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

Visiting the Jerusalem Chamber, Westminster Abbey

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The wooden ceiling of the Jerusalem Chamber. Photo: Leigh Mullins, courtesy of the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall.

Not many people have the opportunity to visit the Jerusalem Chamber in Westminster Abbey. It’s usually off-limits to the public.

Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) librarian Adam John Fraser was lucky enough to be allowed to see inside, and you can read about it in his blog post. The post also includes images of the room’s tapestries and architectural detailing, and a video on the PEF’s links with the Chamber. The PEF held its first meeting in the Chamber, in May 1865. If you’re a mathematical sort, you’ll notice this means the PEF is currently celebrating its 150th birthday.

The Jerusalem Chamber is part of the former Abbot’s house at Westminster, and was added in the fourteenth century. The origin of its name is unknown, but there are a number of rooms at the Abbey named after locations in the Holy Land, including Jericho and Samaria. In the medieval Palace of Westminster, the biblically-inspired room names became even more vivid, with rooms called ‘Heaven’, ‘Hell’ and ‘Purgatory’ (some might say that the moral character of Westminster’s current political inhabitants means that the latter two names remain appropriate – ho ho, etc).

The room is most well-known as the location of the death of King Henry IV, later dramatised in Shakespeare’s play, Henry IV Part II (Act IV, Scene 5). As the King was preparing to go to the Holy Land, he fell ill, and was brought to the Chamber in the Abbot’s house to recover. When he came to, he asked where he was and was told Jerusalem. It was reportedly at this point that Henry IV realised he was going to die, because of a prophecy that he would die in Jerusalem.

A number of kings sought to die at Jerusalem, or at least, some version of it. This meant, as our network member Anthony Bale puts it in a post about the Jerusalem Chamber on his blog, Remembered Places, that: ‘to die well is to die at Jerusalem. But not, necessarily, the actual Jerusalem, but the Jerusalem of the heart, and of the mind.’

Memories of the Holy Land

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The Tower of David, Jerusalem. Photograph by Michele Campopiano, April 2013.

A post from Imagining Jerusalem network member Michele Campopiano (University of York), on some of the upcoming activities of his project with the Universiteit van Amsterdam, ‘Cultural Memory and Identity in the Late Middle Ages: the Franciscans of Mount Zion in Jerusalem and the Representation of the Holy Land (1333-1516)’.

Call for Papers: An interdisciplinary conference: ‘Memory and Identity in the Middle Ages: The Construction of a Cultural Memory of the Holy Land (4th-16th centuries)’ (Amsterdam, 26 & 27 May 2016)

Session at the International Medieval Congress: ‘Memory, Identity, and Renewal in the Late Middle Ages: The Franciscans of Mount Zion in Jerusalem and the Representation of the Holy Land, 14th-16th Centuries’ (Leeds, 6 July 2015)

The Holy Land has played an important role in the definition of the identities of the so-called Abrahamic religions. Constitutive narratives about the past of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were largely bound to this shared and contested space. As put forward both by Maurice Halbwachs and Jan Assmann, memory adheres to what is ‘solid’: it is stored away in outward symbols. The Holy Land is a focal point around which the shared memories of these different groups formed, and has been crucial for defining their identities. Our project: ‘Cultural Memory and Identity in the Late Middle Ages: the Franciscans of Mount Zion in Jerusalem and the Representation of the Holy Land (1333-1516)’ is trying to analyze the role of the Franciscans in the construction of a cultural memory of the Holy Land. In the Late Middle Ages, when pilgrimage to the Holy Land experienced an extraordinary blossom, the Franciscans welcomed, helped and guided pilgrims in the Levant. We also aim to place our research in a broader cultural and religious context. We have therefore organised two different meetings in order to stimulate further exchange of ideas among different scholars of the Holy Land. In chronological order, the first will be our session at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds: ‘Memory, Identity, and Renewal in the Late Middle Ages: The Franciscans of Mount Zion in Jerusalem and the Representation of the Holy Land, 14th-16th Centuries’ (Monday 6 July 2015).

