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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:3, Fall 2023

Epistles: A Thousand Words: Model Memento

Biblical Archaeology Review

Regular travel is a luxury of the modern world, thanks in part to advances in technology and infrastructure. It would be incorrect, however, to say that historical peoples did not also enjoy widespread travel. Famous examples of ancient tourists and pilgrims abound, including Pausanias, who chronicled his explorations of Greece in the second century CE; Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, who made pilgrimages to various sites in the Holy Land; and Ibn Hawqal, who traveled to the Mediterranean, Asia, and Africa in the tenth century.

Much like today, ancient travelers brought home souvenirs from their journeys. One such example is illustrated here. Dating to the 17th century, this model of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre can be taken apart for easy transport. The pieces are marked with letters to facilitate reassembly. The model was likely created in Jerusalem or Bethlehem. Carved from olive wood with mother of pearl and bone inlay, it measures 12 by 20 by 23 inches.

Some 30 such models exist, though of varying size. The large models open to reveal a sculpted interior detailing the inside of the church. Pilgrims could point out to friends and family the spots where they had visited and prayed.

This example is on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Others can be found at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the British Museum and Museum of the Order of St. John, both in London, and the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Germany, to name a few.

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