The Jerusalem Chamber, Holy Land Relics and the British Monarchy

A guest post from network member Dr Beatrice Groves, of the University of Oxford.

Beatrice’s latest book, The Destruction of Jerusalem in Early Modern English Literature, has just been published by Cambridge University Press. Among many topics examined in the book, one chapter focuses on the siege of Jerusalem in the work of Shakespeare. Perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous reference to Jerusalem is his depiction of the death of Henry IV in the Jerusalem chamber at Westminster Abbey, a scene discussed by Beatrice below:

Like the author of a recent network blog, I was lucky enough (while a friend was instituted as a canon) to visit the Jerusalem chamber this year. Following on from this, I thought I’d write about an ironic aspect of Henry IV’s death in this chamber which I noticed when I looked above my head and which has not, to my knowledge, been previously noted.

Henry IV’s death in the Jerusalem chamber is most famously described in Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 2:

It hath been prophesied to me, many years,
I should not die but in Jerusalem,
Which vainly I suppos’d the Holy Land.
But bear me to that chamber; there I’ll lie;

In that Jerusalem shall Harry die.                  (4.5.236-40)

The word ‘vainly’ is Henry’s caustic acknowledgement that while he had believed he had many years to live he has now discovered that, through an accident of naming (and no-one now knows why this room is called the Jerusalem chamber) he has only hours before he will die. In Holinshed – from whom Shakespeare takes this account – the king takes it slightly differently:

they bare him into a chamber that was next at hand, belonging to the abbat of Westminster, where they laid him on a pallet before the fire, and vsed all rememdies to reuiue him. At length, he recouered his speech, and vnderstanding and perceiuing himselfe in a strange place which he knew not, he willed to know if the chamber had anie particular name, wherevnto answer was made, that it was called Ierusalem. Then said the king; “Lauds be giuen to the father of heauen, for now I know I shall die heere in this chamber, according to the prophesie of me declared, that I should depart this life in Ierusalem”.

Offering ‘Lauds’ to God, Holinshed’s king seems to gain some kind of comfort from the knowledge that he will die in the Jerusalem Chamber (as Shakespeare’s Henry does, belatedly, in his more affirmatory final line: ‘In that Jerusalem shall Harry die’).

Our fellow network member, Anthony Bale, has written on his blog Remembered Places that many kings sought to die in Jerusalem. Henry’s death in the Jerusalem chamber is one link in his long project of associating himself with the Holy Land and its legitimating aura of sanctity. When Henry IV was still merely Harry Bolingbroke, he had taken a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (and he had done it properly: records suggest that he followed the pious custom of travelling the final forty miles from Jaffa on foot). Bolingbroke retained this respectful attitude towards the Holy Land when he came to be crowned, for his coronation is the first definite record we have of an English coronation taking place on that most contentious royal relic, the Stone of Scone.[1] In contemporary discourse the Stone of Scone is virtually synonymous with Scottish nationalism (its return to Scotland in 1996 was watched by 10,000 people who lined the Royal Mile) but this has obscured another aspect of the stone. When it was taken from Scotland by Edward I it was not only the site of coronation for Scottish kings but also a major relic from the Holy Land. It was believed to be – as noted by a chronicler in 1292 – ‘the stone on which Jacob had rested his head’ at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22).[2]

The English monarchy has long been drawn to relics from the Holy Land. Henry IV’s coronation on the Bethel Stone has been followed by English royalty ever since, and when Charlotte Elizabeth Diana Windsor was baptised this year with water from the River Jordan she was following in a royal tradition, which, it is claimed, ‘dates from the Crusader king Richard I’ (Majesty, 5.9 (January 1985): 17). This ancient and persistent royal habit is due to the legitimising aura of holiness conferred by such relics and this aura was, of course, particularly necessary in the case of Henry IV. Henry IV was probably the first English king to be crowned seated on the Bethel Stone because his usurpation of Richard II’s crown meant that he needed all the symbolic legitimacy he could muster.

Henry IV, therefore, both began and ended his reign in (or on) the Holy Land: crowned on the Bethel Stone and dying in the Jerusalem chamber. But there is also a further circularity here. Henry IV needed the Bethel Stone at his coronation because his claim to the throne was a little shaky given that he had deposed and murdered Richard II, and Richard II was symbolically present at his death likewise. The Jerusalem chamber was built during Richard II’s reign and the ceiling is one of the few aspects of its original interior that remains. Had Henry IV looked up as he lay dying he would have seen (alongside the mitred initials of Abbot Nicholas Litlyngton) a ceiling richly decorated with the crowned ‘R’ of Richard II and emblazoned with the golden suns that were Richard II’s emblem.

Photo courtesy of the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall

Photo courtesy of the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall

Henry’s death in the Jerusalem chamber involves a certain irony given that the king believed he would die in the Holy Land; had he noticed Richard II heraldically triumphant above him, Henry himself might have found his death in this room even more pointed than subsequent generations have thought it.

