Archive | April, 2012

A Yorkshire Jerusalem: The Holy Sepulchre in Ripon

24 Apr

The minster at Ripon (North Yorkshire) only became a cathedral in the 1830s, but it is a very ancient building, probably on a Roman site, and a major Anglo-Saxon seat of worship.  Most of the cathedral as seen today is from the later Middle Ages, but at its kernel, down a dark, subterranean corridor, is a small ‘crypt’. Technically speaking, this is not a crypt (in the sense of being a burial vault) but rather a chapel.  It was built between the years 669-78 by St Wilfred of Ripon, apparently as a copy of an idea of the Holy Sepulchre in which Jesus’ body had been laid.  Wilfred brought architects and designers from France and Italy to work on his building. The chapel is now empty – as the Cathedral signage says, ‘as a memorial to the emptiness of Christ’s tomb’ – but it would, in the Middle Ages, have had relics in it and would have often been busy with pilgrims. Miracles were said to have taken place here.Image

I haven’t yet researched the way the chapel was used in the later Middle Ages, and what devotions occurred there. But the little underground chapel at Ripon, underneath the soaring building of the cathedral, would have offered an intimate space for the pilgrim; it could only have held a couple of people. In this way, the Ripon chapel reflects the individual nature of Calvary and Holy Sepulchre devotions, so the medieval worshipper can forge an intimate relationship with Christ and also so they can imitate Christ, in a dark, lonesome place.Image

The Ripon chapel, dating from the seventh century, demonstrates the early medieval desire for the Holy Land, and its frequent replaying in early medieval culture, long before the Crusades.

Further reading: on the Anglo-Saxon crypt, Richard Gem, ‘Towards an Iconography of Anglo-Saxon Architecture’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 46 (1983), 1-18.

Pistachio, olive and mother-of-pearl: a scale model of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, at the British Museum.

12 Apr

The 'front' of the Holy Sepulchre model

Visitors to the British Museum at the moment should allow themselves a few minutes to go into the small exhibition immediately on the right, in the first room (Room 3) as one enters the Museum from its main entrance on Great Russell Street: Sacred Souvenir: A Model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which runs until May 7. The exhibition, of a single object, showcases a late example of the tradition being examined by the Remembered Places project: a scale miniature, made out of pistachio and olive woods, mother-of-pearl and bone, of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, produced in Bethlehem in the early seventeenth century. The exhibition is a natural counterpart to the excellent Hajj exhibition, about to come to a close, also at the Museum.ImageImage

The model shows the Church as it was in the seventeenth century, the kernel of which is the Crusader-era building that survives today. Those familiar with the Church today will be able to see the main doorways appear exactly as they do today. The model would have been made by craftsmen in Bethlehem, possibly as a pilgrimage souvenir; however, it’s also designed, as the following photos show for ‘virtual pilgrimage’. The model comes apart, into individual pieces, like the ‘loci’ – places or stations – of a remembered journey: one finds one’s way around the Church by literally reassembling it.


Such models made their way to England and Western Europe directly from the Holy Land, probably via Turkish merchants. This beautiful model was then probably not used as a souvenir of a place actually visited; but, rather, it offered its owner a chance to go to an ‘interior’ Jerusalem, a Holy Sepulchre of the mind and of the imagination. As Susan Stewart argues in her brilliant book On Longing, in which she looks at similar ‘miniature’ artefacts like dolls-houses, ‘the miniature does not attach itself to lived historical time’ (p. 65); just as in the tiny world of Lilliput, so too the miniature of the Holy Sepulchre is governed ‘by a clockwork set of laws and customs’ (p. 67).

Calvary in medieval Flanders: Bruges and Jerusalem

2 Apr

The Flemish city of Bruges, or Brugge, has long been connected with Jerusalem. In his book City and Cosmos (2009), Keith Lilley described what he called “the perambulatory geography” of the medieval city, in which a vial of the Holy Blood was processed around Bruges. As Lilley describes it, the processional route of the Holy Blood encompassed both the centre and periphery of the city, symbolically connecting the cityscape in an image of cosmological harmony. This procession was certainly established by the year 1291; the little relic of Christ’s blood was used to protect the city against disaster whilst the city’s male citizens recited psalms and relived Christ’s Passion, as Bruges’ streets were made parallel to those of Jerusalem, a northern Via Dolorosa.

Much later, in the 1480s, a new monumental Jerusalem was built in Bruges. It is called the Jeruzalemkerk and it is very much on the tourist itinerary of this beautiful city. The church was built by the Adorno family, merchants with roots in Genoa but settled in Flanders. In 1483, the body of Anselmo Adorno was moved here from Scotland, where he had died.


Jeruzalemkerk, exterior view


Effigy of Christ, Jeruzalemkerk 'crypt'

The church is on the edge of the city, to the east. It comprises a chapel with a polygonal tower rising from it; below there is a vaulted crypt with a miniature tomb of Christ. The church’s main altar is a large replica of Calvary, in white ‘rock’, showing the Arma Christi, that is the instrument of Christ’s Passion.

By the early 16th century, a fraternity of Jerusalem pilgrims had been established at the church. The Adorno family had visited Jerusalem, and the family Church of Bruges replayed and remade some of the most memorable things they’d seen there. Quite how the Jeruzalemkerk was used is unclear, but once again we see a highly aesthetic, material and remediated landscape of Jerusalem rebuilt in the West.


Calvary rock, ?1420s, Jeruzalemkerk, Brugges, showing the Arma Christi (Instruments of the Passion).

Anselmo Adorno wrote a remarkable itinerary of his Eastern travels, published in French in 1978, edited by Jacques Heers. I wonder how far Adorno’s Jerusalem in Bruges improved on the eastern ‘original’? Is this church in Bruges a souvenir or a replica?

In Gerard David’s early sixteenth-century Baptism of Christ, now in the Groeningemuseum in Bruges, the church can be seen in the background, to represent the Jerusalem skyline, Christ’s baptism “brought home” to Bruges.