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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem




Temple Mount


Temple Mount

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

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

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

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

Temple Mount

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

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

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

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

Temple Mount

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

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


Solomon built First Temple

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

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

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

Temple Mount

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

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

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


Herod built second Temple

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

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

Temple Mount

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

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

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

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

Temple Mount

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

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

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


Romans destroyed Temple

Temple Mount

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

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

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

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

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

Temple Mount

Al-Aqsa Mosque (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

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

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

Judgement scales and Messiah’s entry

Temple Mount

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

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

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

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

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

Temple Mount

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

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

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

Temple Mount

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

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


Sites in the Temple Mount area:

Al-Aqsa Mosque

Dome of the Rock

Western Wall



In Scripture:

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

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

Solomon builds the First Temple: 1 Kings 5-6

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

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

Jesus cleanses the Temple: John 2:14-16

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


Administered by: Islamic Waqf Foundation

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



Bahat, Dan: “Jerusalem Down Under: Tunneling Along Herod’s Temple Mount Wall” (Biblical Archaeological Review, November/December 1995)
Baldwin, David: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Companion (Catholic Truth Society, 2007)
Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Garrard, Alec: The Splendor of the Temple (Angus Hudson, 2000)
Jacobson, David: “Sacred Geometry: Unlocking the Secret of the Temple Mount” (Biblical Archaeological Review, July/August and September/October 1999)
Kochav, Sarah: Israel: A Journey Through the Art and History of the Holy Land (Steimatzky, 2008)
McCormick, James R.: Jerusalem and the Holy Land: The first ecumenical pilgrim’s guide (Rhodes & Eaton, 1997)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Metzger, Bruce M., and Coogan, Michael D.: The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993)
Meyer, Gabriel: “The Temple and the Lord” (Holy Land Review, winter 2010)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Notley, R. Steven: Jerusalem: City of the Great King (Carta Jerusalem, 2015)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Ritmeyer, Leen: “Locating the Original Temple Mount” (Biblical Archaeological Review, March/April 1992)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)
Woodfin, Warren T.: “The Holiest Ground in the World” (Biblical Archaeological Review, September/October 2000)



External links

The Noble Sanctuary
Temple Mount (Wikipedia)


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Church of the Holy Sepulchre


Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Domes and cropped bell tower of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem covers what Christians believe is the site of the most important event in human history: The place where Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

But the pilgrim who looks for the hill of Calvary and a tomb cut out of rock in a garden nearby will be disappointed.

• At first sight, the church may bring on a sense of anticlimax. Looking across a hemmed-in square, there is the shabby façade of a dun-coloured, Romanesque basilica with grey domes and a cut-off belfry.

• Inside, there is a bewildering conglomeration of 30-plus chapels and worship spaces. These are encrusted with the devotional ornamentation of several Christian rites.

This sprawling Church of the Holy Sepulchre displays a mish-mash of architectural styles. It bears the scars of fires and earthquakes, deliberate destruction and reconstruction down the centuries. It is often gloomy and usually thronging with noisy visitors.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre from above, huddled in by surrounding buildings (Ilan Arad / Wikimedia)

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre from above, huddled in by surrounding buildings (Ilan Arad / Wikimedia)

Yet it remains a living place of worship. Its ancient stones are steeped in prayer, hymns and liturgies. It bustles daily with fervent rounds of incensing and processions.

This is the pre-eminent shrine for Christians, who consider it the holiest place on earth. And it attracts pilgrims by the thousand, all drawn to pay homage to their Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Church replaced pagan temple

Early Christians venerated the site. Then the emperor Hadrian covered it with a pagan temple.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Parvis (courtyard) of Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

Only in AD 326 was the first church begun by the emperor Constantine I. He tore down the pagan temple and had Christ’s tomb cut away from the original hillside. Tradition says his mother, St Helena, found the cross of Christ in a cistern not far from the hill of Calvary.

Constantine’s church was burned by Persians in 614, restored, destroyed by Muslims in 1009 and partially rebuilt. Crusaders completed the reconstruction in 1149. The result is essentially the church that stands today.

