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Studies and souvenirs of Palestine and Transjordan. The revival of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the rediscovery of the Holy Land during the nineteenth century

Paolo Maggiolini

During the nineteenth century the Ottoman province of Bilad al-Sham was involved in a broader political and diplomatic dynamic known as the Question d’Orient, becoming one of the sites of colonial encounter which lay at the intersection of European and Ottoman modernization.1 Jerusalem and the holy places arose as one of the main theatres of conflict, not for their geopolitical and economic importance2 but for their symbolic and spiritual significance, vividly associated in the mind of Europe with the theme of Christian chivalry and the memory of the Crusades.3 The land of Palestine, the Holy Land proprement dit and not the Ottoman province, was explored, surveyed, steadily reinvented and imagined by “zealous intruders” who sought to rediscover this land to permanently reunite the East and the West.4 This “gentle crusade”5 favoured the emergence of the concept of the Holy Land as a region set apart, simultaneously a terra incognita and the well-known biblical land, that dominated the intellectual Western imagination of the nineteenth century, as evidenced by the growing usage of this term, which is remarkable, as Ben-Arieh points out, in view of the fact that it was not a separate political entity at that time.6 Nonetheless the land of Palestine was not only a territory of exploration and pilgrimage, but also a mission land for both Catholics and Protestants. Benefitting from the favourable political climate of the Tanzimat, Christian missionaries increasingly flocked to the Near East, directly intervening in the local socio-political system through the foundation of many missionary establishments and religious institutions, as testified by the formation of the Anglican Bishopric of Jerusalem in 1841 and the revival of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1847. These new centres of religious authority played a dual role. On the one hand, they participated in the colonial encounter as important actors in a dynamic of changing and developing local balances of socio-political and religious power. On the other, encompassing their religious significance and role on the ground, their presence indirectly sustained the development of a process of intellectual acquisition of Palestine. The Holy Land proprement dit was not only the site and the treasure-chest of the holy places. It was a sacred and holy territory, owing to its biblical history,7 that was inspected and checked for “evidence” of the accuracy of the Bible and, at the same time, a land that needed to be revived and rescued from neglect.8

Focusing on the Catholic presence in Palestine, the restoration of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem involved different issues concerning the canonical aspect of the institutional controversy with the Franciscan Custody, the interconfessional dimension and the diplomatic repercussions of the enterprise.9 Moreover, the resurgence of the Latin Patriarchate exerted a great influence on the religious geography of Palestine, where the sacred dimension was involved with and drew meaning from social and political relationships resulting in a new geography of the Holy Land.10 The rediscovery of Palestine, the Holy Land proprement dit, became part of the revival process of the Latin Patriarchate, the land being not only revealed and re-discovered, formed or constructed in its boundaries and geography, but claimed, owned and contested, giving birth to a dynamic of development of “hierarchical power relations of domination and subordination, inclusion and exclusion, appropriation and dispossession”.11 Accordingly, De Wandelbourg’s Etudes et Souvenirs de l ’Orient et ses Missions, portraying the Holy Land through “etudes et souvenirs” of his personal journey/ pilgrimage and Mgr Valerga’s pastoral tours, gives an interesting insight into the influence of the “revival” as a dynamic of re-sacralisation with important consequences in terms of power, religion and knowledge.12 In his “voyage interieur”,13 recorded in the first volume, the author visited the biblical places familiar to Western Christian culture and geographically localised biblical events, as many scriptural geographers did during the nineteenth century, whereas in his “voyage exterieur” with Mgr Valerga, recorded in the second volume, De Wandelbourg entered Transjordan, the terra incognita of the Holy Land, testifying to the victorious progress of “le drapeau de l’Evangile et de la civilisation chretien”14 thanks to the Patriarch, “restaurateur de la foi Catholique en Palestine” and “colonne des Eglises d’Orient”.15 Moreover, the celebration of the “revival” of the Latin Patriarchate under the guidance of Mgr Valerga offered De Wandelbourg a way to enter into debate with European Catholic powers and their manipulation of religious issues to forward their own interests, with particular regard to France, which, from his standpoint, was choking the “real” French nation, Catholic in its essence, with atheism, secularism and modernism.16 Following De Wandelbourg’s narrative path, which echoes the encyclical Quanta Cura of Pius IX and its Sillabo of 1864, the Holy Land gains the attribute of “refuge” for the European faithful,17 thanks to the immanent presence of the Divine and the successful revival of the Latin Patriarchate, more powerful than the transient temporality of secular politics.18 According to De Wandelbourg, it was desirable for the Ottoman Empire, Islamic by creed but nonetheless more respectful of Catholicism and its clerics, to endure, or for Great Britain, while not yet Catholic, to triumph, since it was already able to ensure European Christians safe havens such as Malta.19

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