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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Kathisma

Israel

 

Weeds surround the low rock on which Mary is believed to have rested (Seetheholyland.net)

Weeds surround the low rock on which Mary is believed to have rested (Seetheholyland.net)

Midway between Jerusalem and Bethlehem lie the largely ignored remains of one of the Holy Land’s biggest churches — and probably the first of them dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The Kathisma church was built around a rock where early Christian tradition says that Mary rested while on her way with Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

The church was built by a wealthy widow named Ikelia in AD 456 on what was already a major pilgrimage site. It was enlarged in the 6th century, but destroyed around the 11th century.

Its existence was known from Byzantine literature, but the location was a mystery until 1992 when a bulldozer dug into a mosaic floor buried in an olive grove during widening of the Jerusalem-Hebron highway.

Highway traffic passing ruins of Kathisma church (Seetheholyland.net)

Highway traffic passing ruins of Kathisma church (Seetheholyland.net)

The site is about 6 kilometres from Jerusalem, on the left side of the highway — just before the route 398 turnoff to the Har Homa settlement and Herodium, and 600 metres before the Mar Elias monastery.

Passing traffic glimpses scattered stonework and weeds between the multi-lane highway and the olive trees, but on the site the octagonal outline of the church is evident. At its centre protrudes the limestone rock on which the pregnant Mary is believed to have rested.

 

This was more than just a church

Kathisma (the name is Greek for seat) was more than just a church. Archaeologists describe it as a martyrium — a structure intended to bear witness to the Christian faith by commemorating an event in the life of Christ, a martyr or other holy person.

The importance of the structure is shown by its width of 43 metres — only 10 metres less than the octagonal Dome of the Rock, built more than 230 years later and also enclosing a holy rock.

Mosaic floor uncovered at Kathisma (Gabrielw.tour / Wikimedia)

Mosaic floor uncovered at Kathisma (Gabrielw.tour / Wikimedia)

Three concentric walls surrounded the Kathisma rock. The first two formed a walkway leading to a large apse at the eastern end. The third wall encompassed four chapels and adjacent rooms.

Most of the floors were paved with colourful mosaics, in geometric and floral designs. These are well preserved, but covered with sand to protect them.

Excavators found a clay waterpipe near the rock. An early tradition says a miraculous spring appeared there to quench Mary’s thirst, and a 6th-century account tells of pilgrims drinking sweet water at the site.

 

Building may have been shared with Muslims

Broken column from Kathisma church (Seetheholyland.net)

Broken column from Kathisma church (Seetheholyland.net)

The Kathisma church escaped destruction during the Persian and Islamic conquests of the 7th century. But evidence of a prayer niche facing Mecca indicates that part or all of the building was used as a mosque in the 8th century.

Bearing in mind the respect shown by the Koran for Mary, experts speculate that this may have been one of a few churches that were shared by Christians and Muslims during the Arab period.

Such harmony did not exist in the middle of the 20th century when the site was in no man’s land during hostilities between Jordan and Israel. The 1949 armistice agreement line (“green line”) runs across the property.

In the 1990s the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which owns the site, had plans to develop a major pilgrimage centre but these have not eventuated.

 

 

References

Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Shanks, Hershel: “Where Mary Rested — Rediscovering the Kathisma”, Biblical Archaeological Review, November/December, 2006
Vamosh, Miriam Feinberg: “The Kathisma: The most important ancient church you never heard of”, Haaretz, February 24, 2014

 

External links

Kathisma — Place of Rest on the Way to Bethlehem (Travelujah)
Kathisma (BibleWalks)
The Church of the Seat of Mary (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Older Posts »

Monastery of St Gerasimus

West Bank

Monastery of St Gerasimus (Bukvoed)

Monastery of St Gerasimus (Bukvoed)

The Monastery of St Gerasimus, one of the earliest of the 70-plus monasteries in the Judaean desert, is named in honour of a pioneering monk who is usually depicted with a pet lion.

A verdant and welcoming oasis in the arid lower Jordan Valley, it is on the east side of highway 90 just north of the Beit-Ha’aravah junction, and about 7 kilometres southeast of Jericho.

Across the Jordan River is the place of Jesus’ baptism, Bethany Beyond the Jordan, but the two-storey monastery commemorates an earlier event in Jesus’ life.

According to an old tradition, the monastery was built where Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus took shelter in a cave while fleeing from Herod the Great.

This event is commemorated in the ground-floor crypt beneath the monastery church. An icon illustrates the Flight of the Holy Family into Egypt and a large painting depicts a contented Jesus being nursed at the breast by his mother Mary.

Fresco of St Gerasimus with his lion (Bukvoed)

Fresco of St Gerasimus with his lion (Bukvoed)

The upper-floor church contains many holy icons and frescoes, including paintings of Gerasimus and his lion. Cabinets in the crypt store the bones of monks killed during the Persian invasion of 614.

 

Hospitable place for pilgrims

A place of hospitality and refreshment for pilgrims, with fruit trees, flowers and birdsong, the gold-domed monastery offers a contrast to the hot and barren environment of the Judaean wilderness.

Founded in the fifth century, it was originally dedicated to Our Lady of Kalamon (Greek for reeds), but was later renamed in honour of Gerasimus, who founded a nearby monastery that had been abandoned.

It was destroyed in 614, rebuilt by the Crusaders, abandoned after the Crusader period, restored in the 12th century, rebuilt in 1588, destroyed around 1734 and re-established in 1885.

In Arabic it is known as Deir Hajla, meaning the monastery of the partridge, a bird common to the area.

Cloister in Monastery of St Gerasimus (© Deror Avi)

Cloister in Monastery of St Gerasimus (© Deror Avi)

The monastery functioned in the form of a laura — with a cluster of hermits’ caves located around a community and worship centre. The hermits spent weekdays alone in their caves, occupied in prayer and making ropes and baskets. They went to the centre for Saturdays and Sundays, taking their handiwork and partaking in Divine Liturgy and communal activities.

The monastic rule was strict. During the week the hermit monks survived on dry bread, dates and water. At the weekends they ate cooked food and drank wine. Their only personal belongings were a rush mat and a drinking bowl.

Hermits’ caves can still be seen in the steep cliffs a kilometre east of the monastery and in the adjacent mountains.

