. . . your guide to visiting the holy places  
If you have found See the Holy Land helpful and would like to support our work, please make a secure donation.
The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Monastery of St Gerasimus

West Bank

Monastery of St Gerasimus (Bukvoed)

Monastery of St Gerasimus (Bukvoed)

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

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

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

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

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

Fresco of St Gerasimus with his lion (Bukvoed)

Fresco of St Gerasimus with his lion (Bukvoed)

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

 

Hospitable place for pilgrims

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

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

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

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

Cloister in Monastery of St Gerasimus (© Deror Avi)

Cloister in Monastery of St Gerasimus (© Deror Avi)

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

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

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

 

Gerasimus redeveloped monastic life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Administered by: Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Tel.: 02 9943038 or 050 348892

Open: 8am-6pm daily

 

 

 

References

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

 

External links

St. Gerassimos (BibleWalks)
The Holy Monastery of Saint Gerasimos of the Jordan (Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem)

Tomb of Mary

Jerusalem

Tomb of Mary

Steps down to the Tomb of Mary (Seetheholyland.net)

The New Testament says nothing about the death and burial of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, but a strong Christian tradition places her tomb in a dimly-lit church at the foot of the Mount of Olives.

The large crypt containing the empty tomb in the Church of the Assumption is all that remains of an early 5th-century church, making it possibly the oldest near-complete religious building in Jerusalem.

The location of the Tomb of Mary is across the Kidron Valley from St Stephen’s Gate in the Old City walls of Jerusalem, just before Gethsemane.

The Church of the Assumption stands partly below the level of the main Jerusalem-Jericho road. It is reached by a stairway leading down to an open courtyard.

Entry is through the façade of a 12th-century Crusader basilica that has been preserved intact. To the right, a passageway leads to the Grotto of Gethsemane.

 

Tomb resembles Holy Sepulchre

Tomb of Mary

Petitions and prayers in the Tomb of Mary (Seetheholyland.net)

A wide Crusader stairway of nearly 50 steps leads to the crypt. Partway down, on the right, is a niche dedicated to the Virgin Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim. This small chapel was originally the burial place of Queen Melisande, daughter and wife of Crusader kings of Jerusalem, who died in 1161.

Almost opposite is a niche dedicated to Mary’s husband, St Joseph. Here three women connected to Crusader kings were buried.

The crypt, much of it cut into solid rock, is dark and gloomy. The smell of incense fills the air, the ceiling is blackened by centuries of candle smoke, and gold and silver lamps hang in profusion.

To the right, a small edicule houses a stone bench on which Mary’s body is believed to have lain. The edicule is richly decorated with Eastern Orthodox icons, candlesticks and flowers, but the interior is bare.

Narrow openings on two sides allow access, and three holes in the wall of the tomb enable pilgrims to touch the bench.

Because the emperor Constantine’s engineers cut away the surrounding rock to isolate the Tomb of Mary in the middle of the crypt, its appearance strongly resembles her Son’s tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Floods in 1972 enabled excavations by the archaeologist Bellarmino Bagatti, who concluded that the place where Mary had been buried was clearly located in a cemetery used during the first century.

 

Several denominations share site

The church belonged to the Catholic Franciscans from 1363 until 1757. When they were expelled it passed into the hands of the Eastern Orthodox churches.

The Greek Orthodox Church now shares possession with the Armenian Orthodox. The Syriac Orthodox, the Coptic Orthodox and the Ethiopian Orthodox have minor rights.

Muslims also worship here. In the wall to the right of the Tomb of Mary is a mihrab niche giving the direction of Mecca. It was installed after Saladin’s conquest in the 12th century.

The place is holy to Muslims because they believe Muhammad saw a light over the tomb of his “sister Mary” during his Night Journey to Jerusalem.

 

Early writers describe death and burial

Tomb of Mary

Icon of Mary’s death at the Tomb of Mary (Seetheholyland.net)

The New Testament may be silent on the end of Mary’s life, but several early apocryphal sources, such as Transitus Mariae, describe her death and burial in Jerusalem.

These works are of uncertain authenticity and 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.

