Odoric of Pordenone passed his early life unremarkably as a Franciscan friar, a vocation he had embraced at the age of fifteen. In 1317, however, some impulse inspired him to embark on a fantastic journey that took him to the ends of the known world and back again.
Starting in Venice he sailed east, traveling overland from Constantinople to Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. From there he sailed to Malabar and southern India where he spent time with the ancient Christian community there. Still, he pushed on, to Ceylon, Sumatra, and Java then north to Canton and the great ports of China. He spent several years in Beijing before turning homeward through Tibet and the capital of Lhasa, on to Persia, and eventually back to Italy.
The reasons for this travel are mysterious. As for his decision to spend his final years in seclusion, he is said to have complied with a vision from St. Francis, who ordered him to stay put. He did dictate an account of his journeys, which circulated widely. While providing little information about his activities or the motive for his grand tour, his travelogue offered an eyewitness account of the extraordinary things he had witnessed, including the curious customs, the prodigious sights, and the religious practices of the people he encountered.
Odoric died on January 14, 1331. He was beatified in 1755.