Making sense of the church

Of all the Christian holy places, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is probably the most difficult for pilgrims to come to terms with.

To help make sense of it, this article deals with the church’s major elements and its authenticity. A further article, Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels, deals with its other devotional areas.

1. The main access to the church, on its south side, is from the Souk el-Dabbagha, a street of shops selling religious souvenirs. Visitors enter the left-hand doorway (the right one was blocked up by Muslim conquerors in the 12th century).

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Climbing steps to Calvary (Seetheholyland.net)

2. Instead of following tourists into the often-gloomy interior, immediately turn hard right and ascend a steep and curving flight of stairs. You are now ascending the “hill” of Calvary (from the Latin) or Golgotha (from the Aramaic), both words meaning “place of the skull”. The stairs open on to a floor that is level with the top of the rocky outcrop on which Christ was crucified. It is about 4.5 metres above the ground floor.

3. Immediately on the right is a window looking into a small worship space called the Chapel of the Franks. Here the Tenth Station of the Cross (Jesus is stripped of his garments) is located.

On the floor of Calvary are two chapels side by side, Greek Orthodox on the left, Catholic on the right. They illustrate the vast differences in liturgical decoration between Eastern and Western churches.

4. The Catholic Chapel of the Nailing to the Cross is the site of the Eleventh Station of the Cross (Jesus is nailed to the cross). On its ceiling is a 12th-century medallion of the Ascension of Jesus — the only surviving Crusader mosaic in the building.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Crucifixion (Seetheholyland.net)

5. The much more ornate Greek Chapel of the Crucifixion is the Twelfth Station (Jesus dies on the cross). Standing here, it is easy to understand a little girl’s remark, quoted by the novelist Evelyn Waugh in 1951: “I never knew Our Lord was crucified indoors.”

6. Between the two chapels, a Catholic altar of Our Lady of Sorrows commemorates the Thirteenth Station (Jesus is taken down from the cross).

7. A silver disc beneath the Greek altar marks the place where it is believed the cross stood. The limestone rock of Calvary may be touched through a round hole in the disc. On the right, under glass, can be seen a fissure in the rock. Some believe this was caused by the earthquake at the time Christ died. Others suggest that the rock of Calvary was left standing by quarrymen because it was cracked.

8. Another flight of steep stairs at the left rear of the Greek chapel leads back to the ground floor.

9. To the left is the Stone of Anointing, a slab of reddish stone flanked by candlesticks and overhung by a row of eight lamps.

Stone of Anointing from above (Seetheholyland.net)

Stone of Anointing from above (Seetheholyland.net)

Kneeling pilgrims kiss it with great reverence, although this is not the stone on which Christ’s body was anointed. This devotion is recorded only since the 12th century. The present stone dates from 1810.

10. On the wall behind the stone is a Greek mosaic depicting (from right to left) Christ being taken down from the cross, his body being prepared for burial, and his body being taken to the tomb.

11. Continuing away from Calvary, the Rotunda of the church opens up on the right, surrounded by massive pillars and surmounted by a huge dome. Its outer walls date back to the emperor Constantine’s original basilica built in the 4th century. The dome is decorated with a starburst of tongues of light, with 12 rays representing the apostles.

12. In the centre is a stone edicule (“little house”), its entrance flanked by rows of huge candles. This is the Tomb of Christ, the Fourteenth Station of the Cross.

This stone monument encloses the tomb (sepulchre) where it is believed Jesus Christ lay buried for three days — and where he rose from the dead. A high-tech photogrammetric survey late in the 20th century showed that the present edicule contains the remains of three previous structures, each encasing the previous one, like a set of Russian dolls.

The Edicule after restoration in 2017 (Ben Gray / ELCJHL)

The Edicule after restoration in 2017 (Ben Gray / ELCJHL)

13. At busy times, Greek Orthodox priests control admission to the edicule. Inside there are two chambers. In the outer one, known as the Chapel of the Angel, stands a pedestal containing what is believed to be a piece of the rolling stone used to close the tomb.

