Ego flos campi: on the ‘Flowery Field’ near Bethlehem

29 Jan

A few weeks ago I was privileged to give a keynote lecture at the excellent Gender and Medieval Studies conference at Canterbury Christ Church University. The theme of the conference was on ‘Gender, Places, Spaces, Thresholds’, and I presented a lecture about a space that has long intrigued me from medieval pilgrims’ accounts: the Campus Floridus or ‘Flowery Field’ that numerous later medieval pilgrims mention near Bethlehem.  The story of the Campus Floridus connects gender and space in intriguing ways, and I thought I’d offer a few of my thoughts here, as it is likely to be some time before I can write them up in a more forma way.

That most illustrious but nebulous of medieval pilgrims, Sir John Mandeville (fl. c. 1356), describes the Campus Floridus thus:

Between this church [the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem] and the city [of Bethlehem] is a flowery field, and it’s called Campus floridus or the Flowery Field on account of a beautiful virgin who was wrongly accused of fornication, for which she was sentenced to be burnt in that place. She was led there, and, as the faggots began to burn, she prayed to Our Lord that He would help her make it known to everyone that she was not guilty. When she had said her prayer thus, she entered the flames, and immediately the fire was extinguished. The burning branches became red rose-bushes, and the branches that were not burning became white rose-bushes full of flowers. These were the first roses and rose-bushes that any person ever saw. And so the virgin was saved through the grace of God, and that’s why the field, full of blooming roses, is called Flowery Field [Campus floridus].[1]

It is a remarkable story about gender and space. There are many different interpretative directions we could take from it. As a narrative, it is pithy, succinct, moving swiftly from exemplary injustice – a beautiful virgin wrongly accused – to a miracle of divine intervention in control of the natural world (‘these were the first roses and rose-bushes that any person ever saw’). This is not an eastern world of wonder, but rather a botanical landscape authored by God through his law and his martyrs. The story’s direct source is the Latin Itinerarium of pseudo-Odoric, which was one of Mandeville’s favourite sources, and it appears in Mandeville’s Book during a guided tour of the mainholy sites of Bethlehem, including the Church of the Nativity. It became, therefore, part of the body of knowledge available to western pilgrims travelling the Holy Land, and the site was exported back to the west as a fact of the holy landscape.

Later pilgrims, like Arnold von Harff travelling in 1499 and Thomas Larke, travelling in 1505-6 with Sir Richard Guylforde, mention the site; Larke writes

And bytwene þe Cytie and þe sayd church is þe felde  Floridus, where þe fayre maydon shuld haue ben brent and was saued harmelesse by myracle of fyre chaunged into roses

For Larke, the ‘myracle of fyre chaunged into roses’ has the ring of a well-known narrative, something that Larke is merely summarising because the death of ‘þe fayre maydon’ was well known. Larke, like other pilgrims who mention the Campus Floridus, seems to have actually visited the site: but what do we think he saw there? Are we to believe that he saw an informal cultic shrine, or that he was told the story by his Franciscan guides? Or did he merely know the story from his own reading of Mandeville, whose book we know was one of his major sources.

Pilgrims locate the Campus Floridus between the Church of the Nativity – the preciously holy site of Christ’s birth – and the town of Bethlehem.

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The Shrine of the Nativity at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem (Palestine), November 2016. Photo: Anthony Bale

That is, the Campus Floridus was probably the square now known as Manger Square, directly outside the entrance to the Church. This picture is taken from near the entrance to the Church and shows Manger Square/Campus Floridus with the old town across the square behind the mosque:

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Manger Square, Bethlehem (Palestine), November 2016. Photo: Anthony Bale.

The Campus Floridus thus filled a gap in religious space, between the Church of the Nativity – precious to western Christians – and the Arab (then largely eastern orthodox Christian) town of Bethlehem nearby. The Campus Floridus thus effectively westernised and sacralised an otherwise fraught and alien zone on the threshold of the Church of the Nativity. That this gap was filled with a story of virginity, female sexuality ,and the iconic image of the rose brings western European Christian religious imagery into this eastern space.

At precisely the same time – from the late thirteenth and through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – not one but two other sites called Campus Floridus existed: one was near Jerusalem and was associated with Elijah’s ascent; the other was in Jerusalem at the Church of St Saviour in Gethsemane. Here, pilgrims record the ‘Campus florum’ as the place where the apostles slept and where Jesus was arrested. Detailed histories of these sites are yet to be written.

