Tag Archives: London

‘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/

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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.

On the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster Abbey

24 May

According to Shakespeare (Henry IV Part 2, IV.iii.361-3), on 20 March 1413, Henry IV, king of England, fulfilled a prophecy that he should die at Jerusalem: this wasn’t, however, Jerusalem in the Holy Land but a more domestic version: the ‘Jerusalem Chamber’ at Westminster Abbey, the seat of English government and monarchy. The Jerusalem Chamber, now rather inelegantly jostling for position with the Abbey’s gift shop, is closed to the public but is a fascinating building which tells us a lot about the mobility of Jerusalem in the fourteenth century.

The Jerusalem chamber was built in the fourteenth century, by Nicholas Litlyngton (d. 1386), the abbot of Westminster, who was responsible for much remodelling of Westminster Abbey (rebuilding the nave, completing the cloister, building a new infirmary, as well as the Jerusalem Chamber). The Jerusalem Chamber has Litlyngton’s device on the ceiling joists, showing how the individual puts his imprimatur onto sacred space. The room possibly once had wall-hangings or frescoes, depicting scenes of Jerusalem, the life of Christ or biblical verses about Jerusalem. Paul Binksi (in Archaeologia 109 (1991)) has written about the tapestries which may have once decorated the room. Photos of the interior as it now looks can be seen here. Next door are later chambers called Jericho and Samaria, so, in Westminster, one could progress through a holy ‘landscape’ (actually, a series of gothic rooms). As the photo above shows, the medieval architect of the Jerusalem Chamber including two of the most basic icons of ‘Jerusalem’ – the crenellation to suggest Jerusalem’s walls, and the tower, polygonal, to recall the Holy Sepulchre (the elements can be seen elsewhere in this blog, in the Bruges Jeruzalemkerk, at Edington, and the Lynn Red Mount).

Did Henry IV really die in this room? The story of royal death in ‘Jerusalem’ was current well before Shakespeare: the legend seems to start with the French chronicler Enguerrand de Monstrelet (d. 1453), who wrote that Henry planned to conquer Jerusalem after conquering France. Henry’s pride and ambition was corrected, and he was humbled by dying at his English Jerusalem, not the real one. The Cronycles of Robert Fabyan (d. 1513), one of the most widespread historical texts of sixteenth-century England, put a different spin on the story: Henry’s piety meant that, even though he couldn’t die in the real Jerusalem, he did manage to die in the Jerusalem of the heart, in the New Jerusalem, at Westminster.

But Henry wasn’t the only king who ‘died’ at Jerusalem: Robert ‘the Bruce’ of Scotland (d. 1329), on his deathbed, requested his heart to be buried at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Edward I (d. 1307) of England had foretold his own death in the ‘burgh’ of Jerusalem, but died at Burgh-by-Sands near Carlisle. A popular medieval preachers’ tale said that Pope Sylvester II (d. 1003) had his death at Jerusalem foretold by the devil; he was then struck down in Rome’s church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. In lives of St Edmund King Offa is represented dying on his way back from Jerusalem. So to die well is to die at Jerusalem. But not, necessarily, the actual Jerusalem, but the Jerusalem of the heart, and of the mind.

This account of the Jerusalem Chamber is adapted from some ideas I’ve written about in my book Feeling Persecuted (Reaktion, 2010): I’d love to hear about other kings, princes and prelates who have sought to die at Jerusalem, or ‘Jerusalem’.