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Pool of Siloam

Jerusalem

Pool of Siloam

Steps leading down to the Pool of Siloam (Abraham / Wikimedia)

The Pool of Siloam, where Jesus ordered a blind man to go to wash mud out of his eyes, lay undiscovered until 2004.

Then a drainage repair crew, working on pipe maintenance south of the Old City of Jerusalem, uncovered large stone steps that had led to an ancient pool dating from the first century BC.

Until then, a much smaller pool 50 metres north-west, at the end of Hezekiah’s Tunnel, had been regarded as the Pool of Siloam.

The account of the healing of the man who had been blind since birth (John 9:1-41) is one of the longest Gospel narratives of any of the miracles of Jesus.

The disciples asked whose sin had caused the man’s blindness, his own or his parents? Neither, said Jesus; he was born blind “so that God’s works might be revealed in him”.

Then Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with his saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes. “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam,” he said. The man did as he was told, and he was able to see.

 

Smaller pool had ‘hanging basilica’

Pool of Siloam

Upper pool from above with outlet of Hezekiah’s Tunnel at far end (Seetheholyland.net)

The pool rediscovered in 2004 had been destroyed by the Roman conquerors around AD 70 and gradually covered by debris.

In the 5th century the smaller pool, further up the southern slope of the City of David, was remodelled, apparently by the Byzantine Empress Eudocia. A church named “Our Saviour, the Illuminator” was built over the pool.

A 6th-century pilgrim described a “hanging basilica” over the pool, in which men and women washed separately in two marble basins “to gain a blessing”.

The church was destroyed in 614 and never rebuilt. The pool was also abandoned. Bounded by high stone walls, it contains some scattered fragments of column drums from the church.

This narrow, rectangular pool has long been visited as the site of Jesus’ miracle. It is also the place where walkers through Hezekiah’s Tunnel emerge.

 

Monumental steps led to pool Jesus knew

The rediscovered pool, which archaeologists began to excavate in 2004, was also fed by water from Hezekiah’s Tunnel, through a channel leading from the smaller pool.

Pool of Siloam

Mural showing what Pool of Siloam might have looked like (© Ferrell Jenkins)

Coins found in the cement show it was in use in Jesus’ time, when four sets of monumental steps led from street level into the pool.

One side of the pool is buried under a lush garden with figs, pomegranates, cabbages and other fruits.

This property, now belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church, was once part of an orchard known as the King’s Garden. The building of a wall around the pool and the garden is recorded in Nehemiah 3:15.

 

Hezekiah’s workmen were ingenious

Hezekiah’s Tunnel was cut through solid rock at the beginning of the 8th century BC. One of the most ingenious engineering accomplishments of ancient times, it bears testimony to the crucial importance of a water supply to Jerusalem.

In times of war and siege, the City of David was vulnerable, since it depended on water from the Spring of Gihon. This spring, which gushes forth intermittently from a natural cave in the Kidron Valley, was outside the city walls.

King Hezekiah decided to bring water from the spring into the city. Following part of a natural fissure, two sets of teams began at opposite ends to cut a winding 533-metre tunnel on a double-S course — and they met in the middle.

Axe and chisel marks can be seen along the entire length of the tunnel, which averages 60 centimetres wide and 2 metres high.

 

Inscription describes breakthrough

Pool of Siloam

Reconstruction of 8th-century inscription by workers digging Hezekiah’s Tunnel (Ian W. Scott)

In 1880 a boy discovered an inscription in the rock near the mouth of the tunnel, which records its construction.

Of the final breakthrough, it says: “While the labourers were still working with their picks, each toward the other, and while there were still three cubits to be broken through, the voice of each was heard calling to the other, because there was a [crack?] in the rock to the south and to the north. At the moment of breakthrough, the labourers struck each toward the other, pick against pick. Then the water flowed….”

Hezekiah’s Tunnel may be traversed on foot, best starting from the Spring of Gihon, outside the Dung Gate. A reliable torch is necessary and footwear is advisable. Water is generally knee-high but can rise to waist height.

 

In Scripture:

King Hezekiah digs a tunnel: Sirach 48:17

Building the Pool of Siloam: Nehemiah 3:15

Jesus heals a blind man: John 9:1-41

 

References

Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Maugh, Thomas H. II: “Biblical Pool Uncovered in Jerusalem”, Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2005.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

The Pool of Siloam Revealed (BiblePlaces)
Jerusalem Archaeological Sites: Biblical Water Systems  (Jewish Virtual Library)
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Pools of Bethesda

Jerusalem

Pools of Bethesda

Bethesda pool, showing support structure that suspended the Byzantine basilica over the pools (Seetheholyland.net)

Archaeology has enabled a pool at Bethesda in Jerusalem to be identified as the scene of one of Jesus’ miracles. This was the healing of the paralysed man who had waited for 38 years for someone to help him into the pool “when the water is stirred” — an event believed to have curative powers.

The Gospel account says Jesus told the man, “Stand up, take your mat and walk”, and immediately he was made well (John 5:2-18).

The location of the Pools of Bethesda — actually a series of reservoirs and medicinal pools — is in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, north of the Temple Mount and about 50 metres inside St Stephen’s or Lions’ Gate. At that time, the gate was called the Sheep Gate, because this was where sheep were brought to the Temple for sacrifice.

According to an ancient tradition, Bethesda is also where Jesus’ maternal grandparents, Anne and Joachim, lived — and where his mother Mary was born. The Church of St Anne, built around 1140, stands nearby.

The compound containing the pools and the church is owned by the French government and administered by the White Fathers. It also contains a museum and a Greek-Catholic (Melkite) seminary.

