Sacred Landscapes:
Between Materiality, Transportability and Narration (Jerusalem Project)

Annette Hoffmann, Laura Venesky, Gerhard Wolf
in cooperation with Bianca Kühnel (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Bruno Reudenbach (Universität Hamburg) and their teams

Reliquary box from the Sancta Sanctorum, 6th century. Città del Vaticano, Musei Vaticani

The formation or translocation of holy sites has many dimensions, material, monumental, narrative or iconic. The long term Jerusalem project is concerned with all of them and, above all, with the ways in which they are intertwined. In a series of workshops, conferences and site specific seminars, it shifts the focus step by step from one to the other. After the study of Jerusalem as Narrative Space, which explored how the holy sites were the source of and constituted by the interaction of scriptural, oral and monumental narratives, (published in the eponymous volume, Leiden 2012), the Florentine project team turned to the question of the material dimension of holy sites. Its aim was to open a debate beyond the traditional studies of holy places in the humanities and social sciences that focus on pilgrimage and sacred centers, either as theoretical constructions or as concrete places, such as Jerusalem, Mecca or Vanares. Whereas research on these sites has concentrated on ritual and liturgy, and analyzed various modes of representation (architectural, cartographic, iconic, or textual), the alternative or complementary approach adopted by the Florence team explores the material and tactile dimensions of locative sacrality across religious traditions. How is a site communicable through physical means or their pictorial and textual representation? There is a great variety of materials that evoke a particular sacred milieu, for example, earth, dust, stones, as well as wood, metal, pigments, oil or water. And there are also sacred landscapes, such as deserts, mountains and caves, as well as the physicality of built environments and places of worship that can be reconfigured or become transportable in metonymic form by means of material tokens or locative relics.

A workshop designed for young scholars held in spring 2013 was dedicated to these topics, in particular the relationship of transportable and site-specific sanctity. The workshop was not restricted to Jerusalem and Palestine but opened to other sacred sites and topographies, from East Asia to Mexico and Peru. In autumn 2013 a summer school organized by Bianca Kühnel focused on holy mountains and Jerusalem copies, mostly in Italy, and addressed related arguments. In summer 2015 Yamit Rachman finished her PhD thesis – written under the supervision of Gerhard Wolf and Bianca Kühnel – about the stones of Jerusalem, a rich case study of the material dimensions of holy sites, from an empirical as well as conceptual point of view.

In the near future the project will concentrate on sacred landscapes, in particular deserts and mountains as liminal spaces (such as the Sinai desert), spaces of alterity and as places of the production of art.


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