In the fourth century AD, Emperor Constantine embraced the new religion born in the Holy Land. The Roman ruler and his mother, Queen Helena, built churches at all the major sites associated with the life of Christ – especially at Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre – and inspired pilgrimage by converts throughout the Empire.
This flaring of Christianity lasted for three centuries, until the Persian invasion of 614 destroyed many of the shrines. Seventy-four years later the caliph Omar I (or Umar) led the conquering Moslem armies into the Holy Land. This began a 400-year transformation of Jerusalem into Islam’s third most sacred city. Recognizing Abraham, David and Solomon as prophets, until today Moslems hold Jerusalem in such esteem that they call it simply El Quds – the Holy.
Christianity returned in force in 1099. Inspired by Pope Urban II, for three years European knights fought their way from Europe into the heart of the Middle East. Storming the walls of Jerusalem just after Moslem prayers on Friday July 15, the Crusaders occupied the city in a frenzy of slaughter. Thus began the liberation of all the Holy sites from the hands of the “infidels”.
The Crusaders placed a cross atop the al-Aqsa Mosque, turning it into their Temple, and rebuilt the Holy Sepulchre. With Jerusalem again a city of churches and monasteries, pilgrims came from throughout Christendom. This continued until it was retaken in 1187 by the united Moslem forces under Saladin.
From the end of the 13th century the city became a neglected backwater of the Middle East, and “Jerusalem” in Christian minds turned into more of a romantic ideal than an actual place.
This changed with the arrival of a new generation of 19th century European travelers, like British artist David Roberts. His serialized edition of lithographs brought vivid images of the Holy Land to Christian homes, reminding them that Jerusalem was a real city.
Published during a new wave of political interest in the Holy Land, his work became a European bestseller. Ironically Roberts himself was more impressed with Jerusalem from outside the walls than from within. His journal reads, “the city within the walls may be called a desert, two-thirds of it being a mess of ruins and cornfields; the remaining third … being of such a paltry and contemptible character that no artist could render them interesting”. Despite the disparaging remark, Roberts’ genius did just that.
This page is part of the book The Holy Land of JesusShare this page with your friends
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