Holy Land Pilgrimage through Historical Photography
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Jean-Michel de Tarragon, professor emeritus at the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem, discusses the unique photographic archive held by the École. The archive contains one of the most extensive and valuable collections of Holy Land pilgrimage photographs found anywhere in the world. De Tarragon goes on to describe the extensive digitization program the École has more recently embarked upon which is drawing together collections of pilgrimage photographs held by numerous other Christian organizations in Jerusalem and Palestine more broadly. The discussion is followed by a sample of sixteen historic photographs from the École holdings that depict pilgrimages of various religious faiths and traditions. These are accompanied by detailed descriptions of the images and their provenance.

The Treasures of the École Biblique Photo Archive

In 2019 the photo collection of the École Biblique / Dominican Saint Stephen monastery in Jerusalem comprises around thirty thousand high definition scans of old black & white photos. This is in addition to another collection, less used by researchers, that consists of thousands of color-slides, also scanned in high definition (4,000 dpi). The core of the black and white collection comes from the roughly twelve thousand glass negatives held by the École – the biggest private collection of glass negatives in Jerusalem. Those include 2,448 stereoscopic glass negatives. Then, we could add 1,003 stereoscopic glass positives, for projection or 3D viewing through a viewing machine, not scanned because 95 percent are duplicates of negatives included among the bulk of the twelve thousand scans. The few positives without their negative counterpart have been scanned. Also, about four thousand positive square glass plates (non-stereoscopic) are held, some of them genuine American Colony from before the time of Eric Matson, and independent from the collection available in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Those twelve thousand negatives are private, coming from the work of the Dominican Friars during a period spanning from 1890 to around 1952.

The École Biblique photographs were never intended to be distributed to the general public, unlike, for instance, the Bonfils collection, the Raad collection, or the American Colony Photographers collection. The photos of the École were for the research of the Friars, all of them scholars in the fields of biblical studies, Palestinian geographical studies, Palestinian ethnography, and, of course, archaeology. The photos were designed to illustrate the articles published in the École’s quarterly journal, the Revue Biblique (founded in 1892), as well as their books and monographs. We see that the themes of the collection are always connected to some research of the Friars, themes that we can still track one hundred years later, even if the projected book was never finished.

The two main photographers who produced this unique body of work for the École Biblique were Father Antonin Jaussen and Father Raphael Savignac. Jaussen specialized in stereoscopics views while Savignac only produced classical glass-negative photos. Their photographs date back to the earliest period of the École Biblique collection, roughly between 1900 and 1930, after which point Jaussen shifted to the École house in Cairo (d. 1962). Meanwhile, Savignac remained in Jerusalem up to his death in 1952. The other Dominicans who worked as photographers were Paul-Marie Séjourné, Raphael Tonneau, Bertrand Carrière, Pierre Benoit and Rolandde de Vaux.

The process of digitizing the École photographic collection began in 2001, starting with the glass plates. Following this, a set of 294 beautiful vintage paper prints, mainly Bonfils, with a few Zangaki or Beato, belonging to the École Biblique, were added to the database. From the previous Notre Dame de France monastery we received as a permanent deposit 1,630 old glass-negatives, among them about 610 of huge size, 24 x 30 cm. This compelled us to buy a new flat-bed scanner, with A3-size capacity (the previous largest negatives were 18 x 24 cm). Having exhausted this work, we took the decision to significantly broaden the scope of our work and begin searching outside the collections the École had inherited, and to scan old photographic collections of other Christian communities of Jerusalem and Palestine. We found that everybody was enthusiastic to take part and to agree to the terms of our work: we scan free of charge, of course giving back the originals and a DVD set, and in exchange we obtain a written official agreement for the Right of Use of those scans. In this way, we found 705 beautiful glass-negatives in the Convent of the White Fathers in Saint Anne church in the Old City,1 along with hundreds of vintage paper prints. The total number of scans from the Saint Anne collection is around 2,400. We also asked the Jesuit community in Jerusalem, with 100 glass plates from before World War I (although on Egypt, not the Holy Land), and hundreds of film negatives and prints, totaling a further 2,400. Then our neighbor, the Schmidt School (official name, Paulus Haus) provided us with an album from 1907 to 1914 of 139 scans. Outside Jerusalem, we received two albums from the Salesian Friars of Bayt Jimal, and a few from their school in Nazareth, totaling 273 new photos. Two albums stolen in 1948 from the Raad Studio have been scanned (the albums subsequently perished in an accidental home fire), with 821 scans. Sadly, the photos were small paper prints, not so high quality (many were scratched), but many of them included English captions. Those 821 scans are the only reminder in the world of those two burned albums.

