Yesterday I started the edits for The Jerusalem Puzzle.
I received two pages of notes from my editor at Harper Collins in London on Monday. Her comments included many compliments “powerful – expertly brought to life,” which are encouraging, but I won’t go on any more about, and suggestions for three extra scenes.
The first will be where Sean explains in detail why he wants to go to Jerusalem. The second will be where Henry’s involvement is expanded. The final one, at the end, will be where discussions take place about what happened in Jerusalem.
There are also notes from HC on each page of the manuscript, which need to be considered. This is all about 6 weeks work, editing maybe 2-3 hrs a day. After this we will have something truly interesting for you for January release.
Thank you for staying with me on this journey.
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There will be one post a month on the progress of The Jerusalem Puzzle towards launch next January and one post a month on writing craft issues. Here is the first post on writing:
The image below is of the Italian hardback edition of The Istanbul Puzzle, which is all over Italy at the moment. It was launched June 21st. If you know anyone in Italy please tell them it is available there. Thanks.
Written February 2012
I am spending time in the old city of Jerusalem. If I stay here any longer I’ll probably have to apply for a resident’s permit. And as I am staying in East Jerusalem that may be tricky.
My reason for being here, aside from the welcome sun, is to research the next stage of Sean and Isabel’s adventures. If you read The Istanbul Puzzle you’ll probably know that there are a few questions at the end still hanging.
The Jerusalem Puzzle will move the story forward and answer some key questions.
As part of my research in old Jerusalem, where the book is mainly set, I have spent a lot of time in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the legendary site of Jesus’ crucifiction, his tomb and the burial place of Adam’s skull, according to some 2nd century sources. Whatever your beliefs, this place is an extraordinary building, a mix of mainly Crusader and 19th century, Armenian, Catholic and Orthodoxy all rolled into one. This was the place a lot of people died for before the crusades, during the crusades, and ever afterwards. Richard the Lion Heart and Saladin fought over this place and almost every other Empire since has had plans to capture it.
Here is what the entrance to the legendary tomb of Jesus looks like now (click each image to see it in all its glory):
This church is the most important place of pilgrimage in the Christian world. Bar none.
What I found though, at the end of my last visit, was a less than spiritual place. I had queued to get in to the small chapel where Jesus’ tomb is supposed to be with cries of “hurry, hurry, we are closing,” echoing in my ears. I’d visited where Mary, Mother of Jesus fell into an eternal sleep (legend says), on Mount Zion the day before and I was lucky that I went down into that underground tomb with the sound of a Polish group singing hymns echoing in my ears. That place was spiritual.
Much of the rest of the old city is a heady mix of the Arab souk, with plastic toys and wooden crosses for tourists, and a wedge of Abercrombie and coffee shop Westerness pushing up close to the city from the Jewish and modern western side.
To me Jerusalem is where three great faiths, Christianity, the Jewish faith and Islam all overlap with their bits fraying.
The Islamic faith is well represented here in the famous Golden Dome and mosques and the regular call to prayer filling the air.
The Jewish faith is evident in the devotion at the Western Wall, the Orthodox faithful almost everywhere, and through the joy of young men being escorted with drums and horns through the crowds.
The Christian faith is evident in the extraordinary churches and the pilgrims from all parts of the Christian world walking the Via Dolorosa carrying crosses and following the legendary route of Jesus to his death.
This city is an ancient fraying tapestry of faith and colour, tradition and prayer, belief and culture, the old and the modern mixed and interwoven.
I know there are many things in serious dispute here, but I hope to God compassion comes into play for a unique people and a unique place when this city’s future is decided.
The Jerusalem Puzzle, my next novel, will take readers to the heart of Jerusalem. It will expose some of the very real puzzles that are at the core of this truly amazing city. I hope you’ll like it as much as you liked The Istanbul Puzzle.
In the sixth century the word’s smallest organism, Yersina Pestis, the bubonic plague bacterium, achieved its greatest growth spike. During the reign of Justinian (Emperor 527 to 565CE) the plague hit Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire. Almost every city of the Empire was devastated in an apocalyptic manner.
Gibbon (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) describes the effect of the epidemic as follows: Justinian’s reign is disgraced by the visible decrease of the human species, which has never been repaired in some of the fairest countries of the globe.
Cyril Mango, Professor of Byzantine Literature at Oxford University describes the apocalyptic effects in his book Byzantium, The Empire of the New Rome, in this way: it is possible that one third to one half of the population of Constantinople died in 542.