 

Gerasimus redeveloped monastic life

Like many who founded Judaean monasteries, Gerasimus (also spelt Gerassimos or Gerasimos) came from outside the Holy Land — from a wealthy family in Lycia, in present-day Turkey.

Already a monk when he came to Palestine, he followed the monastic leader Euthymius into the desert and became renowned for his piety and asceticism.

Because of the similarity of names, Gerasimus is sometimes confused with St Jerome, the Bible translator who lived in Bethlehem.

Gerasimus is credited with a new development in monastic life. Previously desert monks lived either in caves or in monasteries. He was the first to combine the solitude of a wilderness hermit with the communal aspect of a monastery by bringing hermits together on Saturdays and Sundays for worship and fellowship.

Upper part of iconostasis in monastery church (© Deror Avi)

Upper part of iconostasis in monastery church (© Deror Avi)

He is believed to have attended the crucial Council of Chalcedon in 451, which caused a major rift in the Eastern Orthodox world.

Called to settle differences of opinion on the nature of Christ, the council declared that he has two natures in one Person as truly God and truly man. Gerasimus briefly opposed this declaration, then accepted it.

The lion depicted in icons of Gerasimus comes from a story that he found the animal wandering in the desert, suffering from a thorn embedded in a paw. The saint gently removed the thorn and tended to the wound.

The lion thereafter devoted himself to Gerasimus, serving him and the monastery and retrieving the monastery’s donkey when it was stolen by thieves.

The story has it that when Gerasimus died in 475 the lion lay on his grave and died of grief.

 

Administered by: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Tel.: 02 9943038 or 050 348892

Open: 8am-6pm daily

 

 

 

References

Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Irving, Sarah: Palestine (Bradt Travel Guides, 2011)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and Monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)

 

External links

St. Gerassimos (BibleWalks)
The Monasteries of the “Desert of the Jordan”(Christus Rex)
Older Posts »

Monastery of St George

West Bank

Monastery of St George

Monastery of St George in Wadi Qelt (Avishai Teicher / PikiWiki Israel)

The spectacle of the Monastery of St George — a cliff-hanging complex carved into a sheer rock wall in the Judaean Desert, overlooking an unexpectedly lush garden with olive and cypress trees — is one of the most striking sights of the Holy Land.

The monastery’s picturesque setting is in a deep and narrow gorge called Wadi Qelt, in a cliff face pocked with caves and recesses that have offered habitation to monks and hermits for many centuries.

The wadi winds its deep and tortuous course for 35 kilometres between Jerusalem and Jericho — for most of the way providing a route for the Roman road on which Jesus set the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Some also envisage it as the “valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23.

Monastery of St George

Wadi Qelt in Judaean Desert (Jerzy Strzelecki)

The monastery, founded in the 5th century, is about 9 kilometres from Jericho and about 20 kilometres from Jerusalem, and on a favourite trail for hikers.

It is well known for its hospitality and, unlike most Greek Orthodox monasteries, welcomes female pilgrims and visitors — following a precedent set when a Byzantine noblewoman claimed the Virgin Mary had directed her there for healing from an incurable illness.

 

St George came from Cyprus

The monastery was founded in the 5th century when John of Thebes, an Egyptian, drew together a cluster of five Syrian hermits who had settled around a cave where they believed the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5-6).

Monastery of St George

Hospitable Greek Orthodox monk at Monastery of St George (Don Schwager)

But it is named after its most famous monk, St George of Koziba, who came as a teenager from Cyprus to follow the ascetic life in the Holy Land in the 6th century, after both his parents died.

Another tradition links a large cave above the monastery with St Joachim, father of the Virgin Mary. He is said to have stopped to lament the barrenness of his wife, St Anne — until an angel arrived to tell him she would conceive.

The monastery went through the phases of destruction in the 7th century by the Persians (who martyred all 14 resident monks), rebuilding in the 12th century by the Crusaders, then disuse after the Crusaders were expelled from the Holy Land.

Complete restoration was undertaken by a Greek monk, Callinicos, between 1878 and 1901. The bell tower was added in 1952.

Monastery of St George

Bell tower at Monastery of St George (Don Schwager)

In 2010 a new road improved access, but visitors must walk down a steep and winding path for about 15 minutes (or hire a donkey from local Bedouin) to reach the monastery.

Just a handful of monks remain at St George’s, one of only five monasteries still functioning in the Judaean Desert.

 

Mosaic floor from 6th century

The three-level monastery complex encompasses two churches, the Church of the Holy Virgin and the Church of St George and St John. They contain a rich array of icons, paintings and mosaics.

In the ornate Church of the Holy Virgin, the principal place of worship, a mosaic pavement depicts the Byzantine double-headed eagle in black, white and red. The royal doors in the centre of the relatively modern iconostasis date from the 12th century.

Monastery of St George

Precarious access to monk’s cave in Wadi Qelt (Sir Kiss)

The Church of St John and St George has a 6th-century mosaic floor. A reliquary contains the skulls of the 14 monks martyred by the Persians, and a glass casket encloses the incorrupt remains of a Romanian monk who died in 1960. A niche contains the tomb of St George.

The monastery also holds the tombs of the five hermits who began the monastery.

Stairs from the inner court of the monastery lead to the cave-church of St Elijah. From this cave, a narrow tunnel provides an escape route to the top of the mountain.

Monastery of St George

Aqueduct crossing Wadi Qelt (© vizAviz)

The view from the balcony of the inner court includes Roman aqueducts supported by massive walls on the other side of the wadi.

 

Administered by: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Tel.: 054 7306557

Open: 9am-1pm; Sunday closed.

 

 

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Cohen, Daniel: The Holy Land of Jesus (Doko Media, 2008)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Giroud, Sabri, and others, trans. by Carol Scheller-Doyle and Walid Shomali: Palestine and Palestinians (Alternative Tourism Group, 2008)
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)

 

External links

The Monastery of St. George of Koziba in Wadi Kelt (Follow-Israel)
Saint George’s Monastery, Wadi Qelt  (Abraham Path)
St. George’s Monastery, Wadi Kelt (360cities)
Older Posts »

Beersheba

Israel

The patriarch Abraham pitched his tent and dug a well at Beersheba, a wilderness location identified in the Scriptures as the southern limit of the Promised Land.

