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Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

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A Holy Land hymn

Filed under: Extras — 12:39 pm

“In the Land where Jesus walked” is a modern Christian hymn about places in the Holy Land where events in the life of Jesus took place. The words are by Pat McCarthy and the music by Robert Loretz, developed from an ancient Jewish folk melody.

Watch a choral performance below:

See the musical arrangement here.

“In the Land where Jesus walked” was published in 2019 by See the Holy Land under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence. This means it may be used in any medium or format provided appropriate credit is given to the authors (more details at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/).


In the Land where Jesus walked

Heaven-sent, a stranger came

Angel Gabriel his name

Mary gave her humble yes

Transforming God’s Word into flesh

This happened in Nazareth

Nazareth in Zebulun

This happened in Nazareth

In the land where Jesus walked


Winter’s night, a teenage birth

Cause of joy for all the earth

Angel chorus sang of peace

To shepherds who smelt of their sheep

This happened in Bethlehem

Bethlehem, King David’s town

This happened in Bethlehem

In the land where Jesus walked

In the Jordan, Jesus went

Never needing to repent

Then he heard his Father tell

Beloved Son, you please me well

This happened in Bethany

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

This happened in Bethany

In the land where Jesus walked

Wedding guests, but no more wine

Though it was not yet his time

When his mother took a hand

He made the best wine in the land

This happened in Cana

Cana of Galilee

This happened in Cana

In the land where Jesus walked

Sick made well, the blind to see

Teaching with authority

He called fishers from the sea

And said they would catch you and me

This happened beside the lake

Beside the lake of Galilee

This happened beside the lake

In the land where Jesus walked

Beaten, mocked, unfairly tried

Jesus cruelly crucified

When he rose on Easter morn

The whole world in him was reborn

This happened in Jerusalem

Jerusalem, the holy city

This happened in Jerusalem

In the land where Jesus walked

Events in Jesus’ life

Significant events in the life of Jesus are listed here, with places where these events are commemorated.

Conception of Jesus: Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth (Luke 1:26-38)

Birth of Jesus: Grotto of the Nativity, in Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-20)

Baptism of Jesus: Bethany Beyond the Jordan, in Jordan (Matthew 3:13-17)

Temptation by the devil: Mount of Temptation (Matthew 4:1-11)

First miracle: Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11)

Meeting the Samaritan woman: Jacob’s Well, near Nablus (John 4:5-42)

Teaching in the Nazareth synagogue: Church of the Synagogue, Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30)

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

Remains of Christian sites at Bethany Beyond the Jordan, with steps leading to Church of John the Baptist, under far shelter (Seetheholyland.net)

Teaching in the Capernaum synagogue: Old synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:21-28)

Sermon on the Mount: Mount of Beatitudes, Galilee (Matthew 5:1 – 7:28)

Raising the widow’s son: Nain in Galilee (Luke 7:11-17)

Calming the storm, and many other events: Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41)

Teaching the Lord’s Prayer: Church of Pater Noster, Mount of Olives (Matthew 6:7-14)

Healing a man possessed by demons: Kursi in Galilee (Luke 8:26-39)

Feeding the 5000: Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, Tabgha in Galilee (Matthew 14:13-21)

Healing a paralysed man: Pools of Bethesda, Jerusalem (John 5:2-18)

Healing blind men: Pool of Siloam, Jerusalem (John 9:1-41); Bethsaida in Galilee (Mark 8:22-26)

Announcing the Church: Near Caesarea Philippi in Galilee (Matthew 16:18)

Transfiguration: Mount Tabor in Galilee (Matthew 17:1-9)

Raising of Lazarus: Bethany, near Jerusalem (John 11:1-44)


Entrance to the Tomb of Lazarus (Seetheholyland.net)

Healing of Bartimaeus: Jericho (Mark 10:46-52)

Seeking refuge at Ephraim: Taybeh (John 11:54)

Triumphal entry into Jerusalem: Bethphage (Matthew 21:1-11)

Weeping over Jerusalem: Church of Dominus Flevit, Mount of Olives (Luke 19:41-44)

Last Supper: Cenacle, Mount Zion (Matthew 26:17-30)

Agony in the garden: Church of All Nations, Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:36-46)

Betrayal by Judas: Gethsemane, Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:47-56)

Denial by Peter: Church of St Peter in Gallicantu, Mount Zion (Matthew 26:69-75)

Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection: Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem (Matthew 27:27 – 28:10)

Appearance on the road to Emmaus: Nicopolis, Abu Ghosh and El-Qubeibeh (Luke 24:13-35)

Appearance in Galilee: Church of the Primacy of Peter, Tabgha (John 21: 1-19)

Ascension: Dome of the Ascension and Church of the Ascension, Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-11)



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

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




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)


Pilgrims’ experiences

Filed under: Extras — 12:45 pm

Pilgrims up till the Middle Ages

Pilgrims in modern times


The first recorded pilgrim to the Holy Land was a bishop named Mileto, from Sardis in Asia Minor, around AD 160. The 4th-century Church historian Eusebius relates that Bishop Mileto visited the holy places “where the Scriptures had been preached and fulfilled”.

What follows on this page are glimpses of the experiences of some of the men and women, both ancient and modern, who have followed Melito’s example. Their words may inspire you to visit the Holy Land — or enable you to make a virtual pilgrimage.


Pilgrims up till the Middle Ages

The anonymous Bordeaux Pilgrim of AD 333 (so-called because his itinerary began at Bordeaux in France), in the earliest surviving description of a Christian traveller in the Holy Land, visits the place of Christ’s crucifixion and Resurrection:

“On the left hand is the little hill of Golgotha where the Lord was crucified. About a stone’s throw from thence is a vault wherein his body was laid, and rose again on the third day. There, at present, by the command of the Emperor Constantine, has been built a basilica, that is to say, a church of wondrous beauty, having at the side reservoirs from which water is raised, and a bath behind in which infants are washed [baptised].” More >>


Image of Egeria (Wikimedia)

The ever-enthusiastic and energetic Egeria (around 384), possibly a consecrated virgin from Spain, was a woman of unbounded curiosity, whose guidebook was her Bible during a three-year pilgrimage. Here she climbs stone steps up Mount Sinai:

“They are hard to climb. You do not go round and round them, spiralling up gently, but straight at each one as if you were going up a wall, and then straight down to the foot, till you reach the foot of the central mountain, Sinai itself. Here then, impelled by Christ our God, and assisted by the prayers of the holy men who accompanied us, we made the great effort of the climb. It was quite impossible to ride up, but though I had to go on foot I was not conscious of the effort — in fact I hardly noticed it because, by God’s will, I was seeing my hopes coming true. So at ten o’clock we arrived on the summit of Sinai, the Mount of God where the Law was given, and the place where God’s glory came down on the day when the mountain was smoking. The church which is now there is not impressive for its size (there is too little room on the summit) but it has a grace all its own. And when with God’s help we had climbed right to the top and reached the door of this church, there was the presbyter, the one who is appointed to the church, coming to meet us from his cell. He was a healthy old man, a monk from his boyhood and an ‘ascetic’ as they call it here — in fact just the man for the place.” More >>


Historical image of Bethlehem (Vasily Polenov, 1882)

The aristocratic Roman widow Paula, who travelled to the Holy Land with her daughter Eustochium in the 4th century, contrasts the wealth of Rome with the poverty of Bethlehem:

“Where are spacious porticoes? Where are gilded ceilings? Where are houses decorated by the sufferings and labours of condemned wretches? Where are halls built by the wealth of private men on the scale of palaces, that the vile carcase of man may move among more costly surroundings, and view his own roof rather than the heavens, as if anything could be more beauteous than creation? . . . In the village of Christ . . . all is rusticity, and except for psalms, silence. Whithersoever you turn yourself, the ploughman, holding the plough handle, sings Alleluia; the perspiring reaper diverts himself with psalms, and the vine-dresser sings some of the ballads of this country, these are the love-songs, as they are commonly called; these are whistled by the shepherds, and are the implements of the husbandman. Indeed, we do not think of what we are doing or how we look, but see only that for which we are longing.” More >>


Sinai landscape in Felix Fabri’s pilgrimage journal (Wikimedia)

The German Dominican friar Felix Fabri, on the first of his two pilgrimages to the Holy Land in 1480, gets his first glimpse of Jerusalem:

“Casting our eyes to the right, lo! like a flash of lightning the oft-mentioned and oft-to-be-mentioned holy city of Jerusalem shone forth. The part of it which we saw was that which adjoins the Mount Sion, and we saw the holy Mount Sion itself, with all its buildings and ruins. Above all we saw the citadel of Sion, fortified with exceeding strong walls and towers, in such a clear light that the lofty walls and towers of the citadel seemed to enclose the whole city, and the pilgrim, or stranger who had never seen Jerusalem could not but think that the walls of the citadel of Sion were the walls of Jerusalem, which however is not so. When we beheld with our eyes the long-desired holy city, we straightaway dismounted from our asses and greeted the holy city, bowing our faces to the earth . . . .” More >>


Pilgrims in modern times


Historical image of Jerusalem (Hubert Sattler, 1869)

Patty Parma, a licensed professional counsellor from San Antonio, Texas, discovers in 2004 that there are Living Stones as well as ancient stones in the Holy Land:

“As I met the Palestinian Christians in places such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Mount of Beatitudes, and Birzeit, I met the Living Stones. Their faith is ancient and rock solid. In their eyes, I saw the wisdom of Christ; in their hearts, the love of Christ; in their spirits, the peace of Christ. I returned from the Holy Land with my bags filled with the weight of many ancient stones. I expected that. What I had not anticipated was returning home with a heart filled with Living Stones.  These Stones are not a weight, but a joy that lifts my spirit and brings a smile to my heart.” More >>


David Guthrie, moderator of Plymouth Church in downtown Seattle, Washington, is inspired by the Sea of Galilee during a 2005 pilgrimage:


Pilgrims dipping their toes in the Sea of Galilee (Seetheholyland.net)

“I simply cannot put into words how inspired I was to see, feel, and wiggle my toes in the Sea of Galilee. Just to imagine this was once the stumping ground of Jesus and his disciples. This was where Jesus fed the thousands with the miracle of the loaves and fish. This was where Jesus walked on water, called Peter, James and John, told them to cast down net even after fishing nothing for all night, pronounced Peter as the head of the Church, and fed them breakfast after the resurrection.” More >>


Pilgrimage leader Günther Simmermacher, editor of The Southern Cross newspaper in Cape Town, South Africa, reflects on being a pilgrim during a 2006 visit to the Holy Land:

“At its core, a pilgrimage is a journey to God. But even as all pilgrims share a common itinerary, each one’s route takes unique twists and turns. Graces can be found at unexpected moments: through an accident, a bidding prayer, a sudden spiritual emotion, a moment of illumination, a poignant homily, the experience of receiving the Body of Christ in a special place, in sharing moments with fellow pilgrims who only days before were perfect strangers, even in the vexing snores of a roommate.” More >>


Olive trees on the Judean Hills (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)


New Zealand author Joy Cowley, during a pilgrimage in 2007, discovers a new dimension to the Holy Land:

“Christians in Israel call the Holy Land ‘the Fifth Gospel’. They say that Jesus speaks through the landscape, thus opening up the other four Gospels. We found this true in ways we’d not expected.” More >>


Heather Zempel, pastor of discipleship at National Community Church in Washington, DC, describes “The Lost Art of Pilgrimage” following a visit to the Holy Land in 2009:

“Two Presbyterians, an Episcopalian, a Lutheran, a Baptist, and a rapper named SaulPaul board a plane —sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn’t it? And yet my travels with this eclectic band of sojourners may have forever changed the trajectory of my own faith journey . . . . Everywhere I travelled, I was drawn into the massive adventure that God is writing. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the Story, but I was also able to ponder my role in God’s epic, and I can pass my own tales of spiritual journey to the next generation.” More >>


Pilgrims on the Via Dolorosa (Seetheholyland.net)


Thomas F. Jones, Jr, executive director of Stadia: New Church Strategies, a national church planting organisation in the United States, records his impressions on a 2010 pilgrimage:

“Like pilgrims since the time of Constantine, we travelled to the Holy Land to experience a renewed call to discipleship by walking in the footsteps of Jesus. We visited places like Capernaum, Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, Caesarea Philippi, Nazareth, Bethlehem, the Old City of Jerusalem, Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Temple Mount, Jordan River, Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Garden Tomb, and the Dead Sea. We visited these holy sites with our spiritual eyes and ears open, expecting that Jesus would meet us in fresh and new ways, and indeed he did.” More >>

Churches in the Holy Land

Eastern Orthodox

Oriental Orthodox

Eastern Catholic

Roman Catholic


More than a score of Christian churches and denominations have a presence in the Holy Land — not always co-existing in harmony. In fact the scandal of the disunity of Christians is perhaps more evident in the land where the Church began than anywhere else on earth.

