Some of you may remember that a couple of years ago I became mildly obsessed with the questiona as to whether the anglo-saxon cleric Sighelm could have visited the St Thomas christians in Kerala.
Of couse it really wasn’t about clerical interactions but really about how well established trade routes were before the rise of Islam and how disrupted they were and whether that would turn his journey into either fantasy or a story based on remembering earlier journeys.
The key thing about Sighelm’s (possible) journey is that it quite easily follow the trade routes for pepper in the opposite direction, and that there was a now half forgotten infrastructure of christian monasteries and guest houses along the route.
However, while concentrating on spices I forgot the other great mystery of the east – lapis, the blue stone that comes only from Afghanistan. And as it’s prized, people traded it. In fact the have traded it for a long time, as seen by its presence in Sumerian grave goods in Ur.
Both Florence of Worcester and William of Malmesbury mention that Sighelm returned safely from India. It is of course more than possible that one chronicle entry was derived from the other but William’s comment about the aromatic liquors and bright jewels could have a kind of sense to it if Sighelm came back part of the way on a spice trading boat to the Gulf and perhaps picked up some lapis in Dubai, much as you can even today …