14. A very low doorway leads to the tomb chamber, lined with marble and hung with holy pictures. On the right, a marble slab covers the rock bench on which the body of Jesus lay. It is this slab which is venerated by pilgrims, who customarily place religious objects and souvenirs on it.

The slab was deliberately split by order of the Franciscan custos (guardian) of the Holy Land in 1555, lest Ottoman Turks should steal such a fine piece of marble.

An agreement between the major Christian communities at the church enabled work to begin in May 2016 to reinforce and restore the edicule. The work was undertaken by a team of scientists from the National Technical University of Athens.

Inside the restored tomb chamber, with the window exposing the rock wall of the burial cave at left (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Inside the restored tomb chamber, with the window exposing the rock wall of the burial cave at left (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

In October 2016 the team removed the marble slab, exposing a layer of fill material covering another slab of marble with a small Crusader cross etched on it. Beneath it was the bench on which the body of Jesus lay.

When the team restored the marble cladding and resealed the burial bed, they also cut a small window into the southern interior wall of the shrine to expose one of the limestone walls of the burial cave.

The multi-million-dollar restoration was completed in March 2017. The reddish-cream marble of the edicule emerged cleaned of centuries of grime, dust and soot from candle smoke, and freed from a grid of iron girders that had held it together since 1947.

But scientists warned that even more work would be necessary to shore up the unstable foundations of the shrine and the surrounding rotunda to avoid the risk of collapse. This was to be undertaken during a two-year project to restore and conserve the pavement stones inside the church that began in March 2022.

Three denominations share ownership

Ownership of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared between the Greek Orthodox, Catholics (known in the Holy Land as Latins) and Armenian Orthodox.

The Greeks (who call the basilica the Anastasis, or Church of the Resurrection) own its central worship space, known as the Katholikon or Greek choir. The Armenians own the underground Chapel of St Helena which they have renamed in honour of St Gregory the Illuminator.

Katholikon (or Greek choir), the central worship space in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

The Catholics own the Franciscan Chapel of the Apparition (which commemorates the tradition that the risen Christ first appeared to his Mother) and the deep underground Chapel of the Finding of the Cross.

Three minor Orthodox communities, Coptic, Syriac and Ethiopian, have rights to use certain areas. The Ethiopian monks live in a kind of African village on the roof, called Deir es-Sultan.

The rights of possession and use are spelt out by a decree, called the Status Quo, originally imposed by the Ottoman Turks in 1757. It even gives two Muslim families the sole right to hold the key and open and close the church — a tradition that dates back much further, to 1246.


Ladder symbolises Status Quo

Each religious community guards its rights jealously. The often-uneasy relationship laid down by the Status Quo is typified by a wooden ladder resting on a cornice above the main entrance and leaning against a window ledge.

Chapel of the Finding of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

Chapel of the Finding of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The ladder has been there so long that nobody knows how it got there. Various suggestions have been offered: It was left behind by a careless mason or window-cleaner; it had been used to supply food to Armenian monks locked in the church by the Turks; it had served to let the Armenians use the cornice as a balcony to get fresh air and sunshine rather than leave the church and pay an Ottoman tax to re-enter it.

The ladder appears in an engraving of the church dated 1728, and it was mentioned in the 1757 edict by Sultan Abdul Hamid I that became the basis for the Status Quo.

Immovable ladder on ledge over entrance to Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Seetheholyland.net)

It would be too much to expect that the ladder seen today has resisted the elements since early in the 18th century. In fact the original has been replaced at least once.

In 1997 the ladder suddenly disappeared for some weeks, after a Protestant prankster hid it behind an altar. When it was discovered and returned, a steel grate was installed over the lower parts of both windows above the entrance. And in 2009 the ladder mysteriously appeared against the left window for a day.

The ladder, window and cornice are all in the possession of the Armenian Orthodox. And because the ladder was on the cornice when the Status Quo began in 1757, it must remain there.


Archaeology supports authenticity

Visitors may easily be disillusioned by the church’s contrasting architectural styles, its pious ornamentation and its competing liturgies.