One of the most important collections we currently hold is from the Catholic Diocese, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. For four years we have been scanning step-by-step their numerous albums (no negatives), the majority of them stemming from the Patriarchate’s former historian, Father Médebielle. So far, we have reached 2,553 scans with six further albums waiting on our table. Other collections include 51 paper photos (not yet scanned) from the Rosary Sisters, 66 prints from the Ecce Homo Sisters, and 643 paper prints from the Fathers of Betharram in Bethlehem (some from the same Pierre Médebielle). Furthermore, His Beatitude, the Apostolic Armenian Patriarch, gave us some glass plates to be scanned. The Trappists monks of Latrun also donated their complete collection of 784 scans.

Over time we expect to continue expanding our collections but certain holdings remain beyond our reach, mainly those in family hands. We are also unable to scan huge institutional collections, far bigger than our own, such as those of the Franciscan Friars, the Custodia and, most mysteriously, the Greek Patriarchate collection, about which we know virtually nothing.

Sadly, we do not yet have a website for all these 27,732 scans to be displayed, in low definition, with captions. We are looking forward to doing this, but first there are a series of technical and legal challenges to be overcome.


Figures 1 and 2. Paper print of 26 x 39 cm, from the Stella Maris convent of the Carmelite fathers at the top of Mount Carmel, Haifa. Figure 1 shows the procession in honor of Saint Elijah, moving from the convent itself, in the background on the right of the photograph, to the statue of the Virgin Mary on its pedestal, in the center of the square between the large Stella Maris convent and the guest house, the former provisory convent, and the lighthouse. The photo is from the time of the British Mandate, around 1930. The procession of the Carmelite fathers, dressed in their white cloaks on brown robes, is preceded, just in front of the Virgin, by a police officer in tarbush hat, the cross holder and candlestick holders. It passes in front of a kind of platform for officials, at least a shelter from the sun. The statue of Saint Elijah wielding his sword is carried on the shoulders of volunteers, and can be seen under the tree against the convent wall, topped by a grid, in the center right of the photo. A crop of the following picture in the collection [figure 2] is complementary to it and illustrates well the carrying of this statue during the same ceremony. The crowd of pilgrims is mainly Palestinian; there are no Europeans. Saint Elijah was a very popular festival in Haifa, and mainlyconcerned the inhabitants of the city and the Galilean villages on the slopes of Mount Carmel. The picturesque also comes from the presence of the horse-driven carriages that led the pilgrims to the very top of the mountain. Strange detail: the base of the monument used as a base for the column bearing the statue of the Virgin is surrounded by some barbed wires, diagonally, probably to prevent people from climbing on it; this did not stop the two kids from sitting on one of the ledges, but hidden from the procession.

Figure 3. Paper print of 12 x 17 cm, photo of Studio Joseph Tumayan, from the album of the Salesian Fathers of Bayt Jimal, dedicated to the official visit of the Crown Prince of Italy, His Royal Highness Prince Humberto of Savoy, the only son of the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III. The album bears the Italian title “Visita del Principe Umberto di Savoia alla Filistina – 1928.” The date is precise: the Prince makes his official visit in the form of an explicitly religious and Catholic pilgrimage during Holy Week 1928, for Easter. The photograph shows the official reception of the Prince by the British Authorities at Jerusalem railway station on Sunday, 1 April 1928, Palm Sunday, at 10:30 a.m. The young prince (he was only 23 years old at the time) stood at attention at the hearing of the national anthems. Behind him, the British officers, then, in the center, small in size, in gilded uniform and with his sword, the Consul General of Italy in Jerusalem, then a member of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and on the right, the Vice Consul of Italy, also in uniform. Cars are waiting to lead the procession to the Jaffa Gate, where the religious authorities, led by the Latin Patriarch, will welcome H.R.H. Umberto of Savoy.

