‘Pictures at an exhibition’: The book culture of the medieval Holy Land

Rarely can one see so many manuscripts grouped together outside an archive or a library reading room. Little did I know what I was going to witness at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art ‘Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven’ exhibition last week. Nearly a dozen rooms covering the material and cultural history of Jerusalem between the years 1000 and 1400 (roughly, of course) tell the story of a cultural cauldron capable of assimilating and transforming nearly all the cultures of Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and even sometimes the Far East. While the exhibition focuses on the medieval city of Jerusalem, more than two-thirds of the exhibits were manuscripts.

I am furious now that time was so limited and I couldn’t spend more than 2 hours among artifacts which would naturally claim at least 5, if not more. And that is because, since I was visiting New York for the first time, priority was given to the MET, and a follow-up was not possible. I thought 2 hours just before closure time would be enough to go through medieval Jerusalem. Silly me. Fortunately, however, just before they almost literally dragged me out of the showrooms, I managed to take some pictures of the dozens of manuscripts on display. However, as every silver lining has its corresponding, fiercer lead lining, I couldn’t even stop to write down what I was looking at. So most of these photos are doomed to untitled-ness (unless you guys help me title them). The gallery starts with gold coins, which is a fitting metaphor for the tons of manuscripts which follow, with their weight and value measured in gold. Enjoy.

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The great voyage – Matthew Paris’ Chronica Majora and its famous maps of the route to the Holy Land. As the pilgrim travelled from England to Jerusalem, so this manuscript travelled from England to New York for this exhibition.

 

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