When the prince went to Jerusalem

Highlights from the future King Edward VII’s Middle East Grand Tour of 1862


As Prince Charles tours the Middle East this week, he will be once again following in the footsteps of one of his predecessors in the role. But while Jerusalem does not feature on his itinerary this time, when the future King Edward VII embarked on his tour of the region 151 years ago, the Holy Land was high on his agenda.

The Edwardian royal was 21 and decades away from inheriting the throne from his mother, Queen Victoria, when he spent four months touring the region on an educational visit.

He was accompanied on his 1862 tour by British photographer Francis Bedford, whose pictures of the trip are now on show at an exhibition in Edinburgh.

The young prince kept a diary during his trip, recording his thoughts about the people and places he encountered – an exhaustive list that included stops around the Ottoman Empire in Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt and meetings with dignitaries such as the Pasha of Jerusalem, the Bedouin chief and the chief rabbi.

As part of the exhibition, which will come to Buckingham Palace in October 2014, his journal has been made available in full for the first time.

In an entry on April 2 while in Jerusalem, he wrote of setting eyes on “the so called Wailing place of the Jews & close to it the remains of an arch of the bridge between the Temple & the Palace of King David”.

An eyewitness account published in the JC revealed that the prince was greeted by the chief rabbi, known then as the “First in Sion,” and several other rabbis.

His small party then went up “Mt Sion,” which the prince noted was “of course built all over” and toured a Spanish synagogue, “a very good one of its sort, also a new German synagogue. We then looked into a hospital for Jews, founded by Baron Rothchild [sic], & very well kept.”

He also recorded how he was “anxious to have a door opened to see what is really supposed to be David’s tomb. But the Keepers of it objected, as [in] their eyes it was too Holy for Xtians to see it, & after some consultation with the Pasha who arrived there, we had to leave the place in disgust, & give up seeing it, [which] annoyed us very much.”

Other sites in the city that he visited included the Mount of Olives — “the olive trees are very scanty just now, but fresh ones are being planted” he noted — and Temple Mount.

“We saw Jerusalem to perfection, & also the Dead Sea & the mountain ranges to perfection.”

The future Supreme Governor of the Church of England toured a range of sites of biblical significance, including Bethlehem, Solomon’s Pool and Rachel’s Tomb.

He also became, according to a Jewish Chronicle report of the time, only the second Englishman after Sir Moses Montefiore to be given permission to visit the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. As the JC reported at the time, on the day of the visit, “the approach to Hebron was lined with troops, and guards were posted on the house-tops, in case of any outbreak of fanatical opposition to entering the holy places.”

The Prince of Wales’s visit prompted a reader to write both to the JC and The Times, expressing the hope that it might pressure the authorities to change the fact that “within this enclosure neither Christian nor Jew is permitted to enter by the surly fanatics in possession”.

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