This course will examine written and visual material testifying to the medieval encounters of the Abrahamic religions in a sacred landscape where the histories of Jews, Christians, and Muslims overlap. While bearing witness to the cultural wealth and religious pluralism that characterize the Holy Land during the Middle Ages, texts and visual artifacts from the period likewise testify to religious competition, conflict, loss, and exclusion.
Among the primary textual sources we will read (in English translation) are accounts by pilgrims and other travellers to the Holy Land written between the fourth and fifteenth centuries, extracts from medieval chronicles, and eye-witness accounts drawn up during the period of the Crusades. These writings illuminate how individuals of different religious backgrounds experienced sacred space and rituals performed at various holy sites. On a broader scale, they offer insight into perceptions of religious identity, superiority, and “otherness.“ Last, but not least, these texts inform us about the physical appearance of sites and buildings that no longer exist or have undergone multiple refurbishments. In addition to the textual material, we will study art and architecture created in the Holy Land for different religious communities (e.g., synagogues and their richly decorated mosaic floors, sites and souvenirs of Christian pilgrimage, major works of Islamic art and architecture).
The sacred sites and dynamic history of the Holy Land have of course stimulated human imagination and creativity well beyond its geographical confines as well. We will thus also study phenomena of its reception in medieval Europe as manifest, for instance, in the illumination of manuscripts, stained glass windows, architectural replicas of the Holy Sepulchre, narratives of the “Holy Grail,“ or notions of the “Heavenly Jerusalem.”