Beersheba

Ancient well outside Tel Beersheba’s city gate (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

More than 1000 years before Christ, God had called Abraham, originally from Mesopotamia, to leave his family and possessions and journey to a new land — with the promise that his descendants would become a great nation.

At Beersheba Abraham’s well, on which he depended to water his flocks, was seized by servants of the king of the Philistines, Abimelech.

Abraham complained to Abimelech and struck an oath with the Philistine king, giving him seven ewe lambs for affirming that Abraham had dug the well. To symbolise the covenant affirming his ownership of the well, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree and “called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God”. (Genesis 21:25-33)

The name Beersheba (also called Beersheva and Be’er Sheva) means “well of the oath” or “well of the seven [lambs]”. (In Hebrew, the word sheva or sheba means both seven and oath.)

Beersheba

Abraham’s Well at Beersheba in mid-1900s, its stones grooved by ropes (© Matson Photo Service)

Whenever the writers of Scripture wanted to speak of all Israel from north to south, they would use the expression “from Dan [the northern-most city] to Beersheba” (for example, 1 Samuel 3:20).

 

Setting for many biblical events

Beersheba, on the northern edge of the barren Negev desert and about 75 kilometres south of Jerusalem, features in several other events of Bible history:

•   Abraham and his wife Sarah evicted her slave-girl Hagar and Hagar’s son Ishmael (fathered by Abraham) to wander in the wilderness. But God promised Hagar he would also make Ishmael’s descendants a great nation. (Genesis 21:8-21)

•   It was from Beersheba that Abraham journeyed with his son Isaac to Mount Moriah at Jerusalem, where God had ordered him to sacrifice the boy as a burnt offering. (Genesis 22:1-19)

Beersheba

Abraham with his family and flocks (József Molnár, Hungarian National Gallery)

•   Isaac, who built an altar to the Lord at Beersheba, also had a dispute with the Philistines over water, and he too resolved it in a covenant with Abimelech. (Genesis 26:18-31)

•   Isaac’s son Jacob stole the birthright from his brother Esau while the family camped at Beersheba (Genesis 27:1-40). Fleeing from Esau, Jacob had a dream about angels on a ladder reaching up to heaven (Genesis 28:1017)

•   When the elderly Israel (formerly Jacob) was on his way to Egypt, he stopped at Beersheba to offer sacrifice to the God of his father Isaac. God spoke to him “in visions of the night” and encouraged him on his journey. (Genesis 46:1-7)

 

Ancient settlement contains a well

Of the several wells in and around Beersheba, one known as Abraham’s Well is on the southern edge of the old town, where Ha’azmaut Street joins Hebron Road. It is 26 metres deep.

Beersheba

Excavated ancient city at Tel Beersheba (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Nearby is the site of a colourful Bedouin market that has operated each Thursday since 1905.

But the ancient settlement from biblical times was located at Tel Beersheba, some 4 kilometres east of the city, on highway 60.

This World Heritage Site also contains a well — dated to the 12th century BC, the time of the patriarchs, and an impressive 69 metres deep — just outside the city gate.

Archaeological excavations have uncovered public buildings, private houses, stables, and a large and impressive water system and reservoir. Extensive reconstruction in mudbrick has been done.

Beersheba

Reconstructed altar at Tel Beersheba (David Q. Hall)

Also on display is a replica of a horned altar, whose hewn stones were found reused on the site. It obviously belonging to an unlawful cult, because it does not comply with the law that an altar should be of “stones on which you have not used an iron tool” (Deuteronomy 27:5).

The altar was probably one of those broken up during the religious reforms of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:8).

The burgeoning modern city of Beersheba is peopled largely by Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and other countries. But the past is always present: Redevelopment of the bus station in 2012 uncovered remains of a Byzantine city, including two well-preserved churches.

 

In Scripture:

Abraham makes a covenant with the Philistines: Genesis 21:25-33

Hagar and Ishmael are sent into the wilderness: Genesis 21:8-21

Isaac makes a covenant with the Philistines: Genesis 26:18-31

Jacob steals Esau’s birthright: Genesis 27:1-40

Israel receives a vision on his way to Egypt: Genesis 46:1-7

King Josiah destroys Beersheba’s high places: 2 Kings 23:8

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Stiles, Wayne: “Sights and Insights: Last stop and a point of departure”, Jerusalem Post, May 26, 2011

 

External links

Beersheba (Near East Tourist Agency)
Beersheba (Wikipedia)
Beersheba — the Southern Border of the Kingdom of Judah (Jewish Virtual Library)
Tel Be’er Sheva (BibleWalks)
Excavations at Beersheba Bus Station Expose the Heart of the Byzantine City (Bible History Daily)
Older Posts »

Church of the Twelve Apostles

Israel

 

The red-domed Greek Orthodox church on the edge of the Sea of Galilee at Capernaum has become an icon of the Holy Land, though it is more often photographed than visited.

Church of the Twelve Apostles

Lush greenery framing the Church of the Twelve Apostles (Seetheholyland.net)

The Church of the Twelve Apostles takes its name from the Gospel account of Jesus choosing the Twelve, an event that took place on a mountain in this area of Galilee.

But it is also known as the Church of the Seven Apostles — a reference to Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearance by the Sea of Galilee to seven of his disciples — Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John “and two other disciples” (John 21).

Jesus had made Capernaum his home town. The Church of the Twelve Apostles occupies a site to the east of ancient Capernaum, where survivors of a devastating earthquake in 749 relocated their village.

A small, cross-shaped building with white walls, the Church of the Twelve Apostles has two central domes surrounded by six smaller ones, each topped by a cross.

Built in 1931, it stands close to the shore, in a secluded haven of lush trees and gardens. Inside, the walls and ceilings are covered with impressive frescoes depicting biblical themes.

Church of the Twelve Apostles

Gospel scenes in the Church of the Twelve Apostles (Seetheholyland.net)

Church was in no-man’s land

The Church of the Twelve Apostles is believed to stand on the site of a Byzantine church dedicated to St John the Theologian.

Capernaum had been in ruins for several centuries when the site was purchased by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the present church erected.

But following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the church found itself in a demilitarised zone between Israel and Syria.

