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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)

Petra

Jordan

Petra

Pilgrims holding a service in Petra Church (Seetheholyland.net)

 

The “rose-red city” of Petra in southern Jordan, famous for its rock-cut monumental buildings, was once the setting for a thriving Christian community with several significant churches.

An early account tells of Christians in Petra being martyred during the persecution of emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th century, for refusing to offer sacrifice to Roman gods.

Nevertheless, a Christian presence persisted. Bishops from Petra attended Church synods and councils from AD 343, indicating that the city had become a significant Christian centre.

Crosses chiselled into sandstone walls show which large tombs were converted into churches. Then a succession of new churches was built.

Petra

Multicoloured sandstone at Petra (Seetheholyland.net)

The Roman historian Epiphanius mentions that the conversion of Petra’s residents was a slow process throughout the late 4th and 5th centuries.

Then a monk called Mar Sauma arrived with 40 brother monks in AD 423. They found the gates locked against them, but a rainstorm struck with such intensity that part of the city wall was broken, allowing them in. Since the storm had broken a four-year drought, the water-dependent Nabateans saw the event as miraculous and even pagan priests converted to Christianity.

 

Exotic animals in mosaics

Three churches from the Byzantine era — called the Petra Church, the Blue Chapel and the Ridge Church — have been discovered. They are clustered on the ridge to the north-east of the Colonnaded Street that runs through Petra’s main city area, past the Temple of the Winged Lions.

Petra

Aisle of mosaics in Petra Church (Seetheholyland.net)

The large triple-aisled Petra Church, a basilica dedicated to St Mary, was probably the ancient city’s cathedral.

Little of the interior remains except for well-preserved mosaics carpeting the 70-square-metre floors of each of the side aisles. These depict local, exotic and mythological animals, as well as personifications of the Seasons, Ocean, Earth and Wisdom.

The secular nature of these mosaics is probably explained by a reluctance to tread on sacred images.

Just west of the church proper is a stone-paved atrium, with a cistern sunk into the centre to catch water. Further west is a baptistery, with a cross-shaped baptismal font.

The basilica was destroyed by a fire, probably in the early 7th century.

 

Scrolls revealed business deals

Petra

Petra Church atrium and water cistern (Bernard Gagnon)

The fire that destroyed the Petra Church also carbonised an invaluable hoard of papyrus scrolls cached in a church storeroom. The 152 scrolls — the largest collection of written material from antiquity found in Jordan — lay undiscovered until 1993.

Written mainly in cursive Greek, they have been painstakingly deciphered to reveal details of births, prenuptial arrangements, marriages, business deals, wills, properties disputes and tax responsibilities of about 350 members of the community.

One of the main figures identified in the scrolls is Theodorus, who married his cousin Stephanous in 537, when he was aged about 24. Later ordained a deacon in the Petra diocese, Theodorus was also a successful landowner with extensive business interests.

Petra

Baptistery of Petra Church (Seetheholyland.net)

A son of Theodorus is recorded as being responsible for paying local taxes on a vineyard — at the rate of 47.5 per cent! This affluent family apparently owned much property in the Petra region.

 

Church overlooked the city

The Ridge Church had a commanding position, with a 360-degree view of the central city, atop the northern slope of the valley in which Petra sits.

The oldest church in the city, dating from the 4th century, it had two side aisles separated from the nave by five columns on each side.

Behind it, city walls across the valley would have protected Petra against invasion from the north.

Petra

Granite columns at Blue Church (David Loong)

Between the Petra Church and the Ridge Church is the Blue Chapel, so named after its four blue Egyptian granite columns, topped with Nabataean horned capitals, that collapsed in an 8th-century earthquake but have been re-erected.

The chapel also had blue sandstone flooring and blue marble furnishings — including a blue marble pulpit.

This building is believed to have been converted into a residence and chapel for Petra’s bishop.

 

Tombs and temples were converted

Other buildings converted to Christian churches include the Urn Tomb and al-Deir (Arabic for “the Monastery”).

Petra

Urn Tomb at Petra (Chris Yunker)

The Urn Tomb, the first of the four Royal Tombs just north of the amphitheatre, still bears an inscription to “Christ the Saviour” on one of its inside walls.