 

Evidence of pagan healing sanctuary

Pools of Bethesda

Close-up of Pools of Bethesda in the Model of Ancient Jerusalem at the Israeli Museum (© Deror Avi)

In his Gospel account, John describes the pool as having five porticoes, in which lay many invalids — blind, lame and paralysed.

Because no such pool had been discovered, the historicity of the site was long called into question. Some claimed that John had invented the detail of the five porticoes to represent the five books of Moses, which Jesus had come to fulfil.

In the 1900s, however, archaeologists at Bethesda unearthed two large water reservoirs separated by a broad rock dike. They were rectangular in shape, with four colonnaded porticos around the sides and one across the central dike.

The purpose of the reservoirs was to collect rainwater, principally for Temple use.

Associated pools and baths at Bethesda (which means house of mercy) were apparently believed to have healing powers. Evidence of a pagan healing sanctuary has been found east of the pools, including marble representations of healed organs, such as feet and ears.

 

Early church was built over pool

Pools of Bethesda

Remains of a pagan temple, Byzantine basilica and Crusader chapel Bethesda (Seetheholyland.net)

The Byzantine empress Eudocia had an enormous basilica constructed over the Pools of Bethesda in the 5th century. The church was called “Mary where she was born”.

Its central aisle covered the central rock wall, the side aisles extended above the two basins and the front part covered the site of the ancient healing sanctuary.

The basilica was destroyed by the Persians in 614 and its masonry ended up in the pool.

The Crusaders built a small chapel, the Church of the Paralytic, over part of the ruined basilica. The façade, main entrance and apse of the Crusader chapel can be seen standing high over the pools, giving a clear example of the practice of building one church over another.

Related site:

Church of St Anne

In Scripture:

Jesus heals a sick man: John 5:2-18

 

Administered by: White Fathers

Tel.: 972-2-6283285

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

 

 

References

Bouwen, Frans: “St Anne’s Church and the Pool of Bethesda”, Cornerstone, spring 2000.
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Kilgallen, John J.: A New Testament Guide to the Holy Land (Loyola Press, 1998)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus in Jerusalem – his First and Last Days in Judea (Corazin Publishing, 1996)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)
Starkey, Denis: “The White Fathers in Jerusalem”, White Fathers — White Sisters, April-May 1999.

 

External links

Pool of Bethesda (First Century Jerusalem)
Bethesda (BibleWalks)
Bethesda Pool panorama (Jesus in Jerusalem)
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Mount Zion

Jerusalem

Mount Zion

Mount Zion, crowned by the Dormition Abbey (© Deror Avi)

Mount Zion, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem, is the broad hill south of the Old City’s Armenian Quarter.

Also called Sion, its name in Old Testament times became projected into a metaphoric symbol for the whole city and the Promised Land.

Several important events in the early Christian Church are likely to have taken place on Mount Zion:

• The Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples, and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, both believed to have been on the site of the Cenacle;

• The appearance of Jesus before the high priest Caiaphas, believed to have been at the site of the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu;

• The “falling asleep” of the Virgin Mary, believed to have occurred at the site of the Church of the Dormition.

• The Council of Jerusalem, around AD 50, in which the early Church debated the status of converted gentiles (Acts 15:1-29), perhaps also on the site of the Cenacle.

The mountain that moved

In the Old Testament period, Zion was the eastern fortress that King David captured from the Jebusites and named the City of David (2 Samuel 5:6-9).

A psalmist described Mount Zion as God’s “holy mountain, beautiful in elevation . . . the joy of all the earth” (Psalm 48).

And again, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever” (Psalm 125).

Ironically, by the time this psalm was composed, the name of Mount Zion had already moved from its original location at the Jebusite fortress — and would move again.

First, perhaps at the time Solomon built his Temple, the Temple Mount came to be called Mount Zion. Then in the first century AD, following the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, the name was transferred to its present location across the Tyropoeon Valley.

 

Early Christians built synagogue-church

Mount Zion

Hagia Sion sign at Dormition Abbey (Glenn Johnson / Wikimedia)

In the time of Christ, Mount Zion was a wealthy neighbourhood, densely populated and enclosed within the city walls.

There was also a community of Essenes, a group who lived a strict interpretation of Mosaic Law. They are better known for their community at Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

The first-century Christians met on Mount Zion, where they built a Judaeo-Christian synagogue-church that became known as the Church of the Apostles.

Over the centuries a succession of churches were built on the site and later destroyed. These included the great Byzantine basilica Church of Hagia Sion (Holy Zion), known as the “Mother of all Churches” — which covered the entire area now occupied by the Church of the Dormition, the Cenacle and the Tomb of David.

 

David’s tomb is empty

The Old Testament (1 Kings: 2:10) records that King David was buried in the city of David, which was on the original Mount Zion.

King David's Tomb after extensive renovations were completed in 2013 (Seetheholyland.net)

King David’s Tomb after extensive renovations were completed in 2013 (Seetheholyland.net)

Because the name of Mount Zion had moved to its present location, as described above, Christian pilgrims in the 10th century developed a belief that David’s burial place was there too.

It was actually the Christian Crusaders who built the present memorial on Mount Zion called the Tomb of King David. However, three of the walls of the room where its empty cenotaph stands are apparently from the synagogue-church used by the first-century Judaeo-Christians.

Gradually this memorial came to be accepted as David’s tomb, first by the Jews and later also by Muslims.

 

Architects beheaded for excluding Mount Zion

The respect with which Muslims held King David is illustrated by a legend relating to the reconstruction of Jerusalem’s walls by the Turkish conqueror Sulieman the Magnificent in the mid-16th century.

As the story goes, the sultan was furious when he discovered that the new walls did not encompass Mount Zion, leaving the Tomb of David unprotected.

He summoned the two architects responsible for the project and ordered that they be beheaded. Two graves in the inner courtyard of Jaffa Gate are said to be those of the architects.

