John of Plan Carpini

J.J. Saunders describes the Papal envoy to the Mongol conquerors who travelled through Russia to eastern Asia in 1245-7.

The opening of Asia to European penetration in the thirteenth century is associated in the minds of most people with the journeys of the Polo family, as they were described in fascinating detail in the travels of Marco Polo. The Polos went to China for trade. But at least equal credit is due to the indefatigable missionaries from the newly founded Orders of Friars, who braved untold perils to bring a knowledge of the Christian gospel to the conquering Mongols, who then held imperial sway over nearly the whole of Asia and half Europe.

The reports of these Franciscan and Dominican travellers were circulated soon after their return home; some extracts got into Hakluyt and other collections; the full Latin texts were published in France in 1839, and several English translations are available. Yet the name of the first of them, John of Plan Carpini, is not nearly so well known as it should be. The first European ever to penetrate Mongolia and Eastern Asia was no uncommon man; indeed, there was something almost heroic about his achievement.

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