[1] Johannis de Trokelowe and Henrici de Blaneforde, Chronica et Annales, Regnantibus Henrico Tertio, Edwardo Primo, Edwardo Secundo, Richardo Secundo, et Henrico Quarto, ed. Henry Thomas Riley (London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1866), p. 294.

[2] Willelmi Rishanger, Chronica et annales, regnantibus Henrico Tertio et Edwardo Primo : A.D. 1259-130, ed. Henry Thomas Riley (London: Longmans, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1865), p.135

New Publication: Visual Constructs of Jerusalem, ed. by Kühnel, Noga-Banai and Vorholt

visualVisual Constructs of Jerusalem is a new volume of essays, edited by Bianca Kühnel, Galit Noga-Banai, and one of our network members at York, Hanna Vorholt.

Hanna has sent us some further details about the collection:

‘This volume brings together 44 articles by scholars from 15 different countries and is an outcome of the research project SPECTRUM Visual Translations of Jerusalem.

The special position of Jerusalem among the cities of the world stems from a long history shared by the three Abrahamic religions, and the belief that the city reflected a heavenly counterpart. Because of this unique combination, Jerusalem is generally seen as extending along a vertical axis stretching between past, present, and future. However, through its many ‘earthly’ representations, Jerusalem has an equally important horizontal dimension: it is represented elsewhere in all media, from two-dimensional maps to monumental renderings of the architecture and topography of the city’s loca sancta.

In documenting the increasing emphasis on studying the earthly proliferations of the city, the current book witnesses a shift in theoretical and methodological insights since the publication of The Real and Ideal Jerusalem in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Art in 1998. Its main focus is on European translations of Jerusalem in images, objects, places, and spaces that evoke the city through some physical similarity or by denomination and cult – all visual and material aids to commemoration and worship from afar. The book discusses both well-known and long-neglected examples, the forms of cult they generate and the virtual pilgrimages they serve, and calls attention to their written and visual equivalents and companions. In so doing, it opens a whole new vista onto the summa of representations of Jerusalem.’

See the publisher’s website for the full list of essay titles.

‘A Clockwork Jerusalem’: ‘New Jerusalems’ in Britain, from Blake to Brutalism

A Clockwork Jerusalem. Photo via Architectural Association.

Followers of Jerusalem-related news and trivia may remember that the British Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale was called ‘A Clockwork Jerusalem’.

‘A Clockwork Jerusalem’ is now on display a little closer to home, for those of us in the UK. It will be at the Architectural Association Gallery in London until 6th June.

If London isn’t convenient, there is a video of the exhibition in Venice last year on Youtube. You can also view a lecture about the pavilion by one of its creators, Sam Jacobs, on the Architectural Association website.

The pavilion’s name refers to two well-known, and sharply contrasting, visions of Britain’s future: Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian classic A Clockwork Orange (1971), and William Blake’s poem, ‘Jerusalem’ (c. 1808).

Jerusalem has been invoked in depictions of imagined British and English futures before and since Blake wrote his famous work, so it is not immediately obvious that this is the version of ‘Britain/England as Jerusalem’ invoked in the title.

Our network member Lucy Underwood has discussed here the ambivalent meanings of the Jerusalem metaphor for English Catholics during the Reformation, while in a series of wide-ranging recent posts Laura Sangha examined the ways in which the idea of the ‘New Jerusalem’ has been repurposed by advocates of political change, from Reformation Protestants to the twentieth century.

Blake’s Preface to ‘Milton: a Poem’, where his poem ‘Jerusalem [And did those feet in ancient time] originally appeared. Wikimedia Commons.

Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’, however, remains the touchstone for those invoking the city in imagining the future of England and Britain, and the Pavilion’s creators, Jacobs (FAT Architecture) and Wouter Vanstiphout (Crimson Architectural Historians), have specified it as their reference point. They include an image of Blake’s eye in the exhibition, looking down inscrutably on its central installation.

One of the ironies of the reception of Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ in England and Britain, which also makes it a productive starting point for an art exhibition, is that the poem’s politically confrontational message has often been lost in its transformation into a nationalist hymn and potential national anthem. As Sangha notes, this is further disguised by the rousing music to which the poem was set in 1916 by the composer Hubert Parry. The poem, Sangha points out, was intended by Blake as a ‘call to arms – not a celebration of what England is, but a vision of what it might be.’

There is perhaps no better evidence of this widespread tendency to read Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ as a glorification of the status quo than UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s backing of the hymn, in July 2012, as the national anthem for England’s sports teams.

