest between a group of pilgrims travelling together from London to Canterbury Cathedral to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket. Chaucer’s narrative focuses more upon the stories and the characters narrating them than it does upon the spiritual quest of the pilgrims or details of the pilgrimage






The pilgrim's progress from this world to that which is to come. The second part, delivered under the similitude of a dream : wherein is set forth the manner of the setting out of Christian's wife and children, their dangerous journey and safe arrival at the desired country

John Bunyan 1628–1688

The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That which Is to Come: The second part, delivered under the similitude of a dream ...

London: Printed for M Beddington, 1719


Written in a Bedfordshire jail, The Pilgrim’s Progress was a foundation text for the budding working-class movement of 18th-century England. It was lauded by Swift, Johnson and Walpole. The first part of Bunyan’s religious allegory follows Christian on a journey to salvation from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The frontispiece illustrates the second part of his work, with Christian dreaming of his wife and children embarking on their own dangerous journey.




Paradise lost : a poem in twelve books

John Milton 1608–1674

Paradise Lost: A poem in twelve books

Birmingham: Printed by John Baskerville for J and R Tonson in London, 1760


Paradise Lost dramatises the Biblical story of the Fall of Man, including Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve and their eventual expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Like Aeneas and Odysseus, Satan travels between Hell and Earth alone. This edition is significant for Baskerville’s close attention to typography in order to create visual appeal rather than the volume being embellished with illustrations.





Hermann Hesse 1877–1962


Berlin: S Fischer, 1922


Written as fiction but ostensibly to be read as autobiography, Wanderung or ‘hike’, reflects on the human condition and the complexity of reconciling the active life to the contemplative life. It is a precursor to Hesse’s novels of spiritual journeying, Siddhartha and Steppenwolf, for which he won his Nobel Prize.