In the early centuries, when the Judaeo-Christian Church was still one and undivided, its expansion required organising into geographic units. Bishops of important centres became known as patriarchs — the title accorded Old Testament leaders such as Abraham.

The earliest patriarchates were Antioch (where the name “Christian” was first used), Alexandria and Rome, with Rome (the see of Peter) accorded primacy of honour. Each brought its own culture and traditions to its church-community.

Two more patriarchates, Constantinople and Jerusalem (the “Mother Church”), were later recognised, with Constantinople eventually being accorded second place after Rome. All were Greek-speaking except for Latin-speaking Rome.

Holy Land Christians

Church leaders of East and West at an ecumenical meeting (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

From the 4th century, theological disagreements arose over the nature of Christ. Often exacerbated by political and social tensions, these led the Assyrian Church of the East and what we know as the Oriental Orthodox churches (Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syriac) to break away. They are still not in communion with either Constantinople or Rome.

In the 11th century, long-standing disputes between the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches of Christianity incited the Great Schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.

From the 16th century, groups within several Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches re-established communion with the Roman Catholic Church. These became the Eastern Catholic churches.

The 16th century also saw dissent within the Western (Roman) Church spark the Protestant Reformation, resulting in a multitude of new denominations.

The main Christian groupings in the Holy Land today are Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Roman (Latin) Catholic and Evangelical or Protestant.

Eastern Orthodox

Holy Land Christians

Greek Orthodox procession in Jerusalem (© Deror Avi)

Greek Orthodox form the largest Christian church in the Holy Land, their patriarch claiming direct descent from St James, the first bishop of Jerusalem.

Leadership in Israel is predominantly expatriate Greek, with married parish clergy and mainly Arab laity (in Jordan and Syria the leadership is largely Arab).

The Greek Orthodox holds major rights to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

The community’s St John the Baptist Church on Christian Quarter Road is one of the oldest in Jerusalem, built originally in the 5th century, and today below street level.

Russian Orthodox pilgrims from Russia visited the Holy Land from the 11th century, but the church did not establish its own institutions in Palestine until the 19th century, when an area now known as the Russian Compound on the Jaffa Road was developed.

Holy Land Christians

Russian Church of St Mary Magdalene (Seetheholyland.net)

The Russian Revolution of 1917 ended pilgrimages from Russia and also led to a Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, in opposition to the Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate. The two churches signed an act of canonical communion in 2007.

The best-known property of the Church Outside Russia is the onion-domed Church of St Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives. The main Moscow Patriarchate church is the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the Russian Compound.

Romanian Orthodox, with their headquarters in Bucharest, established themselves in Jerusalem in 1935. The interior of their church, St George’s, at 46 Shivtei Israel Street, outside the Old City, is covered with frescoes in neo-Byzantine style.

A small number of clergy look after a big number of Romanian guest workers in Israel.

Oriental Orthodox

Holy Land Christians

Armenian Orthodox ceremony in Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

Armenian Orthodox form the world’s oldest national church, since Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, in AD 301.

Large numbers came to Jerusalem, where they claim the longest uninterrupted Christian presence. The Armenian Quarter occupies about one-sixth of the Old City.

St James’s Cathedral, in Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate Road, is on the site of the original church built over the place where the Armenians believe the head of the apostle James the Great is buried.

The community holds dearly to the memory of the genocide of more than a million Armenians by Ottoman Turks at the time of the First World War.

Holy Land Christians

Entrance to St Mark’s Syriac Orthodox Church (Seetheholyland.net)

Syriac Orthodox trace their church back to first-century Antioch (in present-day Turkey) and claim the apostle St Peter as their first patriarch in AD 37. Before going to Rome, Peter served seven years in Antioch.

The word “Syriac” is not a geographic indicator, but refers to the use of the Syriac Aramaic language, a dialect of the tongue Jesus spoke in first-century Palestine, in worship.

The Syriac Orthodox (often called “Jacobites”, after an early bishop) believe their St Mark’s Church is on the site of the Last Supper and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Their Patriarch of Antioch is based in Damascus.

Holy Land Christians

Coptic Orthodox chapel in Church of the Holy Sepuchre (James Emery)

Coptic Orthodox make up the largest Christian church in the Middle East, founded in Alexandria by the evangelist St Mark. Their leader, with the title of pope, is in Egypt. The liturgy is in Coptic, the ancient language of Egypt, with readings in Arabic.

The Jerusalem patriarchate and St Antony’s Church are close to the Ninth Station of the Via Dolorosa. The Coptic Orthodox also have a tiny chapel at the back of the Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Ethiopian Orthodox trace their connection to Jerusalem back 1000 years before Christ, when the Ethiopian Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-13, 2 Chronicles 9:1-12). She embraced his Jewish faith — and apparently Solomon too, since tradition credits them with a son named Menelik, who became emperor of Ethiopia.

Christianity is believed to have been introduced into Ethiopia by the eunuch finance minister of Queen Candace who came to Jerusalem to worship and was baptised by the apostle Philip (Acts 8:26-40).

Holy Land Christians

Queen of Sheba bringing gifts to Solomon, in Ethiopian Orthodox chapel (© Deror Avi)

The Ethiopian Orthodox retain some Jewish practices, including circumcision, and use freshly-baked bread for Communion.

Their biggest church in Jerusalem is the circular Dabra Gannat Monastery on Ethiopia Street, just off Prophet’s Street. They also occupy two chapels in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and a mud-hut village on its roof.

Eastern Catholic

Greek Catholics, known as Melkites (a word meaning “royalist”), form the second largest Christian church in the Holy Land — after the Greek Orthodox, whose Byzantine liturgy they share. Their Patriarch of Antioch is in Damascus.

Holy Land Christians

Street sign for Greek Catholic Patriarchate Road (Yoav Dothan / Wikimedia)

This Arab church has big numbers in the Galilee region and a small community in Jerusalem.

The fresco-covered patriarchate Church of the Annunciation, inside the Jaffa Gate and up Greek Catholic Patriachate Road, is described in the Living Stones Pilgrimage guidebook as “arguably the most representative Byzantine church in Jerusalem and . . . perhaps the best place to introduce yourself to Orthodox places of worship”.

Within the patriarchate building is a museum of Eastern Church traditions in the Holy Land (open 9am-12pm daily, except Sunday).

Chaldean Catholics separated from the Church of the East (also known as the Nestorian Church) in 1552. Most members are in Iraq (where they are the largest Christian church) and Iran, with a refugee Iraqi community in Jordan and emigrant communities as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Holy Land Christians

Chaldean Catholic refugees in Jordan (© Tasher Bahoo / Wikimedia)

The patriarchal seat is in Baghdad. In Jerusalem the patriarchal exarchate is at 7 Chaldean Street (off Nablus Road).

Syriac Catholics broke away from the Syriac Orthodox Church and have been in communion with Rome since the 1780s. They also trace their origins to the See of Antioch established by St Peter and retain much of the liturgy (in Aramaic) of their Orthodox counterpart.

Their Patriarch of Antioch is in Beirut. The Jerusalem patriarchal exarchate Church of St Thomas is at 2 Chaldean Street (off Nablus Road).

Armenian Catholics, who separated from the Armenian Orthodox Church, have been in communion with Rome since 1742. They have kept much of the Orthodox liturgy (in classical Armenian) and, like the Armenian Orthodox, suffered in the genocide by Ottoman Turks during the First World War.

Their headquarters is in Bzoummar, Lebanon. The Jerusalem patriarchal exarchate is at the Third Station of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa.

Holy Land Christians

St Maron, who gave the Maronite Catholics their name

Maronite Catholics, the largest Christian community in Lebanon, form the only Eastern church which has always been Roman Catholic, without an Orthodox counterpart.

Founded by St Maron, a 5th-century Syrian hermit, they use Aramaic in their worship and their patriarch is in Beirut. Their membership base in the Holy Land is in Galilee, which is just south of Lebanon.

The patriarchal vicariate is in the Old City on Maronite Convent Road, Jaffa Gate.

Roman Catholic

A Latin patriarchate was established in Jerusalem in 1099, 46 years after the East-West schism, during the Crusades. When the Crusaders were routed 90 years later, the Latin hierarchy fled the Holy Land.

Holy Land Christians

Franciscan friars in a Jerusalem market (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

In 1342 Pope Clement VI gave the custodianship of the holy places to the Franciscan order, whose founder, St Francis of Assisi, had visited the Holy Land in 1219-20.

The brown-robed Franciscans are still a familiar feature of the Holy Land, caring for holy places and active in parishes, schools and social works. Their Custody of the Holy Land is based at St Saviour’s Monastery on St Francis Street, New Gate, where St Saviour’s Church is the only Latin parish church in the Old City. They also retain possession of some chapels in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Holy Land Christians

Congregation in St Saviour’s Church (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

About 100 other Roman Catholic religious orders (70 of women and 30 of men) serve in the Holy Land.

In 1847 Pope Pius IX re-established a Latin patriarchate in Jerusalem, with headquarters in Latin Patriarchate Road. Latin-rite Catholics are predominantly Palestinian Arabs (as is the patriarch), though their numbers have been boosted by migrant workers from Asia and Latin America.

Since the mid-1950s there has also been a Hebrew-speaking Catholic community — including convert Jews, Catholic spouses of Jews, and immigrants who have assimilated into the Hebrew-speaking society — which now has its own patriarchal vicar.


The Anglican and Lutheran churches jointly set up a Jerusalem-based diocese for the Middle East in 1841, though this joint missionary venture ended in 1886. Today both churches have separate bishops (both Palestinian Arabs).