This transparently populist remark, made in a speech to young Tory activists and presumably timed to coincide with the national fervour surrounding the London Olympics, which took place just weeks later, indicated Cameron’s interest in sport, underscoring his adherence to norms of masculinity, and countering critics who accuse the Eton and Oxford-educated politician of elitist detachment from ordinary life. At the same time, in its acknowledgement of a distinct ‘English’ identity outside of the Union, Cameron’s call was an appeal to the Conservative Party’s right, who have been typically sceptical of his ‘modernising’ impulses.

Crucially, by limiting his backing of Jerusalem as an anthem to sporting events only, Cameron carefully sidestepped the possibility of his call being interpreted as a criticism of Britain’s existing national anthem ‘God Save the Queen’, and, implicitly, of the Royal Family itself. This move is absolutely off-limits for English politicians, if not Welsh and Scottish ones, while the UK press and public continue to display a fanatical obsession with the Royals.

Prime Minister David Cameron, with daughter Florence, television presenter Jeremy Clarkson, Blur bassist-turned-cheese farmer Alex James, and unknown woman, pictured at James’ ‘Harvest’ Festival in 2011. Photo: The Standard.

Cameron’s enthusiasm for ‘Jerusalem’ is not surprising, given that echoes of the reading of Blake’s poem as a celebration of ‘traditional English (or British) values’ are clearly discernible in the wider nostalgic trends that have developed as a cultural counterpart to the mainstream rise of the Conservative movement in the UK over recent years. This is the topic for another blog post, but a number of thoughtful pieces have appeared online over the past few years on the links between the rehabilitation of the pastoral, ‘folk culture’, and the UK’s shift to the right.

‘A Clockwork Jerusalem’ seems to participate in another form of nostalgia, this time the currently trendy valorisation of the utopian projects of British postwar architects and town planners. The more interesting examples of this reevaluation can be found in Owen Hatherley’s writing, though the genre has spawned many lesser variants, and, of course, legions of Tumblrs (I am partial to the documentation of Sheffield, where I live, on she feld). Hatherley neatly summarises the appeal of these schemes today as a form of ‘nostalgia for the future’, a quote which also resonates with some of the uses to which imagined Jerusalems have been put (Jerusalem-born Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour’s adaptation of sci-fi tropes might be seen in the same vein).

Park Hill children at the official opening, June 16 1961. Image by Peter Tuffrey, via she feld.

The failure of a large proportion of the British postwar housing schemes is a familiar narrative. Planners and architects sought to improve working class lives by constructing vast modernist housing estates featuring light and airy rooms and indoor plumbing, which seemed to promise a dramatic improvement on the old and neglected slums then inhabited by the urban poor. Brutalist structures such as the Hulme Crescents in Manchester, Thamesmead in London (where A Clockwork Orange was filmed), and the Scottish New Town of Cumbernauld were built, and celebrated with wild optimism as a ‘New Jerusalem’. Large scale models of these buildings feature in the exhibition.

The use of Jerusalem rhetoric to describe housing plans reflected a wider hopeful framing of the welfare state at this time, seen for instance in Clement Attlee’s call, in his Labour Leader’s Speech of 1950, for members to ‘go forward and fight in the spirit of William Blake.’ Ken Loach’s documentary Spirit of ’45 (2013) drew on nostalgia for Labour’s ‘New Jerusalem’ period in an attempt to revive the party’s ailing fortunes, while now former Labour leader Ed Miliband invoked the same golden era in speeches last year. As the General Election result this month decisively showed, these didn’t work. Something about this inflection of the ‘New Jerusalem’ is clearly no longer compelling for the British public.

The promised ameliorations of the postwar housing projects ultimately failed to materialise. By the 1980s, with high rates of crime, poverty, and drug use, estates had become a stigmatised emblem of social decay (see Lynsey Hanley’s Estates (2007) for a sympathetic history of a story usually narrated with a large dose of classism). Architectural flaws had become apparent in structures that were often built quickly with poor materials (the collapse of Ronan Point in 1968 is a notorious example), while planners’ love for concrete was never quite shared by a more cautious British public. The recent rehabilitation of Brutalist architecture remains an elite phenomenon, and buildings of this period regularly top lists of ‘Britain’s ugliest buildings’. Our own newly spruced-up Central Hall at the University of York, affectionately known as the ‘spaceship’, still divides opinion.

Many estates were subsequently demolished, like the Crescents. Those which survived, such as Park Hill in Sheffield, were often subjected to the perhaps more ignominious end of ‘regeneration’. In Park Hill, council tenants have been socially cleansed, and their homes turned over to young professionals willing to pay a high price for their own stylish piece of history (maybe this is the ‘New Jerusalem’ Cameron has in mind when he promotes the sale of publicly-owned housing).

In ‘A Clockwork Jerusalem’, the story of the estates becomes part of a longer narrative of British modernism, with Blake as the anchor. This takes in, as the blurb notes, ‘traditions of the romantic, sublime and pastoral, as well as interests in technology and science fiction’.

These influences are brought together in the pavilion’s central installation, a seven-metre-wide earth mound, with bright pink stairs on two sides that allow visitors to climb on top. The mound is surrounded by a 360-degree printed panorama. This, as you may notice, features an image of Blake’s eye framed within a stylised cog, which lines up above the mound’s flat summit, in place of a sun.

The mound. Image by James Taylor-Foster.

Jacobs describes the mound as a reference to what he sees as a recurring feature of British architecture:

The mound that we’ve constructed here is a mound which is every mound: the mound of neolithic Britain, the giant earthworks of Silbury Hill, part of the landscape of Stonehenge and Avebury and so on, but it’s also the mound of Arnold Circus in the Boundary Estate (London) – one of the world’s first social housing projects where the ruins of one of the most notorious slums were piled up to create the park. This was the centre for a new idea for how you might be able to house people in London, which is also linked to the famous mound at the centre of Robin Hood Gardens, the project by Alison and Peter Smithson, which is scheduled for demolition sometime in the very near future. In fact, some of the earth in the mound we’ve constructed here, comes from Robin Hood Gardens.

The symmetry of the mound, its relation to the panorama’s images, and its housing at the centre of an equally symmetrical Neoclassical building, reminded me of the masonic temples and esoteric religious imagery that feature in Alan Moore’s From Hell. Moore, of course, is a Blake acolyte himself, and also deals in his work with the intertwining of the modern, mystical and political (Matt Green, who taught me at Nottingham, has examined these themes in his comparative work on the two writers).

Rather appropriately, Moore has been working on an English Jerusalem epic of his own, set in his native Northampton (a city with other unexpected Jerusalem connections, as Laura Slater highlights elsewhere on this blog). Moore’s novel Jerusalem, clocking in at over a million words in draft form and currently undergoing (presumably extensive) editing, is due for publication in spring 2016.

The ‘Clockwork Jerusalem’ pavilion presents a reminder of the many ways in which Jerusalem, and particularly the mission of recreating a New Jerusalem, has figured in narratives of British and English identity. Representations of Jerusalem are rewritten and repurposed to both serve and contest prevailing political arrangements, and are used by political and religious leaders, as well as architects, artists and visionaries. Versions of Jerusalem give us intellectual and ideological concepts to think with, but they also shape our physical environments, whether those are sixties tower blocks or Norman churches.

We might even say, to use an irresistible word, that the frequency with which iterations of Jerusalem reappear in our cultural life is about as regular as clockwork.

Hannah Boast

Palestinian literature and film at Shubbak Festival, London, 11-26 July 2015


‘Wave’, Djerbahood, Tunisia, by French Tunisian ‘calligraffiti’ artist eL Seed.

Shubbak Festival is London’s largest festival of contemporary Arab arts and culture, and takes place this year from 11-26 July. I’ve selected a few events which anyone interested in Palestinian history and culture might like to check out. Let me know if there are others I’ve missed! The festival includes many wonderful-sounding screenings, performances and discussions, so do have a read of the whole site.

One highlight of the festival looks to be Disappearing Cities of the Arab World, on 12 July. The full programme of speakers for this day-long event hasn’t been announced yet, but from the description it looks like there will be a strong Israel/Palestine theme:

In the post-colonial age, Arab urban life has often borne witness to destruction through civil wars, foreign invasion and religious conflict. Old customs and architectures have been erased; in their place, a new landscape of globalization has emerged.

Disappearing Cities of the Arab World explores issues of architecture, post-colonialism, globalisation and psycho-geography. It brings together writers, artists, historians, architects and urbanists to explore the complex space that is the contemporary Arab city. Speakers include Ziauddin Sardar on Mecca, Eyal Weizman on the architecture of occupation, Shadia Touqan on the restoration of Jerusalem’s ancient buildings, as well as writers and artists offering dispatches from cities across the Arab region.

Divided into different sessions, the day explores the theme through a focus on architecture and urban planning, literary reflections on cities with guest authors, and visual representations in still and moving images by artists and activists. Sharon Rotbard, architect and author of White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa will give the keynote talk, focusing on modernist architecture and colonisation in Israel.

The festival also includes a series of film screenings curated by celebrated Palestinian director Michel Khleifi, to mark his 65th birthday. These include all three parts of Khleifi’s own Route 181, co-directed with Eyal Sivan, and a discussion with both directors following the screening of the first part on 21 July. Parts two and three will be screened the following night on 22nd July.

Other examples of Khleifi’s work showing during the festival will be Canticle of the Stones (1990) on 13 July, Fertile Memory (1980), the first full-length film to be shot in Palestine, on 16 July, Wedding in Galilee (1987) on 19 July. and Forbidden Marriages in the Holy Land (1990) on 21 July.

