Jerusalem syndrome is a psychic illness that affects tourists who visit Jerusalem as well as those who live there. This disease is based on delusions and is categorized along with psychosis.
Normally, people who have this syndrome identify with characters from the Bible, imitating what they know about these characters.
Some of the characters that are usually identified are Moses, King David, Jesus of Nazareth and John the Baptist. Men tend to emulate male characters while women tend to emulate female characters.
Professed religion also influences this since Christians usually identify themselves with characters in the New Testament. Meanwhile Jewish people, for whom the New Testament is not part of their beliefs, imitate characters of the Old Testament.
The biggest tourist spot in Israel is the Wailing Wall, also known as the Western Wall. It is located in the city of Jerusalem.
Every day, hundreds and thousands of visitors go to the wall at all times of day, whether to pray, take photographs or attend a ceremony or demonstration. The historical and spiritual environment that is experienced is so strong it can trigger this syndrome.
Many people who visit it are attracted by the search for supernatural experiences, which can be spiritual or religious. They are attracted to the atmosphere it creates, especially after midnight.
By imitating biblical characters, people with Jerusalem syndrome go through the streets of the city of Jerusalem preaching in public. They also switch out their clothes for robes and sheets.
Dr. Yair Bar-El, a psychiatrist, was the first to clinically identify Jerusalem syndrome. After examining more than 400 tourists who had been declared insane, mostly Jews and Christians, the doctor found some common characteristics, thus identifying the symptoms that characterize this syndrome.
This syndrome is defined as a hysterical dissociative disorder. Patients adopt another personality that later they will not be able to remember.
The atmosphere of spirituality of the ancient city of Jerusalem, full of religion, history, ideology and mythology, expands even more by the events that have occurred there: wars, crusades, massacres, etc., It’s so much that people who visit can’t be indifferent to it.
“I had reached that emotional point where celestial sensations given by the fine arts and passionate feelings are found. Leaving Santa Croce, my heart was beating, life was exhausted in me, I was afraid to fall.”
-Marie-Henri Beyle (Stendhal)-
Jerusalem syndrome has been compared to Florence or Stendhal syndrome. This was detected among tourists who went to Florence and acted in a strange and irrational way. These tourists presented with vertigo, confusion, tremors and depression. Some even had hallucinations after seeing so many works of art in one place.
However, this syndrome is caused by the beauty of art and cities while Jerusalem syndrome is due to religion.
The symptoms of Jerusalem syndrome
Tourists with Jerusalem symptom start to feel nervous or anxious for no apparent reason. They will usually get away from people they’re travelling with and isolate themselves.
Later, they begin to perform acts of purification in bathrooms and showers. They change their clothes in order to look like biblical people. The most common phrase they say to describe what occurred to them is “suddenly, something happened”.
After a few days they return to “reality”, many with shame. They can’t explain what happened to them and they regret acting like that. It’s thought that people with Jerusalem syndrome came to Jerusalem predisposed to it. Once there, the dormant syndrome wakes up.
Have you visited Jerusalem? If you visit and you find people preaching on the street or washing themselves in a fountain, don’t assume they’re crazy. Maybe they have Jerusalem syndrome or, maybe, you’ll even experience it first-hand.
- Kalian, M., & Witztum, E. (2000). Comments on Jerusalem syndrome. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 176(5), 492-492.
- Villar, J. L. (2015). El síndrome de Jerusalén:¿ los vascos y la religión?. In El peso de la identidad: mitos y ritos de la historia vasca (pp. 81-107).
- Witztum, E., & Kalian, M. (1999). The” Jerusalem syndrome”–fantasy and reality a survey of accounts from the 19th century to the end ot the second millennium. The Israel journal of psychiatry and related sciences, 36(4), 260.
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