15. Constantine’s Palestine: The Construction of the Holy Land as an Imperial and Ecclesiastical Project
Øyvind Norderval [+]
University of Oslo
The Roman emperor Constantine (reign 303-337 CE) instigated the construction of the Holy Land. His visions for the Holy Land, its sacred places, Christian settlements, and pilgrimages represent a radical shift in imperial policy. This shift related to Constantine’s struggle to dismantle the Diocletian tetrarchy and become sole emperor. His vision was to have one god, one emperor, one church. Soon after becoming the sole emperor in 324, Constantine sent his mother Helena to the Levant to work with local Christian elites to begin building the Holy Land as a physical reality—a completely new orientation in the Christian perception of the region. After the fall of the temple, Christians generally did not entertain interest in Jerusalem as a physical site. Subsequent to Constantine’s initiative, there was a rapid development of religious structures and pilgrimage to the region, as is seen in sources like Itinerarium burdigalense (330s), Itenararium Egeriae (380s), or Jerome’s Epistula 108 (after 400). The political center of Constantine’s empire was Constantinople, but the ideological foundation of his power was Jerusalem—a proof of his role as God’s chosen emperor. The initiative to pilgrimage was imperial, but actual constructions only emerged through co-operation, adaption, and performances by local elites. The empire and local communities became entangled in complex ways that, eventually, neither side could easily dis-entangle. A shared framework of liturgical and biblical tradition (harking back to issues discussed in chapter 10) facilitated the construction of the fairly unified concept of pilgrimage to the Holy Land. This framework created space for individual adaptions and yet promoted a direction for the totality. Constantine’s construction of the Holy Land turned into a cultural paradigm that kept developing—even into the Islamic faith, a paradigm that is today widely entangled throughout the world.