Burgundy in Bethlehem: Architectural Diplomacy in Fifteenth-Century Mamluk Syria

Braden Scott, Ph.D.

In the middle of the fifteenth century, Philip the Good (1396–1467), Duke of Burgundy, began orchestrating renovations to the ancient Roman basilica in the city of Bethlehem. The church was built by the Roman Emperor Constantine and his mother, Helena, in the fourth century, on top of a cave thought to have been the birthplace of Jesus. The Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian renovated the church once in the sixth century, but by 1448, after nearly a thousand years of neglect due to Islamic legislation that forbade the renovation of Christian buildings, it was in shambles. This book project explores the transcultural mobility of architecture that unfolded during the fifteenth-century renovations to Bethlehem’s Basilica. This mobility depended on the Mamluk Sultan Qāytbāy, who extended permissions to the Burgundian Dukes to build in Syria. I approach these events as a compelling example of cooperation and architectural diplomacy between European, Asian, and African rulers and diplomats that cut across confessional and political divisions. In this way, my study aims to nuance assumptions that political and religious discord characterized global relations in the period that straddles the turn from the Late Medieval to Early Modern.

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