Sir Francis Ronalds' Travel Journal: Jerusalem and Bethlehem
9th [March 1820]
"The Tomb remains the same as it was... except that a new slab has been placed over it for the original stone began they tell me actually to wear away by the frequent kissings and slobberings it got from the Pilgrims"
- The Church of the Holy Sepulchre occupied our attention next. The Tomb of Christ, Mount Calvary and all the renowned spots in its immediate vicinity are comprised in the walls of the Church which do not exceed [blank] yards in circumference. Perhaps it has been rebuilt almost (the dome at least) since the time of Chateaubriand (who gives a very detailed and pious account of every nook & corner) for after Maundrell's time it was burnt down & so far is the former from being correct in saying that the tomb remained uncovered because nobody could be found righteous enough to recover it that a violent contest took place between the Greeks and Latins for the honour of so doing & the Greeks prevailed by being able to pay the largest sum to the Turks for permission. I am far from being learned enough to enter into the dispute about the identity of the Tomb which Clarke broaches, I think his reasoning is fair as far as I am able to judge of the matter. The Tomb remains the same as it was 60 years ago I believe except that a new slab has been placed over it for the original stone began they tell me actually to wear away by the frequent kissings and slobberings it got from the Pilgrims. I would have drawn a view of the little chapel in which it is contained as well as a general ground plan of the whole Church but that the curiosity and interference of the crowd prevented me.
"visited all the other chapels and altars of the Greeks, Catholics, Armenians, Georgians, Copts &c &c. The Greeks beat all the others hollow in their display of finery and trumpery"
The interior of the Dome of the Church is barely painted, not the slightest regard having been paid to the commonest laws of perspective and the same may be said of the whole interior, there is not even one decent picture in the whole Church. Is it not rather strange that altho' so many great painters have exercised their talents upon Christs & Madonnas no pious Ferdinand should have dreamt of sending one to deck the most holy sepulchre? It is true that many costly lamps & much plate & gowns & petticoats have been sent from all parts of Christendom to be borne by some score dirty vulgar Monks with far less grace than they would be by Mrs Salmon's wax figures in the Strand, but not one good picture. That over the entrance to the little Chapel under the dome containing the Tomb is the best. We entered this little chapple after taking off our slippers first by the little antechamber, and then the other where a priest is constantly engaged in maintaining the lights and receiving Paras from the Pilgrims who come to Kiss it &c and afterwards visited all the other chapels and altars of the Greeks, Catholics, Armenians, Georgians, Copts &c &c.
The Greeks beat all the others hollow in their display of finery and trumpery. Their Chapel is also by much the largest, the 2 sides are covered with richly carved gilt work & pictures and they have an immense quantity of silver lamps burning. In the centre is a hemisphere of marble marked with a black cross which they kiss very devoutly & call it the centre of the world. The inner sanctuary is crowded with a profusion of childish tinsel ornaments.
"I thought it looked like a piece of common dark grey granite but the holy fathers tell me that notwithstanding its granular appearance it is in reality of marble because the other half of it is at Rome and that is of marble"
"The Armenian Chapel is respectable neither shewy nor large, it is like the Armenians themselves, cleaner & neater and handsomer than the others"
"Silver lamps, great Candlesticks, Silk hangings, gaudy crucifixes, fantastic carving, & gilding, velvet cushions, wretched daubs of Pictures, all these things are huddled together in a little chapple to inspire the herd of Pilgrims with a sentiment of respect for a place which the bare rock would never have done"
"I saw the performance of the crucifixion &c acted here by the Catholics on good friday... I need not detail it. If it were not shocking it would be laughable"
The Catholic or Latin chapel is by no means superb but it contains over the principal altar a reputed solid silver bas relief of the ascension in dimensions about 9 ft by 5 I think. The principal figure projects very much and if the whole really is of solid silver it must be valuable not from the excellence of its execution but the weight which as you may suppose is a far higher consideration here. But the riches of this chapel consist in a most precious relic viz one half of the identical stone pillar to which Christ was bound when he was scourged. It still exhibits distinct marks of his precious blood, the very blood that redeemed us poor Sinners. It possesses the miraculous property of resisting the most strenuous attempts to break it by means of a hammer yet yields a little bit to the simple impressions of the nails of the faithfull [sic]. Alas how unfortunate I am in having no nails whereby to prove my faith and bring you home a morsel of so invaluable treasure. But least too many saints should have the same desire & so in time carry it away, it is enclosed in a sort of cupboard on the right hand of the grand altar lined with crimson velvet richly embroidered &c, and closed by two grated iron doors through holes in which a stick is thrust by the true believers (with a gold Knob which they may touch the column with and then Kiss). The cupboard is opened only once a year in the holy week and then only during an hour or two for the sake of gratifying the Pilgrims with a sight of it. I had the felicity to be present at the event. I thought it looked like a piece of common dark grey granite but the holy fathers tell me that notwithstanding its granular appearance it is in reality of marble because the other half of it is at Rome and that is of marble.
