Tag Archives: Palestine

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?

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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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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.

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