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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)

 

 

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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)

 

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Overnight in the Holy Sepulchre

By Pat McCarthy

Getting permission to stay overnight in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — the ancient edifice in Jerusalem that enshrines  the place where Jesus died and rose again — is easier than I expect.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre overnight

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over Calvary and the Tomb of Christ (Seetheholyland.net)

The Franciscan sacristan consults a slip of paper with numbers on it, checking he’s within his quota of 15. “No sleeping,” he warns.

Sleep? At the most sacred place on earth? Then I remember the disciples who could not stay awake one hour with Jesus during his agony — their drowsiness recalled by sleeping figures under the altar in the Grotto of Gethsemane.

My wife Suzie and I had led our fifth pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Our pilgrims had gone home and we were spending time by ourselves in the Old City of Jerusalem.

 

Door-locking follows protocol

The dun-coloured Romanesque basilica stands gloomily against the darkening sky when we arrive, well ahead of the 7pm closing time we have been given.

We wait on one side to watch the door-locking ceremony.

Two gun-toting Israeli policemen see the last visitors off the premises and an Orthodox clergyman pushes the massive door shut. Representatives of the other denominations, one a brown-habited Franciscan with a crewcut, see that protocol is observed.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre overnight

An Orthodox clergyman closes the door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net).

Outside, a man in a striped T-shirt — from one of the two Muslim families who for more than 750 years have been charged with holding the key and opening or closing the church — climbs a ladder and locks the door.

He then passes the ladder through a square hatch in the door, so it can remain inside until opening time.

The clergy depart and our small group of all-nighters — 15 altogether, including four nuns, from Mexico, the United States, New Zealand — is alone in lamp-lit shadows beneath the sombre darkness of the great dome.

 

Reverential silence permeates the building

I’ve spent many hours in this church over the years, marvelling that mind-boggling events of salvation history happened right here. Always it has been abuzz with visitors — cameras flashing, cellphones ringing, the chatter of conversation, tourists getting their photos taken in front of Christ’s Tomb . . . .

Church of the Holy Sepulchre overnight

The edicule containing the Tomb of Christ, with doors closed while sacristans work inside (Seetheholyland.net).

Tonight it is quiet. This unlikely fact is worth restating: It is quiet. Quiet to climb the timeworn steps to the mezzanine floor of Calvary. Quiet to visit the Tomb where Christ lay — the site of the Resurrection. Quiet to descend 29 steps to the underground Chapel of St Helena and, further down, the rock-cut cistern that is now the Chapel of the Finding of the True Cross.

A reverential silence permeates this vast building with its sprawling jumble of 20-plus chapels and worship spaces.

At the edicule (“little house”) built over the Tomb, its unstable walls held together by iron girders installed in 1934 during the British mandate, Orthodox sacristans move in to trim the flickering oil lamps and pick up rubbish left by visitors.

 

‘He is risen! He is not here.’

Church of the Holy Sepulchre overnight

Inside the Chapel of the Angel, with a low doorway leading to the Tomb. The pedestal at right contains what is believed to be part of the rolling stone that closed the Tomb (Seetheholyland.net).

When their work is done, we can visit the Tomb in our own time. Past memories of being herded in and hurried out by a Greek Orthodox priest controlling a motley queue of visitors behind police barriers are best forgotten.

The edicule has two chambers. The first, the Chapel of the Angel, is an antechamber leading to the Tomb. In the Tomb chamber, a marble slab on the right covers the rock bench on which the body of Jesus lay. The slab was deliberately split in 1555 to deter the Ottoman Turks from looting such a fine piece of marble.

Half a dozen ornate lamps and a similar number of candles burn, casting a glow on artworks and vases of flowers. The sweet smell of incense lingers. The angel’s words resonate: “He is risen! He is not here.”

Leaving the Tomb, I forget how low the doorway is and bang my head on the carved stone arch.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre overnight

The marble slab covering the rock bench on which Christ’s body lay. The slab was deliberately split in 1555 to deter Turks from looting it (Seetheholyland.net).

Sitting on a bench in front of the Tomb, one of our all-nighters makes notes on her iPad. At the altar of Mary Magdalene, two nuns sit and pray, their backpacks beside them.

In the distance a church bell rings. Somewhere in the church a dove coos. In the living quarters, a key turns and a door opens. Feet hasten on stone steps, evoking an image of Mary Magdalene and the apostles running to the Tomb.

 

Orthodox faithful arrive for Divine Liturgy

Shortly after 10.30pm a cool breeze sweeps through the church. The door has been opened and scores of Orthodox faithful, the women wearing head scarves, stream in for their Divine Liturgy.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre overnight

Orthodox faithful, arriving for their Divine Liturgy, venerate the Stone of Anointing that commemorates the preparation of Christ’s body for burial (Seetheholyland.net).