Moreover, there were similar sites to the Campus Flordius elsewhere, which, like the Campus, never seem to have had a formal church or monument but were visited by pilgrims. From the second half of the fifteenth century several pilgrims describe a field near Hebron where God was said to have created Adam. The wonderfully loquacious pilgrim Felix Fabri described the medicinal qualities of this earth, that if a pilgrim carried it with him neither he nor his beast would not tire. Thomas Larke said the earth was ‘rede and flexible and toughe as wex’. According to Fabri, the miraculous nature of this field was that it constantly refilled itself with earth, a kind of generative, living landscape. In practice, the pilgrims seem to have been shown a field, without structures like a cross, shrine or church, and their written guides and Franciscan chaperones explicated the place according to a ‘new’ narrative which combines ancient biblical history with a late medieval belief in the efficacy of earth as a place relic.

Another field nearby worked in an opposite direction: rather than being miraculously generative, it was miraculously barren. This field, by the route between Bethlehem and Jerusalem near Rachel’s Tomb, was filled with ‘countless’ stones shaped like sesame or three-cornered peas’ (as described in 1499 by Arnold von Harff). These stones had miraculously been made in the time of Jesus: Jesus is said to have asked a husbandman, then sowing sesame seeds, what he was sowing. The husbandman mocked Jesus’ question by replying that he was sowing stones, and from that time until the pilgrims’ time the field produced nothing but stones. Several later pilgrims – again, from the mid-fifteenth century – report this narrative, some of them possibly conflating with the site of the Campus Floridus. Again, there seems to have been no official shrine or establishment at this field. In the cases both of the field of Adam’s birth and of the field of stones, the landscape of the route was punctuated with unofficial and affecting sites, and the landscape was subjected to an overarching Christian narrative which served to obviate present inhabitants and rival religious traditions.

These fields ask us engaging questions about where pilgrims thought they were going and what they thought they were seeing. They are also hermeneutic fields, ripe for interpretation, showing us how “nature” is an ideological mechanism for the fraught process of building of religious, gendered, and spatial identities. In the Campus Floridus at Bethlehem, nature is, like gender and sexuality, a construction, a fantastical narrative invention, rather than an inherent truth that was pre-existing or had an independent quiddity.

The rose was a symbol of both the Virgin Mary and of Christ; i united the white of purity and chastity with the red of blood and martyrdom. In medieval poetry, Christ was described as the flower of God, and as flos florum, the flower of flowers. The Campus Floridus seems to me to have literalised such floral imagery, as well as strikingly flower imagery of The Song of Songs. The second chapter of this hugely widely-quoted biblical text begins with the famous line ‘Ego flos campi’, ‘I am the flower of the field’. The ‘flower of the field’ was generally understood to be a rose. These lines were interpreted as Christ professing himself to be the flower of mankind, declaring the excellence of his spouse above other churches or societies, who are like thorns. ‘Stay me up with flowers, compass me about with apples: because I languish with love’ (Song of Songs 2:5) is a frequently cited line in devotional lyric poetry. This is the rose that, in the King James version, would become the Rose of Sharon (translating the Hebrew, ‘חבצלת השרון’, Havatselet Ha’Sharon), itself a citation of Isiah 35:1, ‘the desert shall bloom like a rose.’ The Campus Floridus at Bethlehem made these sentiments into a physical space, one that would have been much more familiar to the western European pilgrims than the Mameluk town of Bethlehem to which they had travelled.

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Domenico di Bartolo, Madonna and Child with Trellis of Red and Whites Roses, 1437. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photograph: Anthony Bale, January 2017.


[1] translation from Sir John Mandeville, The Book of Marvels and Travels, ed. and trans. Anthony Bale (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 37-8

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A pilgrim’s souvenir album

8 Feb

In his brilliant denunciation of late medieval pilgrimage culture, A Pilgrimage for Religion’s Sake, the Dutch humanist Erasmus (1466-1536) mocked the imaginary pilgrim Ogygius.  Ogygius, Erasmus wrote, returned from Santiago and Walsingham ‘choked with tin and leaden images on every side.’ Erasmus was referring here to the widespread custom of buying souvenir pilgrim badges, usually made of cheap tin-lead alloy, alongside other souvenirs like prayer-cards, terracotta tokens, and length of ribbon. Pilgrim badges could be purchased cheaply, and worn on the journey back home, an amuletic sign that one had reached the shrine and garnered its spiritual benefits. Each shrine had different kinds of badges, usually showing the patron saint: St George slaying the dragon, the Virgin enthroned, St Thomas Becket in his bishop’s mitre. Others were secular, including the famous phallus badges found in the Low Countries, possibly used as folk-medicine charms, love tokens, gendered satires, or celebrations of life:

phallus wheelbarrow

A two-legged phallus, with female rider and wheelbarrow of smaller penises. Brabant, fifteenth century, via JALC

 

However, the most common kinds of pilgrim badge were simple coin-like tokens; from Santiago these showed the scallop shell, and from Canterbury they showed the head of St Thomas, as in this example from the Metropolitan Museum in New York:

Cloisters Thomas pilgrim badge

New York, Metropolitan Museum, Cloisters Collection 1986.77.4, fifteenth-century pilgrim badge of St Thomas of Canterbury.

