Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Monday, February 5th 1849 meeting of the Royal Institute of British Architects in London is that when the Scottish architect and Holy Land explorer Joseph John Scoles rose to read his paper “On the Topography and Antiquities of the City of Jerusalem”, the walls did not come toppling down – yet. Soon enough, however, his refutation of architect and biblical archeologist James Fergusson’s thesis that the Dome of the Rock was the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre would become so contentious that settling the dispute, one way or the other, is said to have finally led to nothing less than the establishment of the Palestine Exploration Fund. But this meeting, though the precursor of that bitter feud – pitting, ultimately, the great Charles Warren against Fergusson - was positively lighthearted: “In the course of it,” The Civil Engineers and Architects Journal reported, “the writer [Mr. Scoles] alluded to Mr. Fergusson’s published theory as to the Mosque of Omar and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and that gentleman being present, an interesting discussion ensued. Mr. David Roberts, R.A. (some of whose capital sketches were amongst the illustrations of the paper), joined in questioning Mr. Fergusson, who stood gallantly and good-naturedly a cross-fire of objections.” Here Roberts writes to Scoles, three days before the meeting, to set the stage for their happy collaboration:
I send you all the Large Sketches I have here of the Holy City. You will perceive they are made more for accuracy of details than for artistic effect . You will find that of the Golden Gate behind the tree in the Valley of Hinnom. I trust they may be with your own of some use. I will have the pleasure of being present on Monday.
Scoles, Roberts, and Warren were, the evidence has since proved, right; and Fergusson, wrong.
Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page, duodecimo, 7 Fitzroy Street [London], February 2, 1849. To J.J. Scoles.