. . . your guide to visiting the holy places  
If you have found See the Holy Land helpful and would like to support our work, please make a secure donation.
The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Church of St Alexander Nevsky

Jerusalem

 

Solid security doors at entrance to the Church of St Alexander Nevsky (Seetheholyland.net)

Solid security doors at entrance to the Church of St Alexander Nevsky (Seetheholyland.net)

Remnants of the emperor Constantine’s original 4th-century Holy Sepulchre church can be seen inside a Russian Orthodox church that is a next-door neighbour of the present Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of St Alexander Nevsky — named after a 13th-century Russian warrior-prince — is often overlooked because its façade resembles an elegant residence or hotel rather than a church.

The tall and narrow façade, with solid security doors bearing notices in Russian, is at 25 Souq al-Dabbagha, about 70 metres from the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre courtyard.

Excavations here in 1883 — before the church was built — attracted worldwide attention, leading to the site becoming known as the “Russian Excavations”.

Particular attention focused on the discovery of a gate threshold believed by the excavators to belong to the Judgement Gate by which Jesus left the city on the way to the hill of Calvary (now contained within the Holy Sepulchre church). Modern archaeologists consider the gate probably dates from the 2nd century.

Reconstructed stairs on left led to Constantine's Holy Sepulchre church (Seetheholyland.net)

Reconstructed stairs on left led to Constantine’s Holy Sepulchre church (Seetheholyland.net)

The excavators also uncovered remains of the easternmost parts of Constantine’s 4th-century church, including the wide staircase that led to the church entrance.

As New Testament scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor put it, what was found “corresponds exactly to the eastern end of the Constantinian Holy Sepulchre as depicted in the sixth-century Madaba Map”.

 

Historical remains halted construction

The site on which the Church of St Alexander Nevsky stands was purchased in 1857 by the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, a lay organisation founded to assist faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Holy Land.

The idea was to build a Russian consulate and a hostel for pilgrims, who were arriving in their thousands at the port of Jaffa and often walking the 70 kilometres to Jerusalem.

When workers digging the foundations uncovered historical remains, construction was halted. Eventually the consulate and hostel were built outside the Old City, at a site now known as the Russian Compound, and a church was built over the ruins in Souq al-Dabbagha.

Because the excavations and the church were funded by the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the property gained the popular name of the “Alexander Hospice”.

 

Stairway led to Holy Sepulchre church

Archway leading to excavated area of Church of St Alexander Nevsky (Seetheholyland.net)

Archway leading to excavated area of Church of St Alexander Nevsky (Seetheholyland.net)

Entering the excavated area in the basement of the church, one descends stairs to an archway. The right-hand column is from the 11th century; the stonework on the left is part of an entrance to the main forum established by the emperor Hadrian when he rebuilt Jerusalem as a Roman colony in the 2nd century.

Descending through the arch and turning left, one sees on the left a reconstruction of the wide stairway that led to the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre — which was much bigger than the present basilica.

Straight ahead, under a glass covering, is the gate threshold once thought to have been where Jesus left the city on the way to Calvary. This threshold may have been part of an arch built by Hadrian, but it was later re-used as an entrance to the Holy Sepulchre.

Next to the threshold is a large piece of the rock of Calvary, purchased when the church was built. Above it a crucifix has been fixed.

In the Roman wall to the left is an opening called the Eye of the Needle, intended for travellers who arrived after the gate was closed for the night.

"Judgement Gate" threshold displayed under glass (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

“Judgement Gate” threshold displayed under glass (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

On the other side of the threshold are the remains of another entrance to the Holy Sepulchre, cut into a Roman wall by Constantine’s engineers.

(Massive remnants of the main entrance to the Holy Sepulchre are still further ahead, in the adjoining property of Zalatimo’s sweetshop on Souq Khan al-Zeit.)

 

Chapel dedication honours medieval leader

At the top of the wide stairway is a sweeping depiction of Jesus carrying his cross. Behind it is a chapel, accessible from the ground floor.

Icon of St Alexander Nevsky from the cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria, that bears his name (Vassia Atanassova / Wikimedia)

Icon of St Alexander Nevsky from the cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria, that bears his name (Vassia Atanassova / Wikimedia)

The iconostasis, decorated in black and gold, dominates the chapel. Around the walls are hung paintings of Gospel scenes and, above these, a series of icons of Russian Orthodox saints.

The dedication of the chapel to St Alexander Nevsky honoured an exceptional leader of medieval Russia, who was accorded legendary status for his military victories over German and Swedish invaders. He was proclaimed a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1547.

 

Administered by: Imperial Russian Orthodox Palestine Society

Tel.: 02-627-4952

Open: 9am-6pm

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: Keys to Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)

 

External links

Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society
Alexander Nevsky (Orthodox Wiki)

 

 

Older Posts »

Ecce Homo

Jerusalem

Thousands of pilgrims each year walk under the Ecce Homo Arch near the beginning of the Via Dolorosa without realising that extensive remains of first-century Jerusalem lie beneath their feet.

Looking westward to Ecce Homo Arch, with Sisters of Zion convent at right (Seetheholyland.net)

Looking westward to Ecce Homo Arch, with Sisters of Zion convent at right (Seetheholyland.net)

For centuries Christians believed the arch was the place where Pontius Pilate displayed Jesus — beaten, crowned with thorns and clothed in a purple robe — to a hostile Jerusalem crowd with the words: “Behold the man” (“Ecce Homo” in Latin).

This belief persists in many publications, though archaeology has proved the arch did not exist then.

Archaeologists say the arch stood on a great plaza constructed by the emperor Hadrian when he rebuilt the city in AD 135 — a century after Jesus was crucified. Some consider it was originally a city gate from the time of Herod Agrippa I (AD 41-44).

Large sections of the plaza remain underneath the Via Dolorosa and adjacent buildings, accessible through the Ecce Homo convent of the Sisters of Zion.

The Roman flagstones of Hadrian’s plaza were once thought to be the Stone Pavement (Lithostrotos in Greek, Gabbatha in Aramaic) identified in John’s Gospel as the location where Jesus was condemned by Pilate. But it is more likely that Pilate judged Jesus at Herod the Great‘s palace, on the site of the modern Citadel inside the Jaffa Gate.

 

 

Arch continues into convent chapel

Built in the style of a triumphal arch, the Ecce Homo Arch is the central span of what was originally a triple-arched gateway. It supports a small room with barred windows.

Ecce Homo Arch in 1864 (James McDonald, Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem)

Ecce Homo Arch in 1864 (James McDonald, Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem)

The arch continues through the wall of the convent chapel, where the smaller northern arch now frames the tabernacle, under a Byzantine cross on a gilded mosaic backdrop. The southern arch has been destroyed.

Entry to the convent, and the extensive remains and small museum beneath it, is through a door near the corner of the Via Dolorosa and a narrow alley called Adabat er-Rahbat, or The Nuns Ascent.

The convent was built in 1857 by Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Frenchman who converted to Catholicism from Judaism and became a priest.

During construction the pavement of Hadrian’s plaza was uncovered. It also extends under the Church of the Flagellation and the Church of the Condemnation at the First and Second Stations of the Via Dolorosa.

Down several steps beneath the plaza is a large cistern hewn out of the rock. It is about 54 metres long and 14 metres wide, with a depth of around 5 metres.

It was originally an open-air pool, part of a chain of reservoirs providing water for the citizens of Jerusalem. The historian Josephus says the name of the pool was Struthion (meaning sparrow). Hadrian installed impressive vaulting over the pool to enable his plaza to cover it.

 

Soldiers carved games into flagstones

The flagstones of the plaza offer an intriguing insight into the lives of the Roman soldiers garrisoned at the nearby Antonia fortress, built by Herod the Great to overlook — and control — the Temple.

Hadrian's plaza, called the Lithostrotos, under the Ecce Homo convent (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Hadrian’s plaza, called the Lithostrotos, under the Ecce Homo convent (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Named after Herod’s patron Marc Antony, this vast fortress was a symbol of the Roman domination of the city.

In various parts of the pavement, off-duty soldiers carved the lines and squares of the games they played in idle moments. Other parts of the plaza were grooved to prevent horses from slipping.

One set of marks, with a crude crown and the initial B in the centre (for basileus, the Greek word for king), has been identified as the King’s Game, which soldiers played with dice.

In the past, the presence of the soldiers’ games added weight to the mistaken assumption that this was the location where Jesus appeared before Pilate, was flogged, mocked as “King of the Jews” and crowned with thorns.

 Grooves cut into flagstones to stop horses slipping (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Grooves cut into flagstones to stop horses slipping (© Stanislao Lee / Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Though the Ecce Homo Arch and Hadrian’s plaza have no proven link with Jesus or Pilate, the area has a definite connection to St Paul.

After Paul was seized by Jews from Asia while visiting the Temple, it was from the Antonia fortress that soldiers ran to rescue him and prevent a riot. And it was on the steps leading to the fortress that Paul addressed the crowd and avoided being flogged by announcing to a surprised tribune that he was a Roman citizen.

 

Related site:

Via Dolorosa

 

In Scripture:

Jesus before Pilate: John 18:28-19:16

Paul addresses the Jerusalem crowd: Acts 21:27-22-29

 

Ecce Homo Convent

Administered by: Sisters of Our Lady of Zion and the Chemin Neuf Community

Tel.: +972 (0)2 627 72 92

Open: 8am-5pm

 

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: Keys to Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)

 

Older Posts »

Church of the Ascension

Jerusalem

Tower of the Russian Church of the Ascension (Seetheholyland.net)

Tower of the Russian Church of the Ascension (Seetheholyland.net)

The 64-metre tower that dominates the Mount of Olives skyline belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension. It was built to this height in the 1870s so that pilgrims unable to walk to the Jordan River could climb its 214 steps and at least see the river.

Atop the freestanding square tower is a sharply-pointed belfry. It contains an eight-ton bell, cast in Russia and pulled and pushed — mainly by women pilgrims — on a circular wagon from the port of Jaffa. It was the first Christian bell to ring in the Ottoman city of Jerusalem.

While the church is dedicated to the Ascension of Jesus — an event most Christians believe took place about 200 metres further west at the Dome of the Ascension — it also claims a connection to St John the Baptist.

An old tradition says the Baptist’s head was buried on the Mount of Olives and discovered on the site of the church by two Syrian monks in the 4th century.

Since 1907 the church has been in the custody of a community of Russian Orthodox nuns from a variety of nations. They are renowned for their singing and their icon-writing.

 

Chapel marks finding of John’s head

The Russian complex of the church and associated buildings, including a pilgrims’ hostel, is set among gardens with a large olive grove.

Access is from Rabi’a al-Adawwiyya Street (which begins directly opposite the entrance to the Church of Pater Noster) and along a lane on the right called Alley 7. To the left of a big green gate at the end of the lane is a door with a keypad to request entry.

Hollow in floor where John the Baptist's head is believed to have been found (Matanya - Wikimedia)

Hollow in floor where John the Baptist’s head is believed to have been found (Matanya – Wikimedia)

The cross-shaped church is surmounted by a dome containing a striking representation of the Ascension. Stains on flagstones from an earlier Byzantine church are believed to be the blood of nuns slain during the Persian invasion of 614.

Attached to an outside wall, protected by a grate, is a rock on which the Orthodox believe Mary, the mother of Jesus, was standing when her son ascended to heaven.

Behind the church is a chapel built on the site where the head of John the Baptist is said to have been found.

The tradition holds that a follower of Christ called Joanna saw Herodias, the wife of Herod Antipas, throw John’s head on a rubbish heap. Joanna recovered it and buried it in a clay pot on the Mount of Olives.

In the 4th century John is said to have appeared in a dream to two Syrian monks who had come to Jerusalem as pilgrims, showing them where his head was buried.

Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, was in Jerusalem at the time and ordered a chapel to be built on the spot. The present chapel has a Byzantine mosaic floor with a hollow said to mark the place where the head was discovered.

Three other Ascension sites

Lutheran Church of the Ascension (Isaac Shweky / Wikimedia)

Lutheran Church of the Ascension (Isaac Shweky / Wikimedia)

The Ascension of Jesus is commemorated at three other sites on the Mount of Olives:

* The Dome of the Ascension, a small octagonal structure in a walled compound about 200 metres west of the Russian church. A church has stood here since around AD 380, but the present building is now part of a mosque.

* The Lutheran Church of the Ascension, further north towards Mount Scopus. Also known as Augusta Victoria (after the wife of the Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany who initiated plans for the church in 1989), its fortress-like compound with a tall bell tower now hosts a hospital for the Palestinian population of Jerusalem.

