1923 Phenomenal, Heavily Researched Travelogue and Scrapbook of a Roman Catholic Visiting the Holy Land After the Great War

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On offer is a truly remarkable and thoroughly researched typewritten 1923 travelogue and photo scrapbook, being Leon Charles Julien’s (1872-1960) “Diary of My Trip to the Holy Land: Glimpses of Palestine, the Mediterranean and Cities Enroute by pen and kodak from my diary”. This collection is an in-depth education on religious history by region, an observational study of life in the Middle East in 1923, and a glimpse into the thought processes and views of a devout Roman Catholic from Owen Sound, Ontario.

Julien types out every detail of his journey, and accompanies his descriptions with photographs plus detailed research on the Bliblical and historical significance of each place. He personalizes his writing by (seemingly unknowingly) editorializing with his personal biases and widely held views of the time. His journey lasts over two months, concluding in early May, 1923. 

Julien travels from Toronto to New York, where he and his group of 13 Reverend Fathers and laymen set off on the ill-fated French vessel, the SS Patria, on February 12, 1923. Julien states this was the first official Canadian Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He writes of the Patria’s response to the weather, daily Catholic mass and social events on board, and sightings from the deck. En route to the Middle East, Julien visits Portugal, Algiers, Palermo, Pompei, Naples and more. During these stops, he writes in great detail of the people and places he observes. Some excerpts:

“...the Patria should arrive at Ponte Delgada tomorrow about 1:00PM. Dancing is indulged in every evening in the promenade deck Saloon; our Commander seems to enjoy it… I notice the officers mingle much more with the passengers than is done on our Canadian Lake boats…” [Feb 21, 1923]. 

“Algiers, termed “the African Paris”, is built in the form of an amphitheater from the water right up the mountain side, terrace beyond terrace…So unlike the ones usually seen in the shipping districts of our seaport cities. While we were absorbing the magnificence of the scene, native Arab peddlers were flocking on board from their small boats, offering for sale any thing from picture cards (some grossly immoral) to tapestries…we took tender for shore, upon landing, the ever present mendicants followed as before, crying money! money! money! We escaped them by boarding a street car for the Congregation of the White Fathers…” [Feb 27, 1923]

On March 6 the ship arrives in the Holy Land, casting anchor off Jaffa. They tour Jaffa extensively:

“The population of Jaffa is about 47000 mostly Arabs, though there are many Jews, some Russians, Germans, Syrians and a few French…One thing agreeably pleasant, was practically no beggars appeared to annoy us, so we could sight-see on foot in peace…But the Arab dock porters here are veritable Samsons, on beholding them, Oliver Wendel Holmes’ saying loomed in my mind, “show me the man distinguished from a monkey, who some good woman and even petty can not shape a husband out of”...Disbelieving a man could by any chance of nature resemble a monkey let alone conceive the theory or belief that mankind did evolve from the brute, shall refrain from expressing my opinion…” [March 6, 1923]. 

From Jaffa they go to Beyrouth, where the impact of the recently concluded World War 1 is visible:

“...got our first glimpse of the destruction of the Great War, many buildings were destroyed…Were informed by a resident who lived throughout the war that he never expected one to survive, the way they were dying of starvation and disease, brought on by it, to say nothing of the numbers being killed by the enemy. Today, conditions have about reached normal. The city is busy rebuilding…Those hard-working artisans receive only from 100 to 125 Syrian piastres for the day’s work” [March 7, 1923]. 

The group tours Lebanon on March 8, reaches Damascus, Syria on the 9th, arrives in Palestine on March 13, and to Haifa on March 20. On March 22nd, they head to Jerusalem, which is the highlight of the trip for Julien and his group. Excerpts follow. 

“The habits, customs and dress of the Damaskeen apparently has changed very little, if any, since the days of Abraham. The Bazaars are wonderful and varied in their commodities. It is claimed they out rival those of Constantinople and I might add Cairo as well, judging from the ones seen on our visit there…during the day those streets are crowded with buyers, sellers and loafers, turbaned men and veiled women, the latter never being seen on the street after sun down and to date I have not heard any movement on foot by them for “Equal rights”” [March 9, 1923].

“...we all left in carriages driving direct to the Grand Mosque, originally a Pagan Temple, torn down by Emperor Arcedius 395-408…Several worshippers were were busy washing their lower extremities, others the opposite end, and judging by their general appearance, if an extra vat was placed where they might give the section in between a thorough cleaning, would not by any means be an extravagance and would make them much more presentable…” [March 11, 1923].

“...we viewed the ruins of the Temple, which was a Jewish synagogue where our Lord gave many discourses to his Apostles…What a sublime charm and happy privilege to stand on the very stone floor our Lord stood upon when delivering those words and all the rest contained in that sixth chapter…” [March 13, 1923]. 

“One large area of very fine level land has just been taken up by a colony of Russian Jews who are mostly living under canvas as yet. No doubt, they will make good as Agriculturists in so rich a land. The last couple of miles, before reaching our destination, we passed through orchards of mulberry and olive trees, a sign that silk and olive oil are two of Haiffa’s industries…” [March 20, 1923]. 

“...all gathered at…the great centre of attraction in Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for here we are on the very spot where the greatest tragedy known to mankind occurred nineteen hundred years ago - the crucifying of the Son of God, by God’s own chosen people, the Jews…Here all kneel in reverence to kiss the slab covering the spot where our Lord’s body was embalmed before being placed in the tomb” [March 22, 1923].

Julien wrote extensively during the Easter holidays, and their trip to the Holy Land concluded on April 2nd, Easter Monday. The return trip began on April 3rd. Their ship stopped in Egypt, France, Portugal, arriving back in New York on approximately April 28th. 

It would seem that Julien intended for this to read more like a book than a diary. He credits his main source of historical research data to the “New Guide to the Holy Land” by Fr. Barnabas Meisterman, and he incorporates that which he learns from his tour guides, while placing tremendous emphasis on Biblical context. This journal provides a surprising depth of insight into the history of what we refer to as the Middle East, within the context of post-war reconstruction and through the religious lens of a highly devout Roman Catholic pilgrimage. This book would be a phenomenal asset to any religious scholar or religious studies program. Julien’s experience as a sailor and insights into the ship’s journey would appeal to a sailing enthusiast. 

BIO NOTES: Leon Charles Julien was the third child born in Toronto to Francis Felix Julien and Isabel Ann Johnstone. He moved to Owen Sound in early childhood. Julien developed a vast knowledge of the Great Lakes, though he only sailed for two seasons himself, sailing on the CPR ship Alberta and the SS Manitoba. He worked as a cabinetmaker and served on the Parks Commission. He was a devoted member of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, a member of the Knights of Columbus and the Holy Name Society. Records indicate that he did not marry or have children. 

This journal measures 8.5x11 inches. It contains 151 typewritten pages. It is illustrated with photos (and some postcards) on nearly every page, opposite the text. There are many missing photos that appear to have come out of their tape over the years, but approximately every third page contains illustrative images. The backs of the images have been annotated by Julien. Save for some age toning and the aged tape, the journal is in VG condition. The hardback spine is intact and all pages are present.

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