Another place of interest on Mount Zion is the grave of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved nearly 1200 Jews in the Holocaust and has been declared a Righteous Gentile. The grave is in the Catholic cemetery near Zion Gate.

Related sites

Cenacle

Church of the Dormition

Church of St Peter in Gallicantu

Tomb of King David

Schindler’s grave

 

In Scripture:

The Last Supper: Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-23; John 13:1—17:26

The coming of the Holy Spirit: Acts 2:1-4

Jesus appears before Caiaphas: Matthew 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:66-71; John 18:12-14, 19:24

The first Church Council of Jerusalem: Acts 15:1-29

 

 

 

References

Anonymous: “Christian Mount Sion”, Holy Land, spring 2003
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Metzger, Bruce M., and Coogan, Michael D.: The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Pixner, Bargil: “Church of Apostles found on Mt Zion” (Biblical Archaeological Review, May/June 1990)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Church of the Apostles found on Mt Zion (Century One Foundation)
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Mount of Olives

Jerusalem

Mount of Olives

Church of St Mary Magdalene (left) and Church of Dominus Flevit on Mount of Olives (Seetheholyland.net)

The Mount of Olives, one of three hills on a long ridge to the east of Jerusalem, is the location of many biblical events. Rising to more than 800 metres, it offers an unrivalled vista of the Old City and its environs.

The hill, also called Mount Olivet, takes its name from the fact that it was once covered with olive trees.

In the Old Testament, King David fled over the Mount of Olives to escape when his son Absalom rebelled (2 Samuel 15:30).

After King Solomon turned away from God, he built pagan temples there for the gods of his foreign wives (1 Kings 11:7-8).

Ezekiel had a vision of “the glory of the Lord” ascending from the city and stopping on the Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 11:23).

Zechariah prophesied that in the final victory of the forces of good over the forces of evil, the Lord of hosts would “stand on the Mount of Olives” and the mount would be “split in two from east to west” (Zechariah 14:3-4).

 

Jesus knew it well

In the New Testament, Jesus often travelled over the Mount of Olives on the 40-minute walk from the Temple to Bethany. He also went there to pray or to rest.

He went down the mount on his triumphal entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, on the way weeping over the city’s future destruction (Luke 19:29-44).

In a major address to his disciples on the mount, he foretold his Second Coming (Matthew 24:27-31).

He prayed there with his disciples the night before he was arrested (Matthew 26:30-56). And he ascended into heaven from there (Acts 1:1-12).

 

A place for pilgrims to sleep

Mount of Olives

Jewish cemetery on Mount of Olives (Seetheholyland.net)

Until the destruction of the Temple, the Mount of Olives was a place where many Jews would sleep out, under the olive trees, during times of pilgrimage.

During the Siege of Jerusalem which led to the destruction of the city in AD 70, Roman soldiers from the 10th Legion camped on the mount.

In Jewish tradition, the Messiah will descend the Mount of Olives on Judgement Day and enter Jerusalem through the Golden Gate (the blocked-up double gate in the centre of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, also known as the Gate of Mercy, or the Beautiful Gate).

For this reason, Jews have always sought to be buried on the slopes of the mount. The area serves as one of Jerusalem’s main cemeteries, with an estimated 150,000 graves.

Among them is a complex of catacombs called the Tombs of the Prophets. It is said to contain the graves of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, who lived in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, but the style of tombs belongs to a later time.

From Byzantine times the mount became a place of church-building. By the 6th century it had 24 churches, surrounded by monasteries containing large numbers of monks and nuns.

 

Several major pilgrimage sites

Mount of Olives

Church of All Nations on Mount of Olives (© Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

The Mount of Olives is the location of several major sites for pilgrims. They include:

• Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony): A sombre church at Gethsemane, built over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have prayed in agony the night before he was crucified.

• Church of St Mary Magdalene: A Russian Orthodox church whose seven gilded onion domes, each topped by a tall cross, make it one of Jerusalem’s most picturesque sights.

• Church of Dominus Flevit: A church in the shape of a teardrop, commemorating the Gospel incident in which Jesus wept over the future fate of Jerusalem.

• Church of Pater Noster: Recalling Christ’s teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, this church features translations of the prayer in 140 languages, inscribed on colourful ceramic plaques.

• Dome of the Ascension: A small shrine, now a mosque marking the place where Jesus is believed to have ascended to heaven.

The garden and grotto of Gethsemane: The ancient olive grove identified as the place where Jesus went to pray the night before he was crucified, and the cave where his disciples are believed to have slept.

• Tomb of Mary: A dimly-lit, below-ground church where a Christian tradition says the Mother of Jesus was buried.

Related sites:

Church of All Nations

Church of St Mary Magdalene

Church of Dominus Flevit

Church of Pater Noster

Church of the Ascension

Dome of the Ascension

Gethsemane

Tomb of Mary

 

In Scripture:

King David flees over the Mount of Olives: 2 Samuel 15:30

King Solomon builds pagan temples: 1 Kings 11:7-8

“Glory of the Lord” stops on Mount of Olives: Ezekiel 11:23

Splitting of mount prophesied: Zechariah 14:3-4

Jesus enters Jerusalem: Luke 19:29-44

Jesus foretells his Second Coming: Matthew 24:27-31

Jesus prays before his arrest: Matthew 26:30-56

Jesus ascends into heaven: Acts 1:1-12

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External links

Mount of Olives (BiblePlaces)
Mount of Olives walking tour (Israel By Foot)
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Model of Ancient Jerusalem

Jerusalem

Model of Ancient Jerusalem

Looking from the lower city to the Herodian towers of the upper city (Seetheholyland.net)

To visualise old Jerusalem at the peak of its power, look down on the outdoor scale model of the ancient city at the Israel Museum.