Local Christians or pilgrims had no access to this no-man’s land, so the church and its adjacent monastery fell into decay, and Druze residents used the church as a barn.

After the Six Day War in 1969, when Israel pushed its border back to the Golan Heights, restoration of the church began with the removal of a thick layer of cow manure covering the floor.

Between 1995 and 2000 the church was redecorated by a Greek iconographer with an eclectic array of Byzantine-style frescoes inspired by works in Orthodox churches and monasteries in various parts of the world, in particular the Balkans.

Church of the Twelve Apostles

Stone iconostasis in the Church of the Twelve Apostles (Seetheholyland.net)

 

Striking fresco portrays Judgement Day

Brightly-coloured frescoes and icons cover most of the ceilings and walls of the church.

Inside one dome, Christ the Pantocrator (All-powerful) is surrounded by a chorus of 12 prophets who foretold his coming.

In the other dome, Christ is shown as an old man under the title of the Ancient of Days — a name for God from the Book of Daniel — and surrounded by 12 patriarchs.

Church of the Twelve Apostles

Christ the Pantocrator in a dome of the Church of the Twelve Apostles (Seetheholyland.net)

Other frescoes and icons depict the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Madonna and Child, saints who lived in the Holy Land and Galilean scenes from the Gospels — Jesus walking on the water, the calming of the storm, the miraculous catch of fish and the healing of the paralysed man.

The most striking fresco, a dramatic portrayal of Judgement Day, covers the back wall of the church as a reminder to departing faithful that they will be judged by what they do during their earthly lives.

It vividly conveys the contrast and tension between the glory of those who are saved (on the left of the fresco) and the horror of those who are damned (to the right). The two groups are separated by a river of fire leading down to hell.

 

Related site: Capernaum

In Scripture:

Jesus calls the Twelve Apostles: Luke 6:12-16

Jesus appears to seven disciples: John 21:1-14

 

Administered by: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Tel.: 972 (0)4 6722282

Open: No regular hours, so before visiting check with the church or the patriarchate in Jerusalem, 972 (0)2 6282048

 

References

Anonymous: The Monastery of the Twelve Apostles (Greek Orthodox Church leaflet, undated)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)

 

Older Posts »

Mary of Nazareth International Center

Israel

Mary of Nazareth International Center

The Mary of Nazareth centre in the heart of Nazareth (© cimdn.org)

 

Modern multimedia technology portrays the Virgin Mary’s role in salvation history at the Mary of Nazareth International Center, just across the street from the towering basilica that commemorates her agreement to become the mother of the Son of God.

A 55-minute, wide-screen presentation, offered in 10 languages, gives visitors a sweeping perspective of Mary’s place in Scripture.

The content is divided into four parts, each viewed in a separate room: from Creation to Mary’s childhood; from the Annunciation to Jesus’ birth; the 30 years in Nazareth and Jesus’ public life; and from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.

The presentation, using still and movie photography, is firmly grounded in Scripture, with no fewer than 224 biblical passages quoted.

Other exhibits focus on Mary as a Jewish woman, Mary in the Qur’an (which has more references to her than in the Bible), Mary as a source of Christian unity, and Mary in the tradition of the Eastern Christian churches.

Mary of Nazareth International Center

The multimedia presentation at the Mary of Nazareth centre includes clips from the 2006 film The Nativity Story (© cimdn.org)

There is also a world map of Marian shrines, and a terraced garden with plants that are mentioned in the Bible.

The centre, opened in 2011 in a renovated building from the Ottoman era, also contains a significant archaeological discovery — the remains of an ancient house that archaeologists believe is from the Jewish village of Nazareth at the time of Jesus and Mary.

 

Ecumenical support for centre

The impetus for a Nazareth venue celebrating Mary’s role in salvation history — God’s actions through human history to fulfill his purpose of saving mankind — came from the Association Marie de Nazareth, a Catholic group based in France, which also raised the funding.

The association promotes Christian belief through modern audio-visual techniques such as podcasts, websites, television documentaries and media centres.

The Mary of Nazareth centre is run by the Chemin Neuf (“New Way”) Community, another French Catholic group, which has an ecumenical ministry in which Christians from different denominations take part.

Mary of Nazareth International Center

Chapel in Mary of Nazareth centre, with Church of the Annunciation seen at left (© cimdn.org)

Though relations between Christian churches in the Holy Land are not always harmonious — scuffles with broomsticks are not unknown at sacred sites — the centre has received the support of the 12 major Christian churches of the Holy Land, including Latin and Eastern Catholics, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Anglicans and Lutherans.

“Never in history have all the Christian churches of the Holy Land — Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant — united in such a way to support the same project,” said Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Latin (Catholic) patriarchal vicar in Nazareth.

House from time of Jesus

Workers preparing the centre were digging up an old courtyard when they uncovered the walls of an ancient house. Archaeologists then found two rooms, a courtyard with a rock-hewn cistern in which rainwater was collected from the roof, and fragments of clay and chalk vessels.

They also found a pit whose entrance was apparently camouflaged, presumably used by Jews to hide from Roman soldiers during the First Jewish-Roman War in AD 67.

The Israel Antiquities Authority declared the remains were of the first residential building dating to the time of Jesus ever discovered in Nazareth.

Mary of Nazareth International Center

Remains of house from time of Jesus, at Mary of Nazareth centre (© cimdn.org)

Excavation director Yardenna Alexandre said: “The discovery is of the utmost importance since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth and thereby sheds light on the way of life at the time of Jesus. The building that we found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period.”

Archaeologist Stephen Pfann, president of the University of the Holy Land, said: “It’s the only witness that we have from that area that shows us what the walls and floors were like inside Nazareth in the first century.”

Nazareth at the time probably had a population of between 400 and 1200, so it might have had as few as 100 houses. The remains discovered were only 50 metres from the Church of the Annunciation, where tradition places the home of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, so it is almost certain that Jesus knew the house and might even have visited it.

The remains of the house have been conserved within the Mary of Nazareth centre.

 

Administered by: Chemin Neuf Community

 

Tel.: +972 4 646-1266, +972-52 447-6083

 

Open: Mon-Sat 9.30-12am, 2.30-5pm; closed Sunday (private bookings available at any time).

