In connection with the exhibition of Chinese art at Burlington House, it must be of interest to know that some of the earliest accounts of China and its treasures come from missionaries who travelled there in the first years of the fourteenth century.
China did not always regard Europeans, for, under the Yuan or Mongol dynasty (1279-1368), foreigners were welcomed, even invited, to China, and Franciscan friars found themselves seated in honourable places at court.
When the Ming, a Chinese dynasty, came hack into power in 1368, foreigners were frowned on as friends of the Mongols and the frontiers of the Middle Kingdom were
mends the overland route to China instead of the voyage via Ceylon and Java, for the continental route was safe and took but six months to cover.
The Policing of Asia
Thus, like every traveller of this date, does the friar testify to the excellence of the posting arrangements, and the policing of Asia under the Yuan rulers. an oasis of verdure, and as such praised by Marco Polo.
Except for Marco Polo and Oderic there is no traveller of this date who gives one an idea of what life in the Mongol capital was like.
On the Green Mount stood a much admired pavilion and therein were several
treasured works of art. The friar was shown a huge wine bowl bf jade or as he called it "merdacas," which he was told was worth the price of four great cities.
I-le describes it as hooped with gold and as having nets of large pearls draped round it. Golden goblets lay beside it so that those who wished might drink of the wine with which it was filled.
It is not possible in the scope of a short article to give an adequate account of the records made by Brother Oderic, but we may quote from them the tale of r curious encounter with the Great Khan himself:
An Encounter with the Great Khan
" I will report one thing more which
I saw concerning the great Can. It is a usual custom in those parts that when the foresaid Can travelleth thorow any country his subjects kindle fires before their doors casting spices thereinto to make a perfume, that their lord passing by may smell the sweet and delectable odours therof . . . . and upon a certain time . . . a bishop of ours with certain of our Minorite friars and myself, went
two days' journey to meet him; and being come nigh unto him, we put a cross upon wood, I myself having a censer in my hand, and began to sing with a loud voice: Vera Creator Spiritus.
" And as we were singing on this wisc,
he caused us to be called And when we came near he vailed his hat or bonnet, being of an inestimable price, doing reverence unto the crosse. And immediately I put incense into the censer, perfumed him and gave him his benediction. Moreover they that come before the great Can do always bring some oblation to present unto him, observing the ancient law: Thou shalt not appear in my presence with an empty hand.
" And for that cause we carried apples with us, and offered them in a platter with reverence unto him: and taking out two of them he did eat some part of one. And then he signified to us that we should go apart least the horses coming on might in ought offend us." (P. 441 Friar Beatus Odoricus. Vol. IV Hakluyt).
Homecoming and Death When Brother Oderic got back home about the year 1330 his nearest kinsfolk could scarcely recognise him.
Going to the monastery at Padua his story was taken down by a friar.
Thence he went to Pisa to take ship for Avignon to report to the papal court. But, worried by the news that a Minorite had allowed himself to be set up as antipope in Rome, he fell mortally sick and in a dream was bidden by St. Francis "to return to his nest."
He died shortly afterwards and was immediately treated by the common people as a saint.
Everyone rushed to touch his corpse and his habit was snipped to pieces.
Cures and other miracles were effected and amid scenes of great excitement Friar Oderic was buried.
Four hundred years later his virtue was published to the world by beatification.
The feast of Blessed Oderic is observed in his order next Monday, February 3.