* The Greek Orthodox Viri Galilaei Church, between the Russian and Lutheran churches. Its name means “men of Galilee”, a reference to the question posed to the apostles by two men in white after the Ascension: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven…?”

 

Related sites:

Dome of the Ascension

Sebastiya

 

In Scripture:

Jesus ascends to heaven: Acts 1:9-11

 

Administered by: Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem

Tel: 02-628-4373 or 628-0111

Open: Apr-Sep, Tues and Thur, 10am-1pm; Oct-Mar, Tues and Thur, 9am-12 noon. Women must wear skirts.

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Hilliard, Alison, and Bailey, Betty Jane: Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land (Cassell, 1999)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and Monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)

 

Older Posts »

Akeldama (Field of Blood)

Jerusalem

Akeldama

Monastery of St Onuphrius (Seetheholyland.net)

Akeldama, where Judas Iscariot died, is in Jerusalem’s Hinnom Valley — a picturesque setting whose infamous history of child sacrifices caused it to be identified with the hell of unquenchable fire and punishment.

The Greek Orthodox Monastery of St Onuphrius now stands on the place where Judas is believed to have hanged himself. The monastery occupies a narrow terrace on the southern face of the valley, facing Mount Zion and the Old City walls.

Akeldama (also spelt Aceldama, Hekeldama and Hakeldama) comes from Aramaic words meaning Field of Blood.

The Gospel of Matthew says Judas repented after betraying Jesus with a kiss at Gethsemane. He then took his payment of 30 pieces of silver back to the chief priests and elders, and threw the money down in the Temple.

“The chief priests picked up the coins and said, ‘It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money’. So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day.” (27:6-8)

 

Monastery stands among burial caves

Akeldama

Olive trees in Hinnom Valley (Seetheholyland.net)

The Monastery of St Onuphrius, built in 1874 over the remains of an earlier church building, is occupied by a small community of Greek Orthodox nuns.

It is dedicated to a saintly monk from the 3rd or 4th century. Onuphrius was famous for his luxuriant beard, which was his only garment apart from a loincloth of leaves.

The hillside on which the monastery stands is honeycombed with burial caves and tombs — some of them holding the bones of pilgrims of past centuries who came to Jerusalem but did not survive to make the journey home.

Akeldama

Icon of St Onuphrius in Monastery of St Onuphrius (Seetheholyland.net)

In the Byzantine period, many of these caves were occupied by monks and hermits.

The monastery chapel is in a former burial cave, with holes in the walls where bodies were laid. A 16th-century tradition says eight of the apostles hid here after Jesus was captured at Gethsemane.

 

Crusaders built charnel house

Near the Monastery of St Onuphrius are the remains of an underground charnel house built by the Crusaders in the 12th century, to bury the 50 or more patients who died each day in the hospital run by the Knights of St John near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Loads of soil from this place were often taken to consecrate Christian cemeteries in Europe.

Akeldama

Burial niches in Monastery of St Onuphrius (Seetheholyland.net)

One of the tombs found near the monastery is believed to be that of Annas, head of the high priestly family that included Caiaphas, who presided at the trial of Jesus.

On the same side of the Hinnom Valley, archaeologists excavating a tomb in 1979 found two tiny silver scrolls from around 600 BC, inscribed with portions of the priestly blessing from the Book of Numbers: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (6:24-26)

These inscriptions are the earliest known citations of texts found in the Hebrew Bible.

 

Place of child sacrifice

During the First Temple period the Hinnom Valley became notorious as the place where apostate Jews sacrificed their children through fire to the pagan god Moloch.

Akeldama

View from terrace in Monastery of St Onuphrius (Seetheholyland.net)

Because of these atrocities, the valley’s name (Gei-Hinnom in Hebrew, Gehenna in Greek) became a byword for hell, the place of eternal punishment by fire, in both Jewish and Christian traditions.

In the Gospels, Jesus uses the Greek word Gehenna 11 times to describe the hell of unquenchable fire which can destroy “both body and soul” (Matthew 10:28).

However, a Middle Ages belief that the Hinnom Valley continued to belch smoke and fire because it was a perpetually burning rubbish dump has no basis in fact.

In modern times the Hinnom Valley has become a green and pleasant venue for picnics, rock climbing and concerts.

 

In Scripture:

Child sacrifice in the Hinnom Valley: 2 Chronicles 33:6

Child sacrifice condemned by God: Jeremiah 7:30-32

Jesus refers to the unquenchable fire of Gehenna: Mark 10:43

The purchase of the Field of Blood: Matthew 27:3-10

 

Monastery of St Onuphrius

Administered by: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Tel.: Monastery, +972-505-315530; Patriarchate, +972-262-85636

Open: Apr-Sep, Tuesdays and Thursdays 9am-12 noon, 4-7pm

Oct-Mar, Tuesdays and Thursdays 9am-12 noon, 3-5pm

 

 

References

Hilliard, Alison, and Bailey, Betty Jane: Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land (Cassell, 1999)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Ritmeyer, Leen and Kathleen: “Potter’s Field or High Priest’s Tomb” (Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1994)

 

External links

Gehenna (Wikipedia)
The Myth of the Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna (BiblePlaces)
Valley of Haunted History (Israel Ministry of Tourism)
Older Posts »

Church of the Redeemer

Jerusalem

Church of the Redeemer

Bell tower of Church of the Redeemer with Mount of Olives in background (Seetheholyland.net)

 

The Church of the Redeemer is the newest church in the Old City of Jerusalem, but its site has a history going back to Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, in the 9th century.

The plain-looking neo-Romanesque building — with a tall bell tower dominating the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre nearby — is the headquarters of the Lutheran Church in the Holy Land. It is the home to congregations that worship in Arabic, German, Danish and English.

Underneath the church, an excavated area opened in 2012 allows visitors to see ancient remains from the pre-Christian era.

The opening of the church in 1898 was a result of a 19th-century awakening of interest in the Holy Land among European Protestants. This had led Lutherans from Prussia and Anglicans from England to share a joint bishop of Jerusalem for 40 years.

Church of the Redeemer

Church of the Redeemer seen from Muristan (Israeltourism)

The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer stands on the north-east corner of a complex of streets called the Muristan (a name derived from the Persian word for hospital). It was built on the site of the medieval church of St Mary of the Latins, which had been in ruins for centuries.