 

What did a pilgrim do with their souvenir badges once they got home? An intriguing answer to this question can be found in several late medieval prayer books and books of hours, into which pilgrims have sewn or pasted their pilgrim badges. Examples of such books are rare, but the British Library has recently acquired one in the 2013 sale of The Law Society’s Mendham Collection, formerly housed at the University of Kent.

This book of hours (now London, British Library Egerton MS 3883) was made in the Low Countries, probably Bruges, in the fifteenth century for the English market. In at least three places, the pilgrim – probably an English woman, who had some prayers added later in the fifteenth century – placed pilgrim badges into the book. The badges themselves have been lost, but they have left imprints – known as ‘off-sets’ – on the page, as can be seen below. Here, a prayer to St Thomas of Canterbury has been erased (as required by the royal decree of 1538, which sought to wipe out the cult of St Thomas); beneath the erasure a circular mark is clearly visible where the badge was once placed. This would have been a memento, for the pilgrim, of the precious trip to Canterbury, linking the prayer to St Thomas with the moment at which the pilgrim visited his shrine:

 

Egerton 3883 image
London, British Library Egerton MS 3883, f. 142v, prayers; erased prayer to St Thomas; off-set mark of a pilgrim badge. Photo: British Library.

Similar marks appear elsewhere in the book: on folios 124v, 133r and 159v, all of which feature prayers to the Virgin Mary – perhaps reflecting pilgrim badges bought on visits to Walsingham in Norfolk, the major English shrine to the Virgin. The book is also notable for some Middle English religious poetry by the fifteenth-century Chaucerian and monk John Lydgate, unfairly famous for writing more lines of poetry in English than anyone else, before or since.

These marks left by pilgrim badges offer me an intriguing category of evidence in my study of pilgrims’ books and reading. Might many other books contain similar marks, hitherto unnoticed? Were the pages of a manuscript book a common place in which to stow one’s pilgrim badges? The English pilgrim who owned Egerton 3883 may have picked up the custom on the Continent, as several similar examples from the Low Countries survive. In the Soane Hours (London, Sir John Soane’s Museum MS 4), a Flemish book of hours, pilgrim badges have been added to the image of St Sebastian. A more impressive example is from one page of a fifteenth-century manuscript in the Dutch Royal Library, which features no fewer than 23 pilgrim badges from around France and the Low Countries. Here, the medieval book became a kind of souvenir album for the dedicated pilgrim, carrying the record of past journeys and promising future spiritual rewards:

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The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek MS 77 L 60, breviary with pilgrim badges. Via www.kb.nl

Further reading:

Ostkamp, Sebastiaan, ‘The world upside down: secular badges and the iconography of the late medieval period‘, Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-2 (2009).

Spencer, Brian, Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges, Medieval Finds in Excavations from London 7 (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1998).

Stockhorst, Stefanie, ‘Passionate Pilgrims: Secular Lead Badges as Precursors for Emblemata Amatoria‘, Profane Imagery in the Marginal Arts of the Middle Ages, ed. Elaine C. Block and Malcolm Jones (Turnhout: Brepols, 2009), 157-81

Hieronymus Bosch, virtual pilgrimage, and the memory of the crusades.

29 Aug

The paintings of Hieronymus Bosch (Jheronimus van Aken, c. 1450-1516) are famously rich in detail, beguiling, and hard to interpret. Amongst Bosch’s enigmatic works, one has been singled out as being especially hard to understand: his Epiphany panel triptych of c. 1495, now held at the Prado Museum in Madrid. The image shows, in the foreground, the Magi visiting the infant Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem. In the distant background is Jerusalem. At the top of the image, in the central panel and at the formal ‘summit’ of the triptych, is the star which guided the Magi. In the side panels, the donors kneel with their patrons saints. There’s obviously a wealth of other imagery here, but in the current context, I’m particularly interested in the Holy Land scene that Bosch sets up here.

Hieronymus Bosch, Triptych of the Epiphany, c. 1495, oil on panel. Museo nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Hieronymus Bosch, Triptych of the Epiphany, c. 1495, oil on panel. Museo nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Controversy around the image’s meaning has focussed on the figures in the foreground, in particular the gurning figures in and around the stable. Who is the ‘Fourth Magus’, grinning somewhat maniacally out of the door, with a variety of hideous figures behind him? The picture has been variously interpreted, with most scholars seeing this figure either as Antichrist or the Jewish Messiah (according to an influential reading by Lotte Brand Philip), or as the sorcerer and flawed prophet Balaam (בִּלְעָם; Numbers 22-31; Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Behind this figure is a crowd of what seem to be disfigured and threatening Jews, gazing on the infant Christ, who will, in time, crucify the child on which they gaze at the place depicted in the background, a Calvary marked with the cross of the sails of a windmill.

