Tag Archives: Holy Sepulchre

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).

Jerusalem in Wiltshire: ‘like a fortified mansion’

12 Mar

The Calvary complex stood to the left of the building.

Niklaus Pevsner, in his Buildings of Britain volume on the county of Wiltshire, described the Priory Church at Edington as being ‘so freely embattled that it looks like a fortified mansion’. Pevsner’s choice of words was apt, because in fifteenth-century Edington a complex was built to resemble Jerusalem: the heavenly mansion, so frequently depicted in medieval art as a fortified city with a crenellated wall.

Edington Priory was built in the 1350s, possibly as a college for priests. It then became an Augustinian priory. The building as it stands today is much altered from its medieval form, but it’s still a fascinating site, which once embodied a vision of Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre, built according to the designs of William Wey, a scholar, author and pilgrim. Wey visited the Holy Land in the 1460s and then, in his retirement in Wiltshire, set about building a mnemonic recreation of the sites he had seen. Wey had undertaken two pilgrimages to Palestine and one to Santiago in northern Spain.

William Wey’s chapel was ‘made to the liknes of the sepulkyr of owre Lorde at Jerusalem’. A detailed inventory of the chapel’s furnishing and decoration survives in a manuscript in Oxford (Bodleian Library MS Bodley 565): it shows that the installation had numerous hangings and painted-cloths, showing bible scenes (‘owre Lorde with a spade in his hande’, ‘the tempyl of Jerusalem’), relics (in particular, stones from the Holy Land), and furniture for the liturgy (candles, candlesticks, an osculatory, dishes and chalices). There was also a ‘mappa Mundy’ world map, velvet and silk vestments, and various books, including a copy of Wey’s own Itineraries. More theatrically, Wey had several topics depicted ‘in bordys’ – that is planks or panelling: lengths show- ing the measurements of Christ’s sepulchre, the height and width of its door, Christ’s footprint. In the Chapter House there were models of the Church of Bethlehem, the Mount of Olivet and the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Moreover, there was ‘the sepulker of oure Lorde with too howses’, apparently next to the ‘clokke howse’.

The ‘stage-set’ built at Edington shows the importance of ‘virtual pilgrimage’, of imaginary experience, of simulation, and of remaking in medieval Christianity. It now powerfully provides another kind of prompt to the imagination: in the drizzle of the Wiltshire countryside, we need to imagine the artefacts which once animated this quiet rural corner, as the edge of Europe was re-thought as the centre of the world.

The Calvary buildings probably stood in what is now the cemetery, outside the north wall of the Church. One entered this Jerusalem through this door, now bricked-up: Image

You’ll notice the little motif over the door, a delicate Trinity to mark the divinity of the place. This motif, and similar ones, feature throughout the church’s decoration and may have marked some kind of ‘route’, an imaginative pilgrimage, around the building.

An excellent article by Pnina Arad, published in February 2012, sheds a great deal of new light on Wey and his installation. Arad, focussing on the art-historical background of the Edington chapel, shows how Wey’s project was connected to English Easter sepulchres and also indebted to a map of the Holy Land in a medieval manuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 389). See further Pnina Arad, ‘Pilgrimage, Cartography, and Devotion: William Wey’s Map of the Holy Land’, Viator 43:1 (2012), 301-22, with appendices of Wey’s inventory of the Calvary chapel’s fittings and the relevant maps.