In Crusader times the Muristan was the bustling home of three churches with associated pilgrim hostels and a large hospital where the medieval Order of St John was established to care for the sick and wounded.

 

Ancient wall identified in error

Churchbuilding in the Muristan began after the Caliph of Bagdhad, Harun al-Rashid (of One Thousand and One Nights fame), gave the area to the emperor Charlemagne at the beginning of the 9th century.

Church of the Redeemer

Church of the Redeemer bell tower looking down on domes of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

Only ruins remained when Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia (later Kaiser Friedrich III) obtained possession of the eastern half of the Muristan in 1869 to build a church for the German-speaking population.

During excavations for the foundations, an ancient wall was discovered and assumed — in error — to be the long-sought second wall of Jerusalem.

Because the location of the second wall was crucial to confirming that Calvary and the Tomb of Christ were outside the city at the time of the Crucifixion, the newly-discovered wall was regarded as a sort of relic that gave the new church a share in the status of the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

This is why the church was named the Church of the Redeemer.

Church of the Redeemer

Interior of Church of the Redeemer (Seetheholyland.net)

Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany and his wife, Empress Augusta Victoria (daughter of Queen Victoria of England), attended the dedication in 1898, the emperor riding into the city on a white horse through a specially-made opening near the Jaffa Gate.

On the same day, Wilhelm II took possession of a piece of land on Mount Zion to give to the German Catholics for a church. This is where the Church of the Dormition now stands.

 

Panoramic views from bell tower

Inside the bell tower of the Church of the Redeemer, a circular staircase of 178 steps offers panoramic views of Jerusalem from 40 metres up.

To the north is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other buildings of the Christian Quarter. To the east is the Dome of the Rock and, behind it on the horizon, the tall tower of another Lutheran landmark, the Church of the Ascension (also known as Augusta Victoria, after the empress).

Church of the Redeemer

View from Church of the Redeemer bell tower towards Dome of the Rock (Chris Yunker)

To the south, across the Muristan, is the Armenian Quarter and, on the horizon, the Church of the Dormition. To the west, past the tall minaret of the Mosque of Omar, is the new city of Jerusalem.

Though the walls of the church were originally richly decorated, renovations in 1970 left the interior bare, apart from abstract stained-glass windows and two images.

In the apse above the altar is a mosaic medallion of the head of Christ the Redeemer.

In the right apse is a brightly coloured icon in which God the Father (portrayed with the facial characteristics of Christ) sends a rainbow to Noah at the end of the flood. The German wording “Ich stele meinen Bogen in die Wolken” (I have set my bow in the clouds) is from Genesis 9:13.

tjwbanner590x65

 

Archaeological remains agree with Crucifixion accounts

Church of the Redeemer

Rainbow icon in Church of the Redeemer (DiggerDina)

Beneath the church, archaeological excavations descending to a depth of 13 metres were opened to the public in 2012.

These reveal ruins of the mosaic floor of the old St Mary of the Latins church (two metres below the present ground level) and the remains of a cobbled street.

There is also evidence of a quarry that provided Herod the Great with stone blocks for his building projects and was later used for gardens around the time of Christ — findings that accord with Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion.

Also revealed is part of the ancient wall that was wrongly thought to be the second wall of Jerusalem and is now believed to date from the late Roman period (2nd to 4th centuries after Christ).

Beside the wall is a deep trench dug down to bedrock by archaeologists in the 1970s.

Church of the Redeemer

Archaeologist Dieter Vieweger pointing to the wall that was wrongly assumed to be the second wall of Jerusalem (© Tom Powers)

The church complex includes an exhibition hall explaining its history and a two-storeyed medieval cloister, the best-preserved of its kind in Jerusalem.

Adjacent to it is the vaulted Chapel of the Knights of St John. It is believed to be the original refectory, or dining hall, of the hospitaller knights.

 

Administered by: Evangelical Jerusalem Foundation

Tel.: 972-2-6276111

Open: Mon-Sat 9-12am, 1-5pm (closed Sunday). Museum: Mon-Sat 9-12am, 1-3.30pm.

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Krüger, Jürgen (translated by Rebecca Wright von Tucher): Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (Schnell, 1997)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)

 

External links

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
Evangelisch in Jerusalem
The Excavations Beneath Jerusalem’s Lutheran Redeemer Church (Tom Powers)
The Touristic Development Project at the Excavation at the Church of the Redeemer (Deutsches Evangelisches Institut)
Erlöserkirche Jerusalem (in German)
Older Posts »

Monastery of the Cross

Jerusalem

The Monastery of the Cross is one of Jerusalem’s lesser-known gems, although its claimed connection to the cross on which Jesus was crucified may belong more to legend than to reality.

Monastery of the Cross

Bell tower dominating Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The fortress-like appearance of buttressed walls and high windows confirm that its location in the Valley of the Cross was originally an isolated site outside the protective walls of the city.

Now the monastery and its adjacent parkland in West Jerusalem are surrounded by Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) to the north, the Israel Museum to the west, the upmarket Rehavia neighbourhood to the east, and four-lane highways on the south and east.

The monastery’s name comes from a traditional belief that the wood of Jesus’ cross came from a tree planted here in ancient times.

The most common account says Lot planted the tree, but another version involves Adam.

Monastery of the Cross

Painting of Lot watering the tree in Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The monastery appears to have been founded no later than the 5th century, though no two sources agree on who founded it.

Some credit the emperor Constantine, his mother St Helena or King Mirian III of Georgia.

It was rebuilt in the 11th century by the Georgian monk Prochorus, on the remains of an earlier structure destroyed by the Persians. Occupied by hundreds of monks, it became the religious and cultural centre for Georgians living in Palestine.

In 1685, with Georgia in decline and subjugated by the Persians and Ottomans, the monastery was taken over by the Greek Orthodox, who restored and repaired it in the 1960s and 70s.

tjwbanner590x65

 

Georgian epic poem was written here

A haven of quiet in busy Jerusalem, the Monastery of the Cross seems to have changed little in centuries.

Monastery of the Cross

Frescoes on walls and pillars in Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The complex contains a chapel, living quarters for monks, several courtyards, a small museum with exhibits illustrating monastery life in the past, the old refectory and kitchen, a coffee shop and a gift shop.