The gold-trimmed Second Temple and its vast courtyard dominate the Model of Ancient Jerusalem. Herod’s Palace, the twin-spired Palace of the Hasmoneans, the streets and markets are all identifiable.

The time is AD 66, the fateful year the Great Revolt against the Romans erupted, resulting in the destruction of the city and the Temple built by Herod the Great. All that’s missing from buildings of Jerusalem limestone are the people.

This is also the time when Christianity was in its formative stages and the Dead Sea Scrolls — now housed in the museum’s Shrine of the Book — were being created.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was only 36 years before, and the mound of Calvary can be seen just outside the Second Wall (but well inside the new north wall begun by Herod Agrippa I).

The ancient city was then at its largest, spreading over 180 hectares — more than twice the size of the present Old City.

 

Archaeologists and historians contributed

Model of Ancient Jerusalem

Pools of Bethesda (Seetheholyland.net)

Construction of the Model of Ancient Jerusalem was undertaken in the 1960s by Hans Kroch, owner of the Holyland Hotel, in memory of his son Jacob, who was killed in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Originally in the grounds of the hotel, it was transported in 1000 pieces to its present site, 5km away, in 2006.

The model covers nearly 4000 square metres, using a scale of 1:50. A human figure on this scale would be about 35 millimetres high.

Archaeologists (principally Professor Michael Avi-Yonah of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem), historians and architects contributed their expertise to the re-creation of ancient Jerusalem.

The main sources used were writings from the Roman period, construction techniques used in ancient cities similar to Jerusalem, and archaeological discoveries from Jerusalem itself.

Subsequent excavations in Jerusalem have enabled the model to be refined and updated archaeologically.

Model of Ancient Jerusalem

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

 

Imagination augmented archaeology

Archaeologist Jerome Murphy-O’Connor says many arbitrary decisions had to be made in the construction of the model, “and imagination often supplied what the texts or archaeologist’s trowel could not provide. The model, therefore, is a hypothesis, a vision of the city as it might have been, and not all elements carry the same guarantee.”

According to Murphy-O’Connor, “The portrayals of the Temple and of the Palace of Herod are excellent, but the presentation of the northern part of the city is almost certainly wrong. The line assumed by the northernmost wall of the model rests on inadequate archaeological evidence, and all the buildings it encloses are the product of pure imagination.”

Another feature which appears to lack archaeological basis is the red-tile roofing. No roof tiles have been found in excavations of Jerusalem, however there are too many tiles in the model to make a change.

Visitors may walk around the model, though there is no protection from sun or rain. They are not allowed to walk inside the walls.

Administered by: The Israel Museum

Tel.: 972-2-6708811

Open: Sun, Mon, Wed, Thurs 10am–5 pm;
Tues 4–9 pm (Aug 10am-9pm);
Fri and holiday eves 10am–2pm;
Sat and holidays 10am–5pm

 

 

References

Lefkovits, Etgar: “Second temple model to link history, archaeology”, Jerusalem Post, May 25, 2006
Miriam Simon: “Jerusalem’s Glory Days”, Eretz, September-October 2006
Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)

 

External link

Second Temple Model (The Israel Museum)
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Jerusalem

Israel

Jerusalem

Jerusalem at sunset from Mount of Olives (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Jerusalem is revered as a holy city by half the human race.

For Jews it is the city King David made the capital of his kingdom, and where the Temple stood, containing the Ark of the Covenant. For Christians, it is where Christ died, was buried and rose again, and the birthplace of the Church. The Jewish and Christian Bibles mention Jerusalem several hundred times.

For Muslims it is al-Quds (“the Holy”) because they believe Muhammad ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount during his Night Journey.

Set on the Judaean mountains of central Israel, the Old City of Jerusalem is surrounded on three sides by steep valleys: The Hinnom on the south and west, the Kidron on the east. Its history lies in layers metres deep.

Its iconic symbol, the golden-roofed Dome of the Rock, stands on the Temple Mount, also identified as Mount Moriah, where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.

For modern pilgrims, this city of three faiths exerts a powerful pull, resonating with the Jewish Passover aspiration: “Next year in Jerusalem.”

 

Heritage of three faiths

Jerusalem

Market in the Old City (Seetheholyland.net)

The bustling modern city of Jerusalem, also faced with cream-toned limestone, has spread to the west and north of the Old City.

Modern Jerusalem is not a large city by international standards (its population in 2007 was 747,000, of whom 35,400 lived in the Old City). In the time of Christ its population was between 20,000 and 50,000.

It is a city with an intriguing blend of sights, sounds and smells, especially in the Arab markets of the Old City. The past and present continually rub shoulders. Church bells peal, muezzins call Muslims to prayer, and friars, rabbis and imams hasten by.

Reminders of the heritage of three faiths are never far away — Jerusalem has 1200 synagogues, more than 150 churches (representing 17 denominations) and more than 70 mosques.

The Israel Museum presents collections of arts and archaeology, including the Shrine of the Book containing Dead Sea Scrolls and an outdoor scale model of Jerusalem in AD 66. Exhibits in the Tower of David Museum depict 4000 years of history. The Yad Vashem complex documents the story of the victims of the Holocaust.

Ad for Holy Land Pilgrimages $2999 (all inclusive)

 

Old City has four quarters

At Jerusalem’s heart is the Old City, girded by a wall and divided into four “quarters” — named after the dominant ethnic or religious identity of its residents.

Its area is less than a square kilometre, about two-thirds the city’s size in the time of Christ. “Perched on its eternal hills, white and domed and solid, massed together and hooped with high gray walls, the venerable city gleamed in the sun. So small!” wrote Mark Twain in 1869, when settlements outside the walls had just begun to displace shepherds from the Judaean hills.

