IN SEARCH OF a rumored Christian khan, William of Rubruck endured fifa 15 coins terrible privations on various branches of the Silk Road. He was reduced, as Carpini had been, to eating cold millet, occasionally supplemented with semifrozen raw meat. William eventually made it to Karakorum, and he described this destination in all-too-realistic terms. It was, he said, a small village, not quite as large as Saint-Denis (the seat of French kings) outside Paris. Rather than a fortress of monolithic Mongol power, Karakorum showcased diversity. “It had two quarters. In that of the Saracens [Muslims] are the markets, and here a great many Tartars gather on account of the court,” he noted. “The other is the quarter of the Cathayans [Chinese], all of whom are artisans…. There are twelve temples of idols of different nations, two mosques,…and one Christian church at the very end of the city.”
Karakorum was also a busy diplomatic center, receiving not just emissaries from the pope but delegations from emperors, sultans, and kings across Asia and Eastern Europe, all of them braving the intense cold.
Despite the atmosphere of religious variety and tolerance encouraged by the Mongols, William of Rubruck performed only six baptisms. He seems to have lost his theological bearings in this distant land, where religious beliefs did not conform to the strict categories with which he was familiar. He wrote of coming upon a man with a “cross painted in ink upon his hand,” whom he took to be a Christian, “for he answered like a Christian to questions which I asked him.” Yet the religious symbols that this man and others like him displayed did not strike Friar William as sufficiently orthodox. He concluded that the devotees were Christians who lacked adequate instruction in the practice of their religion.
WANDERING through Karakorum, William of Rubruck chanced on an “idol temple,” where the inhabitants, he noted, “do courteously invite and lovingly entertain all messengers, every man according to his ability and station.” He had located a Buddhist monastery, whose sacred aura seduced him with its parallel religious reality: “Their temples are built east and west; and upon the north side is a chamber, in [the] manner of a vestry. Sometimes, if it is a square temple, the vestry or choir place is built in the center. Within this chamber they place a chest long and broad like a table, and behind this, facing south, stands their principal idol…. They place other idols round about the principal one, all of them finely gilt over with pure gold; and upon the chest, which is in the manner of a table, they set candles and offerings…. They also have great bells like we have.”