A True Relation of the Lands of the Prester John
The Prester John rarely travels straight,1 nor does anyone know where he is going. This multitude of people travels along the road until they find a white tent pitched, and there they settle down each in his own place. Often the Prester does not come to this tent, but sleeps in the monasteries and large churches which are in the country. In the tent which is thus pitched they do not fail to make solemn instrumental music and singing, yet not so perfectly as when the lord is there: moreover, the [altar stones, that is,] churches always travel with the Court and there are thirteen of them.2 They travel straight, although the Prester John goes off the road. The altar stone or stones of all the churches are treated with much reverence on the way, and are carried only by mass priests, and always four priests go with each stone, and four others to take turns with them; they carry these stones as if on a stretcher raised on their shoulders, and covered with rich cloths of brocade and silk. In front of each altar or stone, for all go together, walk two zagonaes, with thurible and cross, and another with a bell ringing it. And every man or woman who is going on the road, as soon as he hears the bell goes off the road, and makes room for the church; and if he is riding a mule he dismounts and lets the church go by. Also, whenever the Prester travels with his Court, four lions always go before him; these too travel by the straight road, and they go bound with strong chains, that is to say, with two chains, one behind and one before, and many men take them; to these also people give up the road, but it is from fear. We travelled on our road, from halt to halt, till 20 December, when we stopped at the great gullies which have the gates, through which we passed in coming,1 and there they gave us quarters in big fields. When the Prester John’s tents were pitched, they at once began to make a very high platform in one of the tents for the Prester John to show himself on Christmas Day, because he generally shows himself three times a year, that is, once at Christmas, another time at Easter, and another on Holy Cross Day in September. They say that he makes these three appearances because his grandfather, the father of his father, who was named Alexander, was kept by his courtiers dead and hidden for three years, and they were masters of his kingdoms and lordships:2 for up to that time no one of the people ever saw their King, and he was not seen except by a very few of his servants and courtiers; and at the request of the people the father of this David showed himself these three days, and so does this one. They say that if he goes to war, he goes uncovered in the sight of all, and even when travelling, as will be related further on, where we saw him.