Happy 200th Birthday Conrad Schick
Updated: Apr 22
Wait. Conrad who? Who was Conrad Schick?
Conrad Schick was one of the founding fathers of archaeology in Jerusalem. He was an architect, archaeologist, and one of few Christian missionaries in Ottoman Jerusalem. He was born in the Kingdom of Wurttemberg, Germany in January of 1822. After completing his studies in Basel, he moved to Ottoman controlled Palestine in 1846 (at age 24). Although initially with the Swiss mission to Palestine, he soon joined the Anglican mission in the Old City across from the Tower of David. That building became Christ Church, which was the first Protestant church in the Middle East. The house he designed and built in Jerusalem for his family still stands as the Beit Tavor and is owned today by the Swedish Theological Institute.
Despite having no formal training in archaeology, he had a passion for learning and became intimately involved at the time with nearly all archaeological endeavors within the Old City. Schick worked many years for the Palestine Exploration Fund, established by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for the study of the Holy Land. This new era of European involvement in the study of Palestine and its holy sites was possible because of the thaw in relationship with the Ottoman Empire. Schick published many articles in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly. In 1872, he was permitted to conduct research on the Temple Mount, which had been off limits to non-Muslims. From these visits he constructed models of the Temple Mount. One of these is in the Christ Church Museum, which I was able to visit in May of 2019. See below. The model has many removable pieces that reveal rooms and cisterns beneath.
A model of the Temple Mount as seen in the 1870’s; built by Conrad Schick.
Schick was also involved in the discovery and study of the Siloam Inscription found in Hezekiah’s tunnel in the City of David. The inscription was carved there by its 8th-century BCE excavators and describes how the tunnel was completed. In 1874 he was the first scholar to publish a description of the Garden Tomb, but in 1901 he rejected General Charles Gordon’s theory of it being the tomb of Jesus. I agree with him on this point, in that I find the evidence for the Holy Sepulcher location to be more convincing. He also constructed a scale model of Jerusalem in the first century CE as he imagined it to be. This model also resides in the Christ Church Museum. See below.
A model of first-century Jerusalem as envisioned and constructed by Conrad Schick in the 19th century. It resides today in the Christ Church Museum in Jerusalem.
In all Shick published nearly 250 scholarly journal articles, most of which were widely read at the time by a European audience anxious to learn details of the Holy Land, whose details for centuries had remained an enigma under the tight control of its Muslim overseers. Conrad Schick paved the way for many others who benefited from his initial investigations and followed in his footsteps. Although not as well-known as other early Jerusalem explorers like Charles Warren or Charles Wilson, when Schick died in 1901 he was mourned by Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike. He is buried in the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion.