World History 1 212 - 13.4.1 Jerusalem and the Holy Land

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all have a concept of pilgrimage. Sacred journeys can be undertaken to enhance a person’s connection with God, as an act of penance, or in gratitude. In many ways, they are meant to be transformative.

Jerusalem drew pilgrims from the three monotheistic religions. Pilgrimage had been obligatory for Jewish people until the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, but even after that time, the city continued to play a special role in Jewish life. In the earliest decades of the first century, it had also become the location for some of the most dramatic and important scenes in the life of Jesus and the early Christian community. In the time of Constantine, a church had been built over the site of what was believed to be Jesus’s tomb, called the Holy Sepulchre. As the place where it is believed Jesus was crucified and resurrected, Jerusalem was bound up with the most essential Christian beliefs. Even in the ancient world, Christians undertook pilgrimages to this holiest of cities (Figure 13.18).

An image of the inside of a building is shown. At the top, the beige ceiling is domed with archways lining the bottom of the dome and a circular opening showing in the middle. The walls going down from the dome are beige and show three rows of arched opening, with brown posts in between each archway. Two large banners hang down from the ceiling, one is red and one is purple, both with a gold image of a figure in a loincloth with a halo on their head and holding up their arms. The purple banner on the right also has gold designs across the bottom half. Below the banners an intricately carved stone structure stands with gold edges and a large arched doorway in the middle. Lanterns hang down from the ceiling in front of the doorway. Three rows of enormous candles stand in front of the structure on gold colored candle holders. People in various robes and headdresses are seen walking, sitting, and kneeling on the floor and benches throughout the image. A large brown book stand can be seen in the right forefront of the image holding two very large books with red tassel bookmarks. The floor is white squares with circles at the edges and in the middle of some tiles.
Figure 13.18 This nineteenth-century lithograph of the interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre depicts the Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre. Christians believe the shrine contains both the tomb in which Jesus was buried and the rock thought to have sealed it. (credit: “Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre April 10th 1839 / David Roberts” by Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division/Wikimedia Commons)

Mecca, in the Arabian Peninsula, is the holiest city in Islam and the site of the annual pilgrimage called the hajj. The Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on the old Temple Mount in Jerusalem, is the third holiest site in the faith, and it is believed to be mentioned several times in the Quran as “the furthest shrine.” Muhammad is said to have made a special journey to be able to pray in Jerusalem and to be allowed to glimpse God before he continued his mission to convert others to Islam. Another shrine, called the Dome of the Rock, was also built near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is associated with Muhammad’s journey and with the biblical Abraham, an important figure to Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike. Jerusalem, then, was a city unlike others in its spiritual appeal to people of different faiths.

In Christian Europe, the reforms of the church emphasized the earthly life of Jesus, and the idea of being able to see and touch the physical land where he walked filled the imagination of both the clergy and the laity. The image of heaven as a “heavenly Jerusalem” in the writing of monks and nuns heightened the common desire to see the earthly Jerusalem. The report that the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim had destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre outraged Christians, even though his son permitted its rebuilding. It is no coincidence, then, that the term medieval people most often associated with the crusading movement (before the term “crusade” was coined) was pilgrimage, or more specifically, armed pilgrimage.

This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 1: to 1500 textbook by Openstax