The Anglicans, usually referred to as “Evangelicals” or “Episcopals”, have St George’s Cathedral on Nablus Road, with both Arab and expatriate congregations. St George’s College, a continuing education centre, is within the cathedral compound.

Until the cathedral opened, the bishop’s seat was Christ Church, near the Jaffa Gate in the Old City. The first Protestant church in the Holy Land when it was completed in 1849, it serves Messianic Jews among its charismatic congregation.

Holy Land Christians

Hebrew-inscribed altar in Christ Church (Ian W. Scott)

Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany built the Church of the Redeemer in Muristan Road for the Lutherans and personally dedicated it in 1898.

The church has Arabic, German, English and Danish congregations, and its tall bell tower offers an overview of the Old City.

Several other Reformed churches are established in the Holy Land. They include Baptist, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Christian Brethren, Church of God, Church of the Nazarene, Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), King of Kings Assembly, Pentecostal and Seventh-Day Adventist communities. Most evangelical Protestant churches are not recognised by the state of Israel.

Among those who identify as Jewish there are groups of Messianic Christians whose theology is conservatively evangelical and whose politics is predominantly Zionist, seeing the modern state of Israel as a fulfilment of biblical prophecies.

Related articles:

Inside an Eastern church

The Holy Land’s Christians

How to contact churches in Jerusalem

PHOTO CREDITS: Where the images above are not created by Seetheholyland.net, links to the sources can be found on our Attributions Page.



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Bausch, William J.: Pilgrim Church: A Popular History of Catholic Christianity (Twenty-Third Publications, 1993)
Caffulli, Giuseppe: “Jordan’s Christians: A Living Force” (Holy Land Review, Winter 2010)
Cragg, Kenneth: The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East (Westminster/John Knox, 1991)
Doyle, Stephen: The Pilgrim’s New Guide to the Holy Land (Liturgical Press, 1990)
Eber, Shirley, and O’Sullivan, Kevin: Israel and the Occupied Territories: The Rough Guide (Harrap-Columbus, 1989)
Faris, John D.: “Peter’s First See” (CNEWA World, March-April 2003)
Hilliard, Alison, and Bailey, Betty Jane: Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land (Cassell, 1999)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land: The first ecumenical pilgrim’s guide (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Macpherson, Duncan (ed.): A Third Millennium Guide to Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Melisende, 2000)
Marchadour, Alain, and Neuhaus, David: The Land, the Bible and History: Toward the Land That I Will Show You (Fordham University Press, 2007)
Pentin, Edward: “Leading Efforts to Keep Christians in Holy Land” (Holy Land Review, Spring 2009)



Filed under: Extras — 4:43 pm

Books and articles referred to are listed here. Those relevant to particular articles are listed at the end of each article.


Bagatti, Bellarmino: Ancient Christian Villages of Galilee (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, 1999)
Bailey, Betty Jane and J. Martin: Who Are the Christians in the Middle East? (William B. Eerdmans, 2010)
Baldwin, David: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Companion (Catholic Truth Society, 2007)
Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Bausch, William J.: Pilgrim Church: A Popular History of Catholic Christianity (Twenty-Third Publications, 1993)
Beitzel, Barry J.: Biblica, The Bible Atlas: A Social and Historical Journey Through the Lands of the Bible (Global Book Publishing, 2007)
Benelli, Carla, and Saltini, Tommaso (eds): The Holy Sepulchre: The Pilgrim’s New Guide (Franciscan Printing Press, 2011)
Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Bourbon, Fabio: Yesterday and Today: The Holy Land: Lithographs and Diaries by David Roberts, R.A. (Swan Hill, 1997)
Bowker, John: The Complete Bible Handbook (Dorling Kindersley, 1998)
Bradley, Ian: Pilgrimage: A spiritul and cultural journey (Lion, 2009)
Brisco, Thomas: Holman Bible Atlas (Broadman and Holman, 1998)
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Burckhardt, Johann Ludwig: Travels in Syria and the Holy Land (John Murray, 1822)
Burgon, John William: Petra, a prize poem (Oxford, 1845)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Cohen, Daniel: The Holy Land of Jesus (Doko Media, 2008)
Cohen, Raymond: Saving the Holy Sepulchre: How Rival Christians Came Together to Rescue their Holiest Shrine (Oxford University Press, 2008)
Cox, Ronald: The Gospel Story (CYM Publications, 1950)
Cragg, Kenneth: The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East (Westminster/John Knox, 1991)
Crowe, David M.: Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of his Life, Wartime Activities, and the True Story Behind the List (Westview Press, 2004)
De Sandoli, Sabino: Emmaus-el Qubeibe (Franciscan Printing Press, 1980)
Donner, Herbert: The Mosaic Map of Madaba: an introductory guide (Kok Pharos, 1992)
Doyle, Stephen: The Pilgrim’s New Guide to the Holy Land (Liturgical Press, 1990)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Eber, Shirley, and O’Sullivan, Kevin: Israel and the Occupied Territories: The Rough Guide (Harrap-Columbus, 1989)
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)
Giroud, Sabri, and others, trans. by Carol Scheller-Doyle and Walid Shomali: Palestine and Palestinians (Alternative Tourism Group, 2008)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Goulburn, Edward Meyrick: John William Burgon, late Dean of Chichester: a biography, volume 1 (J. Murray, 1892)
Haddad, Fadi Shawkat: A Christian Pilgrimage Journey in Jordan (published by author, PO Box 135, Amman 11733, 2015)
Hilliard, Alison, and Bailey, Betty Jane: Living Stones Pilgrimage: With the Christians of the Holy Land (Cassell, 1999)
Hoffman, Lawrence A.: Israel: A Spiritual Travel Guide (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1998)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Irving, Sarah: Palestine (Bradt Travel Guides, 2011)
Josephus, Flavius: The Jewish War, trans. William Whiston (Kregel, Baker, 1960)
Kauffmann, Joel: The Nazareth Jesus Knew (Nazareth Village, 2005)
Keneally, Thomas: Schindler’s Ark (Hodder and Stoughton, 1982)
Kilgallen, John J.: A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land (Loyola Press, 1998)
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
Lofenfeld Winkler, Lea, and Frenkel, Ramit: The Boat and the Sea of Galilee(Gefen Publishing House, 2010)
Losch, Richard R.: The Uttermost Part of the Earth: A guide to places in the Bible (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Macpherson, Duncan (ed.): A Third Millennium Guide to Pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Melisende, 2000)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land: The first ecumenical pilgrim’s guide (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Maier, Paul L. (trans.): Eusebius: The Church History (Kregel Publications, 2007)
Maier, Paul L. (trans.): Josephus: The Essential Writings (Kregel Publications, 1988)
Marchadour, Alain, and Neuhaus, David: The Land, the Bible and History: Toward the Land That I Will Show You (Fordham University Press, 2007)
Martin, James: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Westminster Press, 1978)
Metzger, Bruce M., and Coogan, Michael D.: The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993)
Meyers, Carol L., Craven, Toni, and Kraemer, Ross S. (eds): Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books and New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001)
Millgram, Abraham Ezra: Jerusalem Curiosities (Jewish Publication Society, 1990)
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)
Nicholson, Peter C.: The Churches of Antonio Barluzzi (The McCabe Educational Trust)
Notley, R. Steven: Jerusalem: City of the Great King (Carta Jerusalem, 2015)
Pearlman, Moshe: Digging up the Bible: The stories behind the great archaeological discoveries in the Holy Land (William Morrow, 1980)
Piccirillo, M., Alliata, E. (ed.): Mount Nebo. New Archaeological Excavations 1967-1997 (Franciscan Printing Press, 1998)
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus in Jerusalem – his First and Last Days in Judea (Corazin Publishing, 1996)
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus Through Galilee According to the Fifth Gospel (Corazin Publishing, 1992)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Rainey, Anson F., and Notley, R. Steven: The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Carta, 2006)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)
Saltini, Tommaso (ed.): Sabastiya — The fruits of history and the memory of John the Baptist (ATS Pro Terra Sancta exhibition catalogue, 2011)
Samet, Inbal: Megiddo National Park (Israel Nature and Parks Authority leaflet)
Schaiek. Z.: The Sea of Galilee (Palphot, 1997?)
Shahin, Mariam, and Azar, George: Palestine: A guide (Chastleton Travel, 2005)
Shanks, Hershel (ed.): Partings: How Judaism and Christianity Became Two (Biblical Archaeology Society, 2013)
Simmermacher, Günther: The Holy Land Trek: A Pilgrim’s Guide (Southern Cross Books, 2012)
Storme, Albert: Gethsemane (Franciscan Printing Press, 1970)
Sussman, Ayala, and Peled, Ruth: The Dead Sea Scrolls (Israel Antiquities Authority and Israel Museum Products, 1994)
The New Jerusalem Bible (Darton, Longman & Todd, 1990)
The New Revised Standard Version Bible (Thomas Nelson, 1993)
Thiede, Carsten Peter: The Emmaus Mystery: Discovering Evidence for the Risen Christ (Continuum International, 2006)
Twain, Mark: The Innocents Abroad (Wordsworth, 2010)
Vamosh, Miriam Feinberg: Beit She’an: Capital of the Decapolis (Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, 1996)
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)