Figure 4. Paper print of 12 x 17 cm, photo of Studio Joseph Tumayan. Another important event in the official visit of the Crown Prince of Italy. The pilgrimage having an obvious political dimension, H.R.H. also visits the Muslim authorities on the Esplanade of the Mosques. The photo shows him outside the Dome of the Rock, surrounded by the Awqaf chiefs. The great mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husayni is on his right; the British high ranking military on his left. Note that the distinguished guests did not have to take off their shoes to enter the mosque: they were put small slippers on their cavalry boots. The Crown Prince put on the sober version of his uniform: he did not wear the large cord and the full decorations of his arrival at the Jerusalem station.

Figure 5. Glass negative, 9 x12 cm, from the Salesians of Don Bosco College, Nazareth. Without any original legend, however, it is clear that this is the Palm Sunday procession. The crowd of pilgrims and faithful stretches along the path from Bayt Fagi, passing over the crest of the Mount of Olives and down into the Kidron Valley, before going up in a large double bend to the Old City of Jerusalem, reaching the Lions Gate, whose crenellated summit can be seen in the upper left corner. We know that the ceremony traditionally ends near this gate, inside the old City, at the Saint Anne Church of the White Fathers. The photographer wanted to capture the moment when the ecclesiastical authorities pass in front of the Gethsemane church. At the bottom of the photograph, almost cut off by the framing, we see H.B. Mgr. the Latin Patriarch, whose long ceremonial cloak stretches behind him, carried by seminarians. In front of him are the canons of the Patriarchate in overhang, carrying the branches, then the immense serpentine of the crowd. The interest of this cliché is to be the exact visual counterpart of the same type of crowd in the same place, but Muslim, during the great procession of the Nabi Musa. There is the same stretching of a large procession, the same assembly of the curious on the sides of the Muslim cemetery on the edge of the eastern City wall. The date is the end of the British Mandate, or the very beginning of the Jordanian era. On the horizon, in the sky, the tower of the Rockefeller [Palestine] Archaeological Museum (inaugurated in 1938).

Figure 6. Paper print, or contact, photographic paper glued on cardboard, from a lost 13 x 18 cm glass plate of the Assumptionist Fathers of the former Notre-Dame de France, now kept in the albums of St. Pierre en Gallicante, Jerusalem. Very rare if not unique photograph showing the piercing of the Jerusalem wall by the Ottoman municipality, in order to open what will be the future New Gate, on the northern front of the city. The photo is taken from the top of the building under construction, Notre-Dame de France. In the foreground, three Assumptionists; in the center, the pierced wall, the two ashlar pillars of the future door are already installed. Behind, two clearly recognizable buildings: on the right, the Collège des Frères, and at the far left, the Latin Patriarchate; in the sky, the small minaret of the Citadel, Jaffa Gate. The year is precisely 1897, the beginning of the work; it was completed in 1899.

Figure 7. Large format paper print, contact from a 24 x 30 cm lost glass plate, from the collection of the convent of Notre-Dame de France, Jerusalem, of the Assumptionist Fathers, now kept at St. Pierre en Gallicante. Photograph showing a rarely documented dimension of the piety of Catholic pilgrims: in addition to the ceremonies and devotions to the Holy Places, there was the need to exercise charity. As a result, the Assumptionist organizers had chosen to lead the groups on a charitable visit to the Jerusalem lepers. The latter were confined outside the city, in the Kidron Valley, south of Silwan village, near Bir Ayub. A large group ofFrench people brought food. Most of the lepers are sitting on the floor in the front row. Among the pilgrims were the nuns of Saint Vincent de Paul, who knew how to care for lepers. The meal was in large wicker baskets, and cooking pots, which are clearly visible on the right side of the picture. Curiously, on the left, a lady holds a bottle of wine and a glass – the bottle probably contains something other than this drink forbidden to the sick, Muslims . . . . Most people look at the photographer, installed behind his heavy wooden camera for an extra-large format of 24 x 30 cm; as the label at the bottom of the picture indicates, the photographer is from Studio A. Gherardi, and the exact date is 8 June 1897.