John Julius Norwich had this to say (Byzantium, The Early Centuries) about the plague: Beginning in Egypt it quickly spread across all the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean to Constantinople where it raged for four months, the toll rising to 10,000 a day and on one day 16,000, as many as the entire army in Italy…..Plague was succeeded by famine and the number of its victims was estimated at 300,000, two out of five of the population of the city.
Gibbon describes where the dead were taken as follows (Ch XLIII, The Decline and Fall): A magistrate was authorized to collect the promiscuous heaps of dead bodies, to transport them by land or water, and to inter them in deep pits beyond the precincts of the city.
Initially, burials would have taken place according to the normal Orthodox practices, anointing the body with oil, singing laments and burial in a grave. Burials of prominent individuals or clerics would have taken place in crypts or in consecrated land near great churches.
The Islamic successes of the seventh century, they quickly captured Egypt, Jerusalem and North Africa, were made possible, to a significant degree, by the devastation of constantly returning plagues at that time. The plague had returned to Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire, in 555, 558, 561, 573, 574, 591, 599 and again in the early seventh century. Waves of unrest followed across the Empire. Evidence for the collapse of cities is available. The psychological effect must have been appalling. In Constantinople, during some outbreaks, John of Ephesus wrote, “no one goes out without a tag with their name on it.”
It should also be noted that the Arabian desert was typically plague free during these years. If ever an Empire was set up for defeat it was the Byzantine Empire in that period. It could be said that most of our current conflicts are a result of the impact of disease at that time and the subsequent ascent of a new religion.
In Constantinople plague pits are likely to have been dug outside the great Theodosian walls, where parkland exists today separating the old city from its new suburbs. Many bodies were also reported to have been dumped into the sea. It is likely too that bodies were buried, at least in the initial phase of the outbreaks, in the complex of Hagia Sophia.
The Hagia Sophia complex we see today, completed in 537 just before the first of these major outbreaks, included the Samson Hospice and Hagia Eirene, all in the same enclosure and governed by the same clergy. The Samson Hospice was likely to have been overrun quickly during any outbreak, but some burials nearby were very likely to have taken place.
One of the reasons Mehmed the Conqueror may have left the ground generally undisturbed under Hagia Sophia was the fact that it contained plague pits. The Black Death visited Constantinople eleven times between 1348, when the epidemic surged again in the Mediterranean world, and 1453 when he took the city for Islam.
To this day excavations under Hagia Sophia are discouraged and no proper, wide ranging, modern archeological survey has ever been conducted of the underground areas directly beneath Hagia Sophia or Hagia Eirene. But why?
And where are the plague pits that mark the beginning of our world?
The history of St Paul’s is a real historical puzzle.
Between 7 September 1940 and 10 May 1941 Nazi bombers dropped tens of thousands of tons of explosives on London.
St Paul’s Cathedral survived almost unscathed. In September 1940 alone, the Luftwaffe dropped 5,300 tons of high explosives on London in just 24 nights. The image of St Paul’s rising above the smoke of a burning London is an enduring, seemingly miraculous, symbol of the defiance of the English speaking peoples against fascism.
It’s survival of course could simply be due to good luck. All this is well known, as is the history of the present St Paul’s, designed by Sir Christopher Wren following the destruction of the previous cathedral in the Great Fire of London in 1666. What interests me is the earliest and most mysterious secrets of St Paul’s.
The present St Paul’s is believed to be the fifth Christian church on the site since the first Saxon cathedral was built by Mellitus in 604. Before that the city spent a period sparsely occupied following the expulsion of the Roman civilian administration in 409 recorded by Zosimus. It is uncertain whether the site of St Paul’s was a Christian site when Londinium was under Roman rule, but it may well have been towards the end of that period, and it most likely would have been the site of a Roman temple before that.
As to what happened after the decline and fall of the Roman Empire archeologists have found evidence that a small number of wealthy families managed to maintain a Roman lifestyle until the middle of the 5th century, inhabiting villas in the southeastern corner of the city. It was during this period that Arthur, according to legend, drew the sword from the stone in the churchyard of St Paul’s.
In Arthurian romance, a number of explanations are given for Arthur obtaining the Kingship by pulling a sword from a stone. In most accounts the act could not be performed except by “the true king,” meaning the divinely appointed king or true heir of Uther Pendragon.
In English mythology the stone which holds Arthur’s sword is “…the genius loci, the spirit of the earth beneath us…” (Catlin Matthews, Arthur and The Sovereignty of Britain). It is likely that the legend has religious significance. Secret initiations carried out by Druids in that period would have been influenced by and perhaps have been similar to the mystery school ceremonies of Greece and Egypt, which were imported into Roman Britain in the previous centuries. These mystery schools incorporated underworld reenactments of the Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries.
