8 October 2019

The Terra Sancta Museum: a matter of reflection and understanding


The fifth meeting of the Scientific Committee of the Terra Sancta Museum took place from September 24-26, 2019. During the meeting, priority was given to reflection; that is, the interaction and dialogue that the works on display will generate among visitors. “It is not just a question of enhancing these works and making them physically accessible. It is a question of making them speak, of allowing them to tell their stories, of allowing the public to get in touch with them,” explains Jacques Charles-Gaffiot, a French art historian on the Scientific Committee. One of the unique features of the Terra Sancta Museum is that all the objects on display have been made, brought and offered for Jerusalem.

Thus, synthesis and reformulation will take place on the panels of the rooms and in the captions that will accompany the works in the Historical Section. “To capture the public’s attention, we need to introduce diversity and specificity while being scientifically accurate and concise. The question we are asking ourselves is: what should we say and with what language so that the majority of visitors can understand it?” explains Béatrix Saule, Honorary General Director of the Château de Versailles.

In a concern for technological innovation and pedagogy, three multimedia displays will be placed in the Historical Section. They were designed by Gabriele Allevi, the museographer and multimedia creator for the other sections. The first multimedia display will show visitors the continuity of the Christian presence in Jerusalem, echoing the Archaeological Section in the Monastery of the Flagellation. The second multimedia display will immerse the visitor in the world of pilgrimages during the Middle Ages. Many pilgrims tell stories of diseases, acts of piracy, dangers and discoveries made on their incredible journeys. The third multimedia display will allow the visitor to understand the uses, role and importance of the liturgy in terms of objects, colors and rituals. “Many of the works that will be exhibited are still used today for divine worship. Pilgrims go to shrines but do not imagine what the celebration of Easter at the Holy Sepulchre looks like. When they visit the museum, they will be able to see the sumptuousness of the worship that has been and is still being rendered to God,” says Brother Rodrigo Machado Soares, Custodial Master of Ceremonies and member of the Committee.

In another session devoted to architecture, Brother Eugenio Alliata, archaeologist and Director of the Archaeological Section of the Terra Sancta Museum, retraced the history of the Saint Saviour Monastery that will house the Historical Section of the museum. It was a valuable opportunity for the Committee to learn about the Georgian presence in the monastery dating back to the 16th century as well as the various jobs the friars had which have been revealed through the architectural development of the monastery.

Brother Alliata then guided the Committee through the future shop of the Terra Sancta Museum and into the new reserves housing the collection of liturgical vestments. The latter is now well known, thanks to the meticulous work of Maria Pia Pettinau Vescina, an expert in textiles, and Danièle Véron-Denise, Honorary Conservator of the Fontainebleau Castle and expert in liturgical and secular fabrics. A near-finalized version of the paramentic catalog was presented to the Committee and will be published in the coming months.

Among the other progress reports on the publication of catalogs, Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, editor of the orfèvrerie catalog, highlighted the long-term work undertaken over the past year to identify, examine and trace the arrival of each work in the Holy Land. “This catalog will contain 150 entries written by 11 authors. We have invited new experts such as Antonello Ricco, doctoral student at the University of Salerno, Maria Serlupi Crescenzi, curator of the Decorative Arts Department at the Vatican Museums, Teresa Vale, professor of art history at the University of Lisbon, and Florian Meunier, a curator at the Louvre. Their contributions allow us to move back and forth between the Holy Land and the countries of origin of these works.

The cataloging process is still far from complete since inventories are still being assembled in the Custody’s monasteries in Gethsemane, Naples, Cyprus and Aleppo. More than 5,900 object files have been entered in the last two years.

This work is extremely valuable to the Custody. It allows us to deepen our knowledge of our collections and, in this way, to be able to respond to requests for collaboration. In particular, I am thinking of the upcoming exhibition at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania under Prince Radziwill, or next year in Madrid and Lisbon,” says Brother Stéphane Milovitch, Director of the Cultural Heritage Office of the Custody of the Holy Land.

During the meeting, Raphaelle Ziadé, head of the Department of Byzantine Art at the Petit Palais in Paris, and George Al’Ama, a Palestinian collector, presented a selection of icons to be displayed at the Terra Sancta Museum. “These icons testify to the link, the exchanges, the circulation of images between East and West and the exchanges between communities,” explains Ms. Ziadé. The icons presented will shed light on the so-called “Jerusalem School” and its key characteristics including its favorite themes, colors, Arabic inscriptions, accessories and costumes, and so on.

Béatrix Saule introduces to the work of the Scientific Committee

Raphaelle Ziadé and Jacques Charles-Gaffiot at work during the Scientific Committee

Gabriele Allevi, museographer and author of the multimedia installations of the new historical section of TSM

The scientific committee visiting the convent of San Salvatore with Father Eugenio Alliata

One of the ancient inscriptions found in the premises of the future shop of the Terra Sancta Museum

The British Consul, in the front row, and other guests at the presentation of the TSM project

His Eminence Hyacinth-Boulos Marcuzzo and the consuls of Belgium, Italy and Spain in Jerusalem at the presentation of the TSM project

The rendering of the future Terra Sancta Museum



At the end of the fifth meeting of the Scientific Committee, the Italian, Belgian, English and Spanish consuls were invited for a presentation of the project. At the end of the presentation, Fabio Sokolowicz, General Consul of Italy in Jerusalem, stated: “This project is particularly important for the promotion of Italian, European and Christian culture in the Holy Land in such a unique context. It is difficult to express in words what we have just seen. We are all looking forward to seeing and experiencing the objects that will be on display.

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