Tag Archives: Crusades

Jaffa in ruins

24 Jan

‘The ascendancy over men’s minds of the ruins of the stupendous past, the past of history, legend and myth, at once factual and fantastic, stretching back and back into ages that can but be surmised, is half-mystical in basis. The intoxication, at once so heady and so devout, is not the romantic melancholy engendered by broken towers and mouldered stones; it is the soaring of the imagination into the high empyrean where huge episodes are tangled with myths and dreams; it is the stunning impact of world history on its amazed heirs.’ Rose Macaulay, The Pleasure in Ruins (1953)

Bernhard von Breydenbach’s late fifteenth-century map of the Holy Land served as a template for maps of the region for some three hundred years, as a wonderful small exhibition, Mapping the Holy Land II, currently at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, shows.

Breydenbach, a wealthy monk from the German city of Mainz, travelled to the Holy Land in April 1483 and returned to Germany in 1484. Unusually (but not uniquely), he was accompanied by an artist, Erhard Reuwich. Reuwich drew a map to accompany Breydenbach’s accounts of his travels, but it’s clear that Reuwich drew the map upon his return home to Mainz. The map is in many ways ‘accurate’ but in other ways it reflects literary and ‘exotic’ ideas that Reuwich and Breydenbach knew from what they had read, rather than seen, of Palestine.

In the foreground of the map is the port of Jaffa (also known as Joppa, now Yafo/יפו, a rapidly gentrifying suburb of Tel Aviv). Here, pilgrims once disembarked from Venice, Ragusa and Crete for Jerusalem. It’s marked on the map as a set of caves, and broken, ruined buildings, with a group of pilgrims disembarking in the foreground

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Detail of pilgrims disembarking at Jaffa amongst caves and ruins, from Erhard Reuwich’s map for Breydenbach’s guide to the Holy Land, made in Mainz, 1486.

The map seems to agree with pilgrims’ accounts. Many pilgrims spent uncomfortable and disorientating nights in these caves, either arriving or waiting to leave.

One pilgrim, an anonymous Englishman travelling in the 1340s, described how, at Jaffa, his companions ‘had slept in the open, on the sea sand for 18 days, because they could not get passage.’ Some of them then died, due to privations they had undergone, sleeping rough in Jaffa (Hoade, Western Pilgrims, p. 76). Lodgings in Jaffa were clearly very rudimentary, and many pilgrims give (self-serving) accounts of harassment there from Mameluke officials (on the Breydenbach map, these seem to be the hatted figures, sitting on top of the caves). The French pilgrim the Seigneur de Caumont, visiting in 1419, noted how the city had once been conquered by the Christians but was now destroyed, with nobody living there.

The medieval journey to the Holy Land was intended to be the zenith of a Christian’s earthly life, and it guaranteed spiritual health in the afterlife too. But the Holy Land presented a world marked by the Crusaders’ defeat. Late medieval pilgrims saw Christendom in ruins all around them, and often commented on the ‘broken down’ churches and fortresses left by the Crusaders. If they moralised this, they tended to follow Sir John Mandeville, writing in the 1350s: ‘when God wishes, just as these regions were lost through the sinfulness of Christians, so shall they be won again by means of God’s aid through Christian folk’ (Mandeville, Books of Marvels and Travels, p. 42). The ruins stimulated a kind of emotional archaeology, which was interpreted as a promise of a glorious future and the pious reclamation of Holy Land.

Ruins of the Crusader kingdom still punctuate the landscape of the Middle East; they are at once ruins of a remarkable military achievement, and a testament to its failure. Sometimes, these ruins are incongruous, sitting in the landscape as if waiting to be reanimated, like the beautiful, untouched fortress at Cafarlet (Moshav HaBonim) near Haifa. Cars speed past, the site is deserted but for the white egrets busily inspecting their domain.

The Crusader fortress of Cafarlet (HaBonim), January 2014.

The Crusader fortress of Cafarlet (HaBonim), January 2014.

Others, like the impressive and isolated ruins at Montfort in the western Galilee, have become tourist sites, principally for hikers and on account of the views. At neither Cafarlet nor Montfort is there any sustained historical interpretation on offer to visitors; we are still silently encouraged to approach such ruins in a fundamentally Romantic way, as appeals to awe rather than investigation. They are to be gazed on, a sublime enhancement to the landscape. At the port-city of Akko (precious to the Crusaders, but rarely visited by later pilgrims though there was a Venetian port here in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), Crusader ruins continue to comprise the urban fabric.

The remains of the twelfth-century Crusader fortress of Montfort/Starkenberg, western Galilee, Israel

The remains of the twelfth-century Crusader fortress of Montfort/Starkenberg, western Galilee, Israel 

Akko: ruins in the Pisan harbour. January 2014.

Akko: ruins in the Pisan harbour. January 2014.

Akko: medieval masonry reused the Khan es-Shawarda, built by the Ottomans on the site of the medieval nunnery of the Poor Clares. January 2014.

Akko: medieval masonry reused at the Khan es-Shawarda, built by the Ottomans on the site of the medieval Franciscan nunnery. January 2014.

Medieval pilgrims travelled through a layered world of ruins. They identified, re-identified, and sometimes ignored these ruins. Throughout, they saw themselves moving through a legible landscape which was inextricably connected to the Christian past and future. Sometimes these ruins asserted themselves, and continue to assert themselves, a reminder of the failure to build a martial state in the Middle East, focussed on Jerusalem, based on religious precepts, aggressive colonisation, and intense emotion.

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.

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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.

Hello world!

11 Mar

Thanks for visiting my new blog!

I am a medievalist, teaching and researching at Birkbeck College, University of London. I’ve recently edited and translated Sir John Mandeville’s fourteenth-century Book of Marvels and Travels and, growing out of this, I’ve started a new research project, funded by the AHRC Research Network award and then by a Philip Leverhulme Prize, on western European representations of Jerusalem and the Holy Land in the period following the Crusades (i.e. 1291 – c. 1550).

The Latin Christian kingdom of Jerusalem was established by Crusaders in the Holy Land in the period 1096-9. Nobility, clergy, pilgrims, converts, and many others quickly established a state focussed on, and based around, the conquest of Jerusalem, building new castles, fortresses, cathedrals and cities. The Latin Kingdom was hugely important, but endured for only a short time: the last mainland Crusader town, the fortified city of Acre (Akko, Israel), was taken by the Mamluks in 1291. The Remembered Places project explores the European memory of the Crusades in the centuries which followed, thinking about the cultural consequences of the loss of the Latin Kingdom. As Jerusalem and the Holy Land once more came under Islamic control, European Christendom re-imagined its relationship to the holy sites, especially to Jerusalem, the ‘centre’ or ‘navel’ of the known world.

I’ll be using this blog informally to report on and discuss the many different versions of Jerusalem I come across in my research, and at the workshops and public lectures associated with the Remembered Places project. I’ll also be using it to get feedback on some my ideas and to share and store my photos of representations of Calvary, Jerusalem and other holy sites.

All photos on the site are taken by me, and can be used freely (though an acknowledgement to me, Anthony Bale, would be nice).