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Anonymous: “Christian Mount Sion”, Holy Land, spring 2003
Anonymous: “Griechisch-Katholisch-Melkitisches Patriarchat” (Greek Catholic Patriarchate leaflet, undated)
Anonymous: “The Dead Sea”, Holy Land, summer 2005
Anonymous: “The Monastery of the Twelve Apostles” (Greek Orthodox Church leaflet, undated)
Anonymous: “Mary Leads us to Jesus” (Association Marie de Nazareth brochure, undated)
Ashkenazi, Eli: “Two-year fishing ban cut down to four-month annual break”, Haaretz, February 16, 2011
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Basile, Joseph J. “When People Lived at Petra”, Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2000
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Bellarmino Bagatti: “Nain of the Gospel”, Holy Land, summer 2001
Bikai, Patricia Maynor: “The Churches of Byzantine Petra”, Near Eastern Archaeology, December 2002
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Burkeman, Oliver, and Aris, Ben: “Biographer Takes Shine off Spielberg’s Schindler”, The Guardian, November 25, 2004
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Hoppe, Leslie: “The Dome of the Rock”, Holy Land, summer 1999
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Joseph, Frederick: “Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth”, Holy Land, spring 2005
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Petrozzi, Maria Teresa: “The Nativity Grotto”, Holy Land, winter 1997
Petrozzi, Maria Tereza: “The Place of Mary’s Dormition”, Holy Land, spring 2005
Pfann, Stephen; Voss, Ross; and Rapuano, Yehudah: “Surveys and Excavations at the Nazareth Village Farm (1997–2002): Final Report”, Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, volume 25 (2007)
Piccirillo, Michele: “The Madaba Mosaic Map”, Holy Land, winter 2002
Pierri, Rosario: “The Emmaus Enigma”, Holy Land Review, spring 2010
Pixner, Bargil: “Church of Apostles found on Mt Zion”, Biblical Archaeological Review, May/June 1990
Poni, Shachar: “Renovating Royal Tomb”, The Jewish Voice, February 5, 2010
Porath, Yosef: “Caesarea: Herod and Beyond: Vegas on the Med.”, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2004
Powers, Tom: “The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Some perspectives from history, geography, architecture, archaeology and the New Testament”, Artifax, Autumn 2004-Spring 2005
Reich, Ronny, and Zapata Meza, Marcela: “A Preliminary Report on the Miqwa’ot of Migdal”, Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 64, no. 1, 2014
Ritmeyer, Leen: “Locating the Original Temple Mount”, Biblical Archaeological Review, March/April 1992
Ritmeyer, Leen and Kathleen: “Potter’s Field or High Priest’s Tomb”, Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1994
Rubenstein, Danny: “A Sign Points to the Grave”, Haaretz, July 19, 2007
Saltet, Louis: “St. Jerome”: The Catholic Encyclopedia (Robert Appleton Company, 1910)
Shanks, Hershel: “Major New Excavation Planned for Mary Magdalene’s Hometown”, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2007
Shenton, Della: “Go now to Bethlehem”, The Tablet, London, December 16, 2006
Smith, David: “Where it happened”, The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition, December 2007
Smith, Dinitia: “A Scholar’s Book Adds Layers of Complexity to the Schindler Legend”, The New York Times, November 24, 2004
Starkey, Denis: “The White Fathers in Jerusalem”, White Fathers — White Sisters, April-May 1999
Stiles, Wayne: “Sights and Insights: Last stop and a point of departure”, Jerusalem Post, May 26, 2011
Stiles, Wayne: “Sights and Insights: The oldest part of J’lem”, Jerusalem Post, February 27, 2012
Stiles, Wayne: “Sights and Insights: Where happy explorers go to dig”, Jerusalem Post, May 30, 2011
Storme, Albert: “Bethany”, Holy Land, winter 2000 and summer 2003
Strange, James F., and Shanks, Hershel: “Synagogue Where Jesus Preached Found at Capernaum” and “Has the House Where Jesus Stayed in Capernaum Been Found?”, in The Galilee Jesus Knew, Biblical Archaeology Society, 2008
Tzaferis, Vassilios: “A Pilgrimage to the Site of the Swine Miracle”, Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1989
Tzaferis, Vassilios, “Inscribed ‘To God Jesus Christ’ ”, Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2007
Wachsmann, Shelley: “The Galilee Boat—2,000-Year-Old Hull Recovered Intact”, in The Galilee Jesus Knew, Biblical Archaeology Society, 2008
Waldocks, Ehud Zion: “Jordan River to run dry by next year”, Jerusalem Post, May 3, 2010
Ward, Bernard:  “Cana”, The Catholic Encyclopedia (Robert Appleton Company, 1908)
Waugh, Evelyn: “The Plight of the Holy Places”, Life, December 24, 1951
Weiss, Ze’ev. “The Sepphoris Synagogue Mosaic”, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2000
Weiss, Ze’ev, and Tsuk, Tsvika: Zippori National Park (Israel Nature and Parks Authority leaflet)
West, Jane Cahill: “Jerusalem’s Stepped-Stone Structure”, in Ten Top Archaeological Discoveries, Biblical Archaeology Society, 2011
Woodfin, Warren T.: “The Holiest Ground in the World”, Biblical Archaeological Review, September/October 2000
Wooding, Dan: “Thousands visit Bethany Beyond the Jordan”, Assist News Service, January 15, 2007
Wright, J. Robert: “Holy Sepulchre”, Holy Land, spring 1998
Yonah, Bob: “Archaeologists find first proof of ancient Bethlehem”, Jerusalem Post, May 23, 2012
Yudin, Joe: “Off the Beaten Track: City of David”, Jerusalem Post, March 29, 2012





Filed under: Extras — 5:13 pm

Most of the images on this website have been created by Seetheholyland.net. Some others are in the public domain, while a number are shared under Creative Commons Licenses.

The following list (with full names in alphabetical order) provides links to the sources.


Adiel Io


Alicia Bramlett

American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem

Amit A.

Ana Paula Hirama

Ana Ulin

Anthony Majanlahti

A ntv


Asaf T.

A. Tomer

ATS Pro Terra Sancta


Avishai Teicher


Ben Adam

Ben Gray

Berthold Werner

Bethlehem University

B. Hartford J. Strong




Bill Rice

Birgitta Seegers

Bob McCaffrey

Boris Katsman


Brett Wagner

Brian Jeffery Beggerly

Brian McElaney

Britchi Mirela / Wikimedia


Caleb Zahnd

Chad Emmett

Chad Rosenthal

Charles Meeks

Chris Yunker

Clare Jim


Claudius Prösser

Community of the Beatitudes



Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Dainis Matisons

Dale Gillard

Dan Gibson

Daniel Baránek

Daniel Ventura

Darko Tepert

David Bjorgen

David King

David Lisbona

David Loong

David Niblack

David Pishazaon

David Poe

David Q. Hall

Dennis Jarvis

Deror Avi

Diego Delso




Don Schwager

Dror Feitelson


Effi Schweizer


Eric Coulston

Eric Stoltz

Esme Vos

Ester Inbar

Fadi Shawkat Haddad

Ferrell Jenkins

Fili Feldman

Filip Nohe

Francesco Gasparetti

Frank Behnsen




Gabrielw.tour / Wikimedia

Geoff Robinson

George David Byers

Geraint Owen

Gérard Janot

Giora Lev

Glenn Johnson

Golf Bravo


Gregory Edwards

Gregory Jenks


Gustavo Jeronimo


Ian W. Scott


Ilan Arad

Ilan Sharif

Isaac Shweky

Israel Antiquities Authority

Israel Ministry of Tourism




James Emery

James McDonald

Jean Housen / Wikimedia

Jenny Hitchcock

Jerzy Strzelecki

Jesper Särnesjö

Jim Joyner

J. M. Rosenfeld

Joe Freeman

John Price

John S. Y. Lee


Jordan Tourism Board

Joseph Koczera

Josh Evnin

Judy Lash Balint



Kasper Nowak



Lissa Caldwell

Little Savage


Luigi Guarino

Lyn Gateley

Magdala Center — Universidad Anáhuac México Sur

Magdala Project


Marcin Monko

Marie-Armelle Beaulieu


Miaow Miaow

Michael Gunther / Wikimedia

Michel Duijvestijn

Mohamed Yahya




Nazareth Cultural and Tourist Information Association

Nazareth Village

Nina Jean

Nir Ohad

Oliver McCloud

Oregon State University Archives





Patrick Brennan



Rachel Ricci

Rick Lobs

Ron Almog


Sergey Serous

Shmuel Browns



Sir Kiss

Stanislao Lee

Steve Peterson

Steven Straiton


Susie Cagle

Svetlana Makarova

Tasher Bahoo


Tom Powers


Vassia Atanassova

Verity Cridland




Wayne McLean




Yair Talmor

Yair Haklai

Yehudit Garinkol

Yoav Dothan


Zairon / Wikimedia

Zeev Barkan



Zvonimir Atletic

Historical timeline

Filed under: Extras — 1:13 pm

Pre-Biblical and early Biblical times


c. 7000: Jericho is a walled settlement

c. 5000-4000: Land of Canaan is occupied by Canaanites, then Amorites and Jebusites.

c. 2000: Founding patriarch Abraham and his tribe settle in what becomes Judea.

c. 1500: Abraham’s descendants, led by Joseph, settle in Egypt.

c. 1260: Moses leads Israelites in Exodus from Egypt.

c. 1200: Israelites under Joshua enter Promised Land.

c. 1000: David captures Jebusite city of Jerusalem and makes it his capital.

c. 970: Solomon builds First Temple.

Two kingdoms

c. 930: Israel splits into northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah (including Jerusalem).

c. 720: Northern kingdom conquered by Assyria and its 10 tribes sent into exile.

c. 700: Southern kingdom’s King Hezekiah cuts tunnel from Gihon Spring to Pool of Siloam.

701: Assyrians conquer much of southern kingdom; Jerusalem is besieged but survives.

597: Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon captures southern kingdom and Jerusalem.

587: Following rebellion, Nebuchadnezzar destroys Jerusalem and First Temple, deporting most of population to Babylon (in present-day Iraq).

Persian rule

539: Cyrus the Great of Persia conquers Babylon and allows Jews to return from captivity.

515: Second Temple is completed.

444: Nehemiah rebuilds city walls of Jerusalem.

Hellenistic rule

332: Alexander the Great conquers Persian Empire, including all of Palestine.

323: Alexander dies and his kingdom is divided into four parts; Palestine falls under Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt, then under Seleucid Empire of Syria.

175: King Antiochus IV of Syria bans traditional Jewish practices and desecrates Temple.

167: Judas Maccabeus leads successful revolt against Seleucid Empire, rededicates Temple and restores religious freedom.

Hasmonean rule

140: Simon Maccabeus, a brother of Judas, establishes Hasmonean Dynasty, which rules an independent Jewish kingdom for 103 years.

63: Rivalry between Simon Maccabeus’ great-grandsons, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, brings civil war that ends with Roman general Pompey controlling the kingdom.

37: Rome proclaims Herod as King of Israel, now a Roman client state, ending the Hasmonean Dynasty.

Roman rule

20: Herod expands Temple Mount and rebuilds Temple.

c. 6: Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem.

4: Herod dies and his kingdom is divided among his sons, Philip, Antipas and Archelaus.



26: Pontius Pilate becomes procurator of Roman province of Judea.

c. 27: Jesus is baptised by his cousin John the Baptist and begins his public ministry.

c. 30: Jesus is condemned to death and crucified.

c. 32: Stephen, first Christian martyr, is stoned to death.

c. 34: Paul is converted on the way to Damascus.

41-44: Jerusalem’s “Third Wall” is built by King Agrippa I.

c. 50: Council of Jerusalem, first recorded council of Christian leaders, is held.

c. 45-120: Books of the New Testament are written.

67: During First Jewish-Roman War, Christians in Palestine flee to Pella in Jordan.

70: Romans destroy Jerusalem and Second Temple.

73: Masada falls to Romans.

130: Emperor Hadrian rebuilds Jerusalem, renaming it Aelia Capitolina, and puts pagan temple over site of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

135: Hadrian crushes Second Jewish Revolt and expels Jews from Palestine.

301: Armenia becomes first nation to make Christianity its state religion.

313: Emperor Constantine I legalises Christianity.

325: At Council of Nicaea, Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem asks Constantine to reclaim site of crucifixion and Resurrection and build a church there.

326-7: Constantine’s mother, Helena, visits Holy Land, finds True Cross and orders churches built on sacred sites; large-scale pilgrimages begin.

Byzantine rule

330: Constantine moves his capital from Nicomedia to Byzantium (renamed Constantinople, now Istanbul).

335: Church of the Holy Sepulchre is consecrated.

380: Emperor Theodosius I makes Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire.

386-420: Jerome produces Vulgate translation of Bible in his Bethlehem cave.

395: Roman Empire splits into East and West.

c. 500: Jerusalem Talmud completed by rabbinic schools in Galilee.

570: Birth of Muhammad.

614: Persians capture Jerusalem, destroying many churches and burning Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

622: Muhammad escapes assassination in Mecca and flees to Medina, his flight marking first year of Islamic calendar.

629: Emperor Heraclius I re-establishes Byzantine rule in Jerusalem and recovers True Cross stolen by Persians.

Islamic rule

638: Islamic forces conquer Jerusalem, beginning rule by succession of Arab dynasties.