 

References

Anonymous: Mary Leads us to Jesus (Association Marie de Nazareth brochure, undated)
Kauffmann, Joel: The Nazareth Jesus Knew (Nazareth Village 2005)

 

External links

Mary of Nazareth Center
Mary of Nazareth (Association Marie de Nazareth)
For the Very First Time: A Residential Building from the Time of Jesus was Exposed in the Heart of Nazareth (Israel Antiquities Authority)
First Jesus-Era House Discovered in Nazareth (Diaa Hadid, Associated Press)
Older Posts »

Beit She’an

Israel

Beit She'an

Colonnaded street leading to tell at Beit She’an (Seetheholyland.net)

Beit She’an offers the most extensive archaeological site in Israel, with some of the best-preserved ruins in the Middle East, but its memory will forever be linked to one of the most ghoulish events in the Bible.

On nearby Mount Gilboa in 1004 BC, the army of King Saul, Israel’s first king, was defeated by the Philistines and Saul’s three sons were killed. To avoid capture, the wounded Saul fell on his sword.

The triumphant Philistines took the bodies of Saul and his sons and fastened them to the wall of Beit She’an. They put Saul’s armour in their temple.

David, who was to succeed Saul as king, composed a memorable lament over the tragedy, with the recurring line “How the mighty have fallen . . . ” (2 Samuel 1:17 – 27).

Beit She’an is about 13 kilometres south of the Sea of Galilee. Its location at the strategic junction of the Jezreel and Jordan valleys made it a coveted prize for conquerors.

Beit She'an

Columns toppled by the AD 749 earthquake at Beit She’an (Kasper Nowak)

Apart from the Philistines, its rulers included Egyptians, Israelites (though the Canaanite inhabitants initially rebuffed them), Greeks and Romans.

In the Roman period — under the name of Scythopolis — it was the leading city of the Decapolis and the only one of these 10 semi-autonomous cities west of the Jordan River.

From the 4th century until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 749, the formerly pagan city was a flourishing Christian centre, with a bishop and several churches.

 

City’s population grew to 40,000

Beit She’an began on the flat-topped hill that stands behind the ruins of the Roman-Byzantine city. This ancient tell, 80 metres high, contains 18 levels of occupation down to the first settlers around 4000 BC.

Beit She'an

Ruins of Beit She’an from the tell, with modern town in background (Steve Peterson)

In Roman times the inhabitants moved to the flat area at the foot of the hill. Here the city expanded to around 150 hectares in area, with wide colonnaded streets leading to elegant shops with marble facades and mosaic floors.

The population of Scythopolis grew to 40,000 and the linen it produced made it one of the leading textile centres of the Roman empire. Centuries later it became a centre for processing cane sugar.

Excavations have revealed:

•  A three-tiered theatre for dramatic performances, seating 7000 people.

•  An amphitheatre holding 6000, where gladiatorial contests entertained soldiers of the Sixth Legion which was based here.

•  A huge bath and gym complex with swimming pools and halls heated by hot air from furnaces. Its public toilets had channels underneath with running water.

Beit She'an

Remains of Roman theatre at Beit She’an, which seated 7000 people (Seetheholyland.net)

•  A Roman basilica that served as a courthouse and administrative centre.

•  A nymphaeum, an elaborate monumental building with a decorative fountain.

•  A mosaic of Tyche, the Roman goddess of good fortune, wearing the walled city of Scythopolis as a crown and holding the horn of plenty in her hand.

 

Circular church replaced temples

On the summit of the tell, a steep climb obtains a sweeping panorama of the ruins below, the Jordan and Harod valleys and Mount Gilboa.

Beit She'an

Very public toilets at Beit She’an (Seetheholyland.net)

Here a great circular church, with a cloister around an open court, replaced the earlier Canaanite and Philistine temples during the Byzantine era.

Among the other churches in the lower city, one was dedicated to Procopius, a local martyr. Its location is unknown, but remains of other church buildings have been found and a striking red cross can be seen on the plaster wall of a niche in a bathhouse, probably used as a baptistry.

The modern town of Beit She’an has encroached on some of the ancient ruins. One of these is the Monastery of the Lady Mary, founded in 567 and named after a donor, perhaps the wife of a Byzantine official.

This complex — not usually open to the public — contains a series of rooms with beautiful mosaic floors. The mosaic in the central hall of the chapel depicts animals such as lions, camels, boars and ostriches around a zodiac illustrating the months of the year.

Beit She'an

Cross motif from the Monastery of the Lady Mary, Beit She’an (Yair Talmor)

Interestingly, the remains of Jewish and Samaritan synagogues have been found along with churches from the time when Scythopolis was a Christian city. And after a Muslim army conquered the city in 634 and renamed the city Baysan, Christians and Muslims lived together until the disastrous earthquake of 749.

 

In Scripture

Canaanites of Beit She’an resist Manasseh: Judges 1:27

Philistines fasten Saul’s body to Beit She’an wall: 1 Samuel 31:10

 

Administered by: Israel National Parks Authority

Tel.: +972-4-658-7189

Open: Apr-Sept 8am-5pm (except Friday 8am-4pm); Oct-Mar 8am-4pm (except Saturday 8am-5pm). Last entry to site one hour before closing time.

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
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)
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Stiles, Wayne: “Sights and Insights: Where happy explorers go to dig”, Jerusalem Post, May 30, 2011
Vamosh, Miriam Feinberg: Beit She’an: Capital of the Decapolis (Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, 1996)

 

External links

Beit She’an (Jewish Virtual Library)
Beit She’an (Israel Ministry of Tourism)
Beit Shean, Archaeology in Israel (The Jewish Magazine)
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Tiberias

Israel

The thriving resort of Tiberias, with its balmy climate, lakeside hotels and fish restaurants, is a popular base for Christian pilgrims exploring the Galilee that Jesus knew.

Tiberias

Modern Tiberias (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Its location on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias in John’s Gospel) is within easy reach of the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Tabgha, Bethsaida, Chorazin, Magdala, Kursi, Cana, Mount Tabor, Nain and Nazareth.

Tiberias was a new city when Jesus began his public ministry. Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, founded it around AD 20 to replace Sepphoris as his capital.

Antipas — who would later behead Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist — chose a site just south of the present resort, taking advantage of 17 hot springs renowned since ancient times for their healing qualities. He named his new city after his patron, the emperor Tiberius Caesar.