We are however also organizing an interdisciplinary conference in Amsterdam (26 & 27 May 2016). With this conference, we are hoping to work with an even broader range of specialists in different disciplines and periods about the connection between the Holy Land as site of memory and the formation of religious and political identities from Constantine to the Ottomans. The contribution of specialists in Jewish and Islamic studies, as well as that of students of Eastern Christian Churches, is particularly welcome. The period between the age of Constantine and the late Renaissance was formative for constructing this memory. It saw the valorisation of Christian holy places under Constantine, the birth of Islam, the construction of an important Jewish scholarly community in the Holy Land, the Crusades, the massive growth of late medieval pilgrimage involving Jewish, Christian and Islamic groups, as well as other crucial events. The conference aims to bring together scholars who study the memories of the holy places within these religious galaxies from various disciplinary perspectives, in order to achieve a constructive exchange of ideas. Scholars of all so-called Abrahamic religions are invited to submit proposals, including scholars of Western and Eastern Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The call is open for historians, art historians, literary scholars, theologians, philosophers working on topics ranging from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance.

This conference is organised by me and the other members of the team of the research project ‘Cultural Memory and Identity in the Late Middle Ages: the Franciscans of Mount Zion in Jerusalem and the Representation of the Holy Land (1333-1516)’: Valentina Covaci, Guy Geltner and Marianne Ritsema van Eck. The project is funded by the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO).

We are looking for papers about 30 minutes long, and will be followed by 15 minutes of discussion. Participants are asked to send an abstract of 300 words to memory.and.identity.conference@gmail.com before 1 December 2015, together with information concerning their academic affiliation. Travel costs and two nights of accommodation will be financed by the project.

For further information, please download the call for papers here.

If you have other question about our session at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds or our Conference in Amsterdam, feel also free to contact me (michele.campopiano[at]york[dot]ac[dot]uk). All comments on this website are welcome: we are looking forward to engaging the broader public in our multidisciplinary research!

Michele Campopiano

University of York

Universiteit van Amsterdam

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

‘there’s a third party at the negotiations on the city, and that’s Jerusalem herself’

I’ve been writing recently about the Israeli novelist Meir Shalev, particularly his 1988 novel The Blue Mountain, a magical realist account of the lives of Jewish pioneers in an early twentieth century agricultural settlement. Shalev is also well-known in Israel as a journalist, and has a weekly column in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

In searching for reviews of The Blue Mountain, I came across the following comments on Jerusalem from one of Shalev’s columns, published in September 2000, which reminded me of discussions we’ve had at events and on the blog about personifying Jerusalem, prompted again recently by a post by Laura Sangha.

Shalev criticises the deadly mythology of ‘sacred Jerusalem’, at the same time as producing a version of the city which is perhaps equally romanticised:

Everyone talks of the Palestinians and the Israelis and forgets that there’s a third party at the negotiations on the city, and that’s Jerusalem herself. Although she’s called ‘the eternal city of peace,’ the city has not stopped being the reason for and the arena of wars. Notwithstanding the wonderful words Jeremiah, Isaiah and Jesus spoke there, she has always preferred generals, kings, builders and destroyers over prophets and simple citizens. She has an interesting symbioses with them. Jerusalem demands that they come up to her, pray to her, destroy and build her. In return, she offers them perpetuity on the pages of history. No one would remember Herod and Nehemia had they not built Jerusalem. Titus would have been forgotten if he hadn’t destroyed her. Saladin would not be known in Europe if he hadn’t fought for her. Princess Helena would have vanished a long time ago if she hadn’t, with a fatuous wave of her hand, designated the holy places for which the coming generations’ blood would be spilt. Barak and Arafat are no different from their ancient predecessors. They also throb with a poignant yearning to go down in history. They can go down as the first leaders to tell this city: ‘thus far!’ They can tell her that people will no longer die for the sanctity of her stones and tombs. But neither seems to be made of this stuff. Barak prattles about ‘defending Israel’s holy places’ and Arafat recites ‘Terra Santa’ in fluent Crusader language. And we – – mere Jews and Arabs — will still be placed on the altar of this Moloch called sacred Jerusalem.

