Photographs and previously unseen diary extracts charting a royal visit to Bethlehem 150 years ago are to go on display.

Queen Victoria’s eldest son King Edward VII travelled on an educational trip to the Middle East in 1862 when he was the Prince of Wales.

He was joined by Francis Bedford, the first photographer to accompany a royal tour. Bedford’s images of the trip captured a view of Bethlehem from the roof of the Church of the Nativity, said to be built on the spot where Jesus was born.

He also took a picture of the Shepherds’ Field, showing the area where the Angel Gabriel is said to have appeared to the shepherds.

The purpose... was to show the Victorian audience that Betlehem really existed and to add weight to Christian tradition

The photographs, which belong to the Royal Collection, will form part of a new exhibition Cairo to Constantinople: Early Photographs of the Middle East at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, from March 8, 2013.

Curator Sophie Gordon said the purpose of taking the photograph from the Church of the Nativity was to show the Victorian audience that Bethlehem really existed and to add weight to the Christian tradition.

“Bethlehem wasn’t directly on the Prince’s route – and so his party made a particular point of going there,” she said.

Gordon added: “Very little was known about this part of the world at the time, and what information they did have was largely based on knowledge of the Bible.”

In the early 1860s, photography was still in its infancy and had only been introduced to the public in 1839.

“Bedford’s camera would have been quite large to accommodate a 10x12-inch glass plate negative,” Gordon added. “He must have had porters to carry all his equipment, as the entire photographic process had to be done on the spot.

“Just before he took the photograph, Bedford would have coated and sensitised the plate, because the plate had to go in the camera when it was still wet.

“He would have then developed and fixed the image, while excluding all light, and washed the plate. To carry out this process, Bedford would have constructed a temporary dark room, perhaps on the church roof.”

The then Prince of Wales described the party’s visit to Bethlehem in his diary entry for April 3, 1862, describing how “our tents were struck at 8.30am and we started at that time (on horseback, of course) for Bethlehem, which we reached in about a couple of hours’ time, stopping on the way at Rachel’s tomb, and it was ascertained for certain that the tomb is on the site of the real one”.

He recalls how they had “some splendid refreshment” and how they saw a “fine view” on the top of the church.


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