Al-Deir, the biggest and most grandiose monument in Petra, is in the hills overlooking the city from the north-west. A visit involves a walk of about an hour from the city centre, up 800 rock-cut steps.

At 50 metres wide and 45 metres high, it is much bigger than al-Khazneh (“the Treasury”) — the famous monument that appears to visitors arriving through the gorge called the Siq (and in which the climax of the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was set).

Originally cut out of the rock to serve as a mortuary temple, al-Deir was apparently later adapted to Christian use. It seems to have acquired its name of the Monastery from the crosses painted and inscribed on its inner walls.

Two Greek monks were recorded as living in the building in 1217.

 

Petra was in biblical Edom

Petra

Al-Deir, Petra’s biggest monument (Dennis Jarvis)

In biblical times Petra was a city of the Edomites, whose ancestor Esau settled there after he was tricked out of his rightful inheritance by his twin brother Jacob. Scholars believe Petra was then called Sela.

By the middle of the second century BC, the Edomites had been displaced by the Nabataeans. These former nomad herdsmen made Petra their multicoloured sandstone capital city, transforming it into a desert oasis by using ingenious aqueducts and cisterns to conserve water from flash floods.

The Nabataeans also controlled trade routes from Arabia to Mesopotamia and Syria, exacting high tolls from caravans which passed their way.

Petra

Overview of some of Petra’s monuments (Chris Yunker)

One tradition has the Three Wise Men buying their gold, myrrh and frankincense at Petra on their way to Bethlehem.

The greatest Nabataean king was Aretas IV (9 BC to AD 40), whose rule extended as far north as Damascus. His daughter Phasaelis was married to Herod Antipas, who divorced her to marry Herodias, his brother’s wife. Aretas IV then marched on Herod’s army, defeated it and captured territories along the West Bank of the Jordan River.

In AD 106 Petra was annexed by the Roman empire. Rome’s diversion of the caravan trade and some devastating earthquakes in subsequent centuries put the city into decline.

 

Poet recanted his rosy view

From the 13th century Petra was abandoned. It remained forgotten by the Western world until 1812 when a young Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, disguised as an Arab pilgrim, persuaded a local guide to take him there.

Petra

Pink sandstone cave at Petra (Seetheholyland.net)

Burckhardt’s published account inspired the English clergyman John William Burgon to write his prize-winning poem Petra, with its line “A rose-red city — half as old as Time!”

The poem, published in 1845, ran to 366 lines — much longer than the extract generally offered in anthologies.

Burgon, who later became dean of Chichester Cathedral, had never visited Petra when he composed his poem. He did so in 1862, describing it in a letter to his sister as “the most astonishing and interesting place I ever visited”. However, perhaps reflecting his ill health at the time, he added: “But there is nothing rosy in Petra by any means.”

Administered by: Petra Development and Tourism Regional Authority

Tel.: +962 (0)3 215-6020 (Visitors’ Centre)

Open: 6am-6pm (4pm in winter)

References

Basile, Joseph J. “When People Lived at Petra”, Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2000
Bikai, Patricia Maynor: “The Churches of Byzantine Petra”, Near Eastern Archaeology, December 2002
Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Burckhardt, Johann Ludwig: Travels in Syria and the Holy Land (John Murray, 1822)
Burgon, John William: Petra, a prize poem (Oxford, 1845)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gochis, Djinna, and Michaels, Christine: “Mysterious Petra Rediscovered”, Catholic Near East Magazine, fall 1978
Goulburn, Edward Meyrick: John William Burgon, late Dean of Chichester : a biography, volume 1 (J. Murray, 1892)
Milne, Mary K.: “Rose-Red City, Half as Old as Time”, CNEWA World, September/October 2002

 

External links

Rose-Red City, Half as Old as Time (CNEWA)
Petra: The Churches (Nabataea.net)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tabgha

Israel

Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes

Church of the Primacy of St Peter

Tabgha

Church of the Primacy of St Peter at Tabgha (Seetheholyland.net)

Tranquil Tabgha, on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee, is best known for Christ’s miraculous multiplication of loaves and fish to feed a multitude.

But it is also remembered for Jesus’ third appearance to his disciples after his Resurrection, when he tested and commissioned St Peter as leader of his Church.