Figure 8. Contact paper print, from a 24 x 30 cm glass plate, from the archives of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Rare photograph showing a Catholic mass celebrated in the middle of the First World War, in front of the Holy Sepulchre, on 2 September 1916. The many soldiers who attend are Austrian, and as such Catholic and not Lutheran, like most Germans also present in Jerusalem during the Great War. The particularities of the Status Quo that govern the celebrations to the Holy Sepulchre, between Orthodox Greeks, Armenians and Franciscans, mean that the Mass was not allowed to be celebrated inside the Basilica of the Resurrection, but outside, on the entrance square. The altar was placed on a large carpet against the door that had been condemned for centuries, with a hanging covering it. The service at the altar is provided by military male nurses, wearing the Red Cross armband on their left arm; two Franciscans are guarding the altar. Officers are allowed chairs on the left side. The military chaplain officiated, because the moment seized is the end of the ceremony, the beginning of the dispersion: the ladies in the center begin to leave. There is an important prelate, with many decorations, who is also moving away, preceded by two qawas. Behind him is Bishop Franz Fellinger, Rector of the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem. Military music plays an air (lower right angle). Some officers of the Ottoman army stand aside, in the shade of the outer staircase leading to Golgotha. A throne for the departing prelate had been installed at the bottom of the stairs, also in the shade. This copy of the photo is dedicated in French, bottom right: “Hommage respectueux, [signature], Jerusalem, 1/XI.16.”

Figure 9. Glass negative, 9 x 12 cm, from the collection of the Church of Saint Anne of the White Fathers, Jerusalem. The coming back to Jerusalem of the Muslim procession of the Nabi Musa, Ottoman period. Three photos were taken at the same time from the same place, allowing to reconstruct the caravan of the return of the Muslim authorities, mounted on horses and surrounded by banners. The Ottoman army is on guard of honor. The great mufti is on the left, on a white horse, in a white covered tarbush. He is Mohammad Tahir al-Husayni, the photo being probably 7 May 1907, according to the dates of the other photographs accompanying this one. The procession, or mawsim, of the Nabi Musa, is coming up from the surroundings of Jericho, and is walking on the pass at the top of the Mount of Olives, at Ras al-ʽAmud. It dominates the village of Silwan, on the far left. Opposite, the little-built Ophel hill, then Mount Zion, with the Dormition Abbey in the sky. The large grounds of Saint Peter in Gallicante are completely surrounded by a long wall, but no building can yet be seen there; the excavated debris distinguish the archaeological excavations of the Assumptionist fathers. In the White Fathers collection, there are eight photographs of the Nabi Musa, different from the most well-known classics in the American Colony collection.

Figure 10. Paper print from a 24 x 30 cm plaque, from the collection of the Church of Saint Anne of the White Fathers, Jerusalem. It illustrates the good cooperation between Catholic religious institutions and the few Armenian photographic studios in Jerusalem. Indeed, this photo of Saint Anne is published in the small Assumptionist magazine Jerusalem (62, August 1909): 478, with the following caption: “Les marins du Jules-Michelet en route pour le mont des Oliviers,” with the credit: Photo Khalil Raad. At the bottom of the contact kept at Saint Anne, and reproduced here, it reads: “NCOs of the Jules Michelet in Jerusalem (6 July 1909).” It is a pre-World War I Raad cliché, published by the Assumptionists, and kept with the White Fathers. The picturesque scenery illustrates well how Ottoman Jerusalem was open to all kinds of pilgrimages, including explicitly military ones. These French sailors from the Jules Michelet ship are pleased to be perched on donkeys. In the last row in the center, an officer and two Assumptionist priests. It is almost certain that the group was staying at Notre-Dame de France. The Mount of Olives of course presents Gethsemane as it was before 1914, that is, without the Franciscan basilica of the Agony or the Nations. Among our 821 Raad photos, we did not find this one. Possibly it could be among the 3,000 Raad negatives in Beirut.

Figure 11. This – the 1,232nd scan of photographs from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem – has the originality to show a group of Knights and a Dame . . . not from the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, which is almost always the case, but from the Order of Malta! The print is a contact of 22.3 x 28 cm, unfortunately without a legend and no date; however, the ladies’ hats take us back to the 1930s, British Mandate period. We can guess that the group posing is in Jerusalem in the premises of the Latin Patriarchate.