They crowd the Stone of Anointing and queue to enter the Tomb. Some light bunches of tapers from candles outside the Tomb, then hold them under a snuffer to extinguish them to take home.

An air of business prevails as Orthodox clergy and sacristans bustle around to prepare for the vigil service. It reminds us that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — which the Orthodox more appropriately call the Church of the Anastasis (Resurrection) — has been predominantly an Orthodox place of worship since 1757.

Six churches share the building: Greek, Armenian, Syriac, Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox, and Catholics. The Greeks rate first in the pecking order, followed by the Catholics (known as Latins in the Holy Land).

A Greek priest emerges from the Katholikon — the main worship space, which is the Greek Orthodox cathedral — and physically uncrosses the legs of an unsuspecting all-nighter. Crossing the legs is a no-no to the Orthodox, who believe we should always sit attentively in church.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre overnight

Orthodox clergy undertake an energetic round of incensing before their Divine Liturgy (Seetheholyland.net).

An energetic round of incensing, including the Catholic chapels, precedes the Orthodox liturgy. The service itself — in front of the edicule, with the congregation standing — is a splendid ritual of ornate vestments, bells, chants, incense and processions.

The only words we recognise are “Kyrie Eleison”. This plea for the Lord’s mercy is repeated time and again.

As we move closer to observe, a Greek priest confronts us. “You Orthodox?” he demands. We shake our heads. “Go, go.” Vigorous arm movements support his words of muscular, rather than ecumenical, Christianity.

 

Orthodox service takes four and a quarter hours

We retreat to the calm of the Catholic Chapel of the Apparition, which commemorates the tradition that the resurrected Christ appeared first to his Mother. In the choir behind us, Franciscan friars begin to chant their Office.

Around 3am a series of resounding responses from the Orthodox congregation heralds the end of the service — four and a quarter hours after it began.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre overnight

Behind tall candlesticks, Orthodox clergy celebrate their Divine Liturgy (Seetheholyland.net).

Gradually the stillness returns. Lamps gently flicker. Noises echo in cavernous spaces.

There’s time to meditate and pray. To bring the Risen Lord into the past, present and future of ourselves and our loved ones. To remember those who have died and gone before us. To remember those who had asked us to pray for them in the holy places.

Time to reflect on the artworks and to think of the thousands of holy people and pilgrims who have walked these flagstones.

 

Eucharist in the Tomb

Shortly before 4.30am a Franciscan invites us to the first Catholic Mass of the day — inside the edicule, in Italian.

The priest has set up an altar over the Tomb slab. Two nuns bend low to join him in that confined space. The other nine of us, one a young man wearing a Jewish prayer shawl around his shoulders, cluster elbow to elbow in the Chapel of the Angel, around a central pedestal containing what is believed to be a piece of the rolling stone used to close the Tomb.

At Communion time the priest tucks the chalice into the crook of his left elbow, holds the ciborium in his left hand, and gives the Eucharist by intinction on the tongue. The simpleness of the ritual in no way detracts from the immense reality: The Body and Blood of Christ in the very place where his body lay.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre overnight

An altar is set up over the marble slab covering the rock bench where the body of Jesus lay (Seetheholyland.net)

As we leave the church, the sequence of worship is continuing. A sing-song chant is rising from the Coptic Orthodox at their tiny altar attached to the rear of the edicule. Upstairs, Franciscan friars are concelebrating in the Chapel of Calvary.

We walk down deserted streets of shuttered shops in the Old City. A lone star stands out in the predawn sky. A rooster crows. We buy warm cinnamon croissants from a man pushing a barrow.

Our vigil is over, but the sounds and smells and images remain vivid in our minds. And we are still not sleepy.

 Pat McCarthy, a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, directs Seetheholyland.net

Related articles:

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels

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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.

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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)
Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem
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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.

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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 »

Church of St James

Jerusalem

Church of St James

Vespers service in Church of St James (Seetheholyland.net)

 

Nestled within a walled compound in the ancient Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, the Church of St James is one of the most ornately decorated places of worship in the Holy Land.

This ancient church, part of which dates to AD 420, is the cathedral of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Armenia — a land-locked country in south-west Asia — was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion, in AD 301, and Armenian Christians established the first “quarter” in Jerusalem.

The Church of St James is dedicated to two martyred saints of that name — St James the Great, one of the first apostles to follow Jesus, and St James the Less, believed to be a close relative of Jesus, who became the first bishop of Jerusalem.

Church of St James

Artwork at entrance to Church of St James (Seetheholyland.net)

St James the Great was beheaded by Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, around AD 44 (Acts 12:1-2). St James the Less was martyred by Temple authorities about 20 years later by being thrown from the Temple platform, then stoned and clubbed to death.