Close of the 'fourth magus' (Jewish Messiah? Balaam?). Hieronymus Bosch, Triptych of the Epiphany, c. 1495, oil on panel. Museo nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Close-up of the ‘fourth magus’ (Jewish Messiah? Balaam?). Hieronymus Bosch, Triptych of the Epiphany, c. 1495, oil on panel. Museo nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Without a doubt, the image is concerned with the idea of making a trip to the Holy Land: that is the subject-matter of the Epiphany, as the Three Kings journey from the East. Bosch’s picture is also concerned with right and wrong ways of seeing: various figures populate the image, straining to glimpse the tiny Christ-child in his mother’s lap: there are figures climbing on the roof, around the side of the building, and, through the ramshackle stable (representing the ramshackle crumbling of the Old Law as the birth of Christ announces the New), a particularly memorable face peers through the holes in the wall:

Figure looking on at the Christ-child. Hieronymus Bosch, Triptych of the Epiphany, c. 1495, oil on panel. Museo nacional del Prado, Madrid

Figure looking on at the Christ-child. Hieronymus Bosch, Triptych of the Epiphany, c. 1495, oil on panel. Museo nacional del Prado, Madrid.

There’s much more to be said about the foreground, but there are many interesting things happening in the background too, as Bosch sets up what I suggest is an imagined Holy Land which connotes both virtual pilgrimage and the memory of crusading, possibly as a call to a renewed crusade. The world of the pilgrimage is suggested not only in the image’s construction as a ‘route’ through the Holy Land, including a bridge and a tavern, but in the various figures on the side panels, who seem to represent the perils of pilgrimage: on the left, a man lifts up his tunic to flash his genitals at a woman, and three other figures dance riotously (below); on the right, on the bleak wayside, a wolf chases a woman and a boar or wolf savages a man amid a landscape of broken-down trees. These are, I suggest, ‘wanderers on the way’, struggling on the route to Jerusalem with both the perils of the landscape and with their own concupiscence. The entire landscape, beautiful on first sight, bears the marks of bad stewardship, human misbehaviour, and sinister hazards.

Fleeing from a wolf, gored by a boar. Hieronymus Bosch, Triptych of the Epiphany, c. 1495, oil on panel. Museo nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Fleeing from a wolf, gored by a boar or wolf. Hieronymus Bosch, Triptych of the Epiphany, c. 1495, oil on panel. Museo nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Between Bethlehem and Jerusalem two armies hurtle towards the image’s centre; both are wearing turbans, and the army on the left bears a standard with a crescent on it. They seem to represent the Mameluke forces who then held the Holy Land and had driven out the Christian crusaders, several centuries earlier. Behind them is a wonderfully rich and interesting Holy Land landscape. Here’s a close-up of Bosch’s Jerusalem and its hinterland:

Jerusalem.

Jerusalem. Hieronymus Bosch, Triptych of the Epiphany, c. 1495, oil on panel. Museo nacional del Prado, Madrid.

Between the two armies, an Islamic idol is situated on a small hill – a man tied to a golden post with an Islamic crescent on top. This seems to be an anti-crucifix, a perverted idol. At the entrance to Jerusalem, one can see a third army entering the city. These three armies – which echo the Three Kings of the Epiphany – seem to be the late-medieval Islamic forces which, unlike the good magi, fail to accept the authority and lordship of Christ. On a green hill outside the city is a windmill: at first this looks like a Netherlandish anachronism, a glimpse of Holland in the Holy Land, but it might also be a symbol both of Calvary – a cross at the compositional centre of the cityscape – and of a compass, as Jerusalem was held to be the centre of the world.

A further detail, which seems to have gone unnoticed by art historians, is the highest hill outside Jerusalem, to the right of the central panel, on which stand two riders on horseback, gazing down on Jerusalem below them. It is this detail which originally caught my attention, as I am currently researching medieval visitors to Mount Joy/Nabi Samwil, the hill outside Jerusalem from which the crusaders and pilgrims took their first view of the Holy City. The pilgrims at the top of the hill are directing their gaze on Jerusalem just as the people in the foreground direct their gaze on the Christ-child – and so, in one of many parallels in the image, Bosch sets up a chain of meaning between Christ’s birth and the city where he will suffer his Passion.

Islamic idol and riders taking view of Jerusalem.

Islamic idol and riders taking view of Jerusalem. Hieronymus Bosch, Triptych of the Epiphany, c. 1495, oil on panel. Museo nacional del Prado, Madrid.

The inclusion of Mount Joy, and the horseback pilgrims taking their vista of the Holy City, suggests Bosch’s familiarity with pilgrimage literature and itineraries of the Holy Land; moreover, his paralleling of the Magi’s submission to Christ with the Islamic control of the Holy Land of his own day suggests stages a bold movement between biblical and Mameluk moments. Indeed, the image might, in part, suggest both the importance of pilgrimage and the corrupting, run-down and perilous route through the Holy Land as held in Bosch’s time by the Mameluks.

