G is for Giovanni da Pian del Carpine

Giovanni & Franciscan friends meet the Khan. Courtesy of Medieval magazine.com.

It’s 5343 miles from Lyons, France to Karakorum in Mongolia. That’s how far Giovanni da Pian del Carpine (aka John di Plano Carpini) was sent in 1245, along the Silk Road. Pope Innocent IV had noticed that the Mongols had destroyed Russia and Budapest, and had parked near Vienna. Western Europe was getting nervous, for good reason. Innocent sent Giovanni out to tell the Mongols to stop attacking, submit to the Pope, and join them in their campaign against the Muslims.

Guyuk Khan, grandson and one of Genghis’s successor,* declined. (One suspects the translator may have softened the language in the pope’s letter.) The Khan offered a counterproposal, something like “there’s only one god, Tenggeri the sky god, and only one master on earth–me! So I recommend everyone in Europe should submit to the Mongols instead, otherwise chaos will ensue…”

By sending Giovanni out across Asia, the Catholic Church was also chasing down a rumor. They thought there might be a Christian king, maybe another descendant of David, out in the East. His name was supposed to be Prester John.

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