According to Armenian tradition, within the church are buried the head of St James the Great (the rest of his body is believed to be in the Spanish pilgrimage shrine of Santiago de Compostela) and the body of St James the Less.

Most of the cathedral dates from the 12th century, though it incorporates the remains of two chapels built in the 5th century. This is one of the few remaining Crusader-era churches in the Holy Land to have survived intact.

 

Interior provides splendid spectacle

Church of St James

Monk sounding symandron outside Church of St James (Seetheholyland.net)

Entry from Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road is through a dog-legged porch leading to the church courtyard. Stone crosses (called khatchkars) carved in relief on the walls include early Armenian examples of the so-called Jerusalem cross.

The church is open to the public only during services. Lengths of wood and brass hanging outside the entrance are hammered with mallets to call the faithful to prayer. Called symandra, they were introduced when a 14th-century Muslim edict forbade churches to ring bells.

Church of St James

Dome of Church of St James (Seetheholyland.net)

The interior, under a vaulted dome, offers a splendid spectacle of gilded altars, massive chandeliers, myriad lamps with ceramic eggs attached to them, paintings, carved wood, inlaid mother-of-pearl, bronze engravings, and blue and green wall tiles. The marble floor is usually covered with purple, green and red carpets.

Rich vestments, incense and chanting give the cathedral a mystical Eastern character during services.

High-set windows, oil lamps and candles are the only light sources, since there is no electricity. Sunlight produces dazzling reflections on the church’s treasures, but cloudy days cloak the interior in darkness. There are no pews.

 

Shrine on reputed site of beheading

Church of St James

Entrance to Chapel of St James the Great, in Church of St James (Seetheholyland.net)

On the left side of the church, opposite one of the four square piers supporting the vaulted ceiling, is its most important shrine, the small Chapel of St James the Great. A piece of red marble in front of the altar marks the place where his head is buried, on the reputed site of his beheading.

Also on the left side are doors leading to other chapels that are seldom open to visitors. The Chapel of St Menas, an Egyptian martyr (to the left of the Chapel of St James the Great), is the oldest part of the building. Further forward, the Church of St Stephen serves as the cathedral’s sacristy and baptistery.

In the front of the cathedral are two thrones. The larger, intricately carved and topped by an onion-shaped baldachino, is dedicated to St James the Less. A low iron grille behind it encloses the saint’s reputed burial place. The smaller throne is the seat of the Armenian Orthodox patriarch.

Church of St James

Reputed burial place of St James the Less, in Church of St James (Seetheholyland.net)

A doorway near the centre of the right-hand wall, also generally closed to the public, was the original 12th-century entrance to the church. It leads to the Etchmiadzin Chapel, formed in the 17th century by blocking a long and narrow portico.

The Armenian city of Etchmiadzin (now known as Vagharshapat) is the seat of the Catholicos of All Armenians, head of the Armenian Orthodox Church.

Vividly coloured wall tiles in the chapel, illustrating scenes from the Bible and lives of the saints, were made in Turkey in the 18th century for repairs to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre but were not used.

 

Compound is like miniature city

Church of St James

Entrance to Convent of St James (Shmuliko / Wikimedia)

The compound of St James Convent, which contains the Church of St James, is like a miniature city with residences for more than 1000 families. Behind its fortress-like walls are the patriarchate, a hospice, living quarters for nuns and priests, a school, social clubs and a printing press — the first in Jerusalem, established in 1833.

Across the street from the main gate is an Armenian Orthodox seminary. Some scholars believe this the site of Pilate’s praetorium, formerly the palace of Herod the Great. In that case, the judgement seat where Jesus was condemned (John 19:13) would have been on an open square where the Church of St James now stands.

Church of St JamesVisitors may normally enter the compound only with an Armenian guide, but two institutions are open to the public:

• The Mardigian Museum (open 10am-4.30pm Mon-Sat) contains exhibits on Armenian art, culture and history, with a section devoted to the tragic genocide of perhaps two million Armenians by Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century.

• The Gulbenkian Library (open 3.30-6pm Mon-Fri) has more than 100,000 volumes and extensive files of Armenian periodicals and newspapers.

 

Armenians have long presence in Jerusalem

An Armenian presence existed in Jerusalem in the first century before Christ. After Armenia became Christian in 301, pilgrims began coming in large numbers.

Church of St James

Old City’s Armenian Quarter and St James Monastery (David Bjorgen / Wikimedia)

By the 7th century there were 70 Armenian monasteries in Palestine. For several hundred years the Armenian patriarch was considered to be the most senior Christian dignitary in the Holy Land.

The Armenian Orthodox still have jurisdiction over part of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and also over the Chapel of St Helena in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The peaked hoods worn by their priests, shaped like the dome of a typical Armenian church, are intended to make the priest look like a walking church in the world.

