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An Easter expedition

A Journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter, A.D. 1697, by Henry Maundrell. Third edition. Printed in Oxford at the Sheldonian Theatre, 1714. Lower Library, E.33.41.

Featured book_A journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem at Easter

In 1580 a treaty between the governments of Elizabeth I and the Ottoman Empire granted English merchants the same degree of trading rights in the parts of the Middle East under Turkish influence as those privileges enjoyed by their French counterparts. The following year those rights were encapsulated in a charter to the Levant Company as the regulatory body for the development of commerce. The Company flourished, establishing offices (which it called factories) at Constantinople and Aleppo. In 1695, probably as a result of the influence of an uncle, Henry Maundrell, of Exeter College, Oxford, an obscure young curate from Brompton, Kent, was appointed Chaplain to the Company’s employees at Aleppo.

Maundrell was anxious to use the opportunity of his exotic posting to make a trip to Jerusalem to explore the land and its antiquities. The itinerary was recorded in his journal. A travel-party of fourteen other Englishmen was mustered, setting out with some local guides on 26 February 1696*. Apparently Maundrell had no knowledge of Arabic or Turkish but he was a meticulous, pithy and critical observer. They enjoyed a leisurely itinerary. It is 325 miles between the two cities but, undeterred, the party struck first northwest to see the ruins of Cyrrhus, thence south-westwards close to the coast to Beirut and eastwards to the Dead Sea. Jerusalem was reached on 26 March (“Good Friday in the Latin style”, Maundrell commented). Wishing to celebrate Easter at the Holy City in a manner not in the Latin style the party repaired to Bethlehem, remaining there until Good Friday 02 April. They reached the Holy Sepulchre on Saturday 03 April, Maundrell recording that, the following day, “this being our Easter, we did not go abroad to visit any places, the time requiring an employment of another nature”. The return was via Mount Tabor and the ancient civilisation of Ba’albek.

Once safely home at Aleppo Maundrell was persuaded to publish the diary he had maintained of the undertaking. It appeared, posthumously, in 1703 and ran to several editions, with revisions. Maundrell died at Aleppo in 1701. The engravings in our book are by the Dutch illustrator Michael Burghers (1647-1727). His “Prospect of Aleppo” accompanies the start of the journey. We see the citadel, the Queiq river and eight hills that surround the city. Cyrrhus attracted these early travellers because it was the site of an ancient Christian bishopric, but Maundrell found the deserted city “in a ruinous fabrick”. On March 07 they inspected the ruins at the Serpent’s Fountain (believed to be near modern-day port of Tartus). Burghers provided an engraved sketch and plan of the twin towers (“sepulchral monuments”) that so fascinated Maundrell. The monuments of Ba’albek merit several folding plates. In the picture of Mount Tabor, a group on horseback is seen approaching the olive-clad protuberance.

Our copy was bequeathed in 1764 by James Burrough Miles, late Master of the College.

* Maundrell used the Julian Calendar, by which 25 March was observed as New Year’s Day.