A Crusader-Era High Altar Resurfaces in Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher

“I think that this exquisite piece of art could be evidence for the papal artistic patronage in the church,” Re’em says. “It is proof that Crusader art was highly developed” and reflects the direct influence of Rome on the distant Jerusalem shrine. Most of the Crusader knights were French and German, and there are few contemporary reports detailing the 12th-century reconstruction of the church. The stone panel, he added, suggests that papal craftsmen may have been directly involved in the work.

…One European archaeologist, who requested anonymity because of religious sensitivities, explained that the altar’s disappearance reflects ancient tensions. Greek Orthodox clergy, he explained, are more interested in remains of the original Constantinian church than recovering those of the early 12th century, when the triumphant Crusaders for a brief time banished them as heretics from the complex they had long overseen.

One art historian, who likewise requested anonymity, is unconvinced by Re’em’s analysis, noting that some Byzantine craftsmen used similar designs that influenced Cosmati work in Rome. More research needs to be done to determine with precision the maker and precise placement of the stone. Since part of the panel is broken off, Re’em hopes to find the location of the remaining section. 

In the meantime, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Armenians, Copts, and Syrians jealously guard their respective territories within the Holy Sepulcher, with Ethopians relegated to the roof. Scuffles among clergy of the different sects is not uncommon, and occasional bloodshed is recorded. Two Muslim families hold the keys to the great Crusader doors to ensure everyone access.

A Crusader-Era High Altar Resurfaces in Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulcher | History | Smithsonian



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