The Armenian Quarter began taking shape in the south-west of Jerusalem before 1100. After expansion of the Jewish Quarter in 1968, it now occupies about one-sixth of the Old City.

The Armenian Quarter is the only one that largely looks like it did when it was founded, says author Mariam Shahin. “The ceramic and pottery shops, the delicatessens and the pubs, and the Armenians’ almost medieval sense of community make the quarter a unique and precious part of the mosaic that is old Jerusalem.”

Church of St James

Armenian monastery cloister (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The Convent of St James takes up two-thirds of the quarter. The remaining third includes churches of four other denominations: Syriac Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Maronite and Anglican.

Many of the residents of the convent compound are descendants of survivors of the Ottoman Turkish genocide who sought refuge in Jerusalem. A note on the menu at the nearby Armenian Tavern restaurant observes: “From the unkind cup of history they have drunk wisdom not bitterness.”

 

In Scripture:

St James [the Great] is beheaded: Acts 12:1-2

Jesus is condemned: John 19:13-16

 

Administered by: Armenian Patriarchate of St James

Tel.: 972-2-6282331

Open: 6.30-7.30am and 3.00-3.40pm Sun-Fri; 6.30-9.30am and 3.00-3.40pm Sat. Modest dress required.

 

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)
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)
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

Armenian Patriarchate of St. James, Jerusalem
The Armenian Quarter (Jewish Virtual Library)
Older Posts »

Inside an Eastern church

 

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Bright frescoes and gilded iconostasis in Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

For Western Christians unfamiliar with the rich church decoration and elaborate worship of the Eastern Church, a visit to the Melkite Church of the Annunciation in the Old City of Jerusalem offers a useful introduction.

This unobtrusive building — not to be confused with the towering Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth — is the patriarchate church of Jerusalem’s Greek Catholics.

Usually overlooked by both mapmakers and pilgrims, it is tucked into the patriarchate property in the Christian Quarter. (Entering the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, take the third street on the left — Greek Catholic Patriarchate Road — and the patriarchate is about 50 metres on the right. Descend the stairs to the left of the reception desk and the church door is on your left.)

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Road sign near Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (© Joseph Koczera)

The separate existence of the Greek Catholic Church dates from 1724, when a split occurred in the ancient Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Antioch and a small group chose communion with Rome rather than Constantinople.

Now numbering 1.6 million worldwide, the Greek Catholics form the second largest Christian church in the Holy Land (after the Greek Orthodox). An Arab church, it has big numbers in the Galilee and a small community in Jerusalem.

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Door to Melkite patriarchate, Jerusalem (© Joseph Koczera)

Melkite, meaning “royalist”, was originally an uncomplimentary term applied to Eastern Christians who accepted the authority of the 451 Council of Chalcedon and the Byzantine Emperor. The term is no longer used by the Eastern Orthodox.

 

Frescoes in ‘symphony of colour’

The Church of the Annunciation, built in 1848, is arguably the most representative Byzantine church in Jerusalem.

From the dome down to pew-height, its interior is richly adorned with frescoes in vibrant colours. As writer George Martin puts it, the church “seems alive with prayer even when silent. The vaults and walls . . . are covered in a symphony of colour.”

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Christ the Pantokrator in dome of Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

The frescoes, which simulate the stylised motifs of Byzantine icons, were added during renovations in 1974-75. The artists were two brothers from Romania, Michael and Gabriel Moroshan.

In Orthodox tradition, the frescoes follow a clear theological plan. At the top, in the dome, is Christ the Pantokrator, the Ruler of All. Depicted below him, around the dome, are the central act of worship, the Divine Liturgy; the Twelve Apostles; and major prophets and other figures of the Old Testament.

From there, clockwise around the church, the entire life of Christ — from the Annunciation to the Resurrection — is illustrated with profound symbolism. Below is a layer depicting saints, to remind worshippers that these holy people are present during worship.

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Birth of Jesus, in Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

This description of the scenes from Christ’s life comes from Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land, co-authored by Alison Hilliard and Betty Jane Bailey:

“Each scene is interconnected: Take the scene of Christ’s birth, painted directly opposite the scene of the Resurrection. Both symbolise why Christ came to earth.

“In the first icon, Christ is born into a stone coffin, a sarcophagus, a symbol of death. His mother is kneeling next to him, dressed entirely in red.

“This is unusual: In the East, the Virgin Mary is normally painted in blue and red — the blue stands for heaven, the red for earth — symbolising the one who combines heaven and earth by giving birth to the God-man. In this scene, however, Mary’s dress is explained by looking across the church at the icon of the Resurrection.

