History

A "gloomy" Hebron awaits British painter Lady Butler in 1903

"Here in the gloom we met spectral Jews, their strongly-contrasted figures and faces appearing for a moment in the twilight as they passed us," wrote the painter in 1903.

6.2.19, 22:04
(IMAGE: Solomon's Pools near Jerusalem looking towards the Dead Sea, by Lady Elizabeth Butler, Letters from the Holy Land, 1903.)
 
Today over 700,000 people visit Hebron every year, with the Tomb of Machpela being the main destination. But during the late Ottoman era, times were tough, as described by Lady Elizabeth Butler.
 
Lady Butler was a British painter, famous for her depictions of the Napoleonic Wars and other battle scenes. Born Elizabeth Southerden Thompson in Switzerland, she married Lieutenant General Sir William Butler, becoming Lady Butler. ""I never painted for the glory of war, but to portray its pathos and heroism," she stated.
 
She also waxed poetic about the beauty of the land of Israel in her 1903 book Letters from the Holy Land. It contains beautiful paintings of the Sea of Galilee and other locations she visited. However her day in Hebron was hot and "gloomy," as she reports. As with other historic reports from the era, she reports being banned from entering the Cave of the Patriarchs complex, relegated to the Seventh Step area outside. 
 
The following is from page 35 - 38.
 

Monday, 13th April. 
 
We were up at five for our drive to Hebron. I longed to see this most ancient city and that mosque which, without any doubt whatever, covers the "double Cave of Machpelah" which Abraham bought for his own and his descendants' burying-place. "There," said Jacob when dying, "they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife ; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife ; and there I buried Leah," and there also they buried Jacob. Think of it ! If we could look into those tombs and see the very bones of Abraham and Isaac and the mummy of Jacob, for the Bible tells us he was embalmed according to the manner of the Egyptians. Altogether, though, our visit to Hebron has rather given me the horrors. Near Rachel's tomb we left the Bethlehem road and dived down to the "Vale of Hebron," the heat increasing greatly as we descended. We halted for the mid- day refection (how more than usually horrid the 

word " lunch " sounds here !) and rested in the "shadow of a rock in a thirsty land," where tradition says Philip met the Eunuch journeying from far-off Meroe on the Upper Nile. It was a wilderness of stones, where the big lizards of Palestine were in strong force, panting over the top of every rock, their black heads and goggle eyes upturned to the burning sky in a very comical way. Close to Hebron is a nice cool German hostelry, where we rested before descending to the gloomiest town I have ever seen in the East, with some of its bazaars like tunnels, into which scarcely any light could enter.
 
Here in the gloom we met insolent-looking Moslems and spectral Jews, their strongly-contrasted figures and faces appearing for a moment in the twilight as they passed us. And outside it was blinding noontide sunlight. We went all round the huge mosque that guards the precious tombs of the patriarchs, but had we attempted to enter we should have had a bad quarter of an hour from the Mahometans. These sons of the Bondwoman would stone any son of 
the Free who would attempt an entry. There is a little black hole in the wall, which I am sure does not pierce it through, which we are told we can look through and see the tombs from outside, but I saw nothing in the hole but the beady eye of a lizard. We do not feel as though we would care to revisit Hebron. 
 
We drove back to the German khan which was full of exhausted Americans who had also returned from the oven of Hebron. Most of them had been trying to combine botany with Biblical research, and near many of the figures that lay prone on the divans I saw Bibles and limp flora on the floor. 
 
Towards evening we drove from this place of rest a long way back on the road to Jerusalem.
 
Letters from the Holy land
by Butler, Elizabeth, Lady, 1846-1933
Publisher, A. & C. Black,  London, 1903
 
NOTES:
 
Elizabeth Thompson - Wikipedia entry
 
VISIT HEBRON TODAY!  (You don't need a donkey to get here anymore)
 
United States contact info:

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