There are, assuredly, many ways of interpreting an image like this. But the connection between the image and an aesthetic call to a new crusade against the Mameluks is given more authority if we consider the identity of the image’s donor. The donor, as discovered by a French scholar a few years ago, was Peeter Scheyfve, a mercer of Antwerp, and his wife Agnes de Gramme. They are the kneeling figures on the front of the image. Peeter Scheyfve is also depicted on the rear of the image along with his son Jan. Jan Scheyfve completes the Holy Land connection, because he was a Knight Hospitaller in the Order of Jerusalem. Whilst it is true that the image of Jan Scheyfve may have been added a few years after Bosch’s original composition of the image, the fact that the donor’s son was involved in the rhetorical crusader orders which fetishised the Holy Land and its loss suggests that the contemporary state of the Holy Land – for pilgrims or would-be crusaders – informs Bosch’s wonderful image. Can we see in the Prado Epiphany a comment on the shameful state of the Holy Land, or a call to retake the Holy Land from the poor stewards who held it in Bosch’s time?

These are very much the ideas-in-progress of a non-art historian, at a tangent to the work I’m doing on Nabi Samwil. Further high-quality images and some interesting interpretations, including a full account of the picture’s biblical allusions, are available here.

A spy in Palestine? Bertrandon de la Broquière’s perspective.

19 Mar

In 1432, the Burgundian nobleman Bertrandon de la Broquière (d. 1459) travelled from Ghent to Palestine. He had been sent to the Holy Land by Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (d. 1467), who was interested in launching a new crusade. Broquiere travelled in two disguises: first as a pilgrim and then, in Palestine, he dressed in ‘Turkish’ garb and learned the rudiments of local languages and customs. What started out as an enterprise of imperial expansion seems to have turned into an adventure of curiosity and a knightly quest. Broquière wrote up his account of his travels as Le Voyage d’outremer, a magnificent Flemish-Burgundian manuscript of which (Bibl. Nat. MS francais 9087, dated to c. 1457) featured in the recent, and superb, exhibition, Voyager au Moyen Age, at the Musée de Cluny: musée national du Moyen Âge Paris.

Jaffa, Palestine and Jerusalem: from Bibl. Nat. MS fran. 9087


Broquière travelled with the stated intention of recapturing Jerusalem for Christendom, but the first part of his journey was a conventional pilgrimage, from Venice to Corfu and thence to Jaffa and finally to Jerusalem, overseen by Franciscan friars and Mamluk dragomen. Later, Broquière strayed from the conventional route, travelling to Gaza, Beirut, and Damascus, and interacting closely with Mamluks, Turks, and with Italian and French merchants. Broquière records several moments of his fear of and friction with the Palestinian natives – including the moment when someone knocked off his beaver-fur hat – but as his travelogue develops, it records a growing estrangement from his French compatriots and a keenness to relate to Mamluk culture and customs. He did not just observe Mamluk and Turkish culture but rather tried to take part in it. He assumed the disguise of a local, ate pitta bread and got drunk with his Turkish companions, was greeted by passing Muslims as a returning pilgrim from the haj, and went to the hammam; he refrains from anti-Islamic invective (though preferred the Turks to the Arabs), and returned to Burgundy with a copy of the Koran, which he presented to Phillip the Good (the duke seems to have given the book away, and it then disappeared as Broquière notes, rather sadly).

The Flemish manuscript of Broquière’s text is lavishly illustrated and was made for the Burgundian court. It has an interesting full-page image of the pilgrimage route, which shows some familiarity with fifteenth-century Palestine. It demonstrates the extent to which pilgrimage could also be an ambiguous encounter with the East. Moreover, this picture – which functions partly as a map of the pilgrimage route to Jerusalem – contains some details which are not found in Broquière’s text, suggesting that the artist was either using a different account or had visited the Holy Land himself. 

I’d welcome suggestions as to different ways of reading the sites in the image, but this is how I see its composition and its representation of the sacred places:

In the foreground are the broken crusader ruins of Jaffa, the port at which pilgrims disembarked. Many Christian pilgrims report spending their first night in filthy caves there, and three such caves can be seen set into the small hill. To the right of the caves stand three towers, probably representing the Mamluk town of Jaffa. Broquière’s description of Jaffa, (“a bad harbour”) does not mention the caves but mentions “a few tents covered with reeds”, where local administrators, interpreters, and guides met the pilgrims off their boat.

The route to Jerusalem leads out of Jaffa, with an “Oriental” cameleer and two well-dressed locals making their way along the route (Broquière later travelled to Gaza and noted the camels). Beyond them stands a small town, probably Ramleh, where the pilgrims often lodged. Broquière described Ramleh as “a town without walls, but a good and commercial place, seated in an agreeable and fertile district.” This accords with the town in the image. Might the square central tower in the image even be read as a representation of the beautiful  White Mosque at Ramleh?