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Resurrection of Jesus, in Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

“Here Christ is shown standing on the shattered gates of hell in the form of a cross bridging the mouth of hell. He is resurrecting out of the sarcophagus Adam and Eve, symbolic of mankind. Eve is dressed in red, just as Mary was, showing that the first Eve, who sinned, is replaced by the second one who gave birth to Christ who overcomes sin and raises us to life.

“The second icon therefore completes the scene of the Nativity and explains it theologically. Make the connection from manger to coffin, from swaddling clothes to shroud, from cave to tomb and from birth to death and the new birth of Resurrection.”

 

Suggestion of final glory

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Below icons of saints, curtains are drawn over today’s holy people, in Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

Powerful symbolism continues around the church. Below the icons of saints, down at pew level, the artists have painted drawn curtains. The suggestion is that, on the last day, the curtains will be pulled back and worshippers will see their own faces glorified.

Across the front of the church, the iconostasis separates the nave from the sanctuary. This screen is richly embellished with gilded icons, Christ depicted on the right of the central doors and the Virgin Mary with the Christ child depicted on the left.

The central doors, known as the Royal Doors, open out to the congregation three times during the liturgy: When Christ comes in the form of the Gospel and a deacon stands in front of the doors to read the text; when the unconsecrated gifts of bread and wine are taken to the altar; and at Communion time when the priest brings out the Eucharist to distribute it to the congregation.

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Royal Doors in iconostasis of Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Yoav Dothan)

To quote Hilliard and Bailey: “The opening of the Royal Doors is therefore seen to be symbolic of how God erupts into human history — through his Word and his Sacrament.”

As worshippers leave the church, a fresco of the dormition of the Virgin Mary reminds them that they are going back into the world where, inevitably, they will die. Mary’s death is presented as a model for their own deaths as her soul, in the form of a small baby, is being taken to heaven by Christ.

 

Byzantine liturgy and Orthodox traditions retained

While the Melkites have adopted some Roman Catholic practices, they have essentially retained the Byzantine liturgy and many other Orthodox traditions. Arabic is the main language of worship.

Like the Orthodox clergy, Melkite priests may marry before their ordination.

Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem

Sts Peter and Paul embracing, in Melkite Church of the Annunciation, Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

Melkites make the Sign of the Cross in the same way as the Orthodox — forehead to chest, then from right to left, with the thumb, index and middle fingers joined in honour of the Trinity. The other two fingers are pressed to the palm, in honour of Christ’s two natures, divine and human, in one Person.

Veneration of icons is a common Byzantine practice, respect being paid not to the painting itself but to the person it represents. Some icons are believed to be the means of obtaining miracles, and people pray in front of them for healing or other assistance.

For a sense of the colourful mosaic of Eastern Christian traditions, a small museum in the hallway near the entrance to the church has exhibits of dress, vestments, liturgical items and photos from all of the Oriental churches present in Jerusalem.

 

Administered by: Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-2-6282023 or 972-2-6271968/9

Open: 8.30am-3pm (sometimes later); services Monday-Wednesday and Friday 7am, Thursday and Saturday 6pm, Sunday 9am. Museum open 9am-12 noon daily (except Sunday) and on request.

 

Related article:

Churches in the Holy Land

 

 

References

Anonymous: Griechisch-Katholisch-Melkitisches Patriarchat (Greek Catholic Patriarchate leaflet, undated)
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)
Martin, George: “The Melkites of Jerusalem” (Catholic Near East, November-December 1995)

 

 

External links

Melkite Greek Catholic Church Information Center
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchate
Brief video of church interior (YouTube)

 

Older Posts »

Schindler’s grave

Jerusalem

 

Schindler's grave

Oskar Schindler’s grave (Seetheholyland.net)

One of the most-visited graves in Jerusalem belongs to Oskar Schindler, the German factory-owner and Nazi Party member credited with saving the lives of 1098 Jews during the Second World War.

His grave in the Catholic cemetery on the southern slope of Mount Zion is visited by Jews, Christians and people of no religious faith.

A complex and conflicted man, Schindler was an unlikely candidate for heroism that involved risking his life to save others.

Born into a Catholic family in Moravia, he was unfaithful to his wife with a succession of mistresses. As a businessman he engaged in black-market dealings and bribery. An ethnic German but a Czech citizen, he worked as a counterintelligence agent for the Nazi armed forces (for which he was jailed by Czechoslovakia) and also collaborated in the German strategy for the invasion of Poland.

Ironically, Schindler’s less endearing character traits equipped him to ingratiate himself with Nazi officials for the sake of his Jewish employees.

 

At least nine lists were drawn up

Schindler's grave

Oskar Schindler in 1947 (Freeinfosociety.com)

After Germany occupied Poland in 1939, the opportunistic Schindler moved to the Polish city of Krakow and took over a Jewish-owned enamelware factory.

