Katarina Vilioni

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Facsimile of the illustration of the 1342 tomb of Katarina Vilioni, member of an Italian trading family in Yangzhou

Katarina Vilioni (died 1342) was one of the first Europeans known to have resided in China. She was apparently a member of an Italian trading family that lived in Yangzhou during the mid-14th century.

Vilioni is known mostly through her tombstone, which was rediscovered at Yangzhou in 1951, it suggests that Vilioni died in 1342 and was the daughter of a man named Domenico Vilioni.

Historical background[edit]

The early presence of Europeans at Yanghzou may have been linked to the silk trade and a reported sojourn there, during the 1280s, by Marco Polo, who was said to have served the Chinese emperor in an official position at Yanghzou.

Members of the Franciscan order were apparently established at Yangzhou before 1322, when Odoric de Pordenone visited and resided among Franciscans there.[1]

The existence of the tombstone suggests that, by the time Vilioni died, there was a well-established Italian community in the city.[2]

Tombstone[edit]

The tombstone, which is inscribed in an upper-case Lombardic Latin script, reads:

In nomine D[omi]ni amen hic jacet
Katerina filia q[u]ondam Domini
D[omi]nici de Vilionis que obiit in
anno Domini mileximo[3] CCC
XXXX II de mense Junii

("In the name of the Lord, amen. Here lies Caterina daughter of the deceased lord Domenico de Vilioni, who died in A.D. 1342, in the month of June.")

Vilioni's tombstone also carries a depiction of the martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, as such, it may represent the oldest surviving Roman Catholic artefact in China. (Older Christian monuments in China are the work of the Nestorian Church of the East. Odoric de Pordenone also mentions the existence, in 1322, of three Nestorian churches in Yangzhou.)

The tombstone was rediscovered in 1951 by members of the People's Liberation Army, among material that had been used to build ramparts at Yangzhou.

Later research[edit]

The Vilioni family of Yangzhou has been linked to a named Pietro Vilioni, who in 1264 was involved in trade at Tabriz (in modern Azerbaijan).[4]

Following the rediscovery of Katarina Vilioni's tombstone, a smaller plaque was discovered in Yangzhou, with an inscription mentioning the death in November 1344 of an Antonio Vilioni, who was also a son of Domenico Vilioni.

The surname Vilioni may have been a precursor or variant of the later surname Ilioni, the medieval scholar Robert Lopez has suggested that the Domenico Vilioni of Yangzhou was a man named "Domenico Ilioni", who in 1348 was mentioned in records kept by the city of Genoa. The Genoese records state that Domenico Ilioni mentioned in relation to a merchant named Jacopo de Oliverio, who was said to have lived in the "Kingdom of Cathay" (China), where he had multiplied his capital fivefold.[5]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "The Chan's Great Continent", Chap 1, Jonathan D.Spence here, also: "Les Mondes de Marco Polo", p.10
  2. ^ Frances Wood, p125-126
  3. ^ Mileximo for millesimo
  4. ^ Lauren Arnold, 1999, Princely Gifts and Papal Treasures: The Franciscan Mission to China and Its Influence on the Art of the West, 1250-1350, San Francisco, Desiderata Press, p.174.
  5. ^ "The Chan's Great Continent", Chap 1, Jonathan D.Spence here, also: "Les Mondes de Marco Polo", p.9

References[edit]

  • "The Silk Road", Frances Wood, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-24340-4
  • "The Chan's Great Continent", Chap 1, Jonathan D. Spence, W. W. Norton & Company online
  • Rouleau, Francis A.. 1954. “The yangchow Latin Tombstone as a Landmark of Medieval Christianity in China”. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 17 (3/4). Harvard-Yenching Institute: 346–65. doi:10.2307/2718316. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2718316