In the chapel, a basilica with a central dome, the walls and pillars are decorated with frescoes from the 12th and 17th centuries. The iconostasis separating the sanctuary from the nave contains many icons and paintings.

To the right of the altar is a mosaic floor, all that remains of a 5th-century church destroyed by the Persians in 614.

One of the frescoes commemorates Georgia’s national poet, Shota Rustaveli, who lived in the monastery in the early 13th century and wrote the epic poem The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.

In 2004 an unknown vandal scratched out Rustaveli’s face and part of the accompanying inscription — a fate that had also been suffered by other Georgian artworks in the monastery during the preceding decades.

Monastery of the Cross

Disc under altar marking supposed site of the tree in Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

 

Frescoes tell story of the tree

On the left side of the chapel, a doorway leads to the heart of the monastery.

A narrow passageway with displays of old vestments in glass cabinets leads to a darkened chapel. Beneath the altar, a circular plate surrounds the place where the tree of the cross is supposed to have stood.

Beside it is a repository for photographs of people who are sick or in need of help, for whom prayers are being offered.

Heavily-restored medieval frescoes on the walls tell the story of the tree.

First, Abraham is shown with three heavenly visitors (Genesis 18:1-15) who give him three staffs, of cedar, cypress and pine. After Sodom is destroyed, Abraham gives the staffs to his nephew Lot.

Lot plants the staffs and waters them from the Jordan River. The three woods grow into a single tree.

Monastery of the Cross

Wood from the tree being used for the Crucifixion (© Chad Emmett)

Centuries later the tree is cut down and a beam prepared for the cross.

 

Administered by: Confraternity of the Holy Sepulchre (Greek Orthodox)

Tel.: 052-221-5144

Open: Apr-Sep, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; Oct-Mar, Mon-Sat 10am-4pm

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and Monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)

 

External links

Monastery of the Cross (BibleWalks)
Monastery of the Cross (Orthodox Wiki)
Older Posts »

Kidron Valley

Jerusalem

The Kidron Valley, a place of olive groves, ancient tombs and misnamed funerary monuments, divides Jerusalem’s Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives.

Kidron Valley

Olive trees in the Kidron Valley, with the Pillar of Absalom in the centre distance (Seetheholyland.net)

Once a deep ravine channelling a seasonal stream, it provided a defensive border to the original City of David — and a route to the wilderness for King David when he fled from his rebellious son Absalom (2 Samuel 15:23).

Jesus often traversed the Kidron on his way to the village of Bethany, his favourite place of rest and refuge.

After the Last Supper, he crossed the valley with his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane. Then, after he was betrayed, he was brought back the same way to the house of the high priest.

Kidron Valley

The Pillar of Absalom, with the wall of the Temple Mount on the right (Seetheholyland.net)

By the light of the Passover moon, the whitewashed tombs cut into the valley’s rock-face would have provided a stark reminder to Jesus that on the following day his own body would be laid in a tomb.

Since the 4th century, an identification of the Kidron with the Valley of Jehoshaphat (a name meaning “Yahweh shall judge”) mentioned in the book of Joel (3:2,12) has led to the belief that it will be the place of final judgement.

 

Valley descends to the Dead Sea

Across the street from the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane, a paved path leads southward to the floor of the Kidron Valley. On the right is the Greek Orthodox Church of St Stephen.

In the northerly direction, the valley continues for 35 kilometres, descending steeply through the Judaean wilderness past Mar Saba monastery to the Dead Sea.

Olive trees give this part of the valley a pastoral character.

Kidron Valley

The path to the Kidron Valley, with the Pillar of Absalom in the centre (Yoav Dothan)

On the right looms the wall of the Temple Mount, with the sealed double portals of the Golden Gate standing out. On the left, the world’s largest Jewish cemetery stretches up the Mount of Olives. Further on, the Arab village of Silwan clings to the cliffside.

The cemetery’s location follows the Jewish belief that the long-awaited Messiah will pass through the Golden Gate to begin the resurrection of the dead.

In reaction to this belief, Muslims established a cemetery in front of the gate to block the Messiah’s path — and this may also be why the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent sealed the gate in 1541.

Kidron Valley

The sealed portals of the Golden Gate in the wall of the Temple Mount (Seetheholyland.net)

During the Second Temple period a high, two-tiered bridge spanned the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount to the Mount of Olives. Across this bridge on the Day of Atonement each year a goat symbolically bearing the sins of the people — the original scapegoat — was led into the wilderness.

The Golden Gate may have been where Jesus entered the city on Palm Sunday. It was probably also the Beautiful Gate of Acts 3:1-10, where the apostle Peter healed a lame beggar.

 

Monuments face the Temple Mount

Proceeding along the Kidron Valley, three monuments stand out on the left, each facing towards the Temple Mount. All have been attributed to biblical figures, but they are really tombs of prominent citizens of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period.

Kidron Valley

The Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives (Seetheholyland.net)

In order, they are:

•  Pillar of Absalom. The tallest (22 metres) and most ornate of the Kidron Valley monuments, it is hewn out of the limestone rock face, with an elegant pinnacle shaped like a Moroccan tagine cooking pot.

The traditional association with Absalom — who died centuries before it was built — is because this rebellious son of King David erected for himself a memorial pillar in the King’s Valley (2 Samuel 18:18).

In 2003 a Byzantine Greek inscription was found on the south side, naming it the tomb of Zechariah the father of John the Baptist, but the authenticity of this identification is uncertain.

Behind the Pillar of Absalom is a 1st-century burial cave called the Tomb of Jehoshaphat, the fourth king of Judah (who died centuries before it existed). It is notable for the carved triangular pediment above its entrance.

Kidron Valley

The Pillar of Absalom in the Kidron Valley (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

•  Tomb of the Sons of Hezir. About 50 metres south of the Pillar of Absalom, this has two Greek Doric columns supporting a frieze with an inscription identifying it as belonging to the priestly family of the Bene Hezir.

A mistaken tradition says it is the tomb of James the Just, the first bishop of Jerusalem, who was thrown off the highest corner of the Temple Mount, then stoned and clubbed to death. In earlier times a chapel in the area honoured this early martyr.

•  Tomb of Zechariah. A few metres further south, this freestanding cube carved out of bedrock is decorated on each side with Ionic columns and is topped by a sharply pointed pyramid. Again, the identification is unreliable.

