A Unicorn Sighted Near Mount Sinai
(Extracted from Historical Evidence for Unicorns, a comprehensive history of the Unicorn)
A unicorn sighting was reported in an illustrated study printed in Germany in 1486, by Bernhard von Breydenbach, a deacon in Mainz Cathedral, who verbally and graphically detailed, with the help of the Dutch artist Erhard Reuwich, the sights and inhabitants encountered by a congregation of pilgrims on a trip to the Middle East. Breydenbach faithfully compiled his 148 page exposition entitled Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam, better rendered: "Travel to the Holy Land," after he had led his flock in 1483 on a lengthy excursion from Venice to Jaffa , on to Ramala by caravan, and finally into Jerusalem for an extended visit to all the holy sites. They also ventured west into the forbidding Sinai Desert to the Monastery of Santa Catharina, and a member of that pilgrimage, Felix Fabri, "saw, on September 20, 1483, with his own eyes, as did all the members of his company, a unicorn standing on a hill near Mt. Sinai, and he observed it carefully for a long time." Breydenbach then continued onward to the Red Sea, into Cairo, and back to Europe. His popular travel documentary was translated from Latin into many languages, and its numerous editions were eagerly sought after by people of many nations for hundreds of years thereafter. This is the earliest medieval illustrated book of travel. The drawings for the woodcuts, which are numerous and excellent, were made from nature by Erhard Reuwich of Utrecht, who was one of the 150 members of the pilgrimage.
This artist must have been one of the company who saw the unicorn described by Felix Fabri in the book he wrote about the same expedition, and it was probably on the strength of that observation that he included the unicorn among the beasts "truthfully depicted as we saw them in the Holy Land."
Reuwich's woodcuts (illustrated above) covered a whole page in Breydenbach's book, published in 1486, of which Erhard "carried out the printing in his own house." It portrays the spiral-horned unicorn among other creatures from the Holy Land. Included are the crocodile, giraffe, and camel. The bizarre images of these strange beasts probably shocked European readers much more than the already familiar unicorn, which looked much like a common horse anyway.