If these man-made elements could be removed, as biblical scholar John J. Kilgallen has written, “we would stand between two places not more than 30 yards [90 feet] apart, with dirt and rock and grass under our feet and the open air all around us. Such was the original state of this area before Jesus died and was buried here.”

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Inside the Tomb of Christ (© Adriatikus)

But is this the place where Christ died and was buried? “Very probably, Yes,” declares biblical scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor in his Oxford Archaeological Guide The Holy Land. Eusebius, the first Church historian (in the 4th century), says the site was venerated by the early Christian community.

And the Israeli scholar Dan Bahat, former city archaeologist of Jerusalem, says: “We may not be absolutely certain that the site of the Holy Sepulchre Church is the site of Jesus’ burial, but we have no other site that can lay a claim nearly as weighty, and we really have no reason to reject the authenticity of the site.”

One major objection raised is that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is inside the city walls, while the Gospels say the crucifixion took place outside. Archaeologists have confirmed that the site of the church was outside the city until about 10 years after Christ’s death, when a new wall was built.

Some favour a competing site, the Garden Tomb. Though it offers a more serene environment, the tombs in its area predate the time of Christ by several centuries.

Further article:

Church of the Holy Sepulchre chapels, dealing with the other devotional areas.


In Scripture:

The crucifixion: Matthew 27:27-56; Mark 15:16-41; Luke 23:26-49; John 19:16-37

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: Confraternity of the Holy Sepulchre (Greek Orthodox), Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land (Catholic), Brotherhood of St James (Armenian Orthodox)

Tel.: 972-2-6267000

Opens: Apr-Sep 4am, Oct-Mar 5am. Closes: Apr-Aug 8pm, Mar and Sep 7.30pm, Oct-Feb 7pm.  Sunday morning liturgies are usually: Coptic 4am, Catholic 5.30am, Greek Orthodox 7am, Syriac Orthodox 8am; Armenian Orthodox 8.45am on alternating Sundays with a weekly procession at 4.15pm.



Bahat, Dan: “Does the Holy Sepulchre Church Mark the Burial of Jesus?” (Biblical Archaeology Review, May-June 1986)
Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Benelli, Carla, and Saltini, Tommaso (eds): The Holy Sepulchre: The Pilgrim’s New Guide (Franciscan Printing Press, 2011).
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Cohen, Raymond: Saving the Holy Sepulchre: How Rival Christians Came Together to Rescue their Holiest Shrine (Oxford University Press, 2008)
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)
Hadid, Diaa: “Risk of Collapse at Jesus’ Tomb Unites Rival Christians” (New York Times, April 6, 2016)
Herman, Danny: “Who Moved the Ladder?” (Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2010).
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)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Notley, R. Steven: Jerusalem: City of the Great King (Carta Jerusalem, 2015)
Powers, Tom: “The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Some perspectives from history, geography, architecture, archaeology and the New Testament” (Artifax, Autumn 2004-Spring 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Simmermacher, Günther: The Holy Land Trek: A Pilgrim’s Guide (Southern Cross Books, 2012).
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)
Waugh, Evelyn: “The Plight of the Holy Places” (Life, December 24, 1951.
Wright, J. Robert: “Holy Sepulchre” (Holy Land, spring 1998)

External links:

Holy Sepulchre (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Wikipedia)
The Church and the Ladder: Frozen in Time (James E. Lancaster)
Unsealing of Christ’s reputed tomb turns up new revelations (National Geographic)
Jesus’ tomb reopens in Jerusalem after multi-million dollar restoration (Haaretz)
Tomb of Christ at Risk of ‘Catastrophic’ Collapse (National Geographic)
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Via Dolorosa


Via Dolorosa

First Station: Pilgrims carry a cross through the courtyard of the Al-Omariyyeh College (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Chapel of the Flagellation

Chapel of the Condemnation

Ecce Homo Arch


Every Friday afternoon hundreds of Christians join in a procession through the Old City of Jerusalem, stopping at 14 Stations of the Cross as they identify with the suffering of Jesus on his way to crucifixion.

