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MODEL OF THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE, JERUSALEM
Olive wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl and bone
This olive wood model is intricately inlaid with engraved mother-of-pearl and bone and has numerous removable sections which reveal the detailed interior of the Church. These highly prized exquisite models were made for wealthy pilgrims in the Holy Land from the beginning of the 17th century.
Private German Collection
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was first built by Constantine and his mother St. Helena in the 4th Century and incorporated; to the west, the Holy Sepulchre; to the east, the Chapel of St. Helena, where she discovered the "true cross"; to the south, Calvary or Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion and to the north, the prison of Christ.
The basilica was ordered to be destroyed by the Fatimid ruler of Egypt and Palestine in 1009, but building began again three years later. According to the contemporary witness, the Persian poet, writer, philosopher, scholar and traveller Nasir-i-Khusrau, by 1047 the Rotunda and Edicule housing the Sepulchre together with a chapel over the Rock of Golgotha and many other chapels and open courtyards had been re-built magnificently and when the Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099, they found a building in good repair. It was not until 1149 that they completed the first part of their Romanesque reconstruction including the chapels enclosing the Rock of Calvary followed by the Katholikon; the great domed structure to the east of the Rotunda. Through the centuries areas have fallen into disrepair and the disagreement between the parties responsible for its upkeep has taken its toll. However, this 17th century model portrays the Church as it was seen by pilgrims after parts of it were rebuilt by Father Boniface of Ragusa, the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land following the 1555 earthquake. The shrine was extensively damaged again following a fire in 1808 so this model is important evidence of the shrine's much earlier pre-19th century appearance.
The Russian priest Arsenii Sukhanov, assistant to the Patriarch Nikon (1652-1658 d.1681) took one of these exquisite models back home in 1655 and it was copied by the Patriarch who built a full-scale model in the town of Istra east of Moscow and called it "New Jerusalem".
The Sloane Collection at the British Museum - This similar although less elaborate example was part of the original founding bequest from Sir Hans Sloane in 1753. It has just been exhibited in a 'Cabinet Exhibition' at the Museum; an exploration of the history and meaning of a single object from 2 February to 6 May, see The Art Newspaper February 2012.
The Royal Danish Kunstkammer holds a similar but also less elaborate example which was first recorded in 1674
The Monastery de Sao Vicente in Lisbon, Portugal holds an example of similar date with the arms of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza.
The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Royal Danish Kunstkammer 1737 B. Gundestrup
The Architectural History of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem Robert Willis, 1849
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre Biddle, Avni, Seligman & Winter, New York 2000
The Art Newspaper February 2012
The Online site of the Franciscan Missionaries serving the Holy Land.
A letter from Father Boniface in 1555 described the rock bench on which Jesus was laid in his tomb:
" There appeared clearly before our eyes the tomb of the Lord that had been cut out of the rock, in which images of two angels could be seen, one carrying an inscription that said "He is risen! He is not here!", while the other, pointing to the Tomb, proclaimed "Here is the place where they laid him". The images of these angels, immediately upon coming in contact with the air, vanished almost completely. When, out of urgent necessity, we had to remove one of the alabaster slabs which covered the tomb, placed there by St. Helena in order that the holy mystery of the Mass could be celebrated at that spot, there appeared before us that ineffable site where for three days the Son of Man had rested; ut plane coelos apertos videre tunc nobis, et illis, qui nobiscum aderant omnibus videremur. The site, which had been soaked with a mixture of the sacred blood of Lord Jesus and the ointment with which he had been anointed for burial, and where light as brilliant as the sun glowed in all directions, was revealed to us and venerated together with those present, with spiritual joy and tears. At the center of the Holy Place we found a piece of wood that had been placed there, wrapped in a precious cloth. No sooner had we taken this reverently in our hands and affectionately kissed it, than with its first exposure to the air the cloth vanished from our hands, leaving behind only a few of its gold threads. On that precious piece of wood there were several inscriptions, but they had deteriorated so much with age that not a single complete phrase could be made out, although at the beginning of one, the following words in Latin capital letters could be read: HELENA MAGNI..."
To see the inside of the model please visit peterpetroulondon on Youtube where there is a 3 minute video showing the model being taken apart.
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