On 12 July there will be a three-part screening, as part of Khleifi’s selections, under the heading ‘Visions of Palestine’. I’ve not come across the films before, but they sound fascinating:

Location Hunting in Palestine Pier Paolo Pasolini | Italy | 1965 | 55 mins Location Hunting in Palestine is a record of Pasolini’s visit to the Holy Land in 1964 to scout for locations for the Oscar nominated classic The Gospel According to St Matthew (1965) and his explanation of why he decided not to film there.

Description of a Struggle Chris Marker | France | 1960 | 60 mins Using archival material and location footage, the French auteur explores the challenge for Israeli citizens to come to terms with their new identity and the treatment of its Arab minorities. Winner of the 1961 Golden Bear for Best Feature-Length Documentary at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Ma’loul Celebrates its Destruction Michel Khleifi | Palestine/Belgium | 1984 | 30 mins Ma’loul is a Palestinian village in Galilee. In 1948, it was destroyed by the Israeli armed forces and its inhabitants expelled. The former inhabitants are only allowed to visit once a year, on the anniversary of Israel’s independence, and have developed a new tradition: they have a picnic on the very site of the destroyed village.

The screening will be followed by a discussion with Khleifi, Tariq Ali, Peter Kosmisky (director of Channel 4 series The Promise) and Ilan Pappe.

The festival ends on 26 July with an event featuring Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury, author of many acclaimed works including the Palestinian epic Gate of the Sun, in conversation with Marina Warner.

Many of the panel discussions also sound interesting, such as The Rise of Arabic Literature in English? (note that crucial question mark!) on 25 July, with speakers including British Palestinian novelist Selma Dabbagh, and Marcia Lynx Qualey, owner of the popular blog Arabic Literature (in English). Palestine’s most well-known living poet Mourid Barghouti participates in the discussion at Writing Change: Words in Times of Conflict and Crisis, also on 25 July, while later that day Gazan novelist Atef Abu Saif reads from his latest works, including The Drone Eats With Me, his diary of last summer under siege, as part of an event called Hot Off the Press.

I’m personally curious about the panel discussions on emerging literary forms in the Arab world. Drawing Your Attention, on 26 July, examines the rise of graphic novels, and is well-timed, following the publication of the first Palestinian novel, Baddawi by Leila Abdulrazak, this year. Science Fiction in the Arab World, on 25 July, sounds like it should be a fascinating discussion about the possibilities of this form as a means for imagining alternative futures for the Arab world, whether those be hopeful or dystopian.

Hannah Boast

Larissa Sansour: Palestine, Sci-Fi and Superheroes

An image from Larissa Sansour's Nation Estate project (2012)

An image from Larissa Sansour’s Nation Estate project (2012)

Jerusalem-born Larissa Sansour is one of the most well-known Palestinian artists working today, and her films and images have been exhibited around the world.

In this interview with the Institute for Palestine Studies blog, Sansour discusses food, archaeology and myth, and how science fiction can help us to think through Palestinian politics.

One of the works she discusses is her project Nation Estate (2012), an image from which is pictured here. Sansour envisions a dystopian architectural solution to the problem of creating a Palestinian state in an ever-shrinking Palestinian space:

With Israeli settlement activity confiscating more and more Palestinian land, it struck me that for a Palestinian state ever to materialize, one would have to think vertically. This thought was the starting point for the Nation Estate project. In Nation Estate, Palestinians finally have their state in the shape of a single skyscraper housing the entire population. Each city has its own floor: Jerusalem on the third floor, Ramallah on the fourth, Bethlehem on the fifth, and so on. Aiming for a sense of belonging, the lobby areas of each floor reenacts central squares and landmarks, the elevator doors on the Jerusalem floor opening up onto a full-scale version of the Dome of the Rock.

Sansour’s high-rise solution recalls Israeli architect Eyal Weizman’s ‘politics of verticality’ (Hollow Land, 2007), of which he describes Jerusalem as an ‘intense case study’.

While Sansour imagines Jerusalem as one floor in a tower block, Weizman discusses a proposal made by Bill Clinton at Camp David for vertically-divided ownership of the Dome of the Rock, where the area would be partitioned imaginatively into Palestinian, Israeli, and United Nations-run segments.

Sansour’s work confronts her audiences with the question of whether her science fictional scenarios are necessarily more absurd than the Palestinian reality.

Teaching Jerusalem: an interview with Dr Loren Lerner, Concordia University

Dr Loren Lerner, beside a work created for the course by student Anna Campbell, titled ‘Design for an Ideal Starlight’.

Imagining Jerusalem network member Dr Loren Lerner is professor of Art History at Concordia University, Montreal, where she teaches a course called ‘The City of Jerusalem: Ideas and Images’. Loren kindly agreed to be interviewed about the course for this blog, and our conversation is below.

Hannah: What are your aims for the course? Can you give us an idea of its scope, structure, and the primary materials that you use?