Tiberias

Hot springs at Tiberias (David Q. Hall)

Because the site lay over ancient burial grounds, observant Jews refused to incur ritual impurity by living there. Antipas had to resort to compulsion and financial inducements to populate his city.

Though Jesus spent much of his ministry on and around the Sea of Tiberias, its inappropriate siting may explain why there is no record that he ever visited Tiberias.

 

Powerhouse of Jewish scholarship

Ritual purification of the city was carried out in the middle of the second century AD. The timing was opportune. The Second Jewish Revolt had failed, and the Romans had responded by banning Jews from Jerusalem.

Jews flocked to Tiberias, which became the major centre of Jewish culture and learning, with 13 synagogues. Even the Sanhedrin (the supreme court) moved from Sepphoris. “Preachers, poets, scholars and rabbis abounded,” wrote historian G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville.

Over the following centuries, it was this powerhouse of Jewish scholarship that compiled almost all of the Jerusalem Talmud — one of the two central texts of Jewish religious teaching and commentary that had previously been transmitted orally — and the fixed Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible.

Tiberias

Tomb of Maimonides (Bukvoed)

A Christian community was established in the 4th century, when Tiberias became a major destination for pilgrims visiting the Christian sites of the Galilee region.

In 1033 an earthquake destroyed Tiberias. The Crusaders rebuilt it about two kilometres further north, where the present city stands.

 

Rabbi’s body was carried from Egypt

Tiberias

St Peter in his boat, at St Peter’s Church, Tiberias (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Thanks to successive conquests, modern Tiberias has fewer monuments or ancient ruins than other localities in the Holy Land.

Historic sites include the graves of several distinguished rabbis. These include the celebrated philosopher Maimonides, leader of the Jewish community in Cairo in the 12th century. In accordance with his will, his body was carried overland on the route believed to have been taken by Moses and the Israelites to the Promised Land, for burial in Tiberias (his grave is on Ben Zakkai Street).

One of the few remaining Crusader buildings is the Church of St Peter, hidden down an alley from the lakeside promenade. Erected around 1100, this Catholic church was a mosque, a caravanserai and a stable for animals before being rebuilt in 1870 by the Franciscans.

Remains of an older church, from the 6th century, have been discovered in a commanding position on Mount Berenice, west of the city. It is called the Anchor Church, because a huge stone with a hole in its centre was found under the base of the altar.

 

Coins found with likeness of Jesus

South of the modern city, where steam from hot springs rises above the ground, are a national park and an archaeological park.

The highlight of the national park is a 4th-century synagogue with a spectacular mosaic floor. It was discovered in 1921 during the first major archaeological dig led by Zionist Jews in Israel.

Tiberias

Ark of the Torah flanked by menorah, in synagogue mosaic at Tiberias (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

In a curious mix of Jewish and pagan symbols, the Ark of the Torah is flanked by a pair of menorah, but immediately below is a Zodiac circle revolving around the figure of the pagan sun god Helios riding his celestial chariot.

The archaeological park contains the remains of the old city of Tiberias.

Excavations have uncovered part of the cardo (main street), a bathhouse, an unidentified colonnaded building, a reservoir, a tower and the south gate complex.

Tiberias

Bronze coin with likeness of Jesus discovered at Tiberias

A treasure trove of bronze coins was discovered in 1998, hidden in pottery jars under the floor of a building. They included 58 bearing the likeness of Jesus, with Greek inscriptions such as “Jesus the Messiah, the King of Kings”, minted in Constantinople in the 11th century.

 

Hammat Tiberias National Park

Tel.: 972-4-6725287

Open: Apr-Sep 8am-5pm; Oct-Mar 8am-4pm (last entry one hour before closing time)

 

St Peter’s Church

Tel.: 972-4-6721059

Open: 8am-12.30pm, 2.30-5.30pm


References

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)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Rainey, Anson F., and Notley, R. Steven: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Carta, 2006)
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)
Heinsch, James: “Tiberias Church of St Peter”, Holy Land, Autumn 1999.
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Shahin, Mariam, and Azar, George: Palestine: A guide (Chastleton Travel, 2005)

 

External links

Hammat Tiberias (BibleWalks)
Tiberias (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

 

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Sebastiya

West Bank

In the Palestinian village of Sebastiya, Christians and Muslims alike honour a connection to John the Baptist at a location earlier known for the worship of Phoenician gods and a Roman emperor.

Sebastiya

Cathedral of St John the Baptist, with tomb crypt under dome in centre (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

Sebastiya (with various spellings including Sebaste and Sebastia) is about 12 kilometres northwest of Nablus, to the east of the road to Jenin.

An early Christian tradition, from the first half of the 4th century, says John the Baptist’s disciples buried his body here after he was beheaded by Herod Antipas during the infamous banquet at which Salome’s dance enthralled the governor (Mark 6:21-29).

An Orthodox Christian tradition holds that Sebastiya was also the venue for the governor’s birthday banquet, though the historian Josephus says it was in Herod’s fortress at Machaerus, in modern-day Jordan.

Sebastiya

Village of Sebastiya (Shuki / Wikipedia)

Overlooking the present village of Sebastiya are the hilltop ruins of the royal city of Samaria. The city is mentioned more than 100 times in the Bible. Excavations have uncovered evidence of six successive cultures: Canaanite, Israelite, Hellenistic, Herodian, Roman and Byzantine.

The surrounding hill-country, its slopes etched by ancient terracing, has changed little in thousands of years.

When the early Christian community dispersed during the persecution that followed the martyrdom of St Stephen, the deacon Philip preached the Gospel in Samaria and was joined there by the apostles Peter and John.

 

City renamed by Herod the Great

Omri, the sixth king of the northern kingdom of Israel, built his capital on the rocky hill of Samaria in the ninth and eighth centuries before Christ.

His son Ahab fortified the city and, influenced by his wife Jezebel, a Phoenician princess, built temples to the Phoenician gods Baal and Astarte. Ahab’s evil deeds incurred the wrath of the prophet Elijah, who prophesied bloody deaths for both Ahab and Jezebel.

