It was a lovely morning at St George’s Cathedral with the installation of a new Cathedral Canon for Reconciliation, the Revd Canon Fuad Dagher at the Eucharist celebrated in Arabic and the arrival of lots of pilgrims from East London and beyond at the 11.15am Eucharist in English. There is something truly pentecostal about the experience of worshipping in the city where the gift to the church of many tongues is the reality day-in-day-out.
I’d decided that after lunch I needed and walk and I had a purpose in mind. I’d learnt that William Holman Hunt, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (a British school of painting in the second half of the nineteenth century), lived in Jerusalem for a few years and that the house he had built was not so far from where I’m staying in East Jerusalem. So I went on the hunt for Hunt!
The address I was looking for was Ha-Nevi’im Street 64. The street in English is called ‘The Prophets Street’. It is now split in two by the major road that has been built which carries both the tram and lanes of traffic, some bound for the Damascus Gate area and some swallowed up in the underpass which emerges below Jaffa Gate. (Jerusalem and the districts around it are full of new roads built to meet the needs of the burgeoning settlements).
During its heyday in the late 19th century and early 20th century, The Prophets Street was a favourite address for hospitals, churches, monasteries, hospices, government offices, foreign consulates, and wealthy Christian, Jewish and Arab residents. The street today contains a similar though one suspects less rich mix mix and though some of the best properties are in disrepair and others have been replaced by buildings less beautiful it is still an interesting street on the edge of the ultra-orthodox district of Mea Shearim. The elegant 19th-century architecture of the buildings was the reason why some people described it as ‘the most beautiful street outside the Old City.’
Walking up the street you pass what was the Bishop’s House, the first residence built for the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem. Holman Hunt’s house was further up the street towards Davidka Square.
Well, the hunt was successful in that I found the house or at least the locked front gate. It is now part of the Monastery of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. A blue plaque records that it is ‘Hunt House’ and that the artist lived there and was succeeded by the Hebrew poet, Rachel, and the pioneering paediatrician Dr Helena Kagan. So it’s had a good range of residents.
In a previous blog I’d included Holman Hunt’s picture of ‘The Scapegoat’. I hadn’t realised at that point that he had visited the Holy Land a number of times and actually lived in Jerusalem. In his third visit in 1876 he had the house built and lived in it for some time before finally leaving the Holy Land, never to return, in 1892. He fell in love with the land and the city and he gave himself to producing some paintings with a biblical theme.
The Pre-Raphaelites were dedicated to an intensely accurate realism. The level of detail that they include gives a more than photographic quality to their paintings. It was to satisfy this ‘realism’ that Holman Hunt came here. He wanted to capture the topography, the colours, the light and the look of the people. So he went to the Dead Sea before painting ‘The Scapegoat’. He tried to find seven compliant Rabbis to pose for his painting ‘The Finding of the Saviour’. In that he wasn’t successful. The Rabbis didn’t want to be part of a graven image.
Although I love the Pre-Raphaelites and get a great deal from looking at the paintings and enjoying the rich symbolism and detail that they contain yet they have a romantic view of realism and Hunt’s failure to get the Rabbi’s consent is an interesting commentary on that. Walking along his street today you encounter reality. It has inevitably changed from when he was living there but is no less real for that, for the reality of the past is past, it is the reality of the present, the now, in which we both find ourselves and Jesus.
Perhaps the artist Banksy with his graffiti on the Separation Wall captures a truer reality. It wouldn’t have been Holman Hunt’s thing but in this hunt for reality we need to look not with the romantic but the realistic eye.
may I see as you see
and with eyes wide open
find you in the reality
of the now moment.