Two churches commemorate these events, and pilgrims find the place a serene location for meditation, prayer and study.

Tabgha is at the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes, about 3km south-west of Capernaum. The name is an Arab mispronunciation of the Greek Heptapegon (meaning “seven springs”). Several warm sulphurous springs enter the lake here, attracting fish especially in winter.

This was a favourite spot for fishermen from nearby Capernaum, and its beach was familiar to Jesus and his disciples. It is easy to imagine Jesus speaking from a boat in one of the little bays, with crowds sitting around on the shore.

 

Feeding followed beheading

According to chapter 14 of Matthew’s Gospel, the miraculous feeding came after Jesus learnt that Herod Antipas had beheaded his cousin, John the Baptist.

Jesus “withdrew in a boat . . . to a deserted place by himself”. Crowds followed and he had compassion on them, curing their sick.

In the evening he told the multitude — 5000 men, plus women and children — to sit on the grass. Then he took five loaves and two fish, “looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves . . . and the disciples gave them to the crowds”. After they had eaten, the leftovers filled 12 baskets.

 

Elegant mosaics from 4th century

Tabgha

Loaves and fishes mosaic in Church of the Multiplication (James Emery)

The modern Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha stands on the site of a 4th-century church, displaying Byzantine mosaic decorations that are among the most elegantly executed in the Holy Land.

The whole floor depicts flora and fauna of the area in vibrant colours — peacocks, cranes, cormorants, herons, doves, geese, ducks, a flamingo and a swan, as well as snakes, lotus flowers and oleanders.

But the best-known mosaic, on the floor near the altar, refers to the miracle the church commemorates. It shows a basket of loaves flanked by two Galilee mullet.

Beneath the altar is the rock on which it is believed Jesus placed the loaves and fish when he blessed them.

In June 2015 fire destroyed much of the Benedictine monastery attached to the church. Two youths from Jewish settler outposts were charged with arson.

Jesus cooked breakfast

Nearby, on the Tabgha beach, stands the Church of the Primacy of St Peter. This squat building of black basalt, built in 1934, is where Jesus is believed to have made his third appearance to his disciples after his Resurrection.

As the event is described in the 21st chapter of St John, Peter and six other disciples had been fishing all night without catching anything. Just after daybreak Jesus stood on the beach, though they did not recognise him.

Jesus told the disciples to cast their net on the right side of the boat and the net filled with 153 fish. When the disciples dragged the net ashore, they found that Jesus had cooked them breakfast on a charcoal fire.

The rock incorporated in the church floor is traditionally believed to be the place where Jesus prepared breakfast. It was known to medieval pilgrims as Mensa Christ (the table of Christ).

 

Peter was challenged three times

Tabgha

“Feed my sheep” statue at Tabgha (Seetheholyland.net)

After breakfast, Jesus challenged Peter three times with the question: “Do you love me?” Peter’s positive response to this three-fold challenge cancelled out his three-fold denial of Jesus the night before his crucifixion.

Then Jesus gave Peter a three-fold commission: “Feed my lambs . . . . Tend my sheep . . . Feed my sheep.” And he also indicated that Peter would die by martyrdom.

After this event Peter’s primacy as head of the apostles was recognised.

Beside the church, in a garden setting, is an area designed for group worship. Between this and the lake stands a modern bronze statue of Jesus symbolically commissioning Peter with his shepherd’s crook.

Related sites:

Mount of Beatitudes

Sea of Galilee

In Scripture

Miraculous feeding of 5000: Matthew 14: 13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14

Jesus commissions Peter: John 21: 1-19

 

Administered by:

Church of the Multiplication: Benedictine monks (972-4-6678100); open Mon-Fri 8am-5pm, Sat 8am-3pm, Sun closed

Church of the Primacy of Peter: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land (972-4-6724767); open 8am-5pm

 

 

References

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)
Doyle, Stephen: The Pilgrim’s New Guide to the Holy Land (Liturgical Press, 1990)
Kilgallen, John J.: A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land (Loyola Press, 1998)
Shpigel, Noa: “Israel Must Compensate Historic Galilee Church for Arson, Attorney General Says”, Haaretz, September 22, 2015
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Tabgha and Magdala (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Tabgha Priory on the Sea of Gennesaret (Benedictines)
Tabgha (BiblePlaces)
Tabgha — Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Church of All Nations

Jerusalem

Church of All Nations

Facade of Church of All Nations (Seetheholyland.net)

The Church of All Nations, standing near the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, is built over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have prayed in agony the night before he was crucified.

