Tag Archives: crusaders

Mount Joy: the view from Palestine

21 Jan

“And so they went on to the Holy Land until they could see Jerusalem. And when this creature, riding on an ass, saw Jerusalem, she thanked God with all her heart, asking Him for His mercy that, just as He had brought her to see this earthly city of Jerusalem, He would grant her the grace to see Jerusalem the blissful city above, the city of heaven…Then, for the joy that she had and the sweetness she felt in conversing with our Lord, she was on the verge of falling off her ass, for she could not bear the sweetness and grace that God performed in her soul. Then two German pilgrims went to her and kept her from falling off. One of them was a priest, and he put spices in her mouth to comfort her, believing her to have been ill. And so they helped her onwards to Jerusalem.” The Book of Margery Kempe.

The English mystic Margery Kempe, whose Book I have been translating recently, was making her way from Ramla to Jerusalem in 1413. She felt such sweetness and grace when she saw the holy city that she nearly fell off her ass. From Kempe’s account it’s likely that this moment – of both spiritual glory and embarrassing awkwardness – would have taken place on Mount Joy, the highest point around Jerusalem. Mount Joy  (Mons GaudiiMonjoie) is now the Palestinian village of Nabi Samwil [or Samuil], just 7 miles north of the Old City of Jerusalem, and less than a mile from the edge of the large Israeli settlement of Ramot, now a suburb of Jerusalem. It was customary, in the later Middle Ages, for pilgrims to travel on foot or by ass from Jaffa via Ramla and Emmaus to Mount Joy, there to gain their first view of the city, hence the name Mount Joy. Pilgrims like Kempe were led from place to place by Franciscans and local guides. Before Kempe’s time – certainly by c. 1100 – Nabi Samuel  had also become established as the burial-site, revered by Christians, Muslims, and Jews, of the prophet Samuel.

Mount Joy is interesting to me in the current context because of the ability of Jerusalem to be translated out of itself, which here extends to the hyper-mediated landscape around the city itself. In the later Middle Ages the view of Jerusalem from a hill known as ‘Mount Joy’ became as much a part of the pilgrimage route as visiting Jerusalem itself. In fact, medieval pilgrims would not have been able to see the now-iconic view of the Old City – the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – because these sites sit in a hollow, behind a hilly landscape. They would, however, have viewed the approaches to the city, and possibly some of the buildings on the suburban outskirts around the town.

The view of Jerusalem from Nabi Samuil, January 2014

The view of Jerusalem from Nabi Samuil, January 2014

The site itself is an interesting palimpsest of different religious traditions. Early Christians identified Mount Joy as ‘Ramatha’ (1 Samuel 25: 1) where Samuel died, although several other places (including the post-biblical, Arab town of Ramla, where pilgrims usually slept) were also identified with Ramatha. It is now controlled by the Israel Parks and Nature Authority (with a critique of the Authority’s control of the area, by alt-arch, here).

In the twelfth century, during the Crusaders’ establishment of a state in the Holy Land, a Premonstratensian monastery was founded at Mount Joy; but in 1187 it fell to Saladin and various battles were fought there. One story says that a hermit, named Elias, gave Richard I (the Lionheart) of England a relic of the True Cross there, which he had secreted at Mount Joy when Saladin took Jerusalem. Throughout this time, Jewish pilgrims often visited the site, and, possibly, a mosque was there in the thirteenth century. The Crusader church of St Samuel, photographed here, was significantly rebuilt in 1912 as a mosque, with the Crusader crypt and ruins incorporated into the new buildings (the tomb of Samuel itself, now a Jewish holy site, is in the basement, under the mosque).

The remains of the Crusader-era ramp and entrance to the buildings, a kind of fortress-church

The remains of the Crusader-era ramp and entrance to the buildings, a kind of fortress-church

The layers of different cultures came be seen very clearly and impressively now, following recent archaeological work there. Medieval Christian pilgrims always write about the view of Jerusalem from Mount Joy – like Mandeville, who says, ‘two miles from Jerusalem is Mount Joy, a pretty and delightful place. The prophet Samuel is buried there in a fine tomb. It is called Mount Joy because it is from there that pilgrims first see Jerusalem, a cause of great joy after their exertions’ (p. 49). The Christian pilgrims’ hearts and eyes were focussed on Jerusalem, shimmering in the distance and always full of spiritual promise. But, whilst pilgrims tend not to mention it, they must have noticed that they were taking part in something like cosmopolitanism: at Mount Joy, they would have seen Jews, Muslims, and non-Latin Christians praying, and the ruins left by the Crusaders who had been and gone before them.

The mosque (rebuilt in the 1920s) on top of the ruined Crusader-era church. In the foreground, Hellenistic and Hasmonean ruins, recently excavated.

The mosque (rebuilt in the 1920s) on top of the ruined Crusader-era church. In the foreground, Hellenistic and Hasmonean ruins, recently excavated.

Nabi Samuil has very far-reaching views over the entire area. Here, looking north, towards Givat Ze'ev, Bir Nabala, and Ramallah

Nabi Samuil has very far-reaching views over the entire area. Here, looking north, towards Givat Ze’ev, Bir Nabala, and Ramallah

Advertisements

At the Temple Church, London

2 Jul

On 25th and 26th June a group of about 20 scholars, all working on images and ideas of the medieval Jerusalem, gathered in London for the first of two AHRC-funded workshops as part of the Remembered Places project.

Image

Temple Church, London, exterior

As part of our activities, we took a stroll down to one of the older Western European copies of Jerusalem, the Temple Church, which has stood near the River Thames since 1185. If the building looks surprisingly spry for something so old, that may be because it was pretty much destroyed in 1941 during the Blitz.

The Temple Church aims to recall Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre through its distinctive round nave. The ’roundness’ of the anastasis rotunda in Jerusalem (the domed site of the Resurrection) is one of its most frequently-invoked mnemonic facets. The Temple is one of several similar ’round’ churches built by the military orders, the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller. The Knights Templar built their London church just outside the medieval city walls, on a site which would have then overlooked the river and would have been part of a large monastic complex. The Temple church was consecrated in 1185, by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Heraclius (d. c. 1190), a French-born crusader bishop about whom we know little apart from gossip and hearsay – he was said to have lived openly with a young woman from Nablus, and fathered at least one child. He is also said to have offered the kingdom of Jerusalem to Henry II of England, who was possibly present at the consecration of the Temple Church, and who turned the offer down.

The Temple Church was actually one of two round churches in medieval London, as the Hospitallers had a similar building, now vanished, at their site to the north (in the Lincoln’s Inn/High Holborn area). Very similar churches exist in Cambridge, Garway near Hereford and Northampton (about which I’ll post in due course) and all over Europe – but not all are connected to the Templars. In fact, the ’round nave’, so often thought about as a piece of distinctly crusader iconography, was a much more widespread mnemonic cue  – not only suggested the Jerusalem rotunda, but also the roundness of the earth, the all-encompassing nature of Christ’s Life and Passion, and the perfection embodied in the circle: in medieval thought, the circle represented divine infinity, wholeness and the unbroken compass of sacred space.

Inside the Church, the similarity to the Jerusalem rotunda is striking, with a breath-taking sense of height and space. Whilst it cannot be compared to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in terms of size and scale, or the gloomy darkness of that building, the ‘copy’ strives for a image based on eye-witness much more than other representations gathered on this blog.

ImageLater on, the Templars were repressed, as the relevance of the Crusade faded and the Order amassed power and wealth. They were accused of sodomy, and worshipping cats. The Church was seized around 1307 and became used, as it remains today, as part of a college of lawyers.