White Mosque, Ramleh

The White Mosque, Ramleh

To the left of this town is a small walled complex: could this be Lydda, where Broquière viewed the famous relics of St George? He described the town’s relics but didn’t give its name or other details.

Beyond, is a sudden rocky outcrop – my feeling is that this might represent the Jerusalem hills, or is possibly an attempt at showing Mount Joy (which Broquière doesn’t mention) or Mount Quarantine (which he does). 

Jerusalem itself is represented in a dazzling number of domes and towers, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the rounded, squat golden dome to the left), the Dome of the Rock (the larger dark dome to the centre), and the al-Aqsa mosque (the structure with the small golden dome to the right of the Dome of the Rock) can all be clearly discerned. Broquière gave a minimal description of Jerusalem (“it is these days a considerable town”), and did not seem to have paid much attention to the holy places there. However, he did convalesce, after falling ill, at the Franciscans’ house at Mount Zion; this can probably be seen to the right of Jerusalem, behind the trees, a small extramural cluster, near the man on the horse.

Beyond Jerusalem, one of the hills is painted in such a way as to suggest the Judean desert; and indeed Broquière did complain a great deal about the hot weather and the difficult desert terrain.

The image from the Flemish manuscript doesn’t show an idealised Christian landscape but rather an ambivalent combination of local observations and the formal landscapes of fifteenth-century art. Throughout the image are scattered local people, not pilgrims; their extravagant hats and rich robes mark them out as Mamluks. What kind of memory of a place does this image form? And what kind of evidence does it furnish about what western European people thought of Palestine? Broquière’s text seems to strive to show how the local customs of the Middle East were highly similar to those of western Europe; the manuscript illustration represents a beautiful, flourishing, busy Palestine, peopled not with pilgrims and crusaders but with finely-dressed locals going about their business. Might the case of Broquière and his manuscript even suggest not espionage but a medieval moment of tolerance and an attempt at respectful interaction  between Jaffa and Jerusalem?

—-

A reliable and accessible modern French edition of Bertrandon’s text is available, published as Bertrandon de la Broquère, Le Voyage d’Orient: Espion en Turquie, trans. Hélène Basso (Paris: Anacharsis, 2010); a new English edition is forthcoming in 2015 from I. B. Tauris.

The Politics of Visual Translations of Jerusalem: forthcoming conference

23 Jan

I’m passing on details of this forthcoming conference, which looks like it will have much to contribute to discussions about copies of Jerusalem

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE

The Politics of Visual Translations of Jerusalem

University of York, Berrick Saul Building

20-21 March 2015

Convened by Laura Slater and Hanna Vorholt

Hosted by the Department of History of Art at the University of York in association with The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the context of the major ERC-funded-research project ‘SPECTRUM – Visual Translations of Jerusalem’

This conference will consider the political dimensions in the creation and use of architectural copies, visual representations and physical relics of the holy places of Jerusalem in Europe and beyond. Ranging from the medieval period to the present day, papers will cover topics including the importance of Jerusalem for the image of rulers, the role of Jerusalem in public rituals and punishment, the appropriation of Jerusalem sites as war memorials and the role of Jerusalem translations in current political debates.

Speakers include Kristin B. Aavitsland, Carla Benzan, Sophia Brown, Jane Chick, Antony Eastmond (keynote lecture), Cathleen A. Fleck, Catherine E. Hundley, Bob Jobbins, Bianca Kühnel, Betsy Bennett Purvis, Marianne Ritsema van Eck, Elisabeth Ruchaud, Shimrit Shriki, Laura Slater, Nancy Thebaut and Achim Timmermann (keynote lecture).

The keynote lectures are free to the public. Registration for the 2-day conference is £30 (£15 for students). To register for the conference please visit the Online Registration Site. Registration will close on 10 March 2015. For further information please email Laura Slater.

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‘Remembering Jerusalem’ and the politics of scholarship

8 Nov

Over the last two days, scholars from all over the world have met in London to take part in the conference ‘Remembering Jerusalem’; the conference was held in the beautiful surroundings of King’s College London and organised by the Imagining Jerusalem project. I heard fascinating and innovative papers on a very wide variety of topics.

Three examples will demonstrate the diversity of materials discussed: Nabil Matar (Minnesota) gave a subtle and detailed account, in his plenary lecture, of Islamic traditions concerning the Cradle of Jesus and Oratory of Mary at the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif); he repudiated the use of the word ‘Crusade’, preferring instead the term ‘Frankish invasion.’ Malka Greenberg Raanan (Hebrew University) presented her important, and timely work, tracking the routes women take through contemporary Jerusalem; using interviews, maps, and GPS, Greenberg Raanan was able to show how women from across Jerusalem are both corralled by, and sometimes able to subvert, their complex and segregated urban landscape. Shimrit Shriki (Hebrew University) gave a highly insightful paper about the post-World War Two secularisation of Calvary monuments in Austria, including one in which Lenin appeared as one of Christ’s persecutors.