Because the factory was close to the Jewish ghetto he was able to witness the brutal German oppression at firsthand. “And then a thinking man, who had overcome his inner cowardice, simply had to help. There was no other choice,” he said after the war.

Schindler built up his workforce with Jewish forced labourers from the Plaszow labour camp, bribing officials to ensure their wellbeing. He and his wife Emilie especially cared for those who were old or weak.

Schindler's grave

Part of Schindler’s Krakow factory in 2009 (Jongleur100 / Wikimedia)

In 1944, when the inmates of Plaszow were destined for deportation to death camps such as Auschwitz, Schindler obtained approval (after paying the necessary bribes) to move his factory to Brünnlitz in Czechoslovakia, on the pretext of making armaments.

The names of the workers chosen to move to the new factory formed the “list” made famous in Thomas Keneally’s 1982 Booker Prize-winning novel Schindler’s Ark and Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Academy Award-winning movie Schindler’s List.

In fact, according to Schindler’s definitive biographer David M. Crowe, at least nine lists, constantly changing, were drawn up in late 1944 and 1945, and they were drawn up by other people — although Schindler had given guidelines as to who he wanted included. However, without Schindler’s efforts there would have been no Jewish workers to be listed.

 

Declared Righteous Among the Nations

Schindler's grave

Schindler’s Brünnlitz factory in 2004 (Miaow Miaow / Wikimedia)

By the time the war ended, Schindler’s considerable wealth had been spent on bribes and black-market supplies for his workers and he was reduced to receiving handouts from Jewish organisations.

In 1949 he emigrated to Argentina with his long-suffering wife, his current mistress and some Jewish friends. After a farming venture failed he returned alone to Germany and established a cement factory that went bankrupt.

In the 1960s he began annual visits to Israel, where he was feted as a hero, but he was in poverty when he died in 1974, aged 66, in Hildesheim, Germany. It was his own wish to be buried in Jerusalem.

Schindler's grave

Emilie and Oskar Schindler in 1946 (Wikimedia)

Emilie Schindler remained in Argentina, living on a pension. She died in 2001 during a visit to Berlin, aged 94.

In 1962 a tree was planted in Oskar Schindler’s honour in the Avenue of the Righteous at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. But it was not until 1993 that both Oskar and Emilie were officially recognised by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

 

Visitors leave stones on grave

Schindler’s grave in the Mount Zion Catholic Cemetery — not the Protestant Cemetery further west, as some guidebooks have it — is within easy walking distance of the Old City’s Zion Gate.

Schindler's grave

Entrance to Mount Zion Catholic Cemetery (Yoninah / Wikimedia)

Walk out Zion Gate towards the bus parking lot. Take the road on the left until it joins a major road called Ma’aleh Hashalom. Follow this road down the slope of Mount Zion until you come to a high stone wall on the left with a wrought-iron gate. High on the gate is small sign reading “To Oskar Schindler’s Grave”.

For times when the cemetery is closed, the Muslim custodian’s phone number is painted roughly on the gate.

The cemetery is on two levels, with circular steps leading down to the lower level where Schindler is buried. Many of the graves are of Franciscan monks and nuns. Others, as their Arabic inscriptions indicate, belong to Arab Catholic families whose family trees date back hundreds of years.

At the edge of the top level stands a large cross. Facing the cross, look down on the lower level at about 2 o’clock. The flat slab of Schindler’s last resting place stands out from the other graves because of the stones left on it by visitors — a Jewish custom that is also followed by many others who come to pay their respects.

The stones often partly cover the inscriptions, which read (in Hebrew) “Righteous Among the Nations” and (in German) “The Unforgettable Lifesaver of 1200 Persecuted Jews”.

 

Open: Usually 8-12am (closed Sunday)

Tel.: 0525-388342

 

 

References

Burkeman, Oliver, and Aris, Ben: “Biographer Takes Shine off Spielberg’s Schindler”, The Guardian, November 25, 2004
Crowe, David M.: Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of his Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind the List (Westview Press, 2004)
Keneally, Thomas: Schindler’s Ark (Hodder and Stoughton, 1982)
Rubenstein, Danny: “A Sign Points to the Grave”, Haaretz, July 19, 2007
Smith, Dinitia: “A Scholar’s Book Adds Layers of Comploexity to the Schindler Legend”, The New York Times, November 24, 2004

 

External links

Oscar Schindler (Louis Bülow)
Oskar Schindler (Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team)
Oskar Schindler (Encyclopedia of World Biography)
Oskar Schindler (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
The Real Oskar Schindler (Herbert Steinhouse)

 

Older Posts »

Temple Mount

Jerusalem

Temple Mount

Walled platform of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount (Yonderboy / Wikimedia)

The Temple Mount, a massive masonry platform occupying the south-east corner of Jerusalem’s Old City, has hallowed connections for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

All three of these Abrahamic faiths regard it as the location of Mount Moriah, where Abraham prepared to offer his son Isaac (or Ishmael in the Muslim tradition) to God.

