We are delighted to welcome back to Hong Kong William Dalrymple, one of the world’s greatest authors, famous both as a historian and travel writer. On this occasion, he speaks on “From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium", his celebrated account of two thousand years of Christianity in the Middle East, from its ancient origins, fine architectural heritage, to the complex relationship between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity presently in the region.
In the spring of 587 AD, two monks set off on an extraordinary journey that would take them in an arc across the entire Byzantine world, from the shores of the Bosphorus to the sand dunes of Egypt. On the way, John Moschos and his pupil Sophronius stayed in caves, monasteries and remote hermitages, collecting the wisdom of the early Christian Middle East before their world shattered under the great eruption of Islam.
More than a thousand years later, using Moschos’s writings as his guide, William Dalrymple set off to retrace their footsteps. Despite centuries of isolation, a surprising number of the monasteries and churches visited by the two monks had survived, especially in Egypt, Israel, Syria, the Lebanon and Turkey, many of them with fine architecture and thriving religious communities. Yet, Mr. Dalrymple’s pilgrimage took him through a bloody civil war in eastern Turkey, the ruins of Beirut, the vicious tensions of the West Bank and a fundamentalist uprising in southern Egypt.
The journey started at Mt. Athos, where Mr Dalrymple was allowed to consult the oldest surviving manuscript of The Spiritual Meadow. From there, he travelled to Istanbul, to eastern Turkey and Tur `Abdin, to Syria, the Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. Wherever he went, he sought to retrace Moschus's route, to visit the remains of Moschus's era, to stay in the same monasteries and visit the same shrines as Moschus had done many centuries before. In this lecture, Mr Dalrymple moves between antiquity and the present, and looks at the peoples of the Middle East through the lens of profoundly long traditions. Each country of his epic journey had different problems: in eastern Turkey the complexities of the Kurdish problem dominated the situation; in Lebanon, the difficult aftermath of the civil war; in Syria, the fragile pragmatic alliance with the current government allowed it alone to offer a place where Christianity is flourishing; in Israel, the Palestinian situation; and in Egypt the growing problems of fundamentalism. Yet, on his journey, Mr Dalrymple repeatedly encountered at shrines and pilgrimage sites Muslims and Christians side by side in their devotions at holy sites, seeking intercession, praying for miracles and offering wholehearted veneration of shared saints.
William Dalrymple was educated at Ampleforth and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read history. He achieved early fame with the publication of In Xanadu, his overland journey following Marco Polo’s route from Jerusalem to Coleridge’s “stately pleasure dome" of Xanadu in present day China. His subsequent books include City of Djinns, The Age of Kali, White Mughals and Nine Lives, in addition to From the Holy Mountain. All of his six books have won major literary prizes. He is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, The Guardian, the New Statesman and The New Yorker. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was awarded the Mungo Park Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for his ‘outstanding contribution to travel literature’. He also broadcasts frequently and presented the television series Stones of the Raj and Indian Journeys.
There is no prebooking for this lecture. Members and their guests are most welcome to attend, please purchase tickets at the door. HK$100 for members and HK$150 for guests and others.