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Imaginations: The City as Destination

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Jerusalem has been a spiritual focal point for Jews, Christians and Muslims for centuries—a holy city and dreamed of destination for their adherants. The city’s centrality has been reflected not only in religious expression, writings and art, but has also affected the way the city has been mapped. Most of the maps here are not the kind of cartography familiar to the modern eye: generally speaking, these plans were not intended to help potential visitors to the Holy Land navigate Jerusalem. Instead, they chart a combination of the real and the imagined geography of the city. The line between the landscapes of the Bible and the landscape of the present day are blurred, as the imagined heavenly city is incorporated into maps of the real world.

Most medieval maps of Jerusalem were undertaken by Christian artists whose goal was to provide the viewer with an image of a city they would almost certainly never have the opportunity to visit. During the Crusades, as Christians and Muslims fought for control of the Holy Land, many European mapmakers designed maps with the sole purpose of affirming the city as a site of purely Christian holiness, shaping the geography of the city to erase the Jewish and Islamic presence in Jerusalem. Not all maps, however, were born out of conflict. Another feature of map-making was to encourage pilgrimage to the city. Even in cases where people were unable to visit the actual holy sites of Jerusalem, visually evocative pilgrimage itineraries allowed those who studied them to make an imagined spiritual pilgrimage, journeying in their mind’s eye to the holy, heavenly Jerusalem. 

With the invention of the printing press in 1440 CE, maps production increased rapidly. As cartographic skills improved, imaginative elements also lost their prominence, though they hardly disappeared. Even the most topographically accurate maps, however, remained religiously and politically charged. 

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The Hague Map

Although Jerusalem remained at the heart of the Christian imagination between the sixth and the twelfth centuries CE, it was not until the city came under Christian rule during the Crusades that it began to be mapped with detail comparable to the Madaba mosaic map. Approximately fifteen such maps are known from the Crusader period (1099–1187). Combining apocalyptic images of the New Jerusalem with the cartographic tradition of representing the world as a circle with Jerusalem at its centre, these maps present a peculiarly circular image of the holy city. The map shown here is a beautifully preserved example known as the Hague map, which produced in connection with the first Crusade. It offers a detailed rendering of the city, with Jerusalem is depicted as a walled city. Like the Madaba map and the Hereford Mappa Mundi, the Hague map presents a synthesis of reality and imagination. While not including fantastical beasts, the map takes liberties with the geographical layout of the Holy City, prioritising the presentation of Jerusalem in cruciform rather than according to its cartographic realities. The map also takes liberties in its presentation of the city’s architecture. For example, it shows two temples on the Temple Mount: the templum domini (the Temple of the Lord) and the templum salomonis (the Temple of Solomon). The buildings marked as such were, in actuality, the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, which the Crusaders converted and renamed as churches. The continuation of this elision between the Dome of the Rock and the Temple of Solomon may be seen in Reuwich's map of the city, four centuries later.The overarching effect is a map that simultaneously erased Islamic influence on Jerusalem whilst glorifying and celebrating the Christian heritage of the city. As such, the Hague map offers an important witness to the struggle between Christians and Muslims over the Holy City, its architecture, and, indeed, its history. Indeed, this sense of Jerusalem as a place of conflict is heightened in the map itself, as mounted Crusaders speed across the bottom of the map, giving chase to several fleeing Saracen fighters. The figures have been identified as St George in the lead, with St Demetrius of Thessaloniki following on behind.

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Model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Pilgrims have sought souvenirs and relics of Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the days of the earliest pilgrimages to the sacred sites. In the seventeenth century, wooden models of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was believed to built on the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, became particularly popular as a pilgrim souvenir. Part of the appeal was that such models could be taken apart, which made not merely for easier transportation but also, and more interestingly, gave pilgrims the opportunity to re-live their pilgrimage by looking inside and rediscovering the different chapels and areas of theological interest within the church. Each model would be labelled with numbers indicating important places in the church, such as the site of Calvary or the burial tomb, and would be sold with a key scroll for ease of use, identifying the sites associated with the particular number. This particular model has been inlaid with mother-of-pearl and was based on designs made by Bernardino Amico, a priest who served in the Holy Land from 1593 to 1597 CE.

