Pious Graffiti at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Pilgrims’ Prayers and Traces of the Self

A Visual Essay

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, as any pilgrim or tourist visiting it quickly discovers, is a massive, maze-like structure, or, really, assemblage of structures, including the Tomb of Christ and of Golgotha but also numerous other chapels, rooms, and other elements. Somewhat closer investigation starts to reveal the multiple layers of construction and use, going all the way back the first century AD (and probably further, since the Tomb was located in the side of an already old quarry outside of the Herodian walls of the city). While the names of prominent men and women are often attached to these various architectural layers, beginning with Constantine and his mother Helena, the traces of far humbler pilgrims to the great church are also visible, if one knows where to look. Yet, as I observed on my visits to the church earlier this year, the steady streams of pilgrims and tourists, clergy and tour guides, pass right by these fascinating reminders of the centuries of pious visitors who have traveled- often over great distances and in difficult circumstances- to venerate the empty Tomb of Christ.

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The largely Crusader-era main entrance to the church, with entrance and front facade giving little indication of the size of the church’s sprawling interior. The pious graffiti is most abundant around the doors near the center of the picture.

Covering the columned framing of the great doors to the main entrance to the church are perhaps hundreds of instances of ‘pious graffiti’- prayers, names, dates, and short texts carved into the stone by pilgrims. Deeper inside the church, in a stairwell leading down to the Chapel of St. Helena, sunk within the living rock, are hundreds of neatly carved crosses left by Crusaders, also as pious graffiti marking and memorializing their pilgrimage. While in the modern world such defacement is looked down on and even seen as criminal, Continue reading “Pious Graffiti at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Pilgrims’ Prayers and Traces of the Self”

Small Worlds, Nelson Sods, Winter

Straddling the long stony spine of West Virginia’s North Fork Mountain is an expanse of natural meadows, edged by red pine groves and gnarled oaks, called Nelson Sods (‘sods’ in local geographic usage means ‘meadows’). While the views are spectacular, the photos below, taken on a recent hike up on the mountain, are of the smaller wonders found there.

 

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Above: wind-sculpted grasses along the ridgeline. Below: grass woven into a circular shape by the action of wind upon a milkweed stalk.

 

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Above: a lone tree in the midst of the Sods. Below: a view across the ridge, red pines in the foreground.

 

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Above: an old pine stump in the Sods. Below: detail of the weathered wood of the stump.

 

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Below: British-soldier lichens.

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Battleground National Cemetery

One of the smallest American national cemeteries, this tiny cemetery is wedged between residential developments off of Georgia Avenue in the far northeast corner of the District of Columbia. The soldiers (mostly soldiers anyway) interred there were, for the most part, killed during the battle of Fort Stevens, a half mile or so distant, in 1864. Today the cemetery is an odd little oasis of green, the grass tall, the trees rambling, a rather poignant setting for the bits of nationalist piety, half bellicose, half sorrowful, that pepper the little block of green.

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Late Summer Plants and Blooms

The following are some plants growing and blooming right now in St. Louis’ excellent Botanical Gardens. After a rather rough summer, the weather has cooled and gotten a little wetter, though we are still in drought conditions. Nonetheless, the late summer and early fall blooming plants are looking pretty good, at the gardens at least. Above, Liatris, don’t recall the species. Blazing star in the vernacular.

A Missouri native, Silphium terebinthinaceum, one of my favorites. Everything about this plant is nifty- great big luxurious leaves, remarkably tall spindly flower stalks, beautiful flowers.

Lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina.

Aquilegia chrysantha, golden columbine.

Salvia of some sort, I think.

Lamb’s ears leaves, up close.

Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower, another Missouri native.