Home / Tradition / International conference "Jerusalem in Russian Spiritual tradition" / Some lecturs of international conference "Jerusalem in Russian Spiritual tradition" / Non Russian Evidence to Russian Pilgrimage in 19-th Century Palestine. Prof. Rehav Rubin, Department of Geography, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Non Russian Evidence to Russian Pilgrimage in 19th Century Palestine:
Prof. Rehav Rubin, Department of Geography,
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
During the 19th century, and especially after the end of the Crimean war, Travel and Pilgrimage to Palestine developed more and more. The reasons for this process have been studied and we will mention briefly here the improvement of the security, legal and political situation pertaining to foreigners in the Ottoman Empire, improvements of the roads and transportation in Palestine, and the establishment of reliable and scheduled steamer-lines to Acre, Haifa and Jaffa.
The growing number of travelers, and the growing share of scholars and authors among them, enriched the information about the travelers and their experiences. Western travelers and their books were studied thoroughly and the importance of these sources for the historical and geographical research, as well as their importance as a cultural phenomenon, was discussed in scientific literature time and again. 
In contrast, among Israeli and western scholars, Russian pilgrimage and travels were hardly studied as for many of these scholars Russian books and documents were not accessible. The only Hebrew book that filled that gap was Raba’s important collection of translated texts which did not however include the 19th century. 
19th century Russian pilgrimage was huge in numbers, even in modern scale.  In the beginning they leaned on the hostels of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, but later on the Russians started their own establishment, built large hospices, started a steamer line to Jaffa, and traveled in large numbers through the whole country. The peak of this movement was probably in 1899-1900, when about 11,000 pilgrims came from Russia to Palestine on this track.  This large scale activity had, as we will try to show, a strong impact on many aspects of daily life in Palestine, and on the landscape and urban space till today. However, it was hardly discussed beyond the Russian speaking realm.
As I do not read Russian, and cannot relate to the Russian literature and documentary evidence, I intend in this paper to suggest some avenues for future research, which will shed light on the Russian pilgrimage as it is reflected through the eyes of Western sources and in non-documentary evidence.
In the writings of western authors there are many references to Russian buildings and to Russian pilgrims. These are of-course both objective and subjective descriptions which reflect the various ways the western travelers conceived their fellow pilgrims.
One of the major texts of this kind is Grahm Stephan’s book With Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem.  Stephan joined a small Russian pilgrims’ boat in Istanbul and traveled with them as if he were one of them. He identified himself strongly with the pilgrims, and although he described their poverty and humble life, he depicted them in a hearty, positive and symapthetic manner.
Lawrence Oliphant, who lived in Palestine several years, described in one of his letters how he met a group of Russian pilgrims, climbing their way from Jaffa through the mountains to Jerusalem. He saw them hauling the large bell that was sent for the belfry of the Russian Church of the Ascension on top of Mt. of Olives. It seems that it will be best to quote his own description:
“… There appeared in front of me a large object of some sort, which was being slowly dragged along by a crowd of people who were evidently not natives of the country. On reaching it I found that it was a huge bell, weighing seven or eight tons, most elaborately ornamented with scriptural and sacred designs in basso-relievo, and which, placed on a truck with low wheels, was being hauled by about eighty Russian peasants, more than half of whom were women. Looking on their singular group of ragged featured people, with their light hair and Kalmuck countenances, one felt suddenly transported from the hills of Palestine to the steppes of Southern Russia. …”
“Meanwhile I could not but regard with interest the eager devotion of these poor people, and especially the women, who were thus satisfying a religious instinct by exercising the function of draught animals … 
In another letter he admired the devotion of a group of pilgrims whom he had met going back from the Jordan River, carrying reeds from the river banks. 
The day that large and heavy bell arrived to Jerusalem is described in the reminiscences of Bertha Vester Spafford who was a child in the American Colony:
“I remember the day the bell passed below our house on its way to Gathsemane. We all went up on the roof and watched and listened. The singing reached us and was very sweet. Before the faithful workers, was still the great pull up Olivet, but they were cheerful, waved to us on the roof and proceeded with their precious load.”
Her aunt wrote in a letter describing the same event: “… A 12,000 pound bell, cast in Russia, was brought for the Tower (on Mount of Olives, R.R.) It was drawn from Jaffa to the top of the Mount of Olives last winter by Russian Pilgrims, mostly women. It took them three weeks to get it to its destination. These Russian peasants have beautiful voices and they chanted the whole way.” 
However, not all the westerners viewed this massive Russian activity in a positive manner. H.B. Tristram, an English Reverend and Zoologist who traveled in Palestine in the 1860’s described the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. He described the huge dimensions and the large number of priests, monks and pilgrims, but he also said it looks like a Russian conquest of Jerusalem. 
