François-René de Chateaubriand

Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem, 1811

Viscount François-René de Chateaubriand (Saint-Malo 1768 – Paris 1848) was a writer, politician and diplomat and one of the most important French cultural figures of the 19th century. He is considered to be the founder of French literary romanticism. After a long voyage through the Middle East he reached Jerusalem in October 1806. During his stay he visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and subsequently provided a description of it in his book “Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem”. The English translation (by Frederic Shoberl) has been published with two different titles: “Travels to Jerusalem and the Holy Land through Egypt” and “Travels in Greece, Palestine, Egypt, and Barbary, during the years 1806 and 1807”.

“The ancient travellers were extremely fortunate: they were not obliged to enter into all these critical disquisitions; in the first place, because they found in their readers that religion which never contends against truth; and secondly, because every mind was convinced that the only way of seeing a country as it is, must be to see it with all its traditions and recollections. It is in fact with the Bible in his hand that a traveller ought to visit the Holy Land.”

“Christian readers will perhaps inquire, what were my feelings on entering this awful [i.e, “awe-inspiring”] place. I really cannot tell. So many reflections rushed at once upon my mind, that I was unable to dwell upon any particular idea. I continued near half-an-hour upon my knees in the little chamber of the Holy Sepulchre, with my eyes rivetted on the stone, from which I had not the power to turn them.”

“The organ of the Latin monks, the cymbals of the Abyssinian priest, the voice of the Greek caloyer [monk], the prayer of the solitary Armenian, the plaintive accents of the Coptic friar, alternately, or all at once assail your ear: you know not whence these concerts proceed; you inhale the perfume of incense, without perceiving the hand that burns it; you merely perceive the pontiff, who is going to celebrate the most awful of mysteries on the very spot where they were accomplished, pass quickly by, glide behind the columns, and vanish in the gloom of the temple.”