Their route is called the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows). This is also the name of the principal street they follow, a narrow marketplace abustle with traders and shoppers, most likely similar to the scene on the first Good Friday.

It is unlikely that Jesus followed this route on his way to Calvary. Today’s Via Dolorosa originated in pious tradition rather than in certain fact, but it is hallowed by the footsteps of the faithful over centuries.


Franciscans lead procession

Via Dolorosa

First Station: Franciscan friars begin the Friday observance in the courtyard of the Al-Omariyyeh College (Seetheholyland.net)

The Friday procession is led by Franciscan friars, custodians of most of the holy places since the 13th century.

It starts at 4pm — 3pm in winter, from late October till late March — at an Islamic college, Umariyya School, just inside St Stephen’s or Lions’ Gate. Pilgrims wind their way westward to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the last five Stations are located.

Each procession is accompanied by escorts called kawas, in Ottoman uniforms of red fez, gold-embroidered waistcoat and baggy blue trousers, who signify their authority by banging silver-topped staves on the ground.

Many other pilgrims, individually or in groups with guides, follow the same 500-metre route during the week.

Via Dolorosa

Route of the Via Dolorosa (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

For those walking the Via Dolorosa on their own, the route is not easy to follow.

A simple map is available from the Christian Information Centre, Omar Ibn el-Khattab Square, Jaffa Gate (closed on Sundays, Christian holidays and Saturday afternoons). The PlanetWare travel guide also has a map.


Number of Stations has varied

While scholars disagree on the path Jesus took on Good Friday, processions in the 4th and 5th centuries from the Mount of Olives to Calvary followed more or less along the route taken by modern pilgrims (but there were no stops for Stations).

The practice of following the Stations of the Cross appears to have developed in Europe among Christians who could not travel to the Holy Land. The number of Stations varied from 7 to 18 or more.

Today’s Via Dolorosa route was established in the 18th century, with the present 14 Stations, but some of the Stations were given their present location only in the 19th century.

Via Dolorosa

Bronze discs mark Stations on the Via Dolorosa; the crossed arms are a Franciscan symbol (Seetheholyland.net)

Nine of the 14 stations are based on Gospel references. The other five — Jesus’ three falls, his meeting with his Mother, and Veronica wiping his face — are traditional.


Place of judgement unknown

The chief difficulty in determining Jesus’ path to Calvary is that nobody knows the site of Pontius Pilate’s Praetorium, where Jesus was condemned to death and given the crossbeam of his cross to carry through the streets.

There are three possible locations:

Herod the Great’s Palace or Citadel, which dominated the Upper City. The remains of the Citadel complex, with its Tower of David (erected long after King David’s time), are just inside the present Jaffa Gate. This is the most likely location.

Via Dolorosa

Second Station: Ecce Homo Arch over Via Dolorosa, with Sisters of Zion convent at right (Seetheholyland.net)

• The Antonia Fortress, a vast military garrison built by Herod the Great north of the Temple compound and with a commanding view of the Temple environs. The Umariyya School, now the location of the first Station of the Cross, is believed to stand on part of its site.

• The Palace of the Hasmoneans, built before Herod’s time to house the rulers of Judea. It was probably located midway between Herod’s Palace and the Temple, in what is today the Jewish Quarter.

In the immediate area of the Antonia Fortress is the Ecce Homo Arch, reaching across the Via Dolorosa. It is named after the famous phrase (“Behold the Man” in Latin) spoken by Pilate when he showed the scourged Jesus to the crowd (John 19:5). But the arch was built after Jesus stood before Pilate.

Adjacent to the arch is the Ecce Homo Convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion (the entrance is near the corner of the Via Dolorosa and a narrow alley called Adabat el-Rahbat, or The Nuns Ascent).

Via Dolorosa

Second Station: Roman soldiers’ game in Lithostrotos pavement under Zion Sisters convent (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Underneath the convent, pilgrims can visit stone pavings which were once claimed to be the Stone Pavement (Lithostrotos) where Pilate had his judgement seat (John 19:13).