Sebastiya

Steps to where the Temple of Augustus stood (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

During its eventful history, Samaria was destroyed by Assyrians in 722 BC (ending the northern kingdom of Israel), captured by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, destroyed by the Maccabean King John Hyrcanus in 108 BC, and rebuilt by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC.

Herod the Great expanded the city around 25 BC, renaming it Sebaste in honour of his patron Caesar Augustus (Sebaste is Greek for Augustus). Herod even built a temple dedicated to his patron, celebrated one of his many marriages in the city, and had two of his sons strangled there.

The pattern of destruction and rebuilding continued during the early Christian era. Sebaste became the seat of a bishop in the 4th century, was destroyed by an earthquake in the 6th century, flourished briefly under the Crusaders in the 12th century, then declined to the status of a village.

 

Pagans desecrated John’s tomb

Christian sources dating back to the 4th century place John the Baptist’s burial at Sebastiya, along with the remains of the prophets Elisha and Obadiah.

Sebastiya

Crypt of the reputed tomb of John the Baptist (bottom centre) and other prophets (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

Around 390, while translating the Onomasticon (directory) of the holy places compiled by Eusebius, St Jerome describes Samaria/Sebaste as “where the remains of John the Baptist are guarded”.

By then, according to a contemporary account by the historian Rufinus of Aquileia around 362, pagans had desecrated the tomb during a persecution of Christians under emperor Julian the Apostate. The Baptist’s remains were burnt and the ashes dispersed, but passing monks saved some bones.

In the 6th century two urns covered in gold and silver were venerated by pilgrims. One was said to contain relics of John the Baptist, the other relics of Elisha.

Two churches were built during the Byzantine period. One was on the southern side of the Roman acropolis (on the site the Orthodox Church believes John was beheaded).

Sebastiya

Greek Orthodox church, with apse at right and entrance to underground cave in centre (© Sebastiya Municipality)

The other church, a cathedral built over the Baptist’s reputed tomb, was just east of the old city walls and within the present village. Rebuilt by the Crusaders, it became the second biggest church in the Holy Land (after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem).

But after the Islamic conquest of 1187 the cathedral was transformed into a mosque dedicated to the prophet Yahya, the Muslim name for John the Baptist. The mosque, rebuilt in 1892 within the ruins of the cathedral, is still in use.

Tomb is under cathedral ruins

Sebastiya

Walls of Cathedral of St John the Baptist (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

Pilgrims still visit the tomb associated with John the Baptist and other prophets. Under a small domed building in the cathedral ruins, a narrow flight of 21 steps leads down to a tomb chamber with six burial niches set in the wall. Tradition places John the Baptist’s relics in the lower row, between those of Elisha and Obadiah.

The remains of the cathedral’s huge buttressed walls dominate Sebastiya’s public square.

In the extensive archaeological park at the top of the hill are remnants of Ahab’s palace, identified by the discovery of carved ivory that was mentioned in the Bible (1 Kings 22:39). The ivory pieces are displayed in the Rockefeller Museum, Jerusalem.

Sebastiya

Visitors and residents during Sebastiya’s first Heritage Day in 2010 (© ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

Also to be seen are the stone steps leading to Herod the Great’s temple of Augustus, an 800-metre colonnaded street, a Roman theatre and forum, and a city gate flanked by two watchtowers.

Interest in Sebastiya’s heritage and community — now entirely Muslim except for one Christian family — has been revived in the early 21st century by a project involving the Franciscan non-profit organisation ATS Pro Terra Sancta, funded by Italian aid.

 

In Scripture

King Omri moves his capital to Samaria: 1 Kings 16:23-24

Ahab erects an altar for Baal: 1 Kings 16:32

Ahab’s ivory house: 1 Kings 22:39

John the Baptist is beheaded: Mark 6:21-29

Philip preaches in Samaria: Acts 8:5

Peter and John go to Samaria: Acts 8:14

 

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Brisco, Thomas: Holman Bible Atlas (Broadman and Holman, 1998)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Eber, Shirley, and O’Sullivan, Kevin: Israel and the Occupied Territories: The Rough Guide (Harrap-Columbus, 1989)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Saltini, Tommaso (ed.): Sabastiya — The fruits of history and the memory of John the Baptist (ATS Pro Terra Sancta exhibition catalogue, 2011)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)

 

External links

Sebastia in the news (ATS Pro Terra Sancta)

 

Older Posts »

Magdala

Israel

 

Magdala was a major first-century port on the Sea of Galilee, a centre of trade and commerce, and an exporter of salted fish to markets as far away as Europe. Archaeological discoveries early in the 21st century have made it a burgeoning pilgrimage destination.

Magdala

Mary Magdalene by Pietro Perugino (Palazzo Pitti, Florence)

Magdala’s fame down the centuries rested on one notable person, Mary Magdalene. This enigmatic woman — revered as a saint by the Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches — was one of the few persons named in the Gospels as being present at Christ’s crucifixion and the first recorded witness of his Resurrection.

Whether she lived in Magdala or was simply born there is unknown, but she was apparently a wealthy woman.

The city, on the western side of the Sea of Galilee between Tiberias and Capernaum, is mentioned only once in the New Testament. The Gospel of Matthew (15:39) says Jesus went there by boat — but even this reference is uncertain, since some early manuscripts give the name as Magadan.

Synagogue uncovered at Magdala (Seetheholyland.net)

Synagogue uncovered at Magdala (Seetheholyland.net)

Both Matthew and Mark say Jesus preached in synagogues “throughout Galilee”, and Magdala was only 10 kilometres from Capernaum, where he based his ministry.

The Jewish historian Josephus says Magdala had a population of 40,000 people and a fleet of 230 boats about 30 years after Jesus died.

 

Mary was called ‘apostle of the apostles’

Magdala

Carved stone decorated with menorah (© Moshe Hartal, Israel Antiquities Authority)

All four Gospels refer to a close follower of Jesus called Mary Magdalene. Luke says she had been cured of “seven demons” and he lists her first among the women who accompanied Jesus and supported his ministry from their own resources (8:2-3).

After Jesus died she was one of the women who took spices for anointing to the tomb. They found the tomb empty, but “two men in dazzling clothes” gave them the news that Jesus had risen. (Luke 24:1-12)

Later Jesus appeared to Mary. At first she thought he was the gardener, but she recognised him when he spoke her name. Then she announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”. (John 20:1-18)

By the 3rd century, Mary Magdalene was described by the theologian Hippolytus of Rome as the “apostle of the apostles”.

