The conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 was celebrated around medieval Christendom as a divinely-ordained triumph. For one veteran crusader, the expedition’s apparently miraculous outcome signified that ‘true religion had vanquished superstition’.
The aftershocks of the crusaders’ achievement were felt throughout the Latin Christian world, as secular and ecclesiastical leaders sought to harness contemporary fervour for the crusading ideal. In 1108 one western churchman called on his fellow Christians to rally against the pagans of north-eastern Germany ‘just as did the men of Gaul for the liberation of Jerusalem’.
Elsewhere, the Iberian king Alfonso I of Aragon (1104–34) charged into battle bearing a relic of the True Cross, emulating his co-religionists in the Holy Land. The mood among Latin Christians was so confident at this time that Alfonso even declared his ambition to open a new route to the Holy Sepulchre, via Muslim Spain and North Africa.
Panorama of Jerusalem by Tristram Ellis
Watercolour on paper
This nineteenth-century watercolour captures the view of Jerusalem from the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, looking eastwards towards the site of Christ’s ascension on the Mount of Olives. The building in the middle distance is the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine that contains one of the city’s most important sacred sites for Muslims. Following the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 the crusaders converted the Dome of the Rock into a church, which they identified as the Templum Domini.
Kingdom of Jerusalem
The Holy Sepulchre was the hub of the crusaders’ devotional lives. The church was rebuilt and redecorated during the period of crusader rule (1099–1187), reflecting its central importance to Latin settlers and pilgrims. The conclusion of this programme of works in the 1160s was celebrated on the kingdom’s coinage with a depiction of the church’s signature dome. This particular coin is pierced, suggesting it may have had a second life as a devotional amulet.
This is the second of three seventeenth-century models of the Holy Sepulchre within the Museum’s collections. Only thirty such models are known to exist around the world, which demonstrates the particular significance of the Museum’s holdings.
The higher quality of the workmanship and the materials used here suggests that the models were constructed to cater for a range of budgets. The third Holy Sepulchre model, which is even more elaborate, is on permanent display in the Museum and can also be viewed here.
Tesserae from the Dome of the Rock
Among the Museum’s medieval collections are these colourful tesserae, which are supposed to originate from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The Museum acquired these during the twentieth century, although no further details are known about how they made their way to London.
View of the Old City of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, with the Dome of the Rock in the foreground and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the background (January 2018)