661-1000: Palestine variously ruled by Arab caliphs in Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo.

692: Dome of the Rock completed on Temple Mount.

1009: Sultan al-Hakim destroys Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

1048: Church of the Holy Sepulchre restored by Emperor Constantine Monomachus.

1054: Great Schism splits Christian Church into Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches.

1071: Seljuk Turks capture Jerusalem, persecuting Christians, desecrating churches and barring pilgrims.

Crusader rule

1099: First Crusade captures Jerusalem and establishes Latin kingdom; Dome of the Rock becomes church called Templum Domini (Temple of the Lord).

1149: New Church of the Holy Sepulchre completed.

1187: Sultan Saladin defeats Crusaders at Horns of Hattin above Sea of Galilee, then takes Jerusalem.

Islamic rule again

1219: St Francis of Assisi visits Egypt and meets Sultan Melek al-Kamil.

1229: During Sixth Crusade, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II negotiates return of Jerusalem and other Christian sites to Crusader kingdom.

1229: Franciscans establish themselves in Jerusalem near Fifth Station of Via Dolorosa.

1244: Jerusalem is sacked by Khwarezmian Tartars; control quickly passes to Egyptian Ayyubids and then Mamluks, who rule until 1517.

1291: Crusaders’ last foothold, Acre, falls to Mamluks.

1342: Pope Clement VI formally establishes Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

Ottoman rule

1517: Ottoman Turks take control of Palestine from Mamluks.

1517: Martin Luther begins Protestant Reformation in Europe.

1538: Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent builds present walls of Old City of Jerusalem.

1757: Ottoman Turkish edicts give Greek Orthodox major possession of Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other holy places.

1808: Fire rages in Church of the Holy Sepulchre; Tomb of Christ is severely damaged when dome falls in.

1812: Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovers Nabatean city of Petra.

1839: British Jew Sir Moses Montefiore proposes idea of a modern Jewish state.

1842: First Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Michael Solomon Alexander, a converted Jewish rabbi, arrives.

1849: Christ Church in Jerusalem, oldest Protestant church in Middle East, is built.

1852: Under pressure from Russia, Ottoman Sultan Abd-ul-Mejid directs that possession of holy places remains according to 1757 edict.

1853-56: Possession of holy places is one cause of Crimean War between Russia and major European powers.

1860: First Jewish immigrant neighbourhood outside Old City of Jerusalem is established, funded by Sir Moses Montefiore.

1878: “Status Quo” defining possession of holy places is incorporated into international law by Treaty of Berlin.

1883: General Charles Gordon proposes Skull Hill as Calvary and Garden Tomb as place where Christ was buried.

1884: Mosaic map of Holy Land discovered in floor of 6th-century church at Madaba, Jordan.

1909: Joseph Baratz and 11 others establish first kibbutz in Palestine, called Kvutzat Degania (“Wheat of God”), at southern end of Sea of Galilee.

1917: British government’s Balfour Declaration backs establishing Jewish homeland in Palestine, without prejudice to “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish population.

British mandate

1917: British forces under General E. H. Allenby capture Palestine from Ottoman Turks.

1922: League of Nations approves British mandate of Palestine.

1946: Jordan gains independence from Britain.

1947: United Nations Partition Plan calls for a Jewish state and an Arab state in Palestine, with Greater Jerusalem (including Bethlehem) under international control; most Jewish groups accept plan but Arabs reject it.

1947: Dead Sea Scrolls are discovered at Qumran.

1948: Amid civil unrest and violence, Britain withdraws from mandate.

Israel and Palestinian Territories

1948: After Jewish provisional government declares Israel an independent state, Arab forces invade.

1949: Israel prevails in Arab-Israeli War, though Egypt holds Gaza, and Jordan the West Bank and East Jerusalem; more than 700,000 Palestinians become refugees.

1967: In Six-Day War against Egypt, Jordan and Syria, Israel occupies Sinai, Gaza, Golan Heights, West Bank and East Jerusalem.

1969: Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, largest Christian church in Middle East, is completed.

1973: In Yom Kippur War against Egypt and Syria, Israel makes further territorial gains.

1979: Israel and Egypt sign peace treaty; Israel agrees to return Sinai to Egypt.

1986: Remains of fishing boat from time of Jesus found in Sea of Galilee.

1987-93: Palestinians carry out First Intifada (uprising) against Israeli occupation.

1993: Israel gives Palestinian National Authority limited autonomy in West Bank and Gaza.

1994: Jordan and Israel sign peace treaty.

1996: Excavations begin at likely site of Christ’s baptism, in former minefield at Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

1997: Interchurch co-operation completes 36-year restoration of Church of the Holy Sepulchre; reconstruction of Tomb of Christ edicule remains to be done.

2000-05: Second Intifada follows controversial visit by Israeli politician Ariel Sharon to Temple Mount.

2002: Israel Defence Forces besiege Palestinian militants in Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, for 39 days.

2002: Israel begins building 700-km West Bank separation wall.

2005: Remains of early 3rd-century church found at Megiddo.

2005: Israel withdraws settlers and military from Gaza.

2007: Archaeologist Ehud Netzer discovers Herod the Great’s long-lost tomb at Herodium.

2008: Responding to rocket attacks, Israel launches 22-day war against Gaza.

2009: Archaeologists in Nazareth uncover residential building from time of Jesus.

2012: United Nations General Assembly accepts Palestine as a “non-member observer state”.

2013: City of David excavators find clay seal inscribed with name of Bethlehem, first reference to the city outside the Bible.

2014: Discovery of nine previously unknown Dead Sea scrolls announced; the tiny texts were inside unopened tefillin (prayer cases) found at Qumran in 1952.

2014: Responding to rocket fire, Israel launches seven-week bombardment of Gaza.

2017: Restoration of Tomb of Christ in Church of the Holy Sepulchre is completed.


Filed under: Extras — 1:06 pm


Acts of the Apostles






Ark of the Covenant




Barluzzi, Antonio


BC and AD, or BCE and CE









Custody of the Holy Land













Herod the Great











Lord’s Prayer









New Testament

Old Testament



Ottoman Empire







Pontius Pilate


Promised Land









Stations of the Cross

Status Quo












West Bank


Yom Kippur



The founding patriarch of the Israelites, Ishmaelites, Midianites and Edomite peoples, he is considered father of the three monotheistic faiths tied to the Holy Land today — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Genesis 17:5 says God changed his name from Abram (probably meaning “the father is exalted”) to Abraham (meaning “father of many”), then sent him from his home in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) to Canaan.

Here Abraham entered into a covenant: He would recognise Yahweh as his God, and in return he would be blessed with numerous offspring and the land would belong to his descendants.


Acts of the Apostles

The fifth book of the New Testament, it is traditionally ascribed to Luke the evangelist and is a sequel to his Gospel. It described the growth of the Christian Church during the 30 years after Jesus’ Ascension and especially the work of the apostle Paul.



The announcement by the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of the Son of God, who would be named Jesus.

Most Christians celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25, nine months before Christmas.



Early religious books that are not accepted as belonging to the Bible (though, in spite of its usually negative connotation,  apocrypha actually means “hidden” or “concealed”).

In particular, the Apocrypha refers to the books from the Greek translation of the Old Testament that are included in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles, but not in the Jewish or Protestant Bibles (although they were originally included in the 1611 King James Version).

In general, the term apocryphal is applied to any scriptural text that is excluded from a Bible. Since different denominations differ on what their Bible contains, there are different versions of the Apocrypha.

The word is also applied to texts of uncertain authenticity, or that may be fictional or spurious. These include several “gospels” and lives of the apostles.



The apostle Peter, by Giuseppe Nogari, 1699-1766 (Wikimedia)


One of the early missionaries of the Christian Church, especially one of “The Twelve”, the inner circle of disciples who had been chosen and trained by Jesus to spread his message. The word means “one who has been sent”.

Traditionally, The Twelve include Peter, Andrew, James the Greater, James the Lesser, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, Thaddeus, Simon and Judas Iscariot (who was replaced by Matthias after Judas betrayed Jesus).



A language related to Hebrew and Arabic, and probably the mother tongue of Jesus. It was the language most people spoke in the villages and towns of Palestine and is the main language of the Jewish Talmud. Now it is the first language of scattered communities in several countries of the Middle East, and the language of worship in the Syriac Orthodox Church.



The scientific study of ancient civilisations, usually by excavating historical or sacred sites. It involves the discovery and interpretation of material remains left behind by those who lived there long ago. In the Holy Land it helps to re-create the environment and culture in which biblical events occurred. The first archaeological excavations in the Holy Land took place at Nineveh in 1842.


Ark of the Covenant

A wooden box, covered with gold, containing the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Carried by the Israelites on their Exodus journey through the desert, it represented the presence of God among his people and was the most sacred religious symbol of the Hebrew people. Eventually installed in the holiest chamber of Solomon’s Temple, it disappeared when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BC.



A place name given in Revelation 16:16 as the location of the final battle in which good will triumph over evil.

The name comes from the Hebrew name Har-Megiddo, meaning “Mountain of Megiddo”. The mount of Megiddo is near the modern settlement of Megiddo, in northern Israel, situated at a strategic crossroads in the Jezreel valley and at the foot of the Carmel mountain range.

Invaders have fought battles here since ancient times.



The departure of Jesus from earth to heaven, 40 days after his Resurrection. Tradition locates the event on the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, at a place now marked by the Dome of the Ascension.

Christians celebrate the Feast of the Ascension on the Thursday of the sixth week after Easter.



One of the youngest of the world’s major religions, this monotheistic faith was founded by Mizra Hussein Ali, who became known as Bahá’u’lláh, in Iran in 1863. Its world headquarters is on Mount Carmel in Haifa.

The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve around the principle of the oneness of humankind. The Baha’i faith accepts all religions as having true and valid origins.



Antonio Barluzzi, relief displayed outside Church of the Transfiguration, Mount Tabor (Seetheholyland.net)Antonio

Barluzzi, Antonio

An Italian architect (1884-1960) who designed several of the most striking churches and sanctuaries in the Holy Land. These include the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane, Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, Chapel of the Angels at Shepherds’ Field, Church of the Visitation at Ein Karem, Church of Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives, and Church of the Beatitudes by the Sea of Galilee.

A prayerful man, he lived a humble life and meditated at length on the Gospels before undertaking any design. He always tried to make his buildings express the events they commemorated. Example are the teardrop-shaped Dominus Flevit church with tear phials on the four corners of its dome to recall Christ’s weeping over Jerusalem, and the Shepherds’ Field chapel shaped like a Bedouin tent.

Barluzzi’s lifetime dedication to building shrines in the Holy Land has led to the comment that in Israel there are three types of architecture: Graeco-Roman, Byzantine and Barluzzi. A bas-relief of the architect is set into a wall outside the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.



A rectangular building divided by a central nave and side aisles, usually formed by rows of columns. Such public buildings in Rome served as centres of justice or administration. Architects adapted this form for Christian churches from the fourth century AD.


BC and AD, or BCE and CE

BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini, meaning “in the Year of Our Lord”) indicate years in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The reference year is the birth of Christ but there is no year 0, so 1 BC is immediately followed by AD 1.