Twenty five years later, the Quarterly Journal of the British Palestine Exploration Fund, published an English translation of an article published by the French Le Figaro on October 1889, in which the Russian activity is criticized with fairly sharp words. The French author is threatened, so it seems by “the Russification” of the Holy Land. 
“Russia proceeds in a manner peculiar to herself: she labours without noise, but this does not prevent her making great advances. … Russia labours in silence and obtains surprising results. It seems that Russians have undertaken to Russify Palestine, and they are doing it. …”
Artists, and later on photographers, produced many graphic images of the Holy Places, of the native inhabitants of the country, but also of the pilgrims. This was usually done when the pilgrims looked different and were conceived as part of the exotic experience. Therefore, Russian pilgrims were often depicted by westerners, in drawings, paintings, in photographs and in photographs based lithographs.
A nice example can be seen in Wilson’s Picturesque Palestine.  Here one can see the special appearance, clothing and hats, typical to the Russian pilgrims and their religious activity, buying candles on their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, probably, to the ceremony of the Holy Fire.
A series of interesting photographs, also emphasizing the Russian pilgrims is found in Franklin’s book on Palestine.  There we can see some characteristics of the Russian pilgrimage as they were caught in Franklin’s camera: 1) Their clothings, 2) the large proportion of women among the pilgrims and 3) the large numbers of pilgrims in each group, walking on foot throughout the Holy Land.
A special interesting tradition which is documented in one of his photographs is the habit to buy shrouds in Jerusalem and to take them home, in order to be buried in them.
Entirely different visual evidence comes from albums, postcards and stereoscopic postcards that were produced in Jerusalem to be sold to pilgrims. The earliest example that is known to us was printed in Paris by Prikov already in 1849. It includes 48 views of holy sites that were copied from the works of French and English artists. 
The graphic and photographic industry especially that of stereoscopic postcards, was part of the tourist and pilgrimage commerce in Jerusalem in general. However, among those there are many that bore Russian inscriptions that were certainly prepared for the Russian pilgrims. Some of these postcards depicted the Holy Places in general, but others exhibited Russian pilgrims and Russian churches and were produced especially in order to be sold to the Russian pilgrims.
In the beginning the Russian pilgrims found accommodation and hospitality in the monasteries of their fellow Greek Orthodox. Soon, when their numbers grew, they started to develop their own institutions. We will not discuss here the changes in the relationship between the Russian delegation to Palestine and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the tensions that grew between them,  but refer only in short to the Russian building operations.
The large Russian Compound in Jerusalem is well known and is still standing in the middle of the city. It has an enormous impact on the urban life of the city.
Besides many other buildings were built in Jerusalem and its vicinity:
The Hospice Alexander next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; Mary Magdalene in the lower part of Mt. of Olives and the Church of Ascension with its high tower on its top.
Near Jerusalem the large monastery in Ain Karim was built, where the unfinished church is being completed in these very days.
However, we have to look more into Russian buildings in the smaller towns and to their impact on the landscape. In Nazareth a large compound was built, known still to day as the Moskobieh in Arabic.
In Jaffa the large compound of Abu-Kabir, whose tower is still prominent in its area, was built.
In Jericho, a fairly large area was bought in the eastern margins of the small town and a large building was built. This complex is clearly defined on a 1930 detailed map as: “Russian Mission”.  This building was later used for various purposes but on its roof a large Russian inscription can be seen, silent evidence to its Russian origin.
An indirect but important influence of the Russian pilgrimage can be seen in Judean Desert:
There, in the Monastery of St. Theodosius east of Bethlehem, in the Monastery of St. Georgios in Wadi-el-Qilt and in the Monastery on mount of Temptation (or Quarantal) above Jericho, a large scale renovation took place around 1900. Those monasteries were part of the sacred and venerated Byzantine desert monasteries. They were abandoned for centuries, and now, with the massive Russian pilgrimage they were rebuilt by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. This renovation of the monasteries was on one hand the outcome of the massive income that came from the donations given by the Russian pilgrims to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, and on the other hand it was an answer to the demand, caused by those pilgrims who wanted to visit the ancient desert monasteries which were venerated by them.
In Monastery on mount of Temptation (Quarantal), the whole renovated monastery was built against the cliff. When you enter the gate, you walk along a corridor, where your right side is against the vertical rock and on your left there are guest rooms, numbered as in hotel. All those rooms were used to accommodate the pilgrims for at least one night on their journey from Jerusalem to the Jordan River and back.
