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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On the Forgotten Dead

In Independence Park, west of the Old City of Jerusalem, there is a mostly abandoned Muslim cemetery. Near a large and empty stone-lined reservoir, among its neglected tombstones, in the dust, and dry grass, one monument stands out for its size and appearance. It is shaped like a vaulted building, imposing and quite distinct from the simple, smaller, Muslim tombs. It is clearly of twelfth century date and displays on its stones the typical diagonal tooling of crusader construction.

No one knows who was buried here. There is no inscription. The only possible hint is its proximity to the reservoir, one of a number of open pools that supplied water to the city since ancient times. In the crusader period it was known, along with a second reservoir within the city walls (and to which it was connected by a conduit) as the Patriarch's Pool. Possibly then, considering the likelihood that the area immediately surrounding the pool would have been patriarchal property, this tomb may have belonged to someone close to the Latin patriarch. Certainly not the patriarch himself whose tomb, one would expect, would warrant a stone with an inscription.

And herein lies the quandary. This is a very impressive burial construction, not, it would seem, intended for just anyone. Yet, it lacks any means of identification. Tombstones and sarcophagi of important persons generally, probably always, had inscriptions. Could it be that it had a painted inscription that has over the centuries faded and been washed away? Another possibility is that it was unfinished or had been prepared for someone important but never made use of. The problem with this is that there are some other crusader tombs in this cemetery, one very similar in appearance, all of which lack inscriptions. Another possibility is that it had an inscription, but this was chipped off when it was later reused for the burial of a Muslim (the similar tomb, was indeed reused and is located in a nearby Ayyubid chapel). If either of these solutions was the case then, considering its splendid appearance this might indeed have been (or have been planned to be) the tomb of a Latin patriarch of Jerusalem.

Most likely we will never know. But it also brings to mind another, even more formidable problem with crusader burial in Jerusalem. There are just a handful of tombs in this cemetery. Elsewhere there are a number of very small cemeteries, mainly in or adjacent to churches, and a few of tombstone slabs have been recovered and are now located in museums. But where are all the others? What happened to all the thousands of the people who died during the nearly one hundred years of Frankish rule in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries? Where are they buried? I mentioned in an earlier post the burial place of pilgrims in a large charnel house in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but even there no bones have been recovered. This is a question that remains unanswered at present.

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