 

Identity became confused

Jesus casting seven demons from Mary Magdalene, mosaic in Magdala church (Seetheholyland.net)

Jesus casting seven demons from Mary Magdalene, mosaic in Magdala church (Seetheholyland.net)

But Mary’s identity became confused in 591. In that year Pope Gregory the Great gave a sermon which expressed his belief that the Mary who had been cured of seven demons was the same person as the penitent prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment (Luke 7:37-50) and Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume (John 12:3-8).

A revision of the Catholic calendar of saints in 1969 reverted to the Eastern tradition of distinguishing Mary Magdalene from the reformed prostitute. By then, however, this persona had endeared her to artists down the centuries.

More recently, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code mined a rich lode of pseudo-Christian texts to present Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus and co-founder of an arcane dynasty at odds with the institutional Church and its beliefs.

And what really became of Mary? A Greek tradition has her dying in Ephesus, with her relics preserved in Constantinople. A French tradition says she converted Provence to Christianity and her relics ended up in Vézelay Abbey in Burgundy, where they are still venerated.

 

City fought Romans on the sea

Magdala

Single-handled jug found at Magdala, dating to the Roman period (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The city that gave its name to Mary Magdalene became a fortified base for rebels during the First Jewish Revolt in AD 66-70, even engaging the Romans in a disastrous sea battle.

According to the historian Josephus — who commanded the Jewish forces in Galilee — the Sea of Galilee became red with blood and “full of dead bodies”. Of the survivors, emperor Vespasian sent 6000 to build a canal in Greece and ordered more than 30,000 to be sold as slaves.

Magdala continued as a much-reduced Jewish village during Roman and Byzantine times, and in more recent centuries as an Arab village until 1948. Mark Twain visited it in 1867, calling it “thoroughly ugly, and cramped, squalid, uncomfortable, and filthy”.

In the 4th century a church was built on the reputed site of Mary Magdalene’s house. Destroyed in the 7th century, it was rebuilt by Crusaders in the 12th century but was converted into a stable when the Crusaders were expelled from the Holy Land.

 

Port and city uncovered

Mosaic including boat discovered at Magdala (© Magdala Project)

Mosaic including boat discovered at Magdala (© Magdala Project)

Beginning in the 1960s, Franciscan archaeologists discovered Magdala’s ancient port and a city grid, with paved streets, water canals, a marketplace, villas and mosaics — one depicting a sailing boat.

Buried in the mud covering a thermal bath complex were ceramic crockery, perfume jars, jewellery, hairbrushes and combs, and bronze applicators for make-up.

The discovery of the massive foundations of a tower may account for the city’s name. Both Magdala in Aramaic and Migdal in Hebrew mean “tower”.

First-century synagogue identified

More archaeological remains were uncovered in 2009 on an adjacent property newly acquired by the Legion of Christ to establish a hotel, institute for women and retreat centre. The Legion, a Catholic congregation, manages the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem.

Ritual baths at Magdala (Seetheholyland.net)

Ritual baths at Magdala (Seetheholyland.net)

Three interconnected ritual baths were discovered, the first found in Israel using groundwater from springs — which for purification purposes was considered “living water” — rather than rainwater.

In the remains of one building, under a thin layer of soil, excavators found a stone block engraved with motifs including a seven-branched menorah, the type of lampstand used in the Temple. This significant find led to the identification of the building as a synagogue.

Boat-shaped altar in Duc in Altum church at Magdala (Seetheholyland.net)

Boat-shaped altar in Duc in Altum church at Magdala (Seetheholyland.net)

Unlike other first-century synagogues found in Galilee, the Magdala building had ornate mosaics and frescoes.

In 2014 the Legion opened a new church on the site, simple in design but also rich in mosaics and murals, focusing especially on women in the Bible. It is named Duc in Altum (Latin for “Put out into the deep”, from Christ’s words in Luke 5:4). The altar is in the shape of a first-century boat, standing in front of an infinity pool leading the eye to the lake beyond.

In the crypt is an ecumenical worship space, called the Encounter Chapel, paved with stones from Magdala’s first-century marketplace.

 

Jesus Boat found nearby

Magdala’s port, now submerged in the beach, had a stone breakwater that extended into the sea and curved around the harbour to protect boats from the sudden storms that buffet the Sea of Galilee.

In 1986 the hull of the so-called Jesus Boat, a fishing boat old enough to have been in use during the time of Christ, was found in the lakebed near the ancient port of Magdala.

 

In Scripture:

Jesus visits Magdala by boat: Matthew 15:39

Mary cured of seven demons: Luke 8:2

Mary supports Jesus’ ministry: Luke 8:3

Mary goes to Jesus’ tomb: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18

Mary announces the Resurrection to the disciples: John 20:18

 

Administered by: Legion of Christ

Tel.: +972 2 627-9111

Magdala Center: +972-057-226-1469 Tel/Fax: +972-04-620-9900

Open: 8am-6pm

 

 

References

Bagatti, Bellarmino: Ancient Christian Villages of Galilee (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1999).
Caffulli, Giuseppe: “Precious Fragrances”, Holy Land Review (Spring 2009)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Corbett, Joey: “New Synagogue Excavations In Israel and Beyond”, Biblical Archaeological Review (July/August 2011)
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)
Lofenfeld Winkler, Lea, and Frenkel, Ramit: The Boat and the Sea of Galilee (Gefen Publishing House, 2010)
Merk, August: “Magdala”, The Catholic Encyclopedia (Robert Appleton Company, 1910)
Nun, Mendel: “Ports of Galilee”, Biblical Archaeology Review (July/August 1999)
Reich, Ronny, and Zapata Meza, Marcela: “A Preliminary Report on the Miqwa’ot of Migdal”, Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 64, no. 1, 2014
Shanks, Hershel: “Major New Excavation Planned for Mary Magdalene’s Hometown”, Biblical Archaeology Review (September/October 2007)
Twain, Mark: The Innocents Abroad (Wordsworth, 2010)

 

 

External links

Magdala Center (Legion of Christ)
Magdala Project (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum)
Mary Magdalene (Wikipedia)
Older Posts »
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