Besides texts, visual images and buildings, small artifacts can also be used as historical evidence. I will explore here only a few examples that are relevant to the study of Russian pilgrimage and its impact on daily life.
a. Russian pilgrims used to visit the many Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries both in Jerusalem and elsewhere. One of the typical silent witnesses for their visits is a special kind of ecclesiastical decorative object known as “Epitaphios”. This is a special type of icon, depicting the funeral of Jesus, which is made of heavy embroidery, rich with silver and gold. Almost all the epitaphioi I know in Jerusalem and in the Judean Desert monasteries are Russian, identified by their style and by the language of the phrases written in magnificent needle-work around the central scene. It is said that this special highly skilled embroidery was a common craft among ladies of the Russian nobility, and was sent with the pilgrims as special donations to the churches in the Holy Land.
b. In the kitchen-cave of the monastery of Quarantal there are two huge Samovars. Many years ago I asked the abbot about them and he answered (in Arabic): “These are from the time of the Russians.” When I insisted he explained that the Russian pilgrims used to drink hot tea after they climbed up to the monastery.
On their habit to drink hot tea Spafford gave her own view: “In these (special hospices) the pilgrims could be housed and served hot water in samovars and leave a few kopeks when they departed.” 
And indeed, lately, we found a Russian Samovar from 1870 in an Arabic antique shop in Jerusalem. This samovar, dated by its stamp, point at the indirect influence of the Russian tea culture on the material culture of the Palestinian house-keeping, probably of the rich town-folks.
c. Interesting evidence is found in the less expected place – Bedouin traditional decorative jewelry. It is common to decorate the ladies dresses and head pieces with coins. But it was a striking surprise when I first saw Russian pre-revolution coins of 5, 10, 20, and 50 Kopekas in such pieces. The use of such Russian coins was not really regular, but apparently it was not very rare. Naturally it represents the role of Judean Desert Bedouins in the pilgrimage economy, as the ones who supplied guides, camels and donkeys, food and water etc. on the road between Jerusalem and the Jordan River.
In this short presentation I tried to explore some new avenues for the study of 19th century Russian pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I tried to emphasize the sources and aspects which are not dependent on the Russian sources. I tried to explore the way this huge movement of pious people was seen and conceived by other people, and how they, with their appearance, devotion, habits and money influenced the local people, the towns and landscape and the daily life. I tried to claim that a coin, a samovar and a building can help us a lot in our study of the past.
What I suggested here was only like opening a small window and these issues should be studied in a broader and deeper scope. However, I believe that such research, when it will be integrated with the studies of Russian material will contribute to the composition of a large and detail picture of the Russian activity in the Holy Land.
© Prof. Rehav Rubin, Department of Geography,
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
November 1st 2005
Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Mount Scopus
 Ben Arieh Y., “Nineteenth Century Western Travel Literature to Eretz Israel: A Historical Source and a Cultural Phenomenon”, Cathedra 40 (1986), pp. 159-188 (Hebrew)
Goren H., Go View the Land, German Study of Palestine in the Nineteenth Century, Jerusalem 1999 (Hebrew).
 Raba J., Russian Travel Acccounts on Palestine, Jerusalem 1986 (Hebrew)
 I will not refer her to the early Russian pilgrimage prior to the 19th century. See for example: Stavrou, T. G. and P. R. Weisensel, Russian Travellers to the Christian East from the Twelfth to the Twentieth Century, Columbus Ohio, 1986
 D. Hopwood, The Russian Presence in Syria and Palestine 1843-1914, Oxford 1969, esp. p. 116
 Graham Stephen, With Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem, London, Edinburgh and New York (n.d.)
 Laurence Oliphant, Haifa or Life in Modern Palestine, New York, 1887, pp. 290-291
 L. Oliphant, Notes of a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land, London 1891, pp. 68-69
 B. Vester Spafford, Our Jerusalem: An American Family in the Holy City, 1881-1949, London 1951, p. 92-93
 H. B. Tristram, The Land of Israel, a Journal of Travels in Palestine, London 1865, pp. 172-173
 PEFQSt, 1890, p. 3
 C. Wilson, Picturesque Palestine, Sinai and Egypt, vol. I, London (1884), p. 22
 G. E. Franklin, Palestine Depicted and Described, London 1911
 A. T. Prikov, Album of Pictures, Paris 1849 (Russian, copy edition by Carta, Jerusalem 1975)
 H. B. Tristram, The Land of Israel, a Journal of Travels in Palestine, London 1865, pp. 172-173; Goodrich-Freer, Inner Jerusalem, London 1904, 84-88
 Jericho, 1:1250, Survey of Palestine, Jaffa 1930 (in 5 sheets).
 B. Vester Spafford, Our Jerusalem (above note 8), p. 92
|© 2005 The Orthodox Scientific Educational Society
"Russia in colours" in Jerusalem