In the time of Jesus, these monuments would have been whitewashed. Perhaps they inspired his outburst: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” (Matthew 23:27)

Kidron stream carries sewage

Kidron Valley

The Tomb of the Sons of Hezir (left) and the Tomb of Zechariah (Seetheholyland.net)

In modern times the Kidron has become one of the most polluted valleys in Israel. The Kidron stream still flows (except in summer), but it now carries most of Jerusalem’s sewage. Fortunately, the stretch near the city is piped underground.

Rubbish dumps also abound in the valley, continuing a practice referred to several times in the Bible. As long ago as seven centuries before Jesus, when King Hezekiah cleansed the Temple, his priests “brought out all the unclean things that they found in the temple of the Lord . . . and the Levites took them and carried them out to the Wadi Kidron” (2 Chronicles 29:16).

 

In Scripture

Kidron Valley

Polluted Kidron stream flowing past Mar Saba monastery in the Judaean desert (Seetheholyland.net)

King David flees from Absalom: 2 Samuel 15:23

Absalom builds his own monument: 2 Samuel 18:18

Judgement in the Valley of Jehoshaphat: Joel 3:2, 12

Jesus enters the city on Palm Sunday: Matthew 21:1-11

Jesus crosses the Kidron Valley: John 18: 1

Peter heals a lame man at the Beautiful Gate: Acts 3:1-10

 

 

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Bourbon, Fabio: Yesterday and Today: The Holy Land: Lithographs and Diaries by David Roberts, R.A. (Swan Hill, 1997)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: Keys to Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External links

Tomb of Avshalom (BibleWalks)
Zechariah Tomb (BibleWalks)
Bnei-Hezir tombs (BibleWalks)
Older Posts »

City of David

Jerusalem

 

The original inhabitants of Jerusalem lived not on the site of today’s Old City, but on a narrow ridge descending south from the present Temple Mount.

City of David

City of David in Model of Ancient Jerusalem at Israel Museum, with Pool of Siloam at left (Seetheholyland.net)

This is where King David captured the fortress of a Canaanite tribe, the Jebusites, 1000 years before Christ. On this slender spur — about 5 hectares (12 acres) in area — David established his capital and pitched a tent to house the Ark of the Covenant.

The site possessed the natural defences of the Hinnom valley to the south, the Kidron Valley to the east, and the Tyropoeon Valley (now largely filled in by the debris of centuries) to the west. And it had fresh water from the Gihon Spring gushing at its foot.

Besides David and his son Solomon, this would have been the stamping ground of kings Hezekiah and Josiah and the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Standing on the observation platform of the City of David archaeological park, it is easy to see how David could have looked down from the roof of his palace and spied the beautiful Bathsheba bathing (2 Samuel 11: 2).

Excavations are intense and controversial

Today the area is pitted with archaeological digs as intensive efforts continue to uncover evidence of David’s city. While there are claims that parts of David’s palace have been uncovered, archaeologists are generally unconvinced (and David’s tomb remains elusive).

City of David

Stepped-stone structure in City of David (Seetheholyland.net)

The excavations have also attracted controversy. Though the City of David is a national park, it is run by a private Jewish settler organisation, the Elad Foundation, which also funds its archaeological work. Tensions have arisen as excavations and park facilities spread down the slope of the Kidron Valley and into properties of the predominantly Arab village of Silwan.

At the summit of the excavated area is a massive stepped-stone structure. Dating from before the 10th century BC, it is believed to have served as a retaining wall for David’s palace or the Canaanite fortress that preceded it.

Later, when Solomon had built the first Temple on Mount Moriah (now the Temple Mount), stately homes for Jerusalem’s elite and royal functionaries were built on the stepped-stone structure. Their opulent character is indicated by artifacts including cosmetics and remains of furniture made of wood imported from Syria.

City of David

Stone toilet in house at City of David (Seetheholyland.net)

One four-room building immediately below the stepped-stone structure, called the House of Ahi’el (because the owner’s name was found on a pottery fragment), had an external stone staircase leading to a second storey. In one room a limestone toilet seat was embedded in the plaster floor, with a cesspit beneath it.

 

Clay seals bear names from the Bible

There was also an official archive in old Jerusalem. Its papyrus documents went up in flames with the rest of the royal quarter when the Babylonians destroyed the city in 586 BC, but dozens of clay seals survived.

Some of the seals bear names known from the Bible, such as Gemariah son of Shaphan, a high-ranking official in the court of King Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36: 9-12), and Azariah son of Hilkiah, a priest who served in the Temple at the time of the exile to Babylon (1 Chronicles 9:10).

City of David

Looking down from the City of David observation platform, with the Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery across the Kidron Valley (Seetheholyland.net)

Another clay seal found in the City of David contains the name of Bethlehem — the first mention of this ancient city outside of the Bible.

At the base of the Temple Mount are the remains of a Byzantine monastery, with adjacent winery and hospice for pilgrims. This is probably the “monastery of virgins” described by the 6th-century pilgrim Theodosius.

 

Water source was fortified

The importance of water to Jerusalem’s early residents is evident from the elaborate tunnels and fortifications they established to access, manage and defend it.

City of David

Artist’s impression of Jebusite fortifications around Gihon Spring (Seetheholyland.net)

Crucial to the city’s survival was the Gihon Spring — shown on some old maps as the Virgin’s Spring, a name that may owe its origin to an earlier Jewish name, the Well of Miriam (the sister of Moses). Since Miriam is Hebrew for Mary, this could explain an unlikely Christian legend that the Virgin Mary washed Jesus’ swaddling clothes here.

As far back as 1800 BC, the Jebusites fortified the Gihon with massive guard towers. They cut a system of tunnels from within their city walls to a rock-cut pool, also fortified, that received water through a feeder channel from the spring.

Visitors can now traverse some of this subterranean water system, known as Warren’s Shaft (after the British engineer who discovered it in 1867).

City of David

Descent into Hezekiah’s Tunnel (Seetheholyland.net)

They can also walk from the Gihon Spring through the 530-metre Hezekiah’s Tunnel. King Hezekiah’s workmen dug this in the 7th century BC to bring water to the Pool of Siloam inside his city, in preparation for an impending siege by the Assyrians.

If this dark and winding tunnel, with water thigh-high in places, is too daunting, an adjacent Canaanite tunnel provides a well-lit and dry-shod alternative.