Hannah Boast, Network Coordinator

Sayed Kashua has left Jerusalem

Photo: Aviram Valdman/The Tower

Sayed Kashua, until recently one of Jerusalem’s best-known resident contemporary writers, has left the city for good, with his wife and children. He has moved to the town of Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, two hours from the nearest big city, Chicago.

While Kashua is not as famous outside Israel as other Hebrew-language novelists such as Amos Oz or David Grossman, his books have been translated into fifteen languages, and he is a popular writer within Israel, as well as being a well-known public figure.

Kashua has written four series of the television show ‘Arab Labor’, an acclaimed sitcom about a Palestinian family living in Israel and their attempts to assimilate, in an echo of Kashua’s own background as a Palestinian citizen from the predominantly Arab Israeli town of Tira, who moved to Jerusalem in his early teens. Kashua also has a regular column for the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and for the Jerusalem magazine Kol Hair.

Following the murder of the 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem in July, an attack which was widely seen as a revenge killing for the kidnap and murder in June of three teenage Israeli settlers hitchhiking in the West Bank, and the upsurge of anti-Arab violence and demonstrations in the city at this time, Kashua made his decision to leave.

He elaborated on his decision in his Haaretz column, which was reprinted by The Observer two weeks into the recent Israeli assaults on Gaza, which at the time of writing have paused in a temporary ceasefire.

Kashua stated that his hopes of Arab-Jewish coexistence, which he attempted to contribute to through writing about Palestinian experiences in Hebrew for an Israeli audience, had been crushed. As he records in the article:

‘Twenty-five years of writing in Hebrew, and nothing has changed. Twenty-five years clutching at the hope, believing it is not possible that people can be so blind. Twenty-five years during which I had few reasons to be optimistic but continued to believe that one day this place in which both Jews and Arabs live together would be the one story where the story of the other is not denied. That one day the Israelis would stop denying the Nakba, the Occupation, and the suffering of the Palestinian people. That one day the Palestinians would be willing to forgive and together we would build a place that was worth living in.

Twenty-five years that I am writing and knowing bitter criticism from both sides, but last week I gave up.’

Michelle Campos article for Middle East Research Information Project provides a longer historical view of segregation and discrimination in Jerusalem, and an insightful reading of the changing position of Palestinians in Israel depicted in Kashua’s TV series, from its first season in 2007, to the most recent, in 2013.

As she notes, and has been discussed in accounts of the Ottoman period, Jerusalem’s neighbourhoods were mostly mixed at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their gradual segregation began around the time of the 1930s, introducing a continuing move towards division that was consolidated in the war of 1948, and again in 1967.

Kashua’s decision came not just in response to recent violence, then, but was also the result of practices intended to squeeze out Israel’s Palestinian population with a longer history, which, as Kashua has sadly concluded, his attempts to bridge communities as a Palestinian writing in Hebrew cannot overcome.

In his latest column for Haaretz, Kashua recounts the banal irritations of his family’s new life in America and his attempts to navigate a complicated university bureaucracy.

He also describes his children’s requests to go home, to which, he tells us, he responds: ‘We are home, sweetie’.

Hannah Boast

Member publication: Anna Bernard, Rhetorics of Belonging: Nation, Narration and Israel/Palestine

Our network member Dr Anna Bernard, Lecturer in English Literature at King’s College London, recently published her first book, Rhetorics of Belonging: Nation, Narration and Israel/Palestine (Liverpool University Press, 2013).

The book ‘examines the diverse ways in which Palestinian and Israeli writers have responded to the expectation that their work will “narrate” the nation, invigorating critical debates about the political and artistic value of national narration as a literary practice.’ It explores the works of a range of Palestinian and Israeli writers, including Edward Said, Amos Oz, Mourid Barghouti, Orly Castel-Bloom, Sahar Khalifeh, and Anton Shammas.

Another of our members, Sarah Irving, PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh, recently reviewed Anna’s book for Electronic Intifada. You can read Sarah’s review here.