This usage was developed in the 6th century AD by a scholarly monk called Dionysius Exiguus (Denis the Little). Dionysius established what he thought was the year of the birth of Jesus, but he was out by at least four years. Scholars now believe that Jesus was born between 4 and 7 BC.

BCE (meaning Before the Common [or Christian] Era) and CE (Common [or Christian] Era) are secular designations for the same numbering system.

Jews, who in any case have their own Hebrew calendar, do not normally use BC and AD.



A modern Bedouin (Ed Bramley / Wikimedia)


Desert-dwelling and Arabic-speaking nomads who inhabit much of the Middle East and northern Africa. Bedouin have traditionally made their living by animal husbandry, those herding camels being best known.

Since many governments have nationalised their traditional range lands, many have now settled in Israel and other countries.



The accepted collection of sacred books of Judaism and Christianity, divided into Old and New Testaments. However, Protestants and Jews on the one hand, and Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians on the other, differ on which books belong in the Old Testament.

Jewish rabbis finalised their collection of holy books (the Hebrew Bible) by the end of the first century AD. They included only books written in Hebrew or Aramaic and excluded those originally written in Greek (though original Hebrew versions of some have since been found).

The early Christian Church drew up its first listing of texts accepted as authentically inspired in the 4th century. It included several books that were part of the Greek Old Testament from pre-Christian times (including Judith, the Wisdom of Solomon and 1 and 2 Maccabees).

The word Bible is derived from the Greek “biblia” (the books). The traditional division of chapters was made in the 13th century, and the numbering of verses in the 16th century.

Following the Jewish tradition, the Protestant reformers of the 16th century rejected the Greek Old Testament books, ranking them among those texts of uncertain authenticity called the Apocrypha, a word actually meaning “hidden” or “concealed”.

The Bibles of the Eastern churches include some books not accepted in the Catholic and Protestant Bibles. Other “apocryphal” texts are not included in any Bible.



A style of architecture, art and cultural influence arising from the ancient city of Byzantium (later renamed Constantinople and now Istanbul). From about AD 330 until 1453, this city replaced Rome as the capital of the Roman Empire and major governing force of the Mediterranean world.



The land God promised to the descendants of Abraham. Though various boundaries are given in the books of Genesis and Exodus, the Promised Land apparently encompassed present-day Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, plus parts of Jordan, Syria and Egypt.

In Leviticus 25:23 God tells Moses the land still belongs to him and the Israelites are “but aliens and tenants”. In Deuteronomy 30:18 Moses tells the Israelites that continued possession of the land depends on “holding fast” to God.



Apart from being a group of singers, the choir in church architecture is the area between the transept and the main apse. This is where stalls for the clergy or liturgical singers are placed.



A receptacle for liquids, usually a hole dug in the ground to collect and store rainwater. Cisterns are frequently mentioned in the Bible, because of the Holy Land’s scarcity of springs and infrequent rain.



Emperor Constantine I, from a Roman statue (Anthony Majanlahti / Wikimedia)


Emperor of Rome from AD 306 to 337, who is best known for being the first Roman emperor to become a Christian. He ceased persecutions of Christians and granted freedom of religion within his empire.

During a building campaign overseen by his mother, St Helena, he built many churches in the Holy Land, including the original Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.



A series of military campaigns from Christian Europe in the Middle Ages to regain control of the Holy Land from Muslim rule and resume safe access for pilgrims. There were nine Crusades over a period of 200 years, beginning in 1095.

Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099. Their Kingdom of Jerusalem fell after a decisive defeat by the sultan Saladin in 1187 at the Horns of Hattin, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The Crusaders’ last stronghold, Acre, survived until 1291.

The excesses of the Crusaders sowed seeds of mistrust between East and West that still remain. But historians also recognise the enormous contribution the Crusades made to exchanges in trade, culture, scholarship and technology between Europe and the Middle East.

For pilgrims and tourists, the Crusaders left a vast legacy of castles, churches and fortifications in the Holy Land.


Custody of the Holy Land

An agency of the Catholic Church that administers and maintains 50 sacred sites in Israel, Jordan and Syria. Part of the international Franciscan religious order, its brown-robed friars are a familiar site in the holy places.


The Jerusalem Cross (Crusader Johnael / Wikipedia)

The custody (also known by its Latin name, Custodia Terrae Sanctae) has had a presence in the Holy Land since early in the 13th century. Its founder, St Francis of Assisi, travelled through Egypt, Syria and Palestine in 1219 and 1220.

Its role encompasses prayer and worship in the holy places, service to local Christians, and hospitality to pilgrims (including guesthouses and spiritual support). It also provides guides for pilgrimage groups and runs the Christian Information Centre just inside the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem.

The symbol of the Franciscan custody is the Jerusalem Cross. It consists of an heraldic cross with crossbars, surrounded by four smaller crosses. The smaller crosses are variously said to symbolise either the four Gospels or the four directions in which the Christian message spread from /jerusalem/. The five crosses together are seen to symbolise the five wounds of Christ.



A grouping of 10 cities in Palestine and the Transjordan, founded by Alexander the Great and his successors around 323 BC.

They were Scythopolis/Beit She’an (the capital), Hippos, Philadelphia (modern Amman), Gerasa (Jerash), Gadara, Pella, Dion, Canatha, Raphana and Damascus.

The Decapolis was one of the few areas visited by Jesus in which Gentiles were in the majority.



Members of a strict and highly organised Jewish sect that flourished at the time of Jesus. Apparently formed in reaction to what they saw as religious laxity in Jerusalem, they lived an austere lifestyle and encouraged celibacy.

The Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran are believed to have belonged to a community of Essenes. The sect ceased to exist during the 2nd century AD.



Pioneer historian Eusebius of Caesarea (© Community of the Beatitudes)


Bishop of Caesarea in the early 4th century and prolific author of histories, apologetic and theological works, and biblical commentaries.

Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260-339) is regarded as the father of Church history. His Church History is the principal primary source on the rise of Christianity during its first three centuries.

Another surviving work, the Onomasticon, is an alphabetical dictionary of biblical place names, often identifying locations with places existing in Eusebius’ own lifetime.



The deportation of many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judaea to Babylonia (in present-day Iraq) during the 50 years from 587 BC.



The escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. The central event of the Hebrew Bible, the Exodus is also a model for subsequent experiences of liberation in biblical, Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions.

The Exodus entails not only the events in Egypt but also those encompassed within the period from Moses to Joshua, including the wilderness wanderings and the conquest of the land of Canaan.



A name originally given in the Middle East to Christians from western Europe, in particular the French who dominated the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, and subsequently to the Franciscans who were seen as their successors.

A reminder of the name survives at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A small chapel at the top of the stairway to the right of the entrance is called the Chapel of the Franks, meaning Chapel of the Franciscans.



A Latin word meaning “cock-crow”. The Church of St Peter in Gallicantu, on the eastern slope of Mount Zion in Jerusalem, commemorates Peter’s triple rejection of Jesus “. . . before the cock crows twice”.

The first shrine dedicated to Peter’s repentance was erected here in AD 457. A golden rooster stands on the roof of the present church, completed in 1932.



The entry point to a walled city. This key element in a city’s defences was also the hub of civic and commercial activity. It often incorporated watchtowers and chambers for official business, sometimes including a judge’s seat where lawsuits were heard.



A term used in the Second Temple period (516 BC to 70 AD) to refer to non-Jewish people. In New Testament times it was applied both to non-Jews and non-Christians.

After some controversy, the early Christian leaders decided that gentiles too, not only Jews, could become Christians. St Paul is referred to as the apostle to the gentiles, both in the Acts of the Apostles and in his own letters.



The message of Jesus Christ and the salvation he brought to humankind. The word comes from the Anglo-Saxon “godspell”, meaning good news.

This name is also given to each of the first four books of the New Testament, which deal with Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are believed to have been written between AD 65 and 100.

The oldest is probably the Gospel of Mark, which tradition says was written in Rome by John Mark, who recorded St Peter’s teachings. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are called “synoptic” Gospels because they follow a common synopsis or outline and can be studied in parallel.



A Semitic language written from right to left with an alphabet of 22 letters. Originally only consonants were used, but vowels were later introduced.

Hebrew died out as a vernacular language in Palestine, probably in the late 2nd or 3rd century AD, but continued to be used by Jews for prayer and study.

Revived in the late 19th century, it is now (along with Arabic) an official language of Israel.



St Helena, detail from a Bulgarian icon (Wikimedia)


Mother of the emperor Constantine, she instigated several major churches in the Holy Land and is credited with finding the True Cross.

Helena (c.250-330) was a servant girl who became either the concubine or wife of the emperor Constantius, who later abandoned her for political reasons. Her son Constantine named her Augusta (majestic) when he became emperor in 306.

She became a Christian and, with Constantine’s encouragement and financial backing, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land around 326. There she ordered churches built on several holy sites.

They included the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site of Calvary and the Tomb of Christ; and the Eleona Church (destroyed by the Persians in 614) on the Mount of Olives.

Helena is considered a saint by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Her palace in Rome was converted into the basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (Holy Cross in Jerusalem).



Herod the Great (Wikimedia)

Herod the Great

A Rome-appointed client-king of Israel. Known for his colossal building projects and his brutality, he is usually called Herod the Great to distinguish him from other members of the dynasty he established.

Herod (74-4 BC), an Idumaean by birth, identified himself as a Jew but maintained a decadent lifestyle. He was named “King of the Jews” by the Roman senate around 40 BC.

He rebuilt the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Mediterranean seacoast city of Caesarea and the fortress of Herodium (where he was buried).

He ordered the killing of the Holy Innocents at Bethlehem and executed several members of his own family, including one of his several wives and two of his sons.

Three of his sons inherited his name and parts of his kingdom. The most notable was Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist executed. It was to Herod Antipas that Pontius Pilate sent Jesus for questioning, and whose soldiers mocked Jesus.



The spread of Greek language, culture and religion through the Middle East, south-west Asia and north-east Africa during the dominant period of the Greek empire. Most Jews in Palestine resisted this influence on religious grounds.



A portrait or image, usually representing Christ or a saint, painted on a wooden surface. Icons are especially venerated by Eastern Christians.

In strict terminology, icons are “written”, not painted. The traditional technique uses egg-tempera on solid wood panels, with prayer and contemplation at each step of the process.



A screen in Eastern churches that separates the area around the altar from the main body of the church. It is hung with icons and typically has three openings or doors.



The central Christian belief that the Son of God took flesh and became a man in the form of Jesus. The word refers both to the event by which Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and to the ongoing reality of Jesus being fully human and fully divine.



The religious faith of Muslims, founded by Muhammad and based on the teachings of the Qur’an, a book considered to have been divinely revealed to Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel.

Islam means “to submit” oneself to the will and grace of God, who is called Allah in Arabic. A monotheistic religion, it is the most populous faith in the world after Christianity.



St Jerome, detail, by Marinus van Reymerswaele, c.1490-c.1546 (Wikimedia)


A Dalmatian-born priest and scholar (c.347-420) who lived in the Holy Land for more than 36 years and is best known for his translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin.

Jerome was encouraged to undertake his translation project by Pope Damasus I, for whom he served as secretary. In 386 he moved from Rome to Bethlehem, where he lived and worked in a two-room cave. St Jerome’s Cave can still be visited under the Church of the Nativity.

