Towards Jerusalem: The Architecture of Pilgrimage

Merin, Gili (2022). Towards Jerusalem: The Architecture of Pilgrimage. PhD thesis The Open University.



The thesis explores the ritual of sacred travel to the city of Jerusalem. It places pilgrimage as a project in which the pilgrim, as an independent subject who is led by spiritual orientation, contributes to the appropriation of the cities and landscapes that he or she is perpetually crossing. While pilgrimage is indeed acknowledged as a journey in pursuit of a religious objective, it is studied in this thesis, as a powerful social and cultural vector that often destabilized the economic, civic, and political conditions of the places of worship.

The thesis unfolds chronologically and thematically in order to explore how the mentality of pilgrims and the scenography of pilgrimage has produced particular structures, landscapes, and representations that I refer to as the Architecture of Pilgrimage. Each of the five chapters looks both into a specific era in the history of Jerusalem pilgrimage (early Christianity, the Middle Ages, the beginning of Modernity and the 20th Century), as well as a particular theme, such as the fabrication of sacred landscapes, the intelligence of analogical thinking, the importance of movement in ritual, the politics of heritage and preservation, and the formation of collective memory. While these paradigmatic ideas did not necessarily originate in Jerusalem, the city’s condition allows their examination in a state of acceleration and saturation. Acknowledging that Jerusalem is an idea that is bigger than the city itself, the thesis expands expand the definition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem by including a variety of analogous ‘Jerusalems’ that proliferated around the world as pilgrimage sites in their own right. As such, it will place the ritual of travel to the City of Jerusalem as a flexible practice that is not geographically confined but could be enacted by the varied combination of text, place, memory, and visual imagination— all of which are inherent components of Christian devotion. The thesis concludes with a photographic project that proposes an alternative journey to Jerusalem. Using photography as a design tool, it constructs a topography that embodies the notion of being towards Jerusalem by documenting the enduring power of the holy city to attract pilgrims not only to its physical entity but also to locations where its identity has been displaced and celebrated as an orientation that is larger than the city itself.

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