The Muslim Quarter, largest and most populous of the four, includes the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Other sites in the quarter include the Pools of Bethesda and part of the Via Dolorosa.

Jerusalem

Church of the Holy Sepulchre above roofs of the Old City (Seetheholyland.net)

The Christian Quarter contains the rest of the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which enshrines the sites of Christ’s death, burial and Resurrection. Headquarters of several Christian denominations are among the 40 religious buildings in the quarter.

The Jewish Quarter adjoins the Western Wall, the sole remnant of the Second Temple plaza, which is Judaism’s holiest place. This quarter is more modern, with sophisticated shopping plazas. Archaeological remains are on display in museums and parks.

The Armenian Quarter provides a reminder that Armenia was the first country to make Christianity the state religion (in 301). It contains the Armenian Orthodox Cathedral of St James and a museum in memory of the 1915-23 Armenian Holocaust.

 

Mount of Olives and Mount Zion

Outside the Old City, to the east is the Mount of Olives, where venerable olive trees still grow in the garden of Gethsemane, the scene of Jesus’ agony the night before he died.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue (Arielhorowitz / he.wikipedia)

The teardrop Church of Dominus Flevit commemorates the Gospel incident in which Jesus wept over Jerusalem’s future fate.

The Church of Pater Noster recalls his teaching of the Lord’s Prayer. The Dome of the Ascension, now a mosque, marks the place where he is believed to have ascended to heaven.

Southwest of the Old City is Mount Zion, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem.

Here is found the Cenacle, believed to be on the site of the Upper Room of the Last Supper. This is also regarded as the site of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the Council of Jerusalem, where early Church leaders met around AD 50.

The Church of St Peter in Gallicantu marks Jesus’ appearance before the high priest Caiaphas, and the Church of the Dormition commemorates the “falling asleep” of the Virgin Mary.

 

Conquered many times

Jerusalem

Dining out in modern Jerusalem (Seetheholyland.net)

The earliest reference to Jerusalem suggests that its name means “the foundation of [the Syrian god] Shalem”. A more common interpretation is “city of peace”, but peace has remained an elusive goal for most of the city’s history.

Down through the centuries, Jerusalem has been besieged, conquered and destroyed many times. Early settlers called Jebusites lived there around the Gihon Spring when David conquered it around 1000 BC and made it the capital of his kingdom.

During Old Testament times the conquerors included Babylonians (who destroyed the First Temple and exiled Jews to Babylon), Persians, Greeks, Syrians and Romans (who in AD 70 destroyed the Second Temple).

Since the Christian era began, Jerusalem has been ruled by the Roman Empire (first from Rome, then from Byzantium, now Istanbul), Persians, Arab Muslims, Crusaders, Muslims again, Egyptian Mamelukes, Ottoman Turks and, from 1917 to 1948, the British.

After the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, Jerusalem was partitioned between Jordan and the new state of Israel. The Israelis gained control of the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem and Old City during the 1967 Six Day War, but the status of Jerusalem remains a key issue in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

In Scripture:

Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac: Genesis 22:1-18

David makes Jerusalem his capital: 2 Samuel 5:4-10

Song of praise and prayer for Jerusalem: Psalm 122

Solomon builds the Temple: 1 Kings 5-6

Jesus enters Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11

Jesus is crucified, buried and rises again: Matthew 27:66—28:10; Mark 15:47—16:8; Luke 23:26—24:12; John 19:16—20:10

The coming of the Holy Spirit: Acts 2:1-4

The first Church Council at Jerusalem: Acts 15:1-29

The new Jerusalem: Revelation 21:1-4

References

Bowker, John: The Complete Bible Handbook (Dorling Kindersley, 1998)
Brisco, Thomas: Holman Bible Atlas (Broadman and Holman, 1998)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Martin, James: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Westminster Press, 1978)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Metzger, Bruce M., and Coogan, Michael D.: The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

The Jerusalem Insider’s Guide
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Garden Tomb

Jerusalem

Garden Tomb

Visitors approach Garden Tomb (Seetheholyland.net)

In a setting of neatly maintained gardens and trees, the Garden Tomb provides a tranquil environment for prayer and reflection. But any claim that this is where Christ was buried and rose from the dead lacks authenticity.

The open tomb carved into a rock face, with skull-like erosion in a limestone cliff nearby, can be found down an alley off Nablus Road, north of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.

The site is particularly favoured by Protestant pilgrims, in preference to the cluttered Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City. For a period it enjoyed the formal support of the Anglican Church.

“It is much easier to pray here than in the Holy Sepulchre,” writes Jerome Murphy-O’Connor in his Oxford Archaeological Guide The Holy Land. “Unfortunately there is no possibility that it is in fact the place where Christ was buried.”

 

Army officer was main advocate

Garden Tomb

Close-up of Skull Hill (Seetheholyland.net)

The Nablus Road site of the Garden Tomb was first proposed in 1842 by a German scholar, Otto Thenius. He suggested that the skull-faced cliff was the hill of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. John’s Gospel (19:17) describes the place of crucifixion as “The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha”. The rock-hewn tomb nearby was found in 1867.

The main advocate of this site was a British army officer and administrator, Major-General Charles Gordon, who visited Jerusalem in 1882-83. Though he had no academic education in history or archaeology, a dream assisted him to identify the cliff as the place where Jesus was crucified. For years the site was known as “Gordon’s Calvary”, Calvary being Latin for Golgotha.

The idea that the “Place of the Skull” was named because of a skull-like hill is a modern notion. Most early Christian commentators held that Golgotha was so named because it was a place of execution, where criminals’ skulls and bones lay scattered.