• For Jews, it is where their Temple once stood, housing the Ark of the Covenant. Now, for fear of stepping on the site of the Holy of Holies, orthodox Jews do not ascend to the Temple Mount. Instead, they worship at its Western Wall while they hope for a rebuilt Temple to rise with the coming of their long-awaited Messiah.

Temple Mount

Model of Herod’s Temple by English pensioner Alec Garrard (© Geoff Robinson)

• For Christians, the Temple featured prominently in the life of Jesus. Here he was presented as a baby. Here as a 12-year-old he was found among the teachers after the annual Passover pilgrimage.

Here Jesus prayed and taught. Here he overturned money-changers’ tables and foretold the destruction of the Temple: “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Mark 13:2). And here the earliest Judaeo-Christians met.

• For Muslims, the Temple Mount is al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). It is Islam’s third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina, and the whole area is regarded as a mosque.

Temple Mount

Temple Mount visitors in front of Dome of the Rock (Seetheholyland.net)

Muslims believe their gold-roofed Dome of the Rock — an iconic symbol of Jerusalem — covers the rock from which Muhammad visited heaven during his Night Journey in the 7th century.

 

Solomon built First Temple

Israel’s King Solomon built the first Temple around 950 BC on the traditional site of Mount Moriah. His father, King David, had bought a Jebusite threshing floor on the windy hilltop where Abraham had prepared to sacrifice Isaac and “built there an altar to the Lord” (2 Samuel 24:25) some 40 years earlier.

Solomon’s lavish Temple, built of stone and timber with an exterior of white marble and a gold-plated façade, was to provide a fitting resting place for the Ark of the Covenant, containing the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments.

Its altar, the central place where Jews offered sacrifices to Yahweh, was probably close to the sites of Abraham’s and David’s altars.

Temple Mount

Rock of Mount Moriah as it was in 1910 (Robert Smythe Hichens / Wikimedia)

Solomon’s Temple stood for about 360 years until invading Babylonians destroyed it and took most of the Jews into exile. The Mishnah says the Ark of the Covenant was hidden in an underground chamber. What became of it is unknown.

Fifty years later the Jews were allowed to return from Babylon. They rebuilt the Temple, completing it in 515 BC.

 

Herod built second Temple

The Temple Jesus knew was rebuilt by Herod the Great in a project he began around 20 BC. Although the Temple had already been rebuilt once, Herod’s Temple is still known in Jewish tradition as the Second Temple.

Herod began his grandiose project by extending the Temple Mount on the north, south and west to create a vast platform bordered by a retaining wall of huge limestone blocks.

Temple Mount

Court of the Women in a model of Herod’s Temple by English pensioner Alec Garrard (© Geoff Robinson)

These blocks, some weighing more than 100 tons, were cut from quarries at a higher level, just north of the Temple Mount, and put in place with pulleys and cranes.

The expansion — to today’s 14 hectares, nearly twice the previous area — involved burying several structures, including Solomon’s palace.

Of the Temple itself, the historian Josephus said “it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of purest white”.

Temple Mount

Inside Royal Stoa of Alec Garrard’s Temple model (© Geoff Robinson)

Surrounding the Temple were four courts: The Court of the Priests (containing the altar of sacrifice); the Court of Israel (for men only); the Court of the Women; and, on a lower level, the Court of the Gentiles. Notices warned Gentiles not to enter the higher courts on the pain of death.

Along each edge of the Temple Mount was a covered and columned gallery called a portico. Solomon’s Portico, on the east, was probably where Mary and Joseph found their son among the teachers of the Law. The Royal Stoa, on the south, was a place of public business and trade.

 

Romans destroyed Temple

Temple Mount

Masonry blocks thrown by Roman soldiers on to street below when they destroyed the Temple (Freestockphotos.com)

Herod’s Temple was totally destroyed when the Roman army under the emperor Titus took Jerusalem in AD 70, ending the First Jewish Revolt. As Jesus had prophesied, not one stone was left upon another.

The emperor Hadrian in AD 130 converted Jerusalem into a Roman colony, called Aelia Capitolina, which Jews were forbidden to enter. Hadrian placed statues of himself on the Temple Mount.