Loren: The syllabus outlines the topics covered, learning activities, expected outcomes and the bibliography of readings. I have culled the readings from many disciplines. This is because I found few books and journal articles devoted to the art history of Jerusalem. As well, I want the students to be acquainted with writings on the art and architecture of Jerusalem from the fields of archaeology, history, religion, anthropology and sociology and by scholars from different backgrounds and environments. Below, is the course description.

ARTH 369/2A The City of Jerusalem: Ideas and Images

Over the centuries, Jerusalem has been called Shalem, Yerushalayim, City of Melchizedek, City of the Great King or City of David, Aelia Capitolina, Prototype of the Heavenly Jerusalem, Bayt al-Maqdis or al-Quds, and City of Peace. This course considers these different attachments to Jerusalem through visual perceptions and artistic representations at the religious, social and political levels. With a focus on the art and architecture of ancient times, we will examine Jerusalem’s multifaceted religious narratives, allegiances, and ideas, including the “heavenly” Jerusalem that has existed in the minds of believers and artists since the Hebrew Bible. Beginning with the Bronze Age and the First Temple and Second Temple periods, this attention to Jerusalem’s ancient era will be a persistent theme in an extensive study of the city’s history that covers the Roman period, Byzantine Jerusalem, the Arab, Crusader and Mamluk periods, the years under Ottoman rule (1517-1917), the British Mandate (1917-1948), Jerusalem’s division and reunification (1948-1967), and Israel today.

Hannah: Were there preconceptions about Jerusalem that you were trying to tackle when devising the course?

Loren: I have not had a problem in this regard because the students, so far, have few preconceived notions about Jerusalem or opinions based on biases or prejudices. The multicultural character of the city of Montreal and Concordia University’s diverse student population are factors that have contributed to the open-minded reception of this course.

These are some of reasons why I developed this course on Jerusalem:

  • to examine forms of artistic expression including architecture, sculpture, painting and other media from across a variety of cultural identities so as to encourage respect for the art of these different communities
  • to demonstrate how an expanse of history depends mainly on how one reads the evidence
  • to encourage an understanding of human experiences from the viewpoint of others who interpret the world in significantly dissimilar ways
  • to integrate a large historical perspective that reveals the changes in the art of particular eras, as well as the continuities of religious, ethical and social values
  • to explore artistic productions and cultural practices that construct identity, influence public discourse and act as catalysts for social and political changes

Hannah: Has there been anything in student responses that you didn’t expect, or anything that they found particularly surprising when learning about Jerusalem?

Loren: I was pleasantly surprised by the students’ enthusiasm for Jerusalem. Since a good many of the students in this class are artists in Concordia’s studio arts programs, they could, for their major assignment, create a work of art, reflecting a visual response to this ancient city as a site of major world religions. The work of art had to be accompanied by an exploratory text. Below are six works and short descriptions excerpted from the student essays. (For the complete texts see the first issue of the Jerusalem Art History Journal: An Undergraduate eJournal/Histoire de l’art à Jérusalem : cyberrevue étudiante de premier cycle).

(Click the images to enlarge)

Three Religions, Three Sacred Sights
Eduardo Mazzonna

mazzonna

In this print, Three Religions, Three Sacred Sights, Eduardo decided to include the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall. He reveals how light, in association with colour, shape, and decorative elements plays a significant symbolic role in these structures.

martelJerusalem Belongs to No One and Everyone
Patrick Martel

Patrick’s painting, Who’d win in a wrestling match…. (Lemmy or God), is titled after an iconic scene from the cult movie Airheads in which Lemmy Killmeister of heavy metaldom is often referred to by his nickname “God.” Patrick asks if all three religions worship the same god, and all three have their own version of the end of days, and all three believe this event will lead to the annihilation of the non-believers, would this event not ultimately result in the annihilation of everyone? How, Patrick asks, can Judaism, Christianity, and Islam pretend to have primacy over each other?

cossarImmaculate Mary: A Reflection on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Tomb of the Virgin in the Kidron Valley, Jerusalem
Elsbeth Cossar

Elsbeth’s artwork titled Immaculate Mary is based on an in-depth exploration of the theological debates concerning the Virgin Mary’s Assumption. With symbols taken from the Book of Revelation she presents the moment of the Assumption of Mary who is brought into a golden, heavenly realm through the parting clouds surrounded by a crown of twelve stars with the crescent moon at her feet. In this work the door of the tomb is wide-open, leading down into a dark area and there are two iconic rooftops (the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). This is to emphasize that the tomb depicted is the one in Jerusalem, as there is controversy over the true location of the tomb, either Jerusalem or Ephesus.