 

Precise location not in Gospels

The Gospels do not reveal the precise location of Golgotha or Christ’s sepulchre. They do say that:

• Christ was crucified near (but outside) the city and by a well-travelled road (since passersby mocked him).

• He was buried in a new tomb, hewn out of rock, in a nearby garden.

The Garden Tomb is certainly outside the walls of the Old City. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, however, is inside the walls — but it was outside until about a decade after the crucifixion of Christ, when the so-called third north wall was built by Herod Agrippa I.

The present 16th-century battlements, constructed by the Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, follow the course of this 1st-century wall. This fact was not known in General Gordon’s time.

All the tombs in the Garden Tomb area date from 7 to 9 centuries BC — the time of Jeremiah or Isaiah, rather than Jesus. But the tombs within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were new in the time of Jesus.

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Environment encourages meditation

Garden Tomb

Meditative setting of Garden Tomb (Seetheholyland.net)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre also has longstanding tradition in its favour, indicating that it stands over the sites that the early Christian community venerated as the places where Christ died, was buried and rose again. The Garden Tomb site, on the other hand, was used by Christian Crusaders as a stable.

Despite its lack of authenticity, the Garden Tomb has an aura of calmness that encourages meditation.

“Walk around the gravel paths between the simple flower beds and the shrubs, and under the dark pines,” writes biblical historian E. M. Blaiklock. “Go one by one or two by two into the tomb, and pray for what lies nearest to the heart. A service is not necessary. It is a place in which you should meet with God alone, quietly, without distracting words, in tranquillity.”

Related sites:

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre Chapels

 

In Scripture:

The burial of Jesus: Matthew 27:57-66; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42

The Resurrection: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-10

 

Administered by: Garden Tomb Association

Tel.: 972-2-539-8100

Open: 8.30am-noon; 2-5.30pm (closed Sundays except for service in English at 9am)

 

References

Blaiklock, E. M.: Eight Days in Israel (Ark Publishing, 1980)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

The Garden Tomb (Garden Tomb Association)
Garden Tomb (Holy Land Photos)
Garden Tomb (BiblePlaces)
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Dome of the Ascension

Jerusalem

Dome of the Ascension

Dome of the Ascension (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The shrine marking the place where Jesus is believed to have ascended to heaven offers Christians a disappointing experience.

All that remains of the several churches built to celebrate the Ascension is a small octagonal structure on a property that is now part of a mosque.

Plain and unadorned, the Dome of the Ascension stands in a walled compound east of the main road that runs on the top of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The location is just north of the Church of Pater Noster — which is built over a cave that the first Christians used as a more secluded place to commemorate the Ascension.

The last church on the site was captured by the Muslim sultan Saladin when he defeated the Crusaders in 1187. Since Muslims also believe in the Ascension of Jesus, it was converted into a mosque.

An unusual feature of the tiny building is that it contains what has been traditionally regarded as the last impression of Jesus’ right foot on earth before he ascended into heaven.

 

First church was open to the sky

Dome of the Ascension

Footprint stone in Dome of Ascension (Seetheholyland.net)

The first church on the hill was funded by Poemenia, a wealthy Roman woman who was a member of the imperial family, around AD 380.

Known as the Imbomon (Greek for “on the hill”), it was a rotunda, open to the sky, surrounded by circular porticos and arches. In the centre of the stone floor was a rock on which it was believed Jesus’ final footprints could be seen in the dust.

By 670 the original structure had been destroyed and rebuilt but the English pilgrim Arculf reported to his countrymen that the footprints were still to be seen in the dust of its floor.

In the 12th century the Crusaders rebuilt an octagonal chapel, set within a fortified monastery. From this strategic position on the crest of the Mount of Olives, the Crusaders controlled the road between Jericho and Jerusalem.

The footprints were still venerated, but now they were reported to be carved into the face of the rock.

Part of this rock remains today in the Dome of the Ascension, although the Muslims have moved it adjacent to a mihrab they inserted to indicate the direction of Mecca. They took the section bearing the left footprint to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, where it was placed behind the pulpit there.

 

Christian celebrations are allowed

Dome of the Ascension

Celebrating the Ascension at the Dome of the Ascension (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The Muslims also walled in the open spaces between the columns and put a dome over the opening in the roof.

The ornately carved capitals on top of the columns are well preserved. The designs depict foliage and fabulous animals.

The various Christian communities are permitted to hold celebrations here on their Ascension feast days. Hooks in the courtyard wall are used to erect their awnings, ribbons and flags on these occasions.

To the right of the entrance to the Dome of the Ascension is a small mosque built in 1620.

An underground tomb near the entrance is revered by all three monotheistic religions, although they differ about its occupant. Jews believe it contains the Old Testament prophetess Huldah; Christians regard it as the grave of the 5th-century St Pelagia; Muslims maintain it is the tomb of the Sufi holy woman Rabi’a al-’Adawiyya (for whom the mosque is named).

 

Three more recent Ascension churches

Three more recent churches on the Mount of Olives commemorate the Ascension.

At the summit is the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, dating from the late 19th century. Its tall tower, one of Jerusalem’s most prominent landmarks, was built to enable pilgrims to see the Jordan River.

On the north side is the German Lutheran Church of the Ascension (also known as Augusta Victoria, after the wife of the Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany who initiated plans for the church in 1898), dating from the early 20th century. Its fortress-like compound with a tall bell tower now hosts a hospital for the Palestinian population of Jerusalem.