Markings in the paving stones, indicating a dice game known as the King’s Game, suggested this was where Jesus was mocked by the soldiers (John 19:2-3). Yet this pavement is also from a later date.

Chapels worth visiting

Several of the chapels at the various Stations of the Cross are not often open to the public. Two at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa are open daily (8-12am, 2-5pm) and are worth visiting before starting the Way of the Cross.

Across the street from Umariyya School is a Franciscan compound containing the Chapel of the Flagellation and the Chapel of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross.

Via Dolorosa

Second Station: Jesus takes up his cross, in Chapel of the Condemnation (Tom Callinan/Seetheholyland.net)

The Chapel of the Flagellation is notable for its stained-glass windows behind the altar and on either side of the sanctuary. They show Pilate washing his hands; Jesus being scourged; and Barabbas expressing joy at his release. On the ceiling above the altar, a mosaic on a golden background depicts the crown of thorns pierced by stars.

The Flagellation Museum, displaying archaeological artifacts from several Holy Land sites, including Nazareth, Capernaum and the Mount of Olives, is open daily (except Sunday and Monday), 9am-1pm and 2-4pm.

The Chapel of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross is topped by five white domes. Artwork includes papier-mâché figures enacting some of the events of Jesus’ Passion.

Paving stones at the back of the chapel are part of the pavement that extends under the Ecce Homo Convent.

Via Dolorosa

Third Station: Relief depicting Jesus’ first fall (Seetheholyland.net)

Opposite the chapel entrance is a model of Jerusalem in the first century AD, showing how the sites of Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre were outside the city walls.


The 14 Stations

Numbering of the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa traditionally uses Roman numerals, and in 2019 bronze sculptures were added to depict what is commemorated at each station:

I: Jesus is condemned to death

Via Dolorosa

Fourth Station: Sculpture depicting Jesus meeting his Mother (Seetheholyland.net)

About 300 metres west of St Stephen’s or Lions’ Gate, steps lead up to the courtyard of Umariyya School (open Monday-Thursday and Saturday, 2.30-6pm, Friday 2.30-4pm; entry with caretaker’s permission).

Here the First Station is commemorated. The southern end of the courtyard offers a view overlooking the Temple Mount.

II: Jesus carries his cross

Across the street, near where an arch stretches over the Via Dolorosa, the Second Station is marked by the words “II Statio” on the wall of the Franciscan Friary.

III: Jesus falls the first time

Down the Via Dolorosa, under the Ecce Homo Arch and about 100 metres along, a sharp left turn into Al-Wad Road brings pilgrims to a small chapel on the left, belonging to the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate.

Via Dolorosa

Fifth Station: Pilgrims on the Way of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

Above the entrance, a stone relief of Jesus falling with his cross marks the Third Station. Inside, a similar image is watched by shocked angels.

IV: Jesus meets his Mother

The Fourth Station is now commemorated adjacent to the Third Station. Until 2008 this Station was commemorated a further 25 metres along Al-Wad Road.

The stone relief marking the Station is over the doorway to the courtyard of an Armenian Catholic church. In the crypt are a strikingly attractive adoration chapel and part of a mosaic floor from a 5th-century church. In the centre of the mosaic is depicted a pair of sandals, said to represent the spot where the suffering Mary was standing.

Via Dolorosa

Sixth Station: Column imbedded in wall recalls tradition that Veronica wiped Jesus’ face here (Seetheholyland.net)

V: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross

About 25 metres further along Al-Wad Road, the Via Dolorosa turns right. At the corner, the lintel over a doorway bears a Latin inscription marking the site where Simon, a visitor from present-day Libya, became involved in Jesus’ Passion.

The Franciscan chapel here, dedicated to Simon the Cyrenian, is on the site of the Franciscans’ first house in Jerusalem, in 1229.

