Towards Jerusalem: The Architecture of Pilgrimage

Gili Merin

Supervisors: Pier Vittorio Aureli, Maria Giudici

The thesis explores the ritual of sacred travel to the city of Jerusalem. It studies pilgrimage as a project in which the pilgrim, as a subject who is led by spiritual orientation, contributes to the appropriation of the cities and landscapes that he or she is perpetually crossing. While pilgrimage is indeed acknowledged as a journey in pursuit of a religious objective, it will nevertheless be studied, in this thesis, as a powerful social and cultural vector that often destabilized the economic, civic, and political conditions of the places of worship. The thesis will expand the definition of pilgrimage to Jerusalem by including a variety of analogous ‘Jerusalems’ that proliferated around the world as pilgrimage sites in their own right. As such, it will place the ritual of travel to the City of Jerusalem as a flexible practice that is not geographically confined but could be enacted by the varied combination of text, place, memory, and visual imagination—arguing for the possibility of relief from territorial confinement, and the violence it conceals. 

The thesis will unfold both chronologically and thematically in order to explore how the mentality of pilgrims and the scenography of pilgrimage has produced particular structures, landscapes, and representations that I refer to as the Architecture of Pilgrimage. Each of the five chapters looks both into a specific era in the history of Jerusalem pilgrimage (early Christianity, the Middle Ages, the beginning of Modernity and the 20th Century), as well as a particular theme, such as the fabrication of sacred landscapes, the intelligence of analogical thinking, the importance of movement in ritual, the politics of heritage and preservation, and the formation of collective memory. While these paradigmatic ideas did not necessarily originate in Jerusalem, the city’s condition allows their examination in a state of acceleration and saturation.

Methodologically, the thesis uses photography as a tool for architectural research and design, producing a travelogue composed of photographs and text. As documentation, this project will provide primary evidence of the current condition of Jerusalem pilgrimage. As representation, it will join a lineage of past endeavours that has used the medium of photography to frame spaces as a tool of architectural design. As a series, the images will unfold along the itinerary of the thesis and form cartography of pilgrimage. As a project, it will trace, define, and speculate on a possible new route Towards Jerusalem.

Image: Stations of the Cross in the Sacred Mountain of Varese, Italy. Photo by Gili Merin, 2018

Biography: Gili Merin is an architect and photographer She is a Diploma unit master at the AA, a lecturer for History and Theory of architecture at the Royal College of Arts, and a visiting professor in Syracuse University. She was trained as an architect, editor and researcher at OMA in Rotterdam, Kuehn Malvezzi in Berlin and Efrat-Kowalsky in Tel Aviv. Gili writes and photographs regularly for the Architects’ Journal, Frame Magazine and Haaretz newspaper. Her essays and reportages have been published in a number of print and online journals, amongst them the AA Files, MITs Thresholds, The Guardian and The Architectural Review.