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

Related site: Church of the Ascension

 

In Scripture:

The Ascension of Jesus: Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:4-11

Administered by: Islamic Waqf Foundation

Open: Daily (if door is not open, ring the bell)

 

References

Bagatti, Bellarmino: “ ‘Footprints’ of the Saviour on the Mount of Olives”, Holy Land, winter 2005.
Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Chapel of the Ascension, Jerusalem (Sacred Destinations)
Chapel of Ascension (BibleWalks)
Chapel of the Ascension panorama (Jesus in Jerusalem)
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Church of the Dormition

Jerusalem

Church of the Dormition

Dome of Church of the Dormition (Seetheholyland.net)

The hill of Mount Zion, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem, is dominated by the Church of the Dormition. The location is identified in Christian tradition as the place where the Virgin Mary died — or “fell asleep”, as the name suggests.

The fortress-like building, with a conical roof and four corner towers, stands south of the Old City’s Zion Gate. Nearby soars the bell tower of the Hagia Maria Sion Abbey (formerly the Abbey of the Dormition), a Benedictine monastery.

During the Byzantine period, the Church of Hagia Sion (Holy Zion), one of the three earliest churches in Jerusalem, stood on this site. Built by the Emperor Constantine, it was regarded as the Mother of all Churches. In AD 614 it was destroyed by the Persians.

 

Claims made for two cities

Two cities, Jerusalem and Ephesus (in present-day Turkey), claim to be the place where the Virgin Mary died. The Ephesus claim rests in part on the Gospel account that Christ on his cross entrusted the care of Mary to St John (who later went to Ephesus).

Church of the Dormition

Apostles at the death of Mary, in the Church of the Dormition (Seetheholyland.net)

But the earliest traditions all locate the end of Mary’s life in Jerusalem, where the Tomb of Mary is venerated at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

Accounts of Mary’s death in Jerusalem appear in early sources such as De Orbitu S. Dominae, Transitus Mariae and Liber Requiei Mariae. These books are described as apocryphal (meaning “hidden” or “secret”). Their authenticity is uncertain and they are not accepted as part of the Christian canon of Scripture.

But, according to biblical scholar Lino Cignelli, “All of them are traceable back to a single primitive document, a Judaeo-Christian prototype, clearly written within the mother church of Jerusalem some time during the second century, and, in all probability, composed for liturgical use right at the Tomb of Our Lady.

“From the earliest times, tradition has assigned the authorship of the prototype to one Lucius Carinus, said to have been a disciple and fellow labourer with St John the Evangelist.”

By the reckoning of Transitus Mariae, Mary would have been aged no more than 50 at the time of her death.

 

Early writers favour Jerusalem

The early sources are summarised in this way by the Catholic Encyclopedia:

“The apocryphal works of the second to the fourth century are all favourable to the Jerusalem tradition. According to the Acts of St John by Prochurus, written (160-70) by Lencius, the Evangelist went to Ephesus accompanied by Prochurus alone and at a very advanced age, i.e. after Mary’s death.

“The two letters B. Inatii missa S. Joanni, written about 370, show that the Blessed Virgin passed the remainder of her days at Jerusalem. That of Dionysius the Areopagite to the Bishop Titus (363), the Joannis liber de Dormitione Mariae (third to fourth century), and the treatise De transitu B.M. Virginis (fourth century) place her tomb at Gethsemane . . . .

“There was never any tradition connecting Mary’s death and burial with the city of Ephesus.”

 

Belief in the Assumption

The belief that the Virgin Mary was bodily assumed into heaven is mentioned in the above books and also in authenticated sermons by Eastern saints such as St Andrew of Crete and St John of Damascus.

The Assumption of Mary has been a subject of Christian art for centuries (and its feast day was made a public holiday in England by King Alfred the Great in the 9th century). It was defined as a doctrine of the Catholic Church by Pope Pius XII in 1950.

St John of Damascus describes the origin of this belief in these words:

“St Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon [AD 451], made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St Thomas [who arrived late], was found empty; wherefrom the apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.”

The Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on August 15, the same day that the Catholic Church and some Protestant churches celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary.

 

Land was given by sultan

Church of the Dormition

Mary and Jesus mosaic in the Church of the Dormition (Seetheholyland.net)

The land on which the Church of the Dormition stands was given in 1898 by the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid II to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who presented it to the Catholic Church. Construction was completed in 1910.

Like the Crusader church that preceded it, the basilica is built on two levels with the high altar and monastic choir on the upper of these, and the crypt with its Marian shrine on the lower.

Light from several large windows pours into the upper level, and colourful wall mosaics depict events from Christian and Benedictine history.

High above the main altar is a mosaic of Mary and the infant Jesus. The Latin inscription below it is from Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Life-size statue of Mary in death

Church of the Dormition

Lifesize image of Mary in death, in the Church of the Dormition (Seetheholyland.net)

If the upper floor of the Church of the Dormition is luminous, the circular crypt seems totally shrouded when first entered.

In the centre, under a rotunda, is a simple bier on which rests a life-size statue of Mary, fallen asleep in death. The statue is made of cherry wood and ivory.

The dome above the statue is adorned with mosaic pictures of six women of the Old Testament: Eve, Miriam, Jael, Judith, Ruth and Esther.

In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the church was seriously damaged by military bombardment. During the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli forces took possession of the building and the Mother and Child mosaic in the apse received a barrage of machine-gun bullets from the interior of the church.

The Dormition Church has a fine organ, which is often used for concerts.

Related site:

Tomb of Mary

 

Administered by: Benedictine Order

Tel.: 972-2-5655330

Open: Mon-Fri 8.30-11.45am, 12.40-5.30pm; Sat 8.30-11.45am, 12.40-2.45pm, 3.30-5.30pm; Sun 10.30-11.45am, 12.30-5.30pm

 

References

 

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Maas, Anthony: “The Blessed Virgin Mary”, The Catholic Encyclopedia (Robert Appleton Company, 1912).
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Petrozzi, Maria Tereza: “The Place of Mary’s Dormition”, Holy Land, spring 2005
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Hagia Maria Sion Abbey (Dormition Abbey)
Tomb of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Catholic Encyclopedia)
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Church of St Peter in Gallicantu

Jerusalem

 

Church of St Peter in Gallicantu

Church of St Peter in Gallicantu (Seetheholyland.net)

One of the most striking churches in Jerusalem commemorates the apostle Peter’s triple denial of his Master, his immediate repentance and his reconciliation with Christ after the Resurrection.