Figure 12. Print glued on cardboard, 22 x 27.7, necessarily from a glass negative of 24 x 30 cm, collection of the Assumptionists of Notre-Dame de France. At the bottom, a caption in ink reads, “Spanish Pilgrimage – May 8, 1912. Entrance to the Holy Sepulchre.” The group puts itself in order of procession outside the Jaffa Gate, before going to the Holy Sepulchre. The priests have donned the white surplice, and alternate colonial helmet and European black ecclesiastical hat. The three bishops are at the very end of the procession, the last characters being Assumptionists Friars, in black. We can guess that this group was staying at Notre-Dame de France, which is why the photograph was kept there. The precise date allows us to have a chronological reference point to study the facilities around the Jaffa Gate: coffee on the first floor, in full operation in 1912, etc. Onlookers gaze at the photographer, who, with his wooden camera for large format 24 x30 cm, did not go unnoticed.

Figure 13. Large format paper print, from a 24 x 30 cm lost glass plate, from the collection of the convent of Notre-Dame de France, Jerusalem, of the Assumptionist Fathers, print now kept at Saint Pierre en Gallicante. In the upper part of the large Assumptionist property at Saint Pierre en Gallicante, at the top of Mount Siyun, a large round tent with twelve sides was erected not far from the northwest corner of the property wall, with Mount Siyun in the background. The tent, very large, is conical and carries a large French flag at the top of the mast. Assumptionist fathers walk in the garden. Photo published in August 1895 in Notre-Dame’s magazine, Échos de Notre-Dame. We learn that the tent was erected there for the feast of Pentecost 1895, as close as possible to the Upper Room, the Cenaculum. This makes it the oldest photograph presented in this article. The tent was first used in 1893, for the International Eucharistic Congress, on the unbuilt grounds of Notre-Dame de France. The tent is 20 meters in diameter; twelve seven-meter high masts support the dome in an inner circle; other, smaller masts support the outer walls.

Figure 14. Negative on panoramic glass, 8 x 18 cm, from the collection of the Assumptionists of Notre-Dame de France. The wide angle view shows the Muslim procession of Nabi Musa in the middle of the old city of Jerusalem, at the level of the Third Station, at the crossroads of Via Dolorosa and al-Wad Street. The photographer stands on the terrace of the Austrian Hospice. The cliché is from the Ottoman period, as the presence of the Ottoman army indicates. The scene captured is a moment of jubilation around a group that, in the center left, makes a circle around a man carried on shoulders, and all sing while brandishing their stick or cane. In the background, the heart of the procession approaches, walking from the Mosques to the city’s exit, Lions Gate, following the Via Dolorosa. The first banners can be seen in the narrow street, where all are massed, including five Turkish army riders, against the right wall. A second shot exists in the collection: the same panoramic view, but taken vertically, a few minutes before this one, and showing the same man carried on the shoulders of a strong one, people clapping their hands to accompany a song.

Figure 15. Negative on a 13 x 18 cm glass, by the White Fathers of Saint Anne, Jerusalem, without caption or date. A pilgrimage to Bethlehem, in front of the Basilica of the Nativity. The photographer, being mounted on a cornice, gets an interesting view from the top: a beautiful collection of motor cars, dating back to the 1930s, British period. The pilgrimage gives the impression of being interfaith, with Anglicans and Greek-Catholics. The clergy is in the foreground, the laity in the background, on the left of the photo, sheltering from the sun under umbrellas. Beyond the pilgrims, the first house on the square, on the left, has a large sign indicating a photographic studio, “J. Shameliyeh Bros.”

Figure 16. Paper print 26 x 38 cm [cropped in height at digital capture] of the Carmelite Fathers’ convent of Stella Maris, on Mount Carmel, above Haifa. A caption allows us to date this group photo: “7th American Pilgrimage U.S.A. visited Mt. Carmel. 26 April 1930.” On the back, in pencil, “Apr.-16/1930” and “7th American Pilgrimage. Rt Rev Patrick J. McGovern, Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming, U.S.A.” It is rare to have American groups in our collection, where the French predominate. We note that the ladies who display the big flag hold it reversed.




1 See Jean-Michel de Tarragon, “The World War I Photo Archive in St. Anne Monastery, Old City of Jerusalem,” Jerusalem Quarterly 70 (Summer 2017): 43–51.