The translation he completed, known as the Vulgate, remained the authoritative version of the Bible for Catholics until the 20th century. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches recognise him as a saint.

Jerome (also known as Hieronymus, the Latin version of Jerome) was known for his ascetic lifestyle and his passionate involvement in doctrinal controversies.



The historian Josephus (John C. Winston / Wikimedia)


A Jewish historian (37-c.100) who became a Roman citizen and, while enjoying the patronage of the ruling Flavian dynasty in Rome, wrote the most important contemporary accounts of first-century Judaism and the background of early Christianity.

Born Joseph Ben Matityahu, he fought against the Romans in the Jewish revolt of 66-73 as commander of the Jewish forces in Galilee.

When Jotapata, in northern Galilee, fell to the Romans after a bloody battle in 67, Josephus and 40 companions were trapped in a cave. All made a pact to commit collective suicide by killing each other, one by one. One of the last two men standing — “should one say by fortune or by the providence of God?” — was the wily Josephus, who persuaded his companion to join him in surrendering.

Then, according to Josephus’ own account, he ingratiated himself with the Roman commander, Vespasian, by predicting that Vespasian would become emperor — as he did two years later.



A collective community in Israel, originally based on agriculture but now encompassing other industries including hotels. A member of a kibbutz is called a kibbutznik.

There are about 250 kibbutzim (the plural form) in the country. Though they began as a blend of socialism and Zionism, most have now been privatised and no longer practise communal living.



Food fit for consumption according to Jewish dietary laws, many of which are derived from the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

These laws exclude mammals such as pigs that do not both chew their cud and have cloven hooves. Fish must have skins and scales (so shellfish are excluded).

Mammals and birds must be slaughtered in a specific way and by a trained individual, and as much blood as possible must be drained or broiled out of it (because consumption of blood is forbidden).

Meat must not be eaten with dairy products or cooked using the same utensils (observant Jews have separate sets of utensils for meat and milk).

Wine and other grape products must be made by Jews (a restriction that derives from laws against consuming products used in idolatry).



A prescribed form of public worship practised by a specific religious group, according to its traditions. The origin of the word is a Greek composite meaning a service to the state undertaken by a citizen as a public duty.

In Judaism this may centre on the reading from the Torah. In Eastern Christianity it is the Eucharist, but in Western Christianity it also encompasses other rites and ceremonies that are part of the public worship of God, as opposed to private devotions.

Worship services in the Middle East, where Christian liturgy first developed, tend to be more elaborate — with more bells, candles and incense, and longer prayers — than Western Christians are accustomed to.


Lord’s Prayer

Also known as the Our Father or (in Latin) Pater Noster, it is the simple and spontaneous prayer taught by Christ to his disciples as a model of how to pray. Two versions are given in the New Testament, one in Matthew 6:9-13 and the other in Luke 11:2-4.

Probably the best-known prayer in Christianity, it is also the principal prayer used by Christians in common worship.

According to a long tradition, the Church of Pater Noster on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem stands over a cave in which Jesus taught this prayer. Around the church and its vaulted cloister, translations of the Lord’s Prayer in 140 languages are inscribed on colourful ceramic plaques.



A person who voluntarily accepts being put to death rather than deny his or her religious beliefs. Originally the word signified a witness who testified to a fact of which he or she had knowledge from personal observation.



Hebrew for “anointed one”, especially one commissioned for a special role. In Jewish tradition it denotes an expected or long-for saviour. In Christianity it means Jesus, to whom the name “Christos” (anointed in Greek) becomes part of his name.

Jewish tradition envisioned that God would send a saviour from the line of King David to deliver his people from suffering and injustice. The idea that this saviour would suffer appears in numerous psalms attributed to David.



A bath or pool, constructed as part of a building, used by Jews for immersion to cleanse from ritual impurity. Many ancient examples have been found in Israel.



The authoritative collection of rabbinical oral tradition on various topics of Jewish law, compiled early in the 3rd century AD at Sepphoris.


Mount Nebo

Detail of mosaic at Mount Nebo (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)


An art form in which small cut pieces of stone, coloured glass or other materials are laid on a surface to create pictures, geometric patters or inscriptions.

Each cut piece, normally roughly cubic, is called a tessera (plural tesserae). Some mosaics contain hundreds of thousands of tesserae.

Wall, ceiling and floor mosaics, often elaborate, are found in churches throughout the Holy Land.

The word Mosaic is also used to indicate an association with Moses, such as the Mosaic Law found in the Torah.


St Catherine's Monastery

Detail of portrait of Moses in St Catherine’s Monastery (Wikimedia)


The pre-eminent leader and lawgiver of the Jewish people, who led the Israelites in their Exodus from Egypt and their journeyings in the wilderness. During this time, the Bible says, he received the Ten Commandments from God.

But God did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land. Instead, he viewed it from the top of Mount Nebo, then died at the age of 120. His burial place is unknown.

Jewish religious tradition regards Moses as the author of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. He is also revered as an important prophet by Christians, Muslims and members of the Baha’i and other faiths.




A place of worship for followers of Islam, and usually also a meeting place and focal point for the local Muslim community.

Distinctive features often include grand entryways and tall slender towers, or minarets, from which an official called a muezzin (or a recording) summons the worshippers to prayer five times a day.

There are no chairs or seats. The floor is often covered with expensive carpet. Visitors must remove their footwear — not as a sign of respect, but to protect the carpet.

Statues or pictures are not permitted; the only decorations are usually Arabic calligraphy and verses from the Qur’an, the Muslims’ holy book.

In one wall is a mihrab, a niche indicating the direction of Mecca. Near it is the minbar, a seat at the top of steps, used by the preacher as a pulpit. A place for ablution is usually attached to the mosque.

Women may take part in prayers, but they occupy a separate area.



Muhammad, from an early 14th-century manuscript (Wikimedia)


The founder of the Islamic faith, regarded by Muslims as the last and greatest prophet of God. His name is sometimes spelt Mohammed or Mohamet.

Born in Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia) around 570, Muhammad became a successful merchant. When he was 40, according to Muslim tradition, he was visited by the archangel Gabriel, who informed him that he was a messenger of God. Subsequent revelations, recorded in the Qur’an, are the basis of Islam.

Muhammad’s public preaching on the duty to submit to one true God provoked enemies. In 622 he was forced to flee for his life to Medina. Mohammad’s followers finally conquered Mecca and all of Arabia in 630, two years before he died.

New Testament

The collection of 27 books that forms the second section of the Christian Bible. These books, telling the story of Jesus Christ and his apostles, and of the early Church, are the most important writings for Christians.

They consist of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; the Acts of the Apostles, also attributed to Luke; the letters of Paul and several other writers; and the prophetic book of Revelation (or Apocalypse).


Old Testament

The collection of books that forms the first section of the Christian Bible. It is similar to the Hebrew Bible, but with some variations.

The Old Testament describes God’s dealings with the Jews as his chosen people. It includes books of history, laws, theology, wisdom, prophecy and poetry.

Christian churches differ on the number of books they accept as belonging to the Old Testament. The Orthodox churches generally accept 51 books, the Catholics 46, and the major Protestant denominations 39.



The churches of Eastern Europe and the Middle East that were divided from the Roman Catholic Church after the Great Schism of 1054.

The split along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political and geographic lines divided medieval Christianity into Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) branches. The word Orthodox in Greek (orthos + doxa) means “correct belief”.

The Eastern Orthodox communion now consists of 14 or 15 self-governing churches and 5 others whose leader must be confirmed by a mother church. Those in the Holy Land include the Greek, Armenian, Russian, Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian Orthodox.

Many have counterparts that have returned to union with Rome, but retain their own distinctive ritual, language and culture. These are called Eastern-Rite Catholic churches.

Also see Churches in the Holy Land



A stone box in which the bones of a dead person were placed after the flesh had decayed.

From the 1st century BC until about AD 70, because space in tombs was scarce, Jews customarily buried their dead in a tomb for a year, then collected the bones and placed them in an ossuary.

Among the ossuaries that have been discovered, particularly in the Jerusalem area, some are decorated with carvings and inscriptions identifying the deceased.


Ottoman Empire

A Muslim military administration, based around the Turkish sultan, that ruled much of the Middle East as well as parts of North Africa and the Balkans in Europe from 1299 until 1922. It was succeeded by the modern Republic of Turkey.

At the height of its power, in the 16th and 17th centuries, it encompassed most of southeastern Europe up to the gates of Vienna; Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Egypt; North Africa as far west as Algeria; and most of the Arabian Peninsula.




Map of Palestine (Howard Morland / Wikimedia)

Historically, this is the region that stretches from the Jordan River valley to the Mediterranean Sea. It is named after the Philistines, who settled on the coastal strip of Canaan.

To Jews it incorporates their Promised Land; to Christians it is the land of Jesus Christ and the birthplace of the Christian Church; to Muslims it contains the city of Jerusalem, which they call Al-Quds (“the Holy”).

In geographic terms, Palestine includes Israel and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza), and parts of both Lebanon and Syria.

The name was used for this region as far back as the 5th century BC by the Greek historian Herodotus. Later references were by the Greek philosopher Aristotle and the Jewish scholar Philo of Alexandria — a contemporary of Jesus.

Since prehistoric times, the occupiers of Palestine have included Canaanites, Jebusites, Hebrews, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Turks, Egyptians and British.

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, many inhabitants of Palestine fled to the West Bank (of the Jordan River), to Jordan, Lebanon and other Arab countries. Many more have emigrated since, often to Europe or the Americas.

In 2012 the United Nations General Assembly accepted Palestine as a “non-member observer state”.



An everyday story told to convey a moral or religious lesson. The word comes from the Greek “parabole”, which means the placing of two things side by side for the sake of comparison.

The Gospels report many parables of Jesus, in which he used settings and events from daily life in Palestine (such as the sowing of seeds) to convey lessons he wished to teach.



Originally probably a spring festival of nomadic tribes, it came to celebrate the Israelites’ Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The name comes from the action of the angel of death who “passed over” the homes of the Hebrews when he killed the firstborn of every Egyptian family.

The Passover meal, of lamb or goat with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, was eaten in haste, with the participants dressed as for imminent departure.

For modern Jews, the feast of Passover (known as Pesach) is the one most widely observed. It begins with the ritual meal (called the Seder) and lasts seven days in Israel and eight days outside Israel.

Because Jesus used a Passover meal for his Last Supper, at which he instituted the Eucharist, this Jewish feast was taken over into the Christian Easter celebration.



The male head of a tribe or family. In the Old Testament it refers particularly to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs through whom God made his covenant with his people.

In Christian times patriarchs are usually considered the successor to an apostle in a church he established. The patriarch of the West is the Pope, as successor to St Peter. The patriarch of the East is the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, as successor to St Andrew.

In Jerusalem the major Christian churches each have a patriarch. The roads that lead to their residences in the Christian Quarter are named Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Road, Latin Patriarchate Road, etc.



This feast, along with Passover and Sukkoth, was one of the three great pilgrimage feasts which brought Jews to the Temple.

Originally an agricultural festival marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest, it celebrates the giving of the Torah by God to Moses.

In the New Testament, Pentecost brought the fulfilment of Jesus’ promise that he would send the power of the Holy Spirit upon his apostles.



A party or sect within Judaism, who zealously upheld strict compliance with religious laws, both written and oral. They also interpreted the law to meet changing conditions.

