Tag Archives: Anthony Bale

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:

029getijdenboek2-groot_0_0

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.

‘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

Call for Papers: Remembering Jerusalem: Imagination, Memory, and the City

13 May

I’m posting this call for papers here, for a conference to be held at King’s College London in November, on aspects of Jerusalem and its memory from 1099 to the present day. It’s being hosted by the Imagining Jerusalem network

Remembering Jerusalem: Imagination, Memory, and the City
6th-7th November
King’s College London

Organised by the AHRC-Funded Research Network ‘Imagining Jerusalem, 1099 to the Present Day’
Keynote speakers: Professor Anthony Bale (Birkbeck), Professor Eyal Weizman (Goldsmiths).
Further keynotes TBC.

Perhaps the world’s most iconic city, Jerusalem exists both as a physical space and as a site of memory, ideas, and re-memberings. In art, literature, film, and history writing; in acts of public and private worship; and in communities across the globe, memories of Jerusalem have, for centuries, been created, invoked, and relived. This cross-period, interdisciplinary conference invites paper and panel submissions on the theme of Jerusalem and Memory, c. 1099 to the Present Day. Topics may include, but need not be limited to:

– techniques of memorialisation / techniques of memory
– place, space, and memory
– souvenirs, mementoes, and memory aids
– the materiality (or immateriality) of memory
– memory and sensation
– memory, land and environment
– memory and warfare
– memory and governance
– forgetting, false memory, and fictional remembering
– narrative and memory
– memory and the archive
– national, local, and transnational memories
– memory and community
– ethnography as remembering
– ritual, repetition, and performance
– sacred and secular memory

The organisers are particularly keen to receive panel submissions which address a shared theme across more than one discipline and/or historical period.

Abstracts of c. 300 words for single papers and c. 1000 words for panels consisting of three papers should be sent to imagining-jerusalem@york.ac.uk by 1st July 2014. For more details or inquiries, please contact the same address or visit the Network website: http://jerusalems.wordpress.com/

This conference is organised by the lead members of the Network: Dr Anna Bernard (King’s College London), Dr Michele Campopiano (University of York), Dr Helen Smith (York), Dr Jim Watt (York), and the Network Coordinator, Hannah Boast (York).

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Jerusalem as Occidentalist cityscape in twelfth-century Bologna

8 Apr

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Many medieval copies of Jerusalem function at the level of metonymy: a part suggests the whole, a symbol evokes a distant and holy world. Sometimes a polygonal or round building or some crenelated battlements function as a shorthand reference to Jerusalem. Sometimes it was simply the Easter Sepulchre placed in church which once a year became the Jerusalem of Jesus’s death and resurrection. However, in the Italian city of Bologna, a remarkable landscape was crafted in which the urban fabric was Jerusalem, not only on a symbolic level but as lived, familiar space. The beautiful Nuova Gerusalemme at the church of Santo Stefano in Bologna has been much altered since its twelfth-century heyday, but it can still be visited and its Jerusalem-ish landscape appreciated.

Readers who want to know more about the historical and liturgical background of the Bologna site are referred to Robert Ousterhout’s 1980 article, from which much of my information is taken. I visited the site last week and in this post I share some of the thoughts I had about it.

The complex of churches existed since at least the sixth century and probably somewhat earlier, built over a Roman temple of Isis. At the centre was a round church dedicated to the Holy Sepulchre. In the twelfth century – in fact, within sixty years of the First Crusade of 1099, when the Crusaders successfully took Jerusalem – the chapels in Bologna were redesigned to ‘resemble’ Jerusalem. The San Sepulcro chapel (pictured above), with its distinctive ‘circular’ (polygonal) shape, was built c. 1100-1140 and continues to recall the main rotunda of the Anastasis at the Jerusalem Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Twelve columns (suggesting the deep significance of the number twelve: the Twelve Tribes of Israel, the Twelve Apostles, etc.) are arranged around a copy of the medieval ‘aedicule’, the small tabernacle or booth at the site of Christ’s empty grave (pictured below). The exterior brickwork has further polychromatic polygonal designs in it, suggesting other mnemonic devices to recall the patterns and symbolism of the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem.

As well as the aedicule, within this round church there remains a medieval copy, in similitudine, of the column on which Jesus was scourged (pictured below), akin to the twenty-first century whipping post at the Holy Land park in Florida. The building reproduces the atmosphere and main sites of the Holy Sepulchre; it shows clearly how, at a period in which thousands of Crusaders were travelling to Palestine, their ideas, knowledge, and religious culture was also travelling back to Europe.

One passes through the round church to Cortile di Pilato, a courtyard associated from the later Middle Ages with Pontius Pilate containing an ancient well (in the first picture, above), recalling Pilate’s washing of his hands (Matthew 27). Off the courtyard once stood various other small chapels recalling biblical and quasi-biblical episodes of the Passion of Jesus: a prison-cell, a Calvary, a now-vanished chapel in similitudine marking the site of Christ’s appearance to Mary Magdalene.

The distance from the Calvary to the aedicule of the Resurrection is 42 meters; this is based on the specific proportions of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in which the distance between these sites is 41.6 meters (Ousterhout, p. 312).

As Ousterhout showed, the chapels and shrines photographed here were just a part of a bigger civic complex: at Easter, a dramatic liturgical procession took place, moving from the nearby church of St John on the Mount (now rebuilt, which played the role of the Church of the Ascension on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives) to the church of St Thekla (now demolished and replaced with a luxury fashion shop in a Baroque palazzo, the location mirrors Jerusalem’s Kidron Valley, the dedication to a saint especially popular in Palestine, Cyprus, and Lebanon). From St Thekla the procession continued to Calvary and the Holy Sepluchre at the Santo Stefano complex.

Based quite precisely on the dimensions of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as it was found, in a dilapidated state, by the crusaders, before they rebuilt it in the 1150s and ’60s, the complex sought to improve on the Holy Sites in the Holy Land, replaying holy space in a discontinuous but liturgically resonant cityscape. The Bologna complex, which Ousterhout says was ‘intended to be more than just a souvenir copy’, was an ambitious act of Occidentalism. By this I mean that it shows how the Eastern spaces being remodelled by the Crusaders in Palestine were generated in conversation with western European ideas of biblical history and liturgical memory. This was a western space developed by the West through its fantasies of the East; the East was then remade in this image. The Bologna complex continues to be a potent reminder of Jerusalem: or, should we say, Jerusalem continues to be a potent reminder of Bologna?

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Postscript: on the side of the Bologna complex is a recent piece of graffiti (below): the name ‘Salem’, the Latin name for Jerusalem. This is cognate with the Hebrew word ‘shalom’ (peace) but also recalls the earliest biblical name of Jerusalem, Salem (שלם; Genesis 14).

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