• 31 October 2014
  • 5:30 – 6:30 pm
  • British Museum

As Biblical witness, future site of the events to come in Revelation, and allegory of the heavenly kingdom, the city of Jerusalem defied all medieval distinctions of space, place and time. The building of close architectural replicas of its holiest sites in England, as at the Holy Sepulchre Church in Northampton (c.1108-1122) or the Cambridge Round Church (c.1131), reproduced a physical site in its current, historically contingent form. Yet they enabled visitors to access and experience at a sensory level the spiritual, Biblical or contemporary Jerusalems that they were otherwise far removed from. Close imitation of the material world enabled escape from its temporal and geographical limits. These buildings do not constitute straightforward acts of imitation/anachronic substitution, but can be understood instead as acts of invention, experimental devotional memory-machines with greater political significance than previously appreciated.

This paper will focus on how Jerusalem could be imagined and experienced at Westminster Abbey. Unlike the Sainte-Chapelle, argued to have been modelled on the Chapel of the Franks in the Holy Sepulchre, there is little recourse to direct copying from Jerusalem models. Instead, there is novel exploitation of the spiritual resonances accumulated by the abbey's art, architecture, relics, liturgical furnishings and institutional mythology. Westminster's relics included the holy blood and an impression of Christ's footprint. Its buildings, such as the north transept entrance cast as 'Solomon's Porch', octagonal chapterhouse, Jericho Parlour and Jerusalem Chamber mapped a range of holy places onto the abbey site. Westminster's images and liturgical furniture, including its Retable, Easter Sepulchre and the imagery on the tomb of Eleanor of Castile, fostered further associations with the Holy Land and again enabled imaginative relocation to and discovery (inventio) of the holy city. The legends surrounding Henry IV on his deathbed in the Jerusalem Chamber in 1413, in which according to the Brut, Henry stated: "now I know I shall die in this chamber, according to the prophecy told of me, that I should die in the Holy Land" reveal how successfully a London showpiece of Plantagenet power and piety could become Jerusalem in the eyes of its royal and monastic patrons. Invention in medieval art and architecture could be a matter of imagination and perception.

About the speaker

  • Head and shoulders portrait of Laura Slater

    Laura Slater completed her AHRC-funded PhD in History of Art at King's College, University of Cambridge. She is currently an ERC-funded Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. In 2015-2016, she held a Postdoctoral Fellowship from The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London, to complete her monograph, Art and Political Thought in Medieval England. She has held postdoctoral teaching or research positions at the University of Cambridge, University College London, Trinity College Dublin and the University of York. A volume of essays co-edited with Dr Joanna Bellis, Representing War and Violence 1250-1600, was published in 2016 by Boydell & Brewer.