The church and the adjacent Garden of Gethsemane, with its eight ancient olive trees, provide an evocative place for meditation, especially when visited at night.

The church is also known as the Basilica of the Agony. Completed in 1924, it is the third church on the site.

Its design blends the façade of a typically Roman basilica with a roof of 12 small domes that suggest an Eastern character. The richly-coloured triangular mosaic at the top of the façade makes it a Jerusalem landmark.

 

Jesus prayed in anguish

Church of All Nations

Rock of Agony in the Church of All Nations (Seetheholyland.net)

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell that Jesus and his disciples went to the Mount of Olives after the Last Supper.

He left eight of the disciples together in one place and withdrew further with Peter, James and John. He asked them — the three who had witnessed his Transfiguration — to stay awake with him while he prayed.

Jesus “threw himself on the ground” (Matthew 26:39) and in his anguish “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground” (Luke 22:44). But the three disciples, all of them fishermen who were used to working through the night, could not stay awake “because of grief” (Luke 22:45).

Then a group from the chief priests and elders arrived to arrest Jesus. They were led by Judas, who betrayed his Master with a kiss.

 

Sombre atmosphere in church

Church of All Nations

Main altar in Church of All Nations (Seetheholyland.net)

An atmosphere of sorrowful reverence pervades the Church of All Nations. The architect, Antonio Barluzzi, evoked the night-time of the Agony by leaving the interior in semi-darkness, relieved only by subdued natural light filtered through violet-blue alabaster windows.

The sombre blue of a star-studded night sky is recreated in the ceiling domes, the stars being surrounded by olive branches reminiscent of the Gethsemane garden.

In front of the high altar is a flat outcrop of rock, which a long Christian tradition identifies as the Rock of Agony where Jesus prayed.

There is a large mosaic in each of the three apses. From left to right, they represent The Kiss of Judas, Christ in Agony being Consoled by an Angel, and The Arrest of Jesus.

 

Many nations contributed

The basilica is called the Church of All Nations because many countries contributed to the cost of construction.

National symbols of 12 donors — Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain and the United States of America — are inside the ceiling domes.

The mosaics in the apses were donated by Hungary, Ireland and Poland. The wrought-iron wreath around the Rock of Agony was given by Australia.

The wreath is in the form of a crown of thorns with olive branches. A pair of thorn birds in front of a Communion chalice symbolise souls who wish to share the cup of Christ’s Passion. Two silver doves are depicted as sacrificial victims caught in agony in the thorns.

Original mosaic floor discovered

During construction, parts of the mosaic floor of the original Byzantine church were discovered. These were preserved under glass and may be seen in the floor of the south aisle.

The architect then decided to copy this 4th-century mosaic design in the floor of the modern church, to suggest a spiritual continuity throughout the ages of faith.

Church of All Nations

Triangular mosaic on facade of Church of All Nations (Seetheholyland.net)

On the façade of the Church of All Nations, the triangular area over the great portal displays a much-photographed mosaic.

Christ is depicted as the mediator between God and mankind, on whose behalf he gives his very heart which an angel is shown receiving into his hands.

On Christ’s left, a throng of lowly people, in tears, look to him with confidence. On his right, a group of the powerful and wise acknowledge the shortcomings of their might and learning.

On the summit of the façade stand two stags on either side of a cross. Below the mosaic, statues of the four Evangelists are separated by three arches.

Related site:

Gethsemane

In Scripture:

Jesus prays in Gethsemane: Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46; Mark 32-42

Jesus is arrested: Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-50; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:1-12

 

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-2-6266444

Open: 8am-noon, 2-6pm (5pm Oct-Mar)

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Maier, Paul L. (trans.): Josephus: The Essential Writings (Kregel Publications, 1988)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Dillon, Edward: “The Sanctuaries at Gethsemane”, Holy Land, spring 1998
Storme, Albert: Gethsemane (Franciscan Printing Press, 1970)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Gethsemane (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
The Church of All Nations panorama (Jesus in Jerusalem)
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