The anvil atop the stone in Malory’s story is an example of the allegorical symbols used to depict spiritual ties to the underworld. The anvil holding Arthur’s sword may represent the lower or animal worlds and the drawing of the sword may have a symbolic meaning related to the struggle of our human intellect over our animal instincts, as well as the power of the phalus.
The rock the anvil rests upon may be symbolic too of the lower world from where the goddess reaches upward to profess her vision and destiny. It would seem highly appropriate that Arthur’s sword would be drawn from a stone in the yard of St Paul’s if it was previously the site of a temple to a goddess. But was it?
According to long held tradition, a Roman temple to the goddess Diana once stood on Ludgate Hill at the site of St Paul’s. Diana was the goddess of the hunt, and also of the moon in Roman mythology. She was one of the three maiden goddesses, Diana, Minerva and Vesta, who swore never to marry.
Diana was regarded with great reverence by lower-class citizens and slaves, who could receive asylum in her temples. She had a shrine in Rome on the Aventine hill, dedicated by King Servius Tullius by the sacrifice of a bull.
Though today we call most pre-Christian religious buildings “temples,” the ancient pagans would have referred to a temenos, or sacred precinct. Its sacredness, often connected with a holy grove, was more important than the building itself, as the altar on which the sacrifices were made may have been outside in the grove. The building which housed the cult statue in its naos was likely to have been a rather simple structure, which is probably why no traces were found of it by Wren.
What existed there before the Roman’s chose the site for a temple is even harder to prove than any of the above. It is likely that a late iron age hill fort existed on the site and there may indeed have been an ancient grove there at one point. It is likely too that the site had cult or religious significance and that it was part of a network of Druidic sites. What the names of the gods or goddesses worshipped there were we can only guess. What rituals and sacrifices took place there we can only imagine.
But there is some evidence as to what took place in Druidic ceremonies. According to Strabo, druids stabbed a victim with a sword and divined the future from his death spasms. According to Julius Caesar, the slaves and dependents of Celts of rank would be burnt along with the body of their master as part of his funerary rites. He also describes how they built wicker figures that were filled with living humans and then burned. It is known too that Druids supervised such sacrifices. According to Cassius Dio, Boudica‘s forces impaled Roman captives during her rebellion against the Roman occupation, to the accompaniment of revelry and sacrifices in sacred groves. Boudicca burnt Londinium to the ground in AD 61 when she captured the city. Were defeated Romans sacrificed on Ludgate Hill?
Whether any of these things happened is only wild conjecture. Whatever the truth, the mystical significance of St Paul’s is hard to argue with. Two thousand years of sacrifice and prayer cannot be ignored. What do you think is the truth about the origin of St. Paul’s?
To go to the fifth puzzle click here.
Under the Comnenian family, the ruling family of the Byzantine Empire who halted the decline of Byzantium from 1081 to 1185, Byzantine writers in Constantinople reintroduced the ancient Greek romance novel.
Their era, the era of the Crusades, was also reflected in these stories. These novels span the gap between the last surviving romance novels of late antiquity and the early medieval romantic revival.
Only four of these novels survive today, just one of which is written in prose. And only two have been translated into English. This post will focus on one of those, Drosilla and Charikles, by Niketas Eugenianos, (c 13th c) translated by Joan Burton (Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2004)
The story of Drosilla and Charikles is interesting for many reasons. Here is the plot:
Belthandros, a Roman (Byzantine) prince and youngest son of king Rhodophilos, quarrels with his father and leaves his home to seek his fortune. After wandering in the hostile lands of Anatolia and dealing with Turkish bandits, he reaches Tarsus in Armenian Cilicia. There he sees a fiery star in the depths of a river (a metaphor for love) and follows it to the north. He finds a castle built of precious gems, which belongs to King Eros. It is full of magnificent statues and automatons.
Belthandros leaves his escorts outside and enters the castle alone. There he sees an inscription that tells of his predestined love between him and Chrysantza, the daughter of the king of Great Antioch. He is summoned by the lord of the castle, Eros, who announces to him a beauty contest at which Belthandros must give a wand to the most beautiful among forty princesses. The contest takes place and Belthandros gives the wand to the most beautiful princess, whereupon all that surrounds him suddenly disappears “like a dream”, leaving him alone in the castle. At this point he resolves to go out and seek his princess.