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Rabbi H.S. Pinie's 'Jerusalem Pilgrimage, 1875'

There was an established Christian tradition of mapping of the Holy Land throughout the Middle Ages, but there is little evidence of Jewish mapping of the Promised Land during this period, aside from Rashi's diagrammatic plans of the Holy Land. Jewish cartography began to develop during the early modern period, as Jewish map makers began to produce pictorial accounts of the route of the Exodus. Paralleling the Christian creation of maps of the Holy Land that aided or recorded religious journeys or battles—pilgrimages and Crusades—Jewish maps focused on the holy, historical geography of Jerusalem. This printed map produced by Rabbi Pinie was designed for pilgrims to Palestine and was published in Poland in 1875. Jerusalem appears at the centre of the panorama. Above the Dome of the Rock is the inscription ‘the place of the holy of holies’, hinting at the Temple site below the mosque (compare the Hague Map and Breydenbach's Peregrinatio). At the centre of Jerusalem is the Kotel Ma'aravi, or the Western Wall. The surrounding countryside is labelled with key sites from Jewish ancient history, including the tomb of Huldah the prophetess, the tomb of the ancestress Rachel, and the tomb of the prophet Samuel. The map has more recently appeared on Israeli postal stamps.

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The Madaba Mosaic Map

The Madaba Map is a sixth century CE floor mosaic partially preserved in the Byzantine Church of St George in Madaba, Jordan. It is the earliest extant example of a map of the 'Holy City of Jerusalem'. Much of the map, which was likely originally around 7 metres high and 22 metres long, has now been lost; only a fragmentary remnant of 5 metres by 10 metres survives. Jerusalem would have been at the heart of the sixth century map. Among the key features of the map's rendering of the city are the Roman Cardo—the main street running through Jerusalem, which serves as the map's major horizontal axis—and several major Byzantine churches, including the Hagia Sophia and the Nea Church. The wider map also includes Palestine, the Transjordan, and part of Egypt. The Jerusalem section does not, however, offer an accurate geographical representation of the city. Rather, it offers an image of the idealised Jerusalem of the Christian artist's imagination, with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre placed directly at the city’s heart, even though this is geographically inaccurate. Another cartographic anomaly in the map is the absence of the Temple Mount. This was probably omitted deliberately by the artist(s). The erasure of the site from Christian topography seems to have developed in reaction against Jewish attempts to re-build the Temple in the fourth century CE. Numerous Christians successfully protested against the project at the time that the rebuilding was proposed, because they believed that the site should be allowed to remain in ruins as a sign of the fulfilment of Jesus' prophecy that the Temple would be destroyed. An alternative explanation may be that during the sixth century CE the Temple Mount was not considered part of the city proper, because it was located beyond the city walls.

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Bernhard von Breydenbach and Erhard Reuwich's 'Map of the City of Jerusalem' from Peregrinatio in Terram Sanctam

Peregrinatio in terram sanctam, a guide for pilgrims, is probably one of the earliest examples of an illustrated travel book. It was produced by Bernhard von Breydenbach following his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1483–84, with illustrations by Erhard Reuwich of Utrecht. It includes the first printed map of Jerusalem. This section is from a pullout gatefold of the Holy Land, which in full stretches a remarkable 1.5 metres long.The panorama offers a relatively realistic rendering of the city, although the artist, viewing the city from the Mount of Olives to the east, has made several alterations to the geography of Jerusalem in order to accommodate his outlook. There were both aesthetic and theological reasons for these creative repositionings. Not only did the vantage point offer a spectacular view of the Holy City, but it was also the site at which Jesus wept for Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–44). By presenting the city from this perspective, Reuwich enables his viewers to see as St Luke's Christ saw. More than any other work of its time, the map presented a realistic rendering of the city, albeit skewed in relation to its surrounds. The architectural accuracy with which Reuwich presented the Dome of the Rock, which is accompanied with the inscription Templum Salamonis or 'Temple of Solomon'—a elision of past and present also seen in the Hague Map—is acknowledged as an early example of a new type of realism in the depiction of the architecture of the Holy City. Reuwich's work signals a shift from previous, more theologically influence and imaginative conceived maps towards work of greater architectural and geographical accuracy. As a result Reuwich’s map of Jerusalem became one of the most influential of its time, shaping artistic renderings of the city and the Temple in the following centuries, including Holbein’s Icones as well as numerous maps up until the middle of the eighteenth century.