Jesus condemned them for hypocrisy and blindness, and for laying heavy burdens on others’ shoulders, “but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4).


Pontius Pilate

As governor of Judea he presided at the trial of Jesus and, despite saying he found no fault in him, handed him over for crucifixion.

Pilate was based at Caesarea Maritima, but came to Jerusalem with his troops to keep order during the Passover. Few biographical facts are known, but in 1961 a limestone block bearing his name was found in the Roman theatre at Caesarea.

In the end Pilate lost the support of the Jewish leaders and he was eventually removed by Rome because of his cruelty and oppression.



A person who speaks or acts on behalf of God. The prophet’s task is not so much to predict the future as to pronounce God’s will.

In the Old Testament, a great diversity of men and women, often reluctantly, undertook this role. They spoke to individuals, groups and even the whole nation, often suffering humiliation and threats as a consequence.

In the New Testament, Jesus was seen as the prophet who would initiate God’s renewal of all things. There were also prophets in the early Christian communities, and since then many holy people have been regarded as exercising the gift of prophecy.


Promised Land

The land God promised to the descendants of Abraham. Though various boundaries are given in the books of Genesis and Exodus, the Promised Land (also known as Canaan) apparently encompassed present-day Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon, plus parts of Jordan, Syria and Egypt.

In Leviticus 25:23 God tells Moses the land still belongs to him and the Israelites are “but aliens and tenants”. In Deuteronomy 30:18 Moses tells the Israelites that continued possession of the land depends on “holding fast” to God.



Also spelt Koran, this is the most holy book in Islam. Muslims believe it was dictated by the archangel Gabriel to Muhammad.

The book is about two-thirds the length of the New Testament and contains 114 chapters (or surahs). Only the Arabic original is considered to be the authentic text.

Jesus is referred to as a messenger and prophet of God, but a human being and not God incarnate. His mother Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an. She receives a whole chapter, and the virgin birth of Jesus is acknowledged.



The Islamic month of fasting, in which Muslims may not eat or drink anything, including water, while the sun shines. Ramadan is also a time of increased worship and prayer.

The third “pillar” or religious obligation for Muslims, fasting is seen as a means of coming closer to God, as well as teaching self-control and patience. In the Muslim world, most restaurants are closed during daylight hours throughout Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Because Islamic months are based on sightings of the new moon, Ramadan occurs about 11 days earlier each year on the Western Gregorian calendar.

Muslims believe that the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to Muhammad during the month of Ramadan.



The Resurrection of Jesus Christ after his death by crucifixion is the central doctrine of the Christian faith.

Christians believe that God the Father raised Jesus to new life as Lord with all authority in heaven and on earth, and that those who have entered into his death and Resurrection by baptism will be raised and glorified with him at the end of time.



Known as Shabbat to Jews, it is the seventh day of the week, set aside for rest and the worship of God as a reminder of the Creation and the Exodus from Egypt.

The Sabbath is observed from sundown Friday until three stars are visible in the sky on Saturday evening. Jewish law prohibits 39 categories of activity on the Sabbath, including the use of electricity or a motor vehicle, except when necessary to save human life.

The early Jewish Christians kept the Sabbath, but soon began to observe Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, as the Lord’s Day. By the 4th century, Sunday had become the Christian day of worship and rest from work.



A Jewish party, mainly from the great priestly families and aristocracy, that held power in Jerusalem and was concerned particularly to uphold the Temple and its rituals.

They insisted on strict adherence to the written Law of Moses and opposed any interpretation of it. They rejected belief in angels or in the resurrection of the body.

The New Testament depicts them as opponents of Jesus who tested him with questions.



Modern young Samaritans (Freddie Mercury / Wikimedia)


An ethnic and religious group who believe they descend from the remnant of the northern Israelite tribes who avoided deportation by the Assyrians in 722 BC.

Several hundred Samaritans still survive, preserving their ancient rites on their holy site of Mount Gerizim, near the modern West Bank city of Nablus. They accept only the first five books of the Old Testament, containing the Mosaic Law.

In the New Testament, when Jesus’ disciples expressed typical Jewish animosity towards the Samaritans he rebuked them. Jesus also gave Samaritans positive roles in his parables, notably the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).



A stone coffin. Usually designed to be freestanding above ground, these were often ornately carved and decorated.



A market, either outdoor or covered, or a commercial quarter, in an Arab or Muslim city. Often a wide variety of goods, from food to livestock, are on sale.


Stations of the Cross

A series of 14 events from Jesus’ journey to Calvary on Good Friday. These are often represented by art in churches, or by outdoor sculptures, to assist meditation on his Passion.

The Stations of the Cross originated with pilgrimages to Jerusalem. By the 5th century the practice of reproducing the “stations” of the Passion was popular in Europe.

The number of Stations and the events represented has varied from 7 to 18 or more. Of the present 14 Stations, 9 are based on Gospel accounts and 5 — Jesus’ meeting with his mother, Veronica wiping his face, and his three falls — on popular tradition.

In Jerusalem, pilgrims recall these events as they walk along the Via Dolorosa.


Status Quo

A set of detailed and binding arrangements covering possession, usage and ceremonies at major holy places, originally laid down by a Turkish sultan in 1757. It is not an agreement between the churches.

The Status Quo applies particularly to the rights of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Orthodox churches in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, and the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem. It also covers the Dome of the Ascension and Tomb of Mary in Jerusalem.

Control of the major holy places was in the hands of Catholic Franciscans for 300 years up till 1662. It was contested by Catholics and Greek Orthodox in courts and corridors of power up till 1757, when Greeks launched a surprise Palm Sunday takeover and Ottoman Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid I confirmed their right of possession.

By the mid-19th century, Sultan Abd-ul-Mejid I faced international pressure over the holy places from France (for the Catholics) and Russia (for the Orthodox). Russia even threatened to invade Turkey.

To defuse the situation he issued a firman (decree) in 1852 declaring that “The actual status quo will be maintained and the Jerusalem shrines, whether owned in common or exclusively by the Greek, Latin, and Armenian communities, will all remain forever in their present state.”

In 1878, the Treaty of Berlin incorporated the Status Quo into international law.



An upright slab of stone or wood, engraved with an inscription or design. Steles (or stelae) were used to commemorate important events, such as military victories; to extol the accomplishments of rulers; or to mark territories.



A covered walkway or portico, with a row of columns along its open front. Some were of two storeys.

Markets were often located in stoas (or stoae). The magnificent Royal Stoa along the southern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem may have been the place where Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers (Matthew 21:12).


Nazareth Village

Recreated synagogue at Nazareth Village (Seetheholyland.net)


A Jewish place of Sabbath worship and for religious study, but not for sacrifices. After the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70, synagogues became the focal point of Jewish community life.

A typical synagogue contains an ark in which the scrolls of the Mosaic Law are kept, an “eternal light” burning before the ark, a raised platform on which services are conducted, and sometimes a mikveh (ritual bath).



The central text of Jewish law and teachings. It contains interpretation of, and commentary on, the Torah — the primary source of Jewish religious law.

There are actually two Talmuds, developed by different groups of Jewish scholars in Babylonia (c. AD 600) and in Israel (c. AD 400). The more extensive Babylonian Talmud is more highly regarded.



An archaeological term for a mound or hill containing the remains of successive layers of human settlement.

“Tel” is the modern Hebrew spelling and “tell” the modern Arabic spelling. Both are used in placenames, such as in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv and the archaeological site of Tell es-Sultan at Jericho.



Model of Ancient Jerusalem

Second Temple of Jerusalem, destroyed in AD 70 (Seetheholyland.net)

The central place of Jewish worship and the only place where sacrifices could be made, the Temple in Jerusalem was seen as the dwelling-place of God in the midst of his people.

The First Temple was erected by Solomon (c.960 BC) and destroyed by the Babylonians in 587/586 BC. The Second Temple, built by Jews who returned from exile in Babylon, was completed in 515 BC.

The Second Temple was enlarged and refurbished by Herod the Great (c.20 BC) and it became known as Herod’s Temple. This rebuilt temple (sometimes referred to as the Third Temple) was the one Jesus knew. It was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.

Both temples were on the Temple Mount, approximately on the present site of the Dome of the Rock.

The Western Wall, a section of the retaining wall that surrounded the Temple compound, is venerated by Jews as the only remnant of the Second Temple. The Jewish practice of mourning the destruction of the Temple led to its being called the Wailing Wall.



The first five books of the Hebrew Bible — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — which are also called the Pentateuch. The word Torah can also refer to the entire body of Judaism’s founding teachings and traditions.

The five books of the Pentateuch are also accepted as the first five books of the Christian Old Testament.



The revelation of the glory of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, which the Gospels say took place on a “high mountain” in the presence of the apostles Peter, James and John.

The event is described in the Gospels of Matthew (17:1-8), Mark (9:2-8) and Luke (9:28-36). Matthew says Jesus’ “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” and Moses and Elijah appeared talking with him.

The mountain is traditionally identified as Mount Tabor, though some scholars argue it was probably Mount Hermon.



A fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, signifying that in the unity of the Godhead there are three distinct Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit

The Qur’an of Islam misinterprets this doctrine by assuming that Christians worship the Father, Son and Virgin Mary as three gods.



The Latin version of the Bible translated by St Jerome from Hebrew and Greek at the end of the 4th century.

Jerome, a scholarly Dalmatian priest, spent 30 years on the project, working in a cave underneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.



An Arabic word for a deep gully or valley that is normally dry but contains water during the winter rainy season.

Wadis are common in Middle Eastern deserts and often give rise to placenames, such as Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses) near Petra in southern Jordan.


West Bank

A landlocked Palestinian territory between Israel and Jordan on the West Bank of the Jordan River. To the west, north and south it borders the state of Israel. (Also see Palestine.)

Israel captured the disputed territory from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and refers to it by the biblical names of Judea and Samaria.

Most of the West Bank has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967, but since 1994 a limited degree of Palestinian Authority self-rule has existed in some areas.

The largest cities in the West Bank are Hebron, Nablus, Bethlehem and Jericho.



The personal name of the one true God, the God of Israel, as revealed to Moses. The meaning eludes scholars, though God described himself to Moses as “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14).

Later Jews regarded the name as too sacred to be spoken, so only the consonants YHWH were written and the name was usually pronounced Adonai (“Lord”).

Early translators combined the consonants of Yahweh with vowels from Adonai to produce Jehovah, the name for God used in some early English Bibles.

In 2008 the Vatican directed that prayers and songs in Catholic liturgy should no longer use the word Yahweh, which was never pronounced by early Christians.


Yom Kippur

Also known as the Day of Atonement, this is the most solemn festival in the Jewish religious calendar. A day of fasting and repentance, it is considered a time of spiritual accounting and is observed even by many secular Jews.

Yom Kippur is a public holiday in Israel. Public transportation ceases, businesses close, and even private driving or eating in public are frowned upon.



A Jewish faction which sought to incite rebellion against the occupying Roman forces and expel them from Palestine. Zealots were prominent during the First Jewish Revolt in AD 66-70, which resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem.

One of the Twelve Apostles was called Simon the Zealot. This does not necessarily mean he was a member of the Zealots, since he was also called Simon the Cananaean, another word meaning zealous or ardent.




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