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Medieval Jerusalems? The Holy City between Christians, Jews and Muslims

Tutor: Harry Munt

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00075M

Jerusalem is perhaps the definitive medieval holy city: an urban space teeming with shrines in a region (Palestine or ‘The Holy Land’) crowded with even more, and considered to be holy by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. This module will explore the multiple understandings of the city’s sanctity from the Islamic conquest of the seventh century to the aftermath of the Crusades as they were constructed by members of all three religious groups. Constructions of places as sacred or holy are not static and this module will emphasise a diachronic approach to the various attitudes held by pilgrims, religious scholars and rulers to Jerusalem’s sanctity. After the Islamic conquest, did Muslims attach significance to the same sites as their Christian and Jewish predecessors, or did they create new holy places and new meanings for old ones? How did Christians and Jews, in both Europe and the Middle East, react to the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem? Did the second great changeover of political rule in Jerusalem, from Muslims to Christians, during the Crusades have much of an impact on the ways in which scholars and rulers thought about and utilised Jerusalem’s sanctity. We will also address the matter of when and why Jerusalem was envisaged as a site of conflict between members of the different faiths, and when and why it was imagined as a city shared peacefully between them.

A wide variety of sources are available for such a study, ranging from chronicles, local histories, pilgrim guides and travel narratives to epigraphy, archaeology, numismatics and artistic representations. Moreover, the shared appreciation of Jerusalem’s sanctity among Christians, Jews and Muslims means that such sources are drawn from an excitingly wide range of linguistic and cultural traditions. As we investigate what Jerusalem’s sanctity meant to different people at different times, we will bring medieval Arabic sources fully to bear alongside those written by Europeans.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

    • What makes places sacred?
    • Early Islamic Jerusalem
    • Charlemagne and Jerusalem (before and after 814)
    • The Crusades and ‘counter-Crusade’
    • Prry and secondary shrines: the sacred topography of the medieval city
    • Medieval histories of Jerusalem
    • Pilgrims and their experiences
    • The holy city in medieval illustrations

Preliminary reading

  • Grabar, Oleg. The Shape of the Holy: Early Islamic Jerusalem. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.
  • Prawer, Joshua, and Haggai Ben-Shammai, eds. The History of Jerusalem: The Early Muslim Period, 638-1099. Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1996.
  • Boas, Adrian J. Jerusalem in the Time of the Crusades: Society, Landscape and Art in the Holy City under Frankish Rule. London: Routledge, 2001.
  • Morris, Colin. The Sepulchre of Christ and the Medieval West: From the Beginning to 1600. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Gabriele, Matthew. An Empire of Memory: The Legend of Charlemagne, the Franks, and Jerusalem before the First Crusade. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Donkin, Lucy, and Hanna Vorholt, eds. Imagining Jerusalem in the Medieval West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.