The Armenian Chapel is respectable neither shewy nor large, it is like the Armenians themselves, cleaner & neater and handsomer than the others. The Poor Coptic chapple cuts a most forlorn figure, it is a mere closet about 7 feet square but then it is attatched to the back front of the Chapple containing the Tomb and insulated from every other building. The whole furniture of it consists in a white cloth spread over the altar, another fringed with yellow worsted over that, a lamp or two, and a Coptic Bible. I have nothing to say about the other chapples & altars belonging to the different sects.
Passing an oblong marble slab placed over the stone on which Christ was washed after the crucifixion called the Stone of Unction which is surrounded by 6 or 8 giant Candles & Candlesticks, we arrived at a narrow stone flight of steps about a score under an archway which having ascended we found ourselves on the summit of Mount Calvary. Here if one is very pious one may "give way to the imagination" but one had better shut one's eyes for every visible object on Mount Calvary inspires as contrary ideas to what we are taught to believe the place of the crucifixion to have been that one's imagination is not only unassisted by what one sees, it is greatly impeded. Silver lamps, great Candlesticks, Silk hangings, gaudy crucifixes, fantastic carving, & gilding, velvet cushions, wretched daubs of Pictures, all these things are huddled together in a little chapple to inspire the herd of Pilgrims with a sentiment of respect for a place which the bare rock would never have done. It don't much matter whether the right kind of respect is inspired or not to the priests, indeed as they themselves with their gorgeous robes of sanctity form a part of this theatrical representation frequently and are not quite exempt from pride & vanity, perhaps they are as well pleased with admiration at the splendour of the chapel as by any other sentiment of their flocks. Indeed I think I have frequently both here and at Rome met with Priests who by some strange associations cannot forbear to combine the Ideas of Ostentation and Humility when they think about the Holy virgin & Jesus Christ, so habituated are they to their gilded gingerbread. You cannot allways [sic] take their lowly mien for the cloak of hypocrisy, yet talk of the treasures & magnificence of their Churches and you will see their eyes glisten with delight.
This chapple contains two altars, one where Christ was nailed to the Cross, the other where the Cross was raised. I saw the performance of the crucifixion &c acted here by the Catholics on good friday (the image of Christ is not of leather but wood). I need not detail it. If it were not shocking it would be laughable, I thought that some of the actors in this indecent farce seemed rather ashamed of it. A few of the people whimpered a little & a Russian prince amongst the rest. I shall not conduct you round with us to the many other venerated spots in the Church, you may chuse a better guide if you wish to know about them.
Dome of the Rock
"As I passed through the court yard I saw a man's head stuck upon a low wall which had been struck off about half an hour. The owner of it had been a Robber"
"The holy Manger & the place of Christ's birth exhibit nothing but a repetition of the Jerusalem Finery and compleatly disguise every symptom of a Manger &c... People... go to sanctify themselves & become capable of receiving their testimonials of having visited them to display to their gaping friends at home"
Cisterns of Solomon
"It was verry evident that the Greeks enjoy the Upper-hand and the animosity between them and the Catholics is carried to a most disgusting and childish excess. I never saw so much party rancour displayed as here over the verry tomb of the prince of Peace"
"A most furious contest took place between the Greeks & Catholics at the door of the sepulchre last year in which several heads were broken"
"Turks are the peace keepers or constables, what can they think of our religion"
"Happy Europe! Thrice happy little England! Tomorrow for the first time during 19 long months I bend my way homeward again to bask in the sunshine of pretty & honest English faces, again to abuse my rulers' heads without endangering my own, "to speak daggers but use none", to talk of Pilauf but eat none"
(10th) - The Via Dolorosa cannot now be distinguished from the other streets of Jerusalem except by an ancient arch filled up in the wall near the governor's Pallace, formerly the Pallace of Pilate, & by the Ecce homo arch. The first arch is formed of alternate blocks of Red and white marble and is that from which Christ is said to have come out of the pallace to carry the cross to Mount Calvary & the last (built across the street) that over which he was exposed to public view. I began a sketch of this but was interrupted before it was finished and carried before the governor by his Dragomen who having but lately arrived from Damascus with him did not know that people were now allowed to make drawings in Jerusalem. As I passed through the court yard I saw a man's head stuck upon a low wall which had been struck off about half an hour. The owner of it had been a Robber. The governor received me politely apologizing for the ignorance of his men and I smoaked an amicable pipe with him.
- The Mosque of Omar [Dome of the Rock] built upon the site of the Temple of Solomon is called the finest in the turkish empire. We viewed it from the Top of the Church of Sta Anne built over the spot where she was born, and certainly the beauty of its form and of the gilded ornaments &c &c give a fine Idea of the turkish style of Architecture. We had not the rashness to enter it disguised as Mr Banks did. Seen from the Mount of Olives it also looks very pretty and light.
- The Pool of Bathsheba is nothing very remarkable, only a great oblong excavation partly filled up with rubbish. It may still be in the same state as before the destruction of Jerusalem but there is no real intraoral or ocular evidence of the fact I believe.
I forgot in my account of The Church of the M. H. Sepulchre to mention the Sword & Spurs of Godfrey which were shewn us and which I sketched [not found]. His tomb is walled up. I dare say I have forgotten other things belonging to the city but I have said less than I intended of it but quite enough to tire you as much as I have tired myself. Good night, tomorrow morning if I have time before starting I shall devote a very few lines to Bethlehem &c &c. How much more pleasure it will give me to recount my wonderful adventures & achievements by word of mouth than to write them down. I shall soon have this pleasure I hope.
We rose one morning verry early and trudged to Bethlehem on foot. We took 3 hours to it & rested by the way in the little mosque which contains the Tomb of Rachael, it was entirely covered with Hebrew Names & Inscriptions. - We went to the Latin Convent at Bethlehem & uncomfortably lodged. The Inhabitants of this Place are all Christians and on that account punished by the Turks to wear white Turbans or Turbans with green intermixed with other colours, the Women are rather pretty & permitted to shew their faces. The holy Manger & the place of Christ's birth exhibit nothing but a repetition of the Jerusalem Finery and compleatly disguise every symptom of a Manger &c, in short there is not one single object to gratify curiosity. People do not generally go there for any such purpose, they go to sanctify themselves & become capable of receiving their testimonials of having visited them to display to their gaping friends at home. If you want to know how many lamps there are in the Chapel of the Holy Manger, who sent them there, and such like particulars, you can apply to the pious Chateaubriand, perhaps he was counted them better than the columns of the Tombs at Jerusalem, but don't believe a word of what he says in praise of a painting in St Jerome's chapel or grotto. It is one of the tamest, smoak & smother, stiff concerns I ever saw. He must certainly have been very highly inspired with the "Genius of Christianity" or the holy father's wine to have discovered any genius in the author of this picture.
The next morning we walked along the aqueduct which led us to the three Pools of Solomon about 4 miles from Hebron. They are a most gigantic work and (not being susceptible of mutilation) are maintained in good preservation as well as the aqueduct and furnish good Water to Bethlehem. On the way I saw many (to us) rare plants and many Jonquils & Hyacinths in the valley. We returned by the same path and on the 3d day went to The Convent and Wilderness of St. John. At the first we were shewn under an altar as usual the place of his birth. Never did text more aptly apply than to our case here "But what came ye out for to see". The scenery all the time of our journey consisted of unvaried mountains of almost bare stratified lime-stone, we could scarcely discover a "reed shaken by the wind". We had no guards of any kind & received no obstacles.
When I had gratified my curiosity as far as I was able with the monuments &c &c of this far famed city & had leisurely examined them all & sketched some of them, it still wanted a few days to the Holy week & the Passover which I proposed to pass here & I began to find the delay rather irksome. However I amused myself sometimes by lounging away a few hours in the Church of the M. H. Sepulchre which is the high-change of the Pilgrims & had thus an opportunity of seeing something of the costumes and manners of several different nations & sects of Christians (A Jew is not permitted even to look at the Door) and of their dispositions toward each other. It was verry evident that the Greeks enjoy the Upper-hand and the animosity between them and the Catholics is carried to a most disgusting and childish excess. I never saw so much party rancour displayed as here over the verry tomb of the prince of Peace. They even go the length of obstructing each other in the performance of their processions & ceremonies. A most furious contest took place between the Greeks & Catholics at the door of the sepulchre last year in which several heads were broken. I believe the former have the credit of beginning this fray. Turks are the peace keepers or constables, what can they think of our religion. The Catholicks annoy the Greeks dreadfully by having established an opinion amongst some other sects that the fire (which the latter pretend descends from heaven into the tomb to illuminate their Patriarch's Taper) ascends in reality from Hell. I think it is Maundrell who has given the Best account of the Holy Week. Now farewell to Jerusalem, I am afraid my holy pilgrimage has not made me a much holier Christian.
I have forgotten to mention my Journey to the Dead Sea. I started at day break one morning Solo (for nobody would accompany me) dressed in the shabbyest [sic] style which my wardrobe would permit and carried nothing about me but a pocket full of Paras. I mounted a sorry ass, slept at night on the bare ground and arrived on the shore where I bathed the next day without molestation. On my return the day after I met some arabs who gave me some pilauf & took all my paras from me & so got back safely. I brot some specimens of Bitumen & some of the water.