Tag Archives: remembered places

Visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with Sir John Mandeville

9 Aug

My current work is concerned with the ways in which late medieval travellers and writers ‘made’ the landscape of Jerusalem, a landscape which was subsequently accepted as historically ‘true’, and in some cases biblically accurate. Often, these medieval sites can be traced back to the Crusades, and many of them endure today.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, now in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City but once outside the city walls, presents the visitor was a wonderfully rich, sometimes chaotic, accretion of religious traditions and narratives. The Church is one of the few religious sites shared by eastern and western Christian traditions, and it is busy with visitors from all over the world: when I visited earlier today, the languages I heard most frequently were Russian, Italian, French, and Arabic.

I toured the Church using Sir John Mandeville’s fourteenth-century Book of Marvels and Travels. The author of this book almost certainly did not visit the Church, but some of his readers, such as William Wey in the fifteenth century, did, and would have likewise have had to rely on Mandeville to help them find their way around the Church, busy with altars, inscriptions in foreign languages, and sites of dubious authenticity.

Here are some quotations from Mandeville’s book, with photos I took of the sites as they are today. For those who haven’t visited the Church, you can have your own ‘virtual pilgrimage’ experience, just like medieval readers in Europe did…

“…when people go to Jerusalem, they make their first pilgrimage to the church of the Holy Sepulchre…in the middle of the church is a tabernacle like a little house, beautifully crafted in the manner of a semicircle and richly decorated with gold, azure, and other colours…”

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“…to the right, inside that church, is Mount Calvary where Our Lord was placed on the Cross. And the Cross was set in the rock, which is white in colour with a little red mixed in; blood dropped onto that rock from the wounds of Our Lord when He was tortured on the Cross, and it is now called Golgotha.”

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“And one goes up to this Golgotha by a staircase.”

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“Also near Mount Calvary, to the right, is an altar where the pillar lies to which Our Lord was bound when He was scourged.”

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“Also near to this altar, in a place forty-two steps down, was found the True Cross, as endorsed by St Helena, under a rock where the Jews had hidden it. And it was tested because they found three crosses, one of Our Lord and two of the two thieves; so St Helena tested them on a dead body, that revived as soon as the True Cross was laid upon it.”

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“In the church of the Holy Sepulchre on the north side is a place where Our Lord was put in prison, though He was nevertheless imprisoned in many other places.”

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“Outside the church doors, to the right, as one climbs thirty-eight stairs, Our Lord said to His mother thus: “Mulier ecce filius tuus, that is to say, ‘Woman, behold thy son’ [John 19:26]. And then He said thus: “Deinde dicit discipulo, ecce mater tua”‘ that is to say, ‘After that, he saith to the disciple, “Behold thy mother” [John 19:27]. These words He said also on the Cross. Our Lord went by these stairs when He carried the across upon his shoulders.”

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“Underneath this staircase is a chapel where priests sing, not according to our rite but according to their own rite. They always perform the sacrament of the holy bread as well as the prayers with which the bread is consecrated by saying the Paternoster and little else, because they don’t know the additions that many popes have made; but they do sing with sincere devotion.”

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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.

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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.