After the Roman Empire adopted Christianity in the 4th century, the emperor Constantine’s mother, St Helena, is believed to have built a small church on the Temple Mount. Otherwise the area was ignored — it was actually used for a rubbish dump — while Christians focused on the new Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Arab Muslims conquered Jerusalem in the 7th century and converted the Temple Mount into an Islamic sanctuary. They cleared the rubbish and erected the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Temple Mount

Al-Aqsa Mosque (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

When Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099 they Christianised these Muslim structures and gave them misleading names. The Dome of the Rock became a church called the Templum Domini (Temple of the Lord); the Al-Aqsa Mosque became the palace of the King of Jerusalem, then the headquarters of the Knights Templar, under the name of the Templum Salomonis (Temple of Solomon).

Muslims under the sultan Saladin reconquered Jerusalem less than a century later, restoring the Noble Sanctuary to its former Islamic status. Even after Israeli forces captured the Temple Mount from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel left its management in the hands of an Islamic foundation (called the Waqf), which has undertaken controversial digs and earthworks.

Judgement scales and Messiah’s entry

Temple Mount

Arches where Muslim tradition says scales to weigh souls will be hung at Last Judgement (Seetheholyland.net)

Today’s Temple Mount is a spacious plaza of minarets, domed pavilions, fountains, date palms and cypress trees. It occupies about one-sixth of the Old City.

Eight stairways ascend to the platform of the Dome of the Rock, each culminating in a set of slender arches where Islamic tradition says scales to weigh souls will be hung at the Last Judgement.

In the southwest corner of the Temple Mount, near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Islamic Museum displays ceramics, gifts to the sanctuary and architectural items removed during restorations.

The walls of the Temple Mount platform originally contained several gateways, with stairs or ramps leading to and from the city. All are now blocked, though the outlines of some are still visible.

Temple Mount

Exterior view of Golden Gate in wall of Temple Mount (Ian W. Scott)

In the eastern wall were the Golden Gate, through which Jews expect their Messiah will enter Jerusalem, and the gate from which the scapegoat was driven into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement. Most pilgrims entered the Temple Mount at the southeast corner through the Double Gate, whose steps have been reconstructed.

To the right of the Western Wall plaza can be seen the stub of Robinson’s Arch (named after a 19th-century archaeologist), which supported a monumental staircase from the street to the Temple Mount.

Temple Mount

Remains of Robinson’s Arch, which supported a stairway to the Temple (Seetheholyland.net)

Over the centuries the deep valley that ran beside the Western Wall in the time of Jesus became filled with rubble. Today’s wall stands 19 metres high, but a further 13 metres of Herod’s blockwork lie hidden beneath ground level.

 

Sites in the Temple Mount area:

Al-Aqsa Mosque

Dome of the Rock

Western Wall

 

 

In Scripture:

Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac: Genesis 22:1-19

David buys the threshing floor: 2 Samuel 24:18-25

Solomon builds the First Temple: 1 Kings 5-6

Jesus is presented in the Temple: Luke 2:22-38

Jesus is found among the teachers in the Temple: Luke 2:41-51

Jesus cleanses the Temple: John 2:14-16

Jesus prophesies the destruction of the Temple: Matthew 24:1-2

 

Administered by: Islamic Waqf Foundation

Open: Non-Muslims are permitted to enter the Temple Mount through the Bab Al-Maghariba (Moors’ Gate), reached through a covered walkway next to the Western Wall plaza, during restricted hours. These are usually 7.30-11am and 1.30-2.30pm (closed Fridays and on religious holidays), but can change. Access is not allowed during times of Muslim prayer nor at times of tension between Arabs and Jews. Modest dress is required. Non-Muslims are not normally allowed into the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Non-Muslim prayer on the Temple Mount is not permitted.

 

References

Bahat, Dan: “Jerusalem Down Under: Tunneling Along Herod’s Temple Mount Wall” (Biblical Archaeological Review, November/December 1995)
Baldwin, David: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Companion (Catholic Truth Society, 2007)
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)
Garrard, Alec: The Splendor of the Temple (Angus Hudson, 2000)
Jacobson, David: “Sacred Geometry: Unlocking the Secret of the Temple Mount” (Biblical Archaeological Review, July/August and September/October 1999)
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land: The first ecumenical pilgrim’s guide (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Metzger, Bruce M., and Coogan, Michael D.: The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993)
Meyer, Gabriel: “The Temple and the Lord” (Holy Land Review, winter 2010)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Notley, R. Steven: Jerusalem: City of the Great King (Carta Jerusalem, 2015)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Ritmeyer, Leen: “Locating the Original Temple Mount” (Biblical Archaeological Review, March/April 1992)
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)
Woodfin, Warren T.: “The Holiest Ground in the World” (Biblical Archaeological Review, September/October 2000)

 

 

External links

The Noble Sanctuary
Virtual Walking Tour: Al-Haram Al-Sharif (Saudi Aramco World)
Virtual Model of Temple Mount (Jerusalem Archaeological Park)
Temple Mount (Wikipedia)

 

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