After a short journey he arrives in Antioch where he meets the king of the city, is accepted as his liegeman, and soon becomes an intimate of the royal household. There he meets the king’s daughter Chrysantza, whom he recognizes as the princess he chose at the Castle of Eros. Although Chrysantza has never seen him before, she too recognizes him, and the two fall in love. Two years and two months however pass before their first love meeting, which takes place secretly at night in the royal garden. The meeting ends suddenly when a jealous courtier discovers them and Belthandros is put in jail. In order to save her lover’s life, Chrysantza convinces her faithful chambermaid, Phaidrokaza, to take the blame by declaring that the prince had visited her instead. The king believes the story and a forced marriage between Belthandros and Phaidrokaza takes place.
The following days the couple continues to meet secretly, but soon the situation becomes unsatisfactory, and they decide to flee, together with the chambermaid and two retainers. On the way, they cross a flooded river, where Phaidrokaza and the two retainers are drowned, while the two lovers are separated and thrown up on the far bank. Chrysantza comes upon the corpse of one of the retainers, made unrecognizable from the river. Thinking it is Belthandros, she is about to fall on the dead man’s sword, when Belthandros himself appears to forestall her. The lovers reach the seacoast where they find a ship sent by king Rhodophilos in search for his son. The romance ends with their return to Constantinople, where a wedding ceremony is performed and Belthandros is proclaimed heir to his father’s kingdom.
I find this story interesting as it reflects the eternal truth about the difficult path to love. It also illustrates that the world of chivalry in medieval Europe was partly built on the solid foundations of Byzantine and Greek romance. I have read that love was invented in the age of chivalry, but for me the above link between Byzantine novels and antique Greek romances shows clearly that this is simply not correct.
My thanks to Wikipedia.
In early April 1453 Mehmet the Conqueror, Sultan of all the Ottomans, and only 21 years old, began the last great siege of Constantinople. He had an army of 200,000 men and a navy of 320 vessels at his command. When the city fell 57 days later a tremor passed through Europe. Ottoman Muslim armies appeared to be unstoppable.
The voyages of Christopher Columbus, financed to avoid Ottoman control of the spice trade, were one outcome. Constantinople’s change of name to Istanbul was another. A third was the birth of the legend of Dracula.
Vlad the Impaler, Prince Drăculea, from the Latin draco meaning dragon, was 22 when Constantinople fell. He had spent four years while a teenager as a prisoner in the Ottoman court. For much of that time he was beaten and abused for his stubbornness, particularly his unwillingness to convert to Islam. For his courage he was later inducted into the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order of the late Holy Roman Empire, which required its members to defend Christianity, by whatever means necessary.
When Vlad came to power a few years later he decided to impose law and order the hard way. He had his enemies impaled and raided his rivals territories, forcing one to read his own eulogy while kneeling before a grave prepared for him. Rampant criminality, treachery and the wars all around him were the backdrop to what happened next.
When Dracula refused to pay tribute to Mehmet, a small matter of 10,000 ducats and 500 boys, the Ottomans decided to put down the upstart Prince.
So began a war of infamous savagery. Raids, where men, women and children who were not Christian were impaled, burnt alive or beheaded were a feature of Vlad’s tactics.
Mehmet then marched on Vlad’s home town on Targoviste in Wallachia with an army of 90,000. The Prince had about 30,000 troops at his command.
When Mehment saw the decaying remains of 20,000 Ottoman soldiers on the road into Targoviste he was sickened. Legend tells that he returned to Constantinople leaving the conduct of the war to his generals.
The Prince’s territories were occupied and devastated. So began a guerilla war of night attacks and endless raids that became celebrated across Europe.
The Genoese later thanked Vlad, as he saved them from an attack by Mehmet’s ships, so absorbed were the Ottomans in campaigns against the Prince.
Prince Dracula died fighting the Ottomans after treachery on his own side undermined him. Soon after his name became associated with unmitigated cruelty. Pamphlets detailing grisly impalements of whole villages were circulated by his enemies.
There is no doubt though that Prince Dracula was an exceptionally cruel ruler. Thieves, adulterers and liars could expect no mercy. Skinning alive, boiling and slow impalement were some of the treats he enjoyed inflicting on those unfortunate enough to cross his path.
The legend of vampires, people who live forever and drink the blood of their victims, was common in Wallachia and Moldovia, the Prince’s hunting ground, long before the Irish author Bram Stoker married such cruelty with a tale of the undead. Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, about an English solicitor who travels to a remote castle in the Carpathian mountains has never been out of print since.
Whatever your view on the clash of civilisations, the cruel way that Europe once defended itself from Islamic conquest is the ultimate source, in my opinion, behind the Dracula and vampire stories that are now so popular they need their own section in many bookshops.
Cruelty has a fascination that lasts for a hell of a long time.