Histoire d’Esme: An Imagined Story of a Ten-year Old Pilgrim to Jerusalem in the Twelfth Century
Faith Wiley

wiley1 wiley2 wiley3

When Faith first saw the manuscript illuminations of the Crusades the images reminded her of contemporary graphic novels and children’s books. Her awareness that the depictions commonly focused on the heroic stories of men led her to create a graphic novel in a style reminiscent of crusader illuminations. This story features a girl of ten, who would have lived in the twelfth century and travelled to Jerusalem as a pilgrim.

A Study of Islamic Geometric Tile Design
Stephanie Raudsepp

raudsepp1

raudsepp2

Stephanie sought to construct tile designs to showcase the steps involved in the creation of Islamic tiles designs. The series includes fourteen tiles, in a progression that grows increasingly more complex with every additional circle and line, culminating in one tile inspired by the Dome of the Rock, which houses the foundation stone. The use of geometry comes from the Islamic belief that measurement and non-figurative decorative compositions spiritually transcend a pictorial presentation of the physical world.

Jerusalem Syndrome: A Photo Essay
Sara Graorac

graorac graorac2

The Jerusalem Syndrome is a group of mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by a visit to the city of Jerusalem. In these photos Sara encounters a powerful surge to turn into Mary Magdalene, completely overwhelmed by the religious history and energy in the Holy City.

Hannah: How do you deal with the inevitable questions of balance that come up when dealing with a city that has and continues, very visibly, to be the object of such contention?

Loren: I structured the course to offer different points of view and histories, in this way counteracting perceptions of partiality on my part. This is hopefully apparent from the titles of the lectures:

  • Introduction to the City of Jerusalem: History and Approaches
  • Jewish Yerushalayim
  • Christian Hagiapolis Ierousalem/Hierosolyma
  • Muslim Al Quds
  • Jerusalem and the Crusader Period (1095-1291)
  • Islamization of Space and Society in Mamluk Jerusalem (1260-1517)
  • Ottoman Jerusalem and Modernization (1516-1917)
  • Pilgrimages to Jerusalem, the Way of the Souls; New Jerusalem, Heavenly Jerusalem
  • Jerusalem under the British Mandate (1916-1948)
  • Israeli-Jewish artists and Zion
  • Palestinian Artists, Nationalism and Self-Determination
  • Jerusalem To-day: Architecture, Urban Space and Contested Identities

I emphasize that the discussion of the readings, minor and major assignments and the final exam are devoted to the art history of Jerusalem. This means developing the ability to interpret images and texts, use historical sources, and engage in scholarly debates. Here are some examples of the exam questions I pose to encourage visual analysis and brief excerpts from the student responses.

Explore the figure of the exile and refugee in contemporary Israeli and Palestinian art.

This response will consider a series of Israeli and Palestinian artists specifically concerned with the notion of military action and the state of exile undergone by both Israelis and Palestinians as a consequence…Contemporary Israeli and Palestinian artists concerned with the notion of exile have challenged fears and stereotypes by avoiding accusatory representations of each other. Instead, these artists express the need for social change by 1) representing their own experiences and allowing them to be abstracted, 2) introducing notions of the absurd and 3) bridging the two cultures over common ground.

Discuss photographic depictions of Jerusalem during the nineteenth and early twentieth period in comparison with recent works by artist-photographers.

By examining photographs from the nineteenth century European model and those from contemporary Israeli or Palestinian sources, it becomes evident that the two had different artistic intentions. Both, however, attempt to speak to and delineate space, whether because of a romanticized biblical interest or due to long standing socio-politic tensions.

Consider Jewish representations of Jerusalem in relation to religious ideas and historical events.

The art works examined demonstrate the conscious shift from the formation of identity surrounding ideological, natural, and linguistic unification of Eretz-Israel to creative representations of collective memory and consciousness of traumatic events and the shared history that are relived in the present among Jewish Israelis. Contemporary Jewish-Israeli art brings to the fore historical events and movements while offering critical insight into their current implications and associations.

Explore the interrelationship between the historical-earthly Jerusalem, and the symbolic-heavenly one.

The distinction between a historical, earthly Jerusalem, and a symbolic, heavenly Jerusalem, is not an easy one to make, especially in the case of a Christian perspective….The key to understanding Jerusalem from a Christian viewpoint is the abandonment of the modern notion of a universal history…. Jerusalem as a city was, therefore, a real, physical, historical place, but one where this very tangible existence was taken as a symbol of its eternal significance.

Examine the religious and narrative associations with Jerusalem in works of art, maps, buildings, and, or spaces, not physically located in the city of Jerusalem.

The act of creation has allowed artists to conceive of their own notions of Jerusalem, fulfilling sacred and secular ideologies and functioning as a representational stand-in for particular beliefs. Christian imagery in particular boasts an array of varied approaches to rendering the city which depart from the actual place. As monastic practices urge a contemplative meditation gleaned from an interior visualization of space, the experience of Jerusalem through second-hand accounts or via first-hand remembrance by faithful Christians often yielded personal narratives.

