Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven, closing January 8, is one of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s sprawling historical exhibitions, but the objects themselves on view are subdued. A case of delicate Arabic astrolabes are some of the first of the 200 artifacts visitors encounter, followed by personal totems of devotion like portable crosses from Ethiopia, a 13th-century pilgrim’s souvenir diptych of the Virgin Mary, and a 14th-century Jewish wedding ring topped with the destroyed Temple of Jerusalem.
These represent an interior spiritual life in contrast to Jerusalem’s monumental houses of worship. Then there are the lentil pots, gold coins, and textile wares, reminders that the sacred city was as much a medieval crossroads of commerce as religion. This perspective on everyday people illuminates how Jerusalem as a geographical place has long been internationally diverse, while the city as an idea instigated carnage in its Crusades and Holy Wars.
Among the most captivating items are five capitals sculpted in the 1170s for the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Never installed, likely due to Saladin’s siege in 1187, they were exhumed from their burial places in the 20th century. The dynamic apostles, demons, and the Virgin Mary processing across the limestone, and their endless motion, seem to embody the constant flow of people through Jerusalem’s fluctuating boundaries.
Jerusalem 1000–1400: Every People Under Heaven continues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through January 8.