 

Ephesus claim not supported

A competing claim is made that the Virgin Mary died and was buried in the city of Ephesus, in present-day Turkey. This 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).

But the earliest traditions all locate the end of Mary’s life in Jerusalem, as the Catholic Encyclopedia recounts:

“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.”

 

Assumption mentioned in early sources

The name of the Church of the Assumption reflects the Christian belief that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven. This belief is mentioned in early apocryphal sources, as well as 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.

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 celebrates the feast of the Assumption of Mary.

 

Related site:

Church of the Dormition

Administered by: Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre

Tel.: 972-2-6284613

Open: 5am(6am Oct-Mar)-12 noon, 2.30–5pm

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Cignelli, Lino: “Our Lady’s Tomb in the Apocrypha”, Holy Land, spring 2005.
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)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
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

Mary’s Tomb (BibleWalks)
Tomb of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Church of St Catherine of Alexandria

West Bank

Church of St Catherine

Christmas Midnight Mass in St Catherine’s Church (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The midnight Mass beamed from Bethlehem to television viewers worldwide on Christmas Eve is celebrated in the Church of St Catherine of Alexandria.

This 19th-century church adjoins the 6th-century Church of the Nativity, built over the cave where Jesus was born. It even shares a wall with the Nativity church.

The Church of St Catherine is the parish church for Bethlehem’s Catholics. It is also often used by groups of pilgrims.

 

Martyr broke torture wheel

Church of St Catherine

Christmas lighting in the courtyard of St Catherine’s Church (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

And who was St Catherine of Alexandria? Though she has been widely venerated in both East and West, there are few reliable facts about her life.

According to the traditional story, this early 4th-century martyr from Egypt was of noble birth and well educated. At the age of 18, she challenged the emperor Maxentius (or his father, the emperor Maximian) for persecuting Christians and worshipping false gods.

The enraged emperor ordered her to be tortured on a wheel — hence the term “Catherine wheel”. But when Catherine touched the wheel, it broke. She was then beheaded and tradition says angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where in the 6th century a church and monastery were built in her honour.

This latter part of the story was, however, unknown to the earliest pilgrims to the mountain. It was two or three centuries later that the story of St Catherine and the angels began to circulate.

St Catherine of Alexandria has been ranked with St Margaret and St Barbara as one of the 14 “most helpful” saints in heaven. She is also one of the saints reputed to have spoken to St Joan of Arc.

 

Complex of caves under church

Church of St Catherine

Chapel of the Holy Innocents under St Catherine’s Church (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The Bethlehem church dedicated to St Catherine was built in 1882 on the ruins of the Crusader church and monastery belonging to the Augustinians. Beneath the paving of the cloister are the foundations of an earlier monastery, possibly that of St Jerome (whose statue stands on a pedestal in the cloister).

A door in the southwest corner of the cloister leads to a Crusader chapel. The chapel walls are decorated with remnants of Crusader wall paintings, which were partially restored in 1950.

A narrow stairway on the right hand side of the nave leads down into a complex of caves and rock-cut chambers.

These contain a number of chapels. They include the Cave of St Jerome, who translated the Vulgate version of the Bible; St Joseph’s Chapel, recalling the dream in which an angel warned Joseph to take the Holy Family to Egypt; and the Chapel of the Holy Innocents, commemorating the children massacred by Herod.

Other sites in the Bethlehem area:

Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity

Grotto of the Nativity

St Jerome’s Cave

Milk Grotto

Shepherds’ Field

Tomb of Rachel

Field of Boaz

Herodium

In Scripture:

An angel warns Joseph: Matthew 2:13-15

Massacre of the Holy Innocents: Matthew 2:16-18

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-2-2742425

Open: Apr-Sep 6am-7.30pm, Oct-Mar 5.30am-5pm (grottos closed on Sunday mornings)

 

References:

Doyle, Stephen: The Pilgrim’s New Guide to the Holy Land (Liturgical Press, 1990)
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)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria (Travelujah)
Bethlehem (Obethlehem.com)
All content © 2017, See the Holy Land | Site by Ravlich Consulting & Mustard Seed
You are welcome to promote site content and images through your own
website or blog, but please refer to our Terms of Service | Login