Jerusalem’s Christian ‘Oracle’

Conrad Schick, a 19th century German missionary, scholar and architect, has been described as a kind of “oracle” in Jerusalem

By Ryan Jones | | Topics: CHRISTIANS
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS: Schick’s house on Prophets Street Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Conrad Schick (1822-1901) (Wikimedia Commons)

Anyone desiring to truly understand the city’s history, and possibly its future, simply had to visit and learn from Schick. It is difficult to understate the man’s importance to and impact on Jerusalem, even if one has never before heard the name.

“Still today, we are finding that supposedly new archeological discoveries in Jerusalem had already been discovered and written about by Schick,” reported Dr. Shimon Gibson, a British-born archaeologist who is Senior Associate Fellow at the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research and adjunct Professor of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

And yet, many a Christian Zionist have indeed never heard the name Conrad Schick. So it is instructive to go back to the beginning.

Schick was sent to the Holy Land in 1846 as a missionary with the Reformed St. Chrischona Pilgrim Mission as part of a “quiet mission” that required himself and another German missionary to settle and become living examples of the Gospel. While he remained dedicated to that mission until his death in 1901, Schick found that he had something else to offer both Jerusalem and its visitors.

Despite lacking any formal education in architecture, archeology, history or geology, Schick nevertheless became recognized as “the foremost authority on everything about Jerusalem,” according to Professor Haim Goren, an expert on 19th century German Christianity in the Holy Land. Goren noted that “Schick’s house [Tabor House on Jerusalem’s Prophets Street] was a regular pilgrimage tour stop during his day.”

Schick used his budding architectural abilities to make scale models that in turn helped solve a number of disputes concerning the historical terrain. For example, Goren recounted that Schick’s detailed model of the Holy Sepulcher put to rest heated debate between the various Christian sects inhabiting the ancient church. (In more recent years, those sects have returned to sometimes-violent infighting.)

And his influence is still fully felt today. “We are still using Schick’s sketches to make new discoveries in Jerusalem,” said Goren. “His genius permeates everything concerning Jerusalem. He was one of the most important people in one of the most important periods of this city’s development.”

Gibson also stressed the enormous impact of Schick’s work on modern archeology. Much of that has to do with the fact that Schick could access areas that today’s researchers could only dream of entering. Such as the multitude of passages, cisterns and ancient halls under Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Fortunately for us, Schick was dedicated to sharing his privileged knowledge. One of his most detailed works is a stunning recreation of the Temple Mount and what Schick found under it. This model spent decades traveling the world and being displayed at such prestigious gatherings as the World Fair.

But, like most of his works, the Temple Mount model was eventually stored away in Swiss attics where for years it was forgotten. Today, those works have “come home” and are on proud display at the Christ Church Heritage Center in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The models have not only returned to Jerusalem. The building that is today the Christ Church Heritage Center was in Schick’s day known as the House of Industry, a portion of Christ Church where local carpenters produced goods made of olive wood, and the very place where Schick constructed his models.

It was at the unveiling of this permanent exhibit that both Gibson and Goren hoped to encourage Christians to get to know one of their own who had done so much for the modern development of Jerusalem.

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