Jerusalem-CrusadersThe Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem- A Corpus, Vol. 1, A—K (excluding Acre and Jerusalem)

Denys Pringle

(New York- Cambridge University Press, 1993) 352 pp., $125.00

Most Christian travelers who visit Bethany, a few miles southeast of Jerusalem, leave knowing very little of the Crusader churches that sprang up around the tomb of Lazarus. Denys Pringle, with the help of architectural plans and illustrations drawn by Peter Leach, may change that. In this new catalogue of Crusader churches, Pringle transports the reader to places like Bethany and unveils the complexity and beauty of their ancient churches.

Pringle’s three-volume work lists churches in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, the boundaries of which stretched from just north of present-day Beirut and the Golan Heights to the Gulf of Aqaba and Sinai. This first volume looks at 131 churches, including the east and west churches at Bethany and the tomb of Lazarus. This holy place and its church were already present when the earliest records were written. But the site’s layout grew in complexity when, in 1137, it became a royal convent, and very few visitors can now make sense of it. In their article on Bethany, Pringle and Leach make it beautifully clear what was done. It is this sort of illuminating information that will delight the reader. In 1979, Pringle began his research by compiling a list of Crusader churches in the accessible parts of the Latin Kingdom. When he discovered a church, Peter Leach drew a plan; then Pringle read and compiled all available sources of information, both ancient and modern, relating to the site. Now the catalogue (entries A-K) has begun to see the light of day.

Since Pringle aims to provide comprehensive data on the structures themselves, he avoids diversions, thus keeping the book to a manageable length. But the resulting text is sometimes awkward to read. A good deal of Pringle’s valuable information should have been removed from the main text. Take, for example, the following sentence- “The mosaics, however, dated from before the twelfth century (cf. Daniel (1106–7), XLVIII (trans. Ryan, 143), though they were evidently restored or renewed during the Frankish occupation.” We can get the sense of it, but only with some effort. But that is a quibble. Readers of this first volume will wish the author every success in finishing his task, for this book is now the guide to the Crusader churches of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.