Museum on the Seam “is a unique museum in Israel, displaying contemporary art that deals with different aspects of the socio-political reality.” Present an exhibition concept for this museum on a particular theme and discuss the artists and works you will include in this exhibition.

Inspired by a previous exhibition titled Equal Less Equal, I have chosen the topic of women in the socio-political sphere to be viewed in relation to notions of inequality, injustice, subjection, and human rights. The title of the exhibition will be Women; this is inspired by the name of the art project series Women are Heroes, by Parisian artist JR…. As the exhibition Women is a tribute to females and their various roles and presences in society there will be art works from the artists JR, Paul Guiragossian, Ghassan Kanafani, and Nabil Anani. All of these artists are known for their representations of women in the context of nationalism, or nurture, as well as leadership, rebellion, or beauty.

Visitors to Jerusalem are tired of the tours being offered by the guides because the itinerary is either a visit to Christian, Jewish or Muslim sites, but seldom all three religions combined. Devise a new tour of Jerusalem on a particular theme and argue why you have selected these buildings and places.

Having been employed as a tour guide for this company for several years, it has come to my attention that visitors are growing increasingly disinterested in our tours as they feel they are too specific to a single religion and are ‘missing the big picture’ of Jerusalem. The theme “walls” was chosen because it is versatile and applicable to both the ideological and physical boundaries undergone by Jerusalem throughout its history…

On day one, visitors would meet at Gihon Spring and the tour would take them through the Siloan tunnel below King Hezekiah’s wall. Symbolically, this action represents the birth of Jerusalem; beginning with the spring that enabled life in the region and passing through the threshold of the walls built to defend the people and ideals of the city……

Having given the visitor an understanding of the religious and historical foundations of Jerusalem, the second day of the tour would begin at the Damascus Gate and continue along the wall through the Zion Gate and back to the Western Wall. These gates are part of the gated wall erected by Suleiman the Magnificent. As such they represent an important portion of Jerusalem’s architectural history during the Ottoman empire which lasted four hundred years. Moreover, the walls of Jerusalem demonstrate the cultural overlaps undergone by the city; the Damascus Gate stands above old Roman foundations of similar gates further emphasizing the scope of the city’s history. One may also mention the role of architect Charles Robert Ashbee who, during the British Mandate, suggested the development of gardens around the walls. In this way, visitors may become better acquainted with the role of the British in the development of architecture in Jerusalem….

The final day of the tour would take visitors to the current separation wall where graffiti is a common occurrence. This would place Jerusalem within the territorial Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The separation wall acts as support for many contemporary Israeli and Palestinian artist such as Bansky, Suleiman Mansour, and Yoav Weiss. These artists are important in defining the current climate of the conflict and would complete the visitor’s hopefully more global reading of Jerusalem.

Hannah: How long have you taught the course, and is there anything you’ve changed, or would change?

Loren: I’ve taught the course for two years. I continue to augment and refine the content. The Imagining Jerusalem blog is very helpful, the people, postings, events, publications, etc. Every time I am in Jerusalem I discover more possibilities for course content.

Two weeks ago I visited the Good Samaritan Museum which opened in 2009. Located at a site that served as a hostel along the road from Jericho to Jerusalem the museum focuses on Byzantine mosaic floors of Jewish and Samaritan synagogues and Christian churches, collected from excavations across the West Bank and Gaza. Upon seeing the array of geometric patterns, inscriptions, images, symbols and motifs I realized that I need to devote more attention to the material remains of sites in the vicinity of Jerusalem.

I also intend to explore more closely the buildings and spaces with Jerusalem associations in the city of Montreal. This includes the Chapel of St. John of Jerusalem in Christ Church Cathedral, Fraternités Monastiques de Jérusalem, and the Masonic Memorial Temple. Francine Bernier’s The Templars’ Legacy in Montreal: The New Jerusalem (2003) is an excellent starting point. In a well documented text Bernier explores evidence from 17th century Montreal that reveals the origins of the city as the New Jerusalem of New France.

Hannah: Thank you Loren for sharing these fascinating and thoughtful reflections with us!

Thank you to M. Lynx Qualey of the blog Arabic Literature (in English) for providing the inspiration for this blog post in her interview with Washington University in St. Louis professor Anne-Marie McManus on teaching Syrian narratives.

Hannah Boast, Network Coordinator

Conference Announcement: The Politics of Visual Translations of Jerusalem, 20-21 March, York

vtj Conference Poster-page-001A conference announcement from colleagues at York:

Registration is now open for the ERC-funded ‘The Politics of Visual Translations of Jerusalem’ conference, to be held in York from 20th-21st March 2015.

Further details can be found on the project homepage.

Registration takes place via York’s Online Store, following the History of Art tab.

The poster can be downloaded here, and the programme is available here. These, along with details of keynote lectures, can also be downloaded from the conference website.