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

For many medieval Christians, the most powerful physical reminders of the New Jerusalem that they would encounter were the great cathedrals and churches of the medieval era. Nowhere would this have been more the case than at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem itself. These buildings, often entered via a door depicting the Last Judgement, self-consciously evoked the New Jerusalem and all its promise, with their soaring height, light-filled space and stained glass. This is powerfully evoked by Chaucer, in the prayer he places on the lips of the Parson at the end of the the pilgrims' journey to Canterbury in England: ‘So, may this earthly pilgrimage show you pilgrims the way to the perfect pilgrimage...which culminates in entry to the heavenly Jerusalem (Jerusalem celestial).’ The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the alleged site of Christ’s crucifixion, is an imposing, sprawling building, dating in its current form to 1149 CE. It was built to bring together under a single church roof the chapel where Christ’s tomb was supposed to have been located; a chapel on Golgotha, the hill on which the crucifixion was thought to have taken place; and another basilica on the site that Constantine’s mother Helena was reported to have found the true cross in 320 CE. A constant source of acrimony between Christian Crusaders and Muslim Arab residents during the medieval era and beyond—as well as between the four Christian dominations guarding over it—the Church was and is still considered by Christians to be the most holy location in the world and the climactic end point of any pilgrimage.

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Hereford Cathedral's 'Mappa Mundi'

After the production of the Madaba map in the sixth century CE, no individual maps of Jerusalem are known to have been produced until the twelfth century. This should not, however, be taken as a sign that the sacred city’s importance dwindled during this period. Indeed, Jerusalem was recorded at the centre of the earth on numerous circular mappae mundi, also known as T-O maps because of their distinctive layout. These maps were produced beginning around 400 CE, continuing right up until the sixteenth century. They provide clear evidence of the pivotal position Jerusalem held in medieval cartography and the Christian imagination. This extraordinary example of a circular medieval world map, the Hereford map, now mostly brown and black, would originally have been richly coloured in blues and greens, with some of the lettering produced using gold leaf. The map is divided into three continents on a T-shaped layout, representative of the cross: in the bottom left of the map is Europe, with Africa to the bottom right and Asia at the top. It combines both real and imagined cartographic elements, with actual geographical cities and towns like Hereford, Paris and Rome appearing alongside biblical locations such as Eden and the Tower of Babel. The map is also populated by fantastical, mythical creatures. At the heart of the Hereford map is the city of Jerusalem, with the crucified Christ above. At the top of the map is another image of Christ, this time surveying the day of judgement. The producer of this map, then, was as much concerned with conveying the spiritual journey of the Christian as he was with aiding in any worldly travels to the Holy City.

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Matthew Paris's Itinerary map from London to Palestine

Pilgrimage maps of Jerusalem began to appear alongside mappae mundi and Crusader maps in the 1200s CE. This example was produced by an English Benedictine monk, Matthew Paris, and depicts the journey from London to Jerusalem. The map now appears in versions of Paris’s Chronica Maiora, his history of the world from creation to 1253 CE. It appears in a linear style, with folios pasted back to back, and may have originally have been a single long strip map. In his itinerary, Paris's Holy City is presented simultaneously as the real earthly city of his own day and as the square-walled heavenly city of the future described in the Book of Revelation. The function of the map is unknown, and has been subject to a variety of interpretations. Some understand Paris’s maps as illustrations of the historical accounts in his Chronica Majora, arguing that the images provided a political topography of the region in the wake of the first Crusades. This may have been intended to illuminate the territory for a royal English readership, as well as serving as an encouragement to reclaim the city, which had fallen into the hands of Khorezmian Turks in 1244. Others, however, argue that Paris’s map was created for his own monastic community, as an aid to a monk undertaking an imagined meditative pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the heavenly city of the future, which the monks were unable to visit in their own day.

