From the Archives: Artifacts from the Holy Land


The CSS archives contain several boxes of artifacts from the Holy Land, a collection started by the late Rev. Dr. Theodore F. Wright (1845-1907). Wright was a graduate of Harvard University, the founding pastor of the Cambridge Swedenborg Chapel in 1888, and longtime Dean and professor at the New Church Theological School (Now the Center for Swedenborgian Studies).

Highly active in the Palestine Exploration Fund programs from 1875 until his death, his work was widely known during the first phase of archaeological digs in the Holy Land. He often lectured at Harvard University and in other venues on his scholarship regarding Palestine, and he was a frequent contributor to the Palestine Exploration Quarterly.

The artifacts in the CSS collection, while reflecting the legacy and special interests of its former Dean, also speak to the trend in late 19th-century American travel to the holy land and the creation of Christian Holy Land object collections. Elizabeth S. Peña, director of the Center for the Arts & Religion at the Graduate Theological Union studies the phenomenon, pointing to the pedagogical and religious uses for these tangible connections to biblical lands. In particular, she points to the stones and pressed flowers featured in these collections, natural objects which connected people to a biblical landscape they imagined to be unchanged since antiquity. Students and lay church members alike would encounter the Bible materially through seeing, touching, and in some cases smelling objects brought home from a Holy Land pilgrimage. These objects would frequently be accompanied by Bible verses in their seminary settings, as many of the CSS items are, so that people could read and understand a verse of text as they encountered the object.

Rocks from the Jordan River or Sea of Galilee (Joshua 4:5), pinecones from the cedars of Lebanon (2 Samuel 5:11), jewelry (Genesis 24:47), mirrors (Exodus 28:8), and oil lamps (Matthew 25:1-10) are just a few of the objects found in the collection. As scholar Kathryn Barush writes in her recent publication Imaging Pilgrimage, “objects collected from, and inspired by, pilgrimages contain history and memory, and act as sites of extratemporal communitas.” This sacred sense of community forms through encounter with such objects, not just between fellow travelers, but between those who have journeyed in the past and those who will journey in the future.


CSS will host a trip to Israel and Palestine this month. Sixteen pilgrims, made up of faculty, students, and friends of the Center, will embark on a “dual narrative” tour of the Holy Lands, which will incorporate the stories of the different people living presently in Israel and Palestine, and the stories of their ancestors. We will bring with us the stories of our own ancestors, whose pilgrimages to these same lands celebrated the holy correspondences belonging to the people and places in this part of the world.