"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

An Earthly Pilgrimage to the Tormented City of Peace

A staple of early Christian history, especially liturgical history, is that famous and fascinating diary kept by Egeria of her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Both before her trip, and many times after, Christians and others have made the same trip for many of the same reasons.

Such pilgrimages are not just pious activities of a private few, but often have international political ramifications as well. In both Orlando Figes's fascinating and elegantly written The Crimean War: A History as well as the more recent study The Great Powers and Orthodox Christendom: The Crisis over the Eastern Church in the Era of the Crimean War by Jack Fairey, we see the role that pilgrimages played in shaping English Anglican, German Lutheran, and Russian Orthodox (inter alia) imaginations not just of the places in question, but also of their geopolitical significance, and the need for each of those imperial powers, and others, to "protect" the holy places.

People travel, then, to Jerusalem and environs with a variety of motives and such trips can have a diversity of outcomes, some clearly favoured by capitalist and imperialist powers for their own mundane self-interest.

Many of those who do go to Jerusalem make it a point, as Egeria did, to write about the experience afterwards. Later this year we will see the publication of an anthology gathering together some of those writings: A Jerusalem Anthology: Travel Writing through the Centuries Hardcover, eds. T.J. Gorton and Andree Feghali Gorton (Oxford UP, 2017), 160pp.

About this book we are told:
Jerusalem has a special status as a city that is both terrestrial and celestial. The name includes a cognate for 'peace,' but the old stones of the city have witnessed epic bloodshed and destruction over the centuries. The three great monotheistic religions all regard it with especial fervor, and it has for at least two millennia attracted pilgrims intent on seeing it before they die. This rich and compelling anthology of travelers' writings attempts to convey something of the diverse experiences of visitors to this most complex and enigmatic of cities. A Jerusalem Anthology takes us on a journey through a city, not just of illusion and powerful accumulated religious emotion, but of colors, lights, smells, and sounds, an inhabited city as it was directly experienced and lived in through the ages. Memoirs of visitors such as as sixth-century AD pilgrim Saint Silvia of Bordeaux, medieval Jerusalemite al-Muqaddasi, Grand Tour voyagers Gustave Flaubert and Alexander Kinglake, the humorous Mark Twain, or the cynical T.E. Lawrence provide vivid and sometimes disturbing vignettes of the Holy City at very different times in its tumultuous history.

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