Built on an almost sheer hillside, the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu stands on the eastern slope of Mount Zion.

On its roof rises a golden rooster atop a black cross — recalling Christ’s prophesy that Peter would deny him three times “before the cock crows”. Galli-cantu means cockcrow in Latin.

Peter’s denial of Christ is recorded in all four Gospels (most succinctly in Matthew 26:69-75). Three of the Gospels also record his bitter tears of remorse.

The scene of Peter’s disgrace was the courtyard of the high priest Caiaphas. The Assumptionist congregation, which built St Peter in Gallicantu over the ruins of a Byzantine basilica, believes it stands on the site of the high priest’s house.

Under the church is a dungeon thought to be the cell where Jesus was detained for the night following his arrest.

 

Blend of contemporary and ancient art

Church of St Peter in Gallicantu

St Peter denies Christ, outside the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu (Seetheholyland.net)

The Church of St Peter in Gallicantu is built on four different levels — upper church, middle church, guardroom and dungeon. Its design and art are a colourful blend of contemporary and ancient works.

In the courtyard a statue depicts the denial, including the rooster, the woman who questioned Peter, and a Roman soldier.

Inside, on the right, are two Byzantine-era mosaics. Uncovered during excavation, they were most likely part of the floor of the fifth-century Byzantine church.

The ceiling is a striking feature. It is dominated by a huge cross-shaped window designed in a radiant variety of colours.

Three large mosaics cover the back wall and two side walls. Facing the entrance is a bound Jesus being questioned in the house of Caiaphas; on the right, Jesus and the disciples are shown at the Last Supper; on the left, Peter is depicted in ancient papal dress as the first pope.

Downstairs, in the middle church, icons above the altars depict St Peter’s denial, his repentance and his reconciliation with his Master on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection.

Many of the inscriptions in the church are in French, since the Assumptionists are a French religious order.

 

Guardroom and prisoner’s cell

Church of St Peter in Gallicantu

Pilgrims praying in the Sacred Pit under the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu (Seetheholyland.net)

The lower levels of the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu contain what are believed to have been a guardroom and a prisoner’s cell, both hewn out of bedrock.

• The guardroom contains wall fixtures to attach prisoners’ chains. Holes in the stone pillars would have been used to fasten a prisoner’s hands and feet when he was flogged. Bowls carved in the floor are believed to have contained salt and vinegar, either to aggravate the pain or to disinfect the wounds.

Jesus, of course, was not flogged by the Jews but by the Romans. But some of his disciples, probably including Peter, were flogged by order of the Jewish council after the Resurrection for teaching in the name of Jesus in the Temple (Acts 5:40).

• The prisoner’s cell offers a sobering insight into where Christ might have spent the night before he was crucified. It has become known as “Christ’s Prison”.

The only access to the bottle-necked cell was through a shaft from above, so the prisoner would have been lowered and raised by means of a rope harness. A mosaic depicting Jesus in such a harness is outside on the south wall of the church.

A small window from the guardroom served as a peephole for a guard standing on a stone block.

 

Disagreement over house of Caiaphas

Though pilgrims’ reports back as far as AD 333 attest to this place being the site of the house of Caiaphas, archaeologists are divided.

Some favour an alternative site for the high priest’s house at the Armenian Orthodox Church of the House of Caiaphas on the summit of Mount Zion, adjacent to the Dormition Abbey.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor considers it “much more likely that the house of the high priest was at the top of the hill”.

Bargil Pixner, a former prior of the Dormition Abbey, disagrees, saying “this late and astonishing theory originated at the time of the Crusaders and is quite improbable”.

Excavations at St Peter in Gallicantu have revealed a water cistern, corn mill, storage chambers and servants’ quarters.

Artefacts discovered include a complete set of weights and measures for liquids and solids as used by the priests in the Temple, and a door lintel with the word “Korban” (sacrificial offering) inscribed in Hebrew.

 

Steps that Jesus trod

Church of St Peter in Gallicantu

Steps leading to the House of Caiphas (Seetheholyland.net)

Beside the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu, excavations have brought to light a stepped street which in ancient times would have descended from Mount Zion to the Kidron Valley.

These stone steps were certainly in use at the time of Christ. On the evening of his arrest, he probably descended them with his disciples on their way from the Last Supper to Gethsemane.

And, even if the House of Caiphas was situated further up Mount Zion than the present church, it would have been by this route that Jesus was brought under guard to the high priest’s house.

The Church of St Peter in Gallicantu illustrates the tumultuous history of religious sites in the Holy Land: A major church built here in 457 was damaged in 529 during the Samaritan Revolt and destroyed in 614 by the Persians. It was rebuilt around 628 and destroyed in 1009 by the mad Caliph Hakim. Rebuilt around 1100 by the Crusaders, it was destroyed in 1219 by the Turks. Then a chapel was built, but it was destroyed around 1300. The present church was completed in 1932.

In Scripture:

Peter denies Jesus: Matthew 26:69-75

Administered by: Augustinians of the Assumption

Tel.: 972-2-6731739

Open: 8.30am-5pm (closed Sunday)

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Martin, James: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Westminster Press, 1978)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus in Jerusalem – his First and Last Days in Judea (Corazin Publishing, 1996)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

St. Peter in Gallicantu (BibleWalks)
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