Toward the end of the thirteenth century, a friar named Riccoldo da Montecroce left his Dominican house in Florence to make the long journey to the Middle East, but unlike other pilgrims he did not have the biblical sites as his final destination. He planned to travel to Baghdad, the Muslim cultural center and former residence of the caliph on the Tigris River. His aim was to learn Arabic and spread the Christian faith among Muslims. He found instead a thriving religious culture that challenged his own faith.
Riccoldo was not the first Dominican to live among Muslims for an extended period of time. A Dominican house of studies had been established in Baghdad some fifty years earlier. What makes his journey noteworthy is that he wrote a highly personal account of his experiences with detailed references to Muslim beliefs and practices. A Christian Pilgrim in Medieval Iraq provides the first English translation of two of his writings: the Liber Peregrinationis ( Book of Pilgrimage ) and Five Letters on the Fall of Acre (really meditative essays, one addressed to God the Father and another to the Virgin Mary). The translator, Rita George-Tvrtkovic, an associate professor of theology at Benedictine University, also offers a well-informed analysis of the historical and religious settings that brought them forth.