 

Herodian street was used by Jewish pilgrims

From the Pool of Siloam, visitors can walk on a section of the Herodian street — now also below ground level — that hundreds of thousands of Jews used three times a year to ascend to the Temple during pilgrim feasts. Jesus almost certainly walked this way.

City of David

Excavated section of Herodian street that led from Pool of Siloam to Temple Mount (Seetheholyland.net)

Beneath the level of this street is another tunnel — the drain that took stormwater and sewage from the Old City to the Kidron Valley in Roman times.

Now cleaned out, this tunnel enables visitors to walk 700 metres uphill, along the edge of the Tyropoeon Valley and under the Old City wall, to an exit near the Western Wall.

Among the items discovered in this tunnel were a rare gold bell, perhaps once sewn to a high priest’s garment, and an ancient silver shekel, customarily used to pay the half-shekel head tax to the Temple.

A more sombre find was a Roman sword, with its leather sheath partly intact.

As the Romans overtook Jerusalem in AD 70 during the First Jewish-Roman War, with the Temple in flames, the last of the Jewish rebels hid in the sewers. “Those in the sewers were ferreted out, the ground was torn up, and all who were trapped were killed,” reported the historian Flavius Josephus.

 

City of David

Drainage channel that took stormwater and sewage from Old City (Seetheholyland.net)

In Scripture:

David captures Jerusalem: 2 Samuel 5:6-7

David sees Bathsheba bathing: 2 Samuel 11:2

Hezekiah brings water into the city: 2 Kings 20:20

 

Administered by: Elad Foundation

Open: Sun-Thur, winter 8am-5pm; summer 8am-7pm; Fri, winter 8am-2pm, summer 8am-4pm. Closed on Saturdays and holidays; early closing on holiday eves.

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: “City of David — Gone but not forgotten”, Jerusalem Post, January 25, 2010
Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Finkelstein, Israel: “In the Eye of Jerusalem’s Archaeological Storm”, Forward, May 6, 2011
Hasson, Nir: “Jerusalem’s time tunnels”, Haaretz, April 24, 2011
Hasson, Nir: “Digging completed on tunnel under Old City walls in East Jerusalem”, Haaretz, January 25, 2011
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Mazar, Eilat: “Temple Mount Excavations Unearth the Monastery of the Virgins”, Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2004
Stiles, Wayne: “Sights and Insights: The oldest part of J’lem”, Jerusalem Post, February 27, 2012
West, Jane Cahill: “Jerusalem’s Stepped-Stone Structure”, in Ten Top Archaeological Discoveries (Biblical Archaeology Society, 2011)
Yonah, Bob: “Archaeologists find first proof of ancient Bethlehem”, Jerusalem Post, May 23, 2012
Yudin, Joe: “Off the Beaten Track: City of David”, Jerusalem Post, March 29, 2012

 

External links
City of David (Ir David Foundation)
Jerusalem — The City of David (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
The City of David (The Jewish Magazine)
Jerusalem — the City of David (Jewish Virtual Library)
Walking through the Herodian sewer in Jerusalem (Leen Ritmeyer)
Older Posts »

Church of St Mark

Jerusalem

 

The Church of St Mark is home to one of Jerusalem’s smallest and oldest Christian communities, but it is the setting for a remarkable set of traditions — including the claim to be the site of the Upper Room of the Last Supper.

Church of St Mark

Entrance to St Mark’s Church (Kudumomo)

This hard-to-find Syriac Orthodox church is in the north-eastern corner of the Old City’s Armenian Quarter, on Ararat Street which branches off St Mark’s Street.

Its worship employs the oldest surviving liturgy in Christianity, based on the rite of the early Christian Church of Jerusalem. The language used is Syriac, a dialect of the Aramaic that Jesus spoke.

St Mark (also known as John Mark) came from Cyrene in Libya. He became a travelling companion and interpreter for St Peter, and used Peter’s sermons when he composed the earliest of the four Gospels.

Church of St Mark

Interior of St Mark’s Church (© Fili Feldman)

Mark’s mother, Mary of Jerusalem, had a house where members of the early Church met. It was to this house that Peter went when an angel released him from prison (Acts 12:12-17).

The Syriac Orthodox believe the Church of St Mark is on the site of that house — a belief supported by a 6th-century inscription discovered there in 1940.

 

Variety of events claimed

By associating the Church of St Mark with the Upper Room, the Syriac Orthodox believe it was the location of these events:

  • The Last Supper (Mark 14:12-25)
  • The election of Matthias as an apostle to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:21-26)
  • Post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus to the disciples, including the one in which he showed doubting Thomas the wounds in his hands and side (John 20:24-28).
  • The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4)
Church of St Mark

Painting attributed to St Luke (© Fili Feldman)

While there is oral tradition to support these claims, scholars generally accept that the Upper Room was on the site of the Cenacle, near the summit of Mount Zion.

Another Syriac Orthodox tradition holds that the Church of St Mark is at the place where Mary, Jesus’ mother, was baptised. A baptismal font purportedly used can be seen inside the church.

The church also displays a painting on leather of Mary and Jesus. It is said to have been painted by St Luke, but experts date it to the early Byzantine period.

 

Inscription identifies ‘house of Mary’

Church of St Mark

Claim to be “The first church in Christianity” (Seetheholyland.net)

A notice beside the door proclaims the Church of St Mark to be “The first church in Christianity”, in the belief that it is on the site of the original house-church of Jerusalem’s early Christians.

Just inside the entrance, set into a pillar, is an inscribed stone discovered during a restoration in 1940. Its inscription, believed to be from the 6th century, is in ancient Syriac. It says:

“This is the house of Mary, mother of John, called Mark. Proclaimed a church by the holy apostles under the name of Virgin Mary, mother of God, after the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven. Renewed after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in the year AD 73.”

The interior of the church is dark, but the decoration is ornate. The sanctuary is richly embellished, though often partly hidden by a curtain representing the veil in the Temple.

The present church was built in the 12th century over the ruins of a 4th-century church. Steps lead down to a crypt, believed to have been the lower floor in the house of Mark’s mother.

 

First native people to adopt Christianity

Church of St Mark

Inscription from 6th century (© Israelseen.com)

The Syriac Orthodox Church claims St Peter as its first patriarch, in Antioch in AD 37. The word “Syriac” is not a geographic indicator, but refers to the use of the Syriac language in worship.