I was honoured to have been invited to give one of three plenary lectures (for those interested, my PowerPoint presentation can be viewed here). However, in the days before the conference, when I sat down to compose my thoughts, I found it hard to concentrate, because of a piece of exceptionally distressing news: the East Jerusalem home of one delegate to the conference, Dr Mutasem Adileh (Al Quds University), had been demolished on 29 September, as part of a programme of house demolitions in the area. Dr Adileh had therefore been forced to withdraw from the conference.

The demolition of the home of the home of Dr Mutasem Adileh, Abu Dis

The demolition of the home of the home of Dr Mutasem Adileh, Abu Dis, East Jerusalem.

The horror of having one’s home arbitrarily demolished, without due process, is hard to conceive. The Israeli policy and programme of house demolitions is unjust, cruel, short-sighted, probably illegal, and certainly unethical. The hugely informative website of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions gives a lot more information in this regard; an article today in the London Daily Telegraph puts the demolition of houses in East Jerusalem into its wider national and political contexts; the issue of house demolitions in Jerusalem is the subject of an even-handed piece in The Economist last week, warning that Israel’s actions are feeding the ‘resentful segregation’ of Jerusalem’s inhabitants.

These are large questions, and outside my academic expertise. Yet this is the second time this year that Palestinian speakers at conferences I have attended have been unable to present their work due to the actions of the State of Israel: at a conference in Jerusalem in July, delegates from around the world were able to gather, but, due to roadblocks and curfews, a respected Palestinian historian from East Jerusalem was not able to travel a couple of kilometres to give a plenary lecture about his own city. The dire situation in Jerusalem thus has a significant bearing on the academic community and the ability of Palestinian scholars to participate in their scholarly world. Despite much heated talk about academic boycotts of Israel, the scholars who seem to be losing out are not Israelis, but Palestinians.

The International Advisory Board for Academic Freedom (IAB) at Bar-Ilan University is an Israeli anti-boycott organisation; its website contains various noble statements, for instance:

As required from any academic institution, Universities should not be subject to government interference. The university system must be based upon the premise of academic freedom, research and critical thinking, in which staff and students enjoy a platform that not only enables, but systematically encourages freedom of thought and expression.

Who could disagree? The IAB talks about the ‘unfortunate and anti-democratic tendency’ of the boycott movement, but unfortunately its website doesn’t seem to extend its critique to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, including Palestinian academics. The IAB says that it ‘refrains from politics and addresses only matters of academic freedom and additional academic principles’, but, as the cases I have described show, ‘matters of academic freedom’ are inextricably linked to ‘politics.’ The conceptual sophistication with which the idea of a boycott is treated seems starkly opposed to the brutality of having one’s house demolished.

The IAB website does include a letter from Dr Sari Nusseibeh (president of Al Quds University), in which Nusseibeh argues against academic boycotts: he writes,

an international academic boycott of Israel, on pro Palestinian grounds, is self-defeating: it would only succeed in weakening that strategically important bridge through which the state of war between Israelis and Palestinians could be ended, and Palestinian rights could therefore be restored. Instead of burning that bridge the international academy should do everything within its power to strengthen it, including, foremost, through its own collaborative intervention.

The organisers of the London conference had thoughtfully assembled a diverse range of scholars, from Israel, Palestine, and many other countries: ‘collaborative intervention’ at work. But such collaboration was, in this case, prevented, as our Palestinian colleague was unable to attend the conference.

It is important that we acknowledge the ways in which the imbalance of power in Israel and Palestine has an effect on the constitution of our academic community. If you would like to show your support for some of the many organisations working to uphold the rule of law and human rights in Israel and Palestine, an online donation can be made to the relevant organisations by following these links:

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (UK): http://uk.icahd.org/support.asp?menu=7&submenu=2

Btselem,The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories: https://www.btselem.org/about_btselem/donate

Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel: http://adalah.org/eng/category/100/Donate/1/0/0/

‘No Man’s Land, Israel’: Mini-Israel and the miniature Holy Land

15 Sep

‘The amusement park and the historical reconstruction often promise to bring history to life, and it is here that we must pay particular attention once more to the relation between miniature and narrative. For the function of the miniature here is to bring historical events “to life”, to immediacy, and thereby to erase their history, to lose us within their presentness.’

Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Baltimore, 1984), p. 60

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem, in miniature

The Temple Mount, Jerusalem, in miniature at Mini-Israel

When I think about my childhood in Britain in the 1970s and ’80s, it seems that the whole country was littered with ‘model villages’: tiny worlds of detailed replicas, somewhat battered by the rain. I vividly remember more than one trip to Tucktonia (1976-85), the now-vanished park near Bournemouth which showcased ‘The Best of Britain in Miniature!’ One was expected to wander around, wowed by the skill at which ‘real life’ had been rendered in the form of tiny buildings. Tucktonia was actually part of a craze, started in England at Bekonscot (begun in the 1920s and still going) and in America at Tiny Town in Colorado (begun in 1915): there are now miniature parks all over the world and it seems to be something of a national rite of passage to build tiny versions of iconic buildings. In most cases, the buildings reproduced are chosen for their symbolism, representing the highlights of the nation and its built history.

In the Middle Ages, replicas in miniature of Jerusalem and the Holy Land were common, in various formats: these could be wooden models of the Holy Sepulchre, maps of Palestine, or the condensed installations I’ve written about here, as at Bologna (Italy). In all cases, the main principle is condensation: a place reduced to a version of its essential elements, as determined by its designers. In the Middle Ages, these landscapes blended elements of the real environment with a fantasy of how the Holy Land should be.

The current version of these replicas stands in a dusty field in central Israel, in the form of the Mini-Israel park (founded 2002, and definitely showing its age). Mini-Israel is located in a particularly important symbolic space, adjacent to the Latrun police station where, in 1948 and then in 1967, a series of important battles were fought for Israeli independence. In this sense, it is a kind of secular, Zionist pilgrimage site; most of the visitors when I went were groups of schoolchildren. The Google street address for the site remains ‘No Man’s Land’, as it sits on the erased border between Israel and the former Jordanian territory of the West Bank; Mini-Israel is therefore by no means neutral as a celebration of the nation state on the site of an erased border. I visited Mini-Israel in July 2014 with a view to thinking about connections between this kind of mediated Holy Land and its medieval precursors.

Map of Mini-Israel, showing the 'Star of David' shape of the park

Map of Mini-Israel, showing the ‘Star of David’ shape of the park

The fort at Latrun, in miniature, at Mini-Israel.

The fort at Latrun, in miniature, at Mini-Israel.

Mini-Israel is, obviously, selective, and it would be petty merely to write about the bizarre selection of sites. But there is an outstanding omission, from my perspective, in the model of Jerusalem: the entire Christian Quarter of the Old City simply does not exist, and missing with it is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Where the Christian Quarter should be is a patch of scrubland and bonsai trees. The resulting cityscape is therefore much more dominated by the Jewish and Islamic holy site of the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock, and its iconic golden dome. I hesitate to guess about the politics of this omission: perhaps the park’s designers never got round to miniaturizing the Christian Quarter, or maybe they feel that plenty of churches were included elsewhere (the park does attempt a haphazardly ecumenical approach, with mosques and other churches, for instance). But an omission like this is, of course, tacitly political, just as is the lack of borders (the park is arranged in the shape of a Star of David, rather than following Israel’s internationally-recognised, pre-1967 borders). Likewise, there are no refugee camps, no development towns, no nuclear reactor, no dispossessed Bedouin communities: like any such miniature park, Mini-Israel builds an ideal rather than reflects reality.

Mini-Israel: view of Jerusalem and the missing Christian Quarter

Mini-Israel: view of Jerusalem and the missing Christian Quarter

Mini-Israel is very different from a pilgrimage site in many ways: unlike a traditional pilgrimage landscape, Mini-Israel has no formal or predetermined ‘route’ through it, little organising narrative, and interpretation is largely left to the individual. At the same time, when considered as a mechanical technology of artificial space, Mini-Israel has much in common with medieval pilgrimage landscapes: the miniature or the model always tends toward description and depiction rather than contextual information and narrative (pace Stewart’s On Longing), and so enacts a kind of historical, contextual and spatial closure. It is a total view of the world, arrested in a dream of harmony. The whole of the park is built to a size ratio of 1:25, and this emphasis on scale also represents a harmonious fantasy: the space is managed by a mathematical principle of reduction of the exterior element of the built environment; in the miniature park, the emphasis is on the tiny facades of the buildings, rather than their lived history or location in shared/contested space. Where there are figurines of people, they look like frozen ants, stopped in strange poses: at the Western Wall, they reel about and topple over, as if drunk, or ill.

At various points in Mini-Israel, sponsored exhibits show automated mechanical reproductions in miniature: the airport, a dairy, a kibbutz at work. Aeroplanes took off and landed in a repetitive movement. Tiny trains whirred round and round a railway in an infinite loop. The automatic mechanicals struck me as uncanny, a little depressing, working away in a self-serving fiction, seemingly independent of human agency or vitality.

The miniature Kotel: the Western Wall of the Temple, Jerusalem

The miniature Kotel: the Western Wall of the Temple, Jerusalem at Mini-Israel