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The 'Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem'

More scientifically accurate maps of Jerusalem began to be produced from the sixteenth century onward, following on from the developments made by Reuwich and Breydenbach and other pilgrimage maps. As cartographic skills developed, so too did the veracity with which the Holy City could be mapped; in place of artistic panoramas came bird's-eye views of the city. Interestingly, however, there was less appetite to create topographically exact records for Jerusalem than there was for other, religiously less significant cities. It was not until the nineteenth century that the development away from imaginative, biblically-informed maps came to full fruition. The first modern, scientifically accurate map of the holy city, the British Ordnance Survey Map of Jerusalem, was undertaken by Major General Charles Wilson, a member of the British Royal Engineers, between 1864-1865. He was commissioned by George Grove—one of the founders of the Palestine Exploration Fund, the moving force behind Crystal Palace, a biblical Scholar and famous musicologist—with backing from Baroness Angela Burdett Coutts (of Coutts Bank fame) and approval from the British War Office, on the grounds that the map would allow for the improvement of Jerusalem’s polluted water supply. The aim of improving the water supply by mapping the city was, of course, not disinterested: greater intelligence of the area and the improvement of its infrastructure meant an increased chance of incorporating the Holy Land into the British Empire. In addition to two scaled maps of Jerusalem, Wilson published an accompanying report that included a significant review of the water cisterns below Temple Mount. This was an early foray into the archaeology of the holy city which, although conducted on the basis of civic development, ultimately functioned as a catalyst for further British exploration of Jerusalem’s architectural remains, particularly the destroyed Jerusalem Temple, presumed to be hidden below the Dome of the Rock. The production of modern scientific maps thus remained underpinned by military and religious interests, much in keeping with earlier endeavours to map Jerusalem.

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Hans Memling's 'The Passion'

This image, painted between 1470 and 1471 CE by the Flemish painter Hans Memling, belongs to a category of images of Jerusalem which self-consciously use a stylized version of the city as a setting for biblical narratives. Using ‘simultaneous painting’, a style for which he was well-known, Memling has here depicted the entirety of the Passion and resurrection in twenty three scenes. The earliest scene is the entry of Christ into Jerusalem in the top left hand corner. The narrative then unfolds via the Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemane, also on the left side of the panel, moving towards the trial scene and flagellation in the centre of the painting before shifting outwards via the carrying of the cross and the crucifixion at the top centre-right. The three resurrection scenes all take place in the top right corner of the (comparatively small) panel. There is some suggestion that Memling based the layout of the city and the main sites on the report of Anselm Adornes’ pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1470. Adornes was a friend of the painting’s patron, Tommaso Portinari, depicted in prayer in the bottom left hand corner of the image. At the time, it was possible to obtain an indulgence by making an imaginary ‘pilgrimage’ to the Holy Land by contemplating a painting such as this one, or Matthew Paris's itinerary map. In this image Jerusalem—translocated to fifteenth-century Bruges—thus functions imaginatively on two levels: it is an imaginary vision of Jerusalem via which imaginary pilgrimages could be made.

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Leni Dothan's 'Dead End'

Leni Dothan is an artist and twenty-first century ‘Renaissance Woman’ from Israel, who frequently works with themes of religion, gender and art history. Dothan exhibited this piece, Dead End, as part of a recent (2017) exhibition in Washington, DC focusing on Jesus’ journey through Jerusalem to his crucifixion, The Stations of the Cross. Her film formed part of her installation at the First Congregational United Church of Christ and offered an artistic response to the scene in which Jesus meets the ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ who were ‘beating their breasts and mourning for him’ (Luke 23:27). Jesus responded by telling them not to weep over him, but rather to weep over their fate and the fate that awaited their children with the destruction of Jerusalem. The film, which ran on a loop above the altar of the church, records the artist’s bare feet and legs as she walks the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrow) through Jerusalem, the path Jesus is traditionally thought to have taken to his crucifixion at Golgotha. Pilgrims have travelled this route for centuries, either imaginatively in their own churches or cities, with the use of devotional images like the ones produced as part of The Stations of the Cross installations, or by going to Jerusalem to tread the same ground. In Dead End Dothan thus inserts herself into the history of the city as a site of pilgrimage, as well as a site of suffering and redemption. In the context of this exhibition, her work presents a challenge to the overwhelmingly male gaze on the Holy City, reminding us that women too have lived, shaped and dreamed of Jerusalem.