Syriac Christians see themselves as the first people to adopt Christianity as natives of the Holy Land. At the time of Christ, the Roman province of Syria included today’s Syria, Lebanon, most of Palestine, and parts of Jordan and Turkey.

Often called “Jacobites” (after an early bishop), the Syriac Orthodox form one of the Oriental Orthodox churches that became separated from the mainstream of Christianity in the 5th century over a disagreement about the nature of Christ. They are not in communion with either Constantinople or Rome.

Their community in Jerusalem, centred on the Church of St Mark, numbers only about 600.

The Syriac Orthodox also worship in the Chapel of St Joseph of Arimathea and St Nicodemus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

 

In Scripture:

Church of St Mark

Pilgrims outside Church of St Mark (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The Last Supper: Mark 14:12-25

Matthias is elected to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:21-26)

Jesus shows Thomas the wounds in his hands and side (John 20:24-28).

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4)

Peter goes to the house of Mark’s mother: Acts 12:12-17

 

Administered by: Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal-Vicariate of Jerusalem and Jordan

Tel.:  02 628-3304 or 052 509-0478

Open: Apr-Sep 9am-5pm; Oct-Mar 7am-4pm; Sunday 11am-4pm

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Hilliard, Alison, and Bailey, Betty Jane: Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land (Cassell, 1999)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Shahin, Mariam, and Azar, George: Palestine: A guide (Chastleton Travel, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

St Mark’s Monastery (Syriac Orthodox Resources)
Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem (YouTube)

 

Older Posts »

Christ Church

Jerusalem

 

Compared with the ancient churches of Byzantine or Crusader origin in Jerusalem’s Old City, Christ Church is a relative newcomer.

Christ Church

Entrance to Christ Church (Seetheholyland.net)

Yet this Anglican church, dating only from 1849, has its own historical claims: It was the first Protestant church in the Middle East, and the first Jerusalem church in modern times to use bells to call worshippers.

It may also be the only Christian church built to resemble a synagogue.

Christ Church, opposite the Citadel inside the Jaffa Gate, owes its existence to a 19th-century English initiative to bring Jews to Christianity. In its early years it became known as the “Jewish Protestant Church”.

Now its evangelical Anglican congregation — affiliated to the Episcopal diocese of Jerusalem — celebrates both Jewish and Christian feasts and incorporates some Hebrew into its liturgy. There is also a Messianic Hebrew congregation and an Arabic fellowship.

The church also runs a guest house for pilgrims.

 

Supported Jewish homeland

Christ Church

Interior of Christ Church (Seetheholyland.net)

Christ Church was established by an Anglican missionary society, founded in 1809, called the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews. It is now called CMJ (the Church’s Ministry among the Jews) and, in Israel, ITAC (the Israel Trust of the Anglican Church).

Its founders were prominent evangelicals including William Wilberforce, who led the campaign to end British slavery. They believed that the Jewish people had to be returned to Palestine (then under Ottoman Turkish rule), where many would acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, before the Second Coming of Jesus could take place.

Their advocacy for a Jewish homeland in Palestine prompted the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which Britain pledged its support for this objective.

In 1833 the society established itself in Jerusalem — then a city of 90,000 entirely enclosed by the Old City walls — and began its outreach to Jews by founding a trades school, clinics and the city’s first modern hospital.

 

Christ Church

Christ Church compound (© Rick Lobs)

First bishop was former rabbi

A joint English/Prussian bishopric was established in 1841, on the initiative of King Frederick William IV of Prussia. The first bishop was a former Jewish rabbi, Michael Solomon Alexander, who had come to believe in Jesus while teaching Hebrew in England.

Construction of Christ Church, the seat of the bishopric, was not completed when Bishop Alexander died in 1845, after only three years in office.

Theological disagreements, combined with rising antagonism between Britain and Prussia, led to the dissolution of the English/Prussian partnership in 1887.

The following year the bishop’s seat was moved to the newly completed St George’s Cathedral, on Nablus Road in East Jerusalem.

 

Passed off as consul’s chapel

When Christ Church was being planned, Ottoman Turkish law forbade the building of new churches. So the church was built under the guise of being the chapel of the British consul, whose consulate had recently become established on adjacent land.

Christ Church

Sanctuary area of Christ Church (© Rick Lobs)

No local tradesmen were capable of building a modern structure with such high ceilings and thin walls, so stone masons from Malta were brought in. By reviving the ancient art of stone cutting, these masons stimulated building expansion in Jerusalem.

Because the Muslims Turks did not allow Christians to use a bell to call worshippers, Christ Church was built without a bell tower. Only after the Crimean War (1853-56) did the Anglicans dare to add a modest belfry and ring their bells.

tjwbanner590x65

 

Cross was late addition

Christ Church

Altar with Jewish symbols in Christ Church (Ian W. Scott)

Behind its simple neo-Gothic exterior, Christ Church looks more like a synagogue than a Christian church. The intention was that Jews who entered it would be reminded of the Jewish origins of the Christian faith.

Like Jerusalem’s synagogues, the church faces the Temple Mount. The communion table and stained-glass windows contain Jewish symbols and Hebrew script

The wooden reredos screen behind the communion table is designed as a reminder of the holy ark in which synagogues keep the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Torah. Written on it in Hebrew are the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed.

Christ Church

Stained-glass window with Star of David in Christ Church (Ian W. Scott)

The Jewish lineage of Jesus is signified by the Star of David on the communion table and in a stained-glass window at the back of the church.

For nearly a century Christ Church had no cross — until 1948, after the Arab-Israeli war put the Old City under Jordanian control. Then the rector hurried to the market to buy an olive-wood cross to place on the communion table, lest occupying Arab soldiers mistook the church for a synagogue.

 

Administered by: CMJ Israel

Tel.: 972-2-627-7727 or 627-7729

Open: 8am-8pm daily

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Crombie, Kelvin: Welcome to Christ Church (Bet Nicolayson Heritage Centre leaflet)
Hilliard, Alison, and Bailey, Betty Jane: Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land (Cassell, 1999)
Macpherson, Duncan: A Third Millennium Guide to Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Melisende, 2000)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)

 

External links

CMJ Israel
Older Posts »
All content © 2010, See the Holy Land | Site by Ravlich Consulting & Mustard Seed
You are welcome to promote site content and images through your own
website or blog, but please refer to our Terms of Service | Login