VI: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

The Via Dolorosa now becomes a narrow, stepped street as it wends its way uphill. About 100 metres on the left, a wooden door with studded metal bands indicates the Greek Catholic (Melkite) Church of St Veronica.

According to tradition, the face of Jesus was imprinted on the cloth she used to wipe it. A cloth described as Veronica’s veil is reported to have been kept in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome since the 8th century.

VII: Jesus falls the second time

Via Dolorosa

Seventh Station: Relief depicting Jesus’ second fall, in one of the chapels at the Station (Seetheholyland.net)

About 75 metres further uphill, at the junction of the Via Dolorosa with Souq Khan al-Zeit, two Franciscan chapels, one above the other, mark the Seventh Station.

Inside the lower chapel is a large stone column, part of the colonnaded Cardo Maximus, the main street of Byzantine Jerusalem, which ran from north to south.

The position of this Station marks the western boundary of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time. It is believed he left the city here, through the Garden Gate, on his way to Calvary.

VIII: Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem

Across Souq Khan al-Zeit and about 20 metres up a narrower street, the Eighth Station is opposite the Station VIII Souvenir Bazaar.

On the wall of a Greek Orthodox monastery, beneath the number marker is a carved stone set at eye level. It is distinguished by a Latin cross flanked by the Greek letters IC XC NI KA (meaning “Jesus Christ conquers”).

Via Dolorosa

Eighth Station: Stone in wall, carved with Latin cross (Seetheholyland.net)

IX: Jesus falls the third time

Now it is necessary to retrace one’s steps back towards the Seventh Station, and turn right along Souq Khan al-Zeit.

Less than 100 metres on the right is a flight of 28 wide stone steps. At the top, a left turn along a winding lane for about 80 metres leads to the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, where the shaft of a Roman pillar to the left of the entrance marks Jesus’ third fall. Nearby is the Coptic Chapel of St Helen.

To the left of the pillar, three steps lead to a terrace that is the roof of the Chapel of St Helena in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here, in a cluster of primitive cells, live a community of Ethiopian Orthodox monks.

X: Jesus is stripped of his garments

The last five Stations of the Cross are situated inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Via Dolorosa

Ninth Station: Roman pillar in far corner marks Jesus’ third fall (Seetheholyland.net)

If the door to the roof of the church is open, a short cut is possible.

On the terrace, the second small door on the right leads into the Ethiopians’ upper chapel. Steps at the back descend to their lower chapel, where a door gives access to the courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre basilica.

The Friday procession, however, returns along the winding lane and stone steps to Souq Khan al-Zeit, turning right after about 40 metres into Souq al-Dabbagha.

After about 80 metres, bearing to the right, a small archway with the words “Holy Sepulchre” leads into the church courtyard.

To the right inside the main door of the church, 19 steep and curving steps lead up to the chapels constructed above the rock of Calvary.

The five Stations inside the church are not specifically marked.

Via Dolorosa

Tenth Station: Interior of Chapel of the Franks, where the Tenth Station is located (Seetheholyland.net)

After ascending the steps inside the door, immediately on the right is a window looking into a small worship space called the Chapel of the Franks (a name traditionally given to the Franciscans). Here, in what was formerly an external entrance to Calvary, the Tenth Station is located.

XI: Jesus is nailed to the cross

The Catholic Chapel of the Nailing to the Cross, in the right nave on Calvary, is the site of the Eleventh Station.

On its ceiling is a 12th-century medallion of the Ascension of Jesus — the only surviving Crusader mosaic in the church.

Via Dolorosa

Eleventh Station: Catholic chapel on Calvary floor commemorates the nailing of Jesus to the cross (Seetheholyland.net)

XII: Jesus dies on the cross

The much more ornate Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Crucifixion, in the left nave of Calvary, is the Twelfth Station.

A silver disc beneath the altar marks the place where it is believed the cross of Christ stood. The limestone rock of Calvary may be touched through a round hole in the disc.

XIII: Jesus is taken down from the cross

Between the Catholic and Greek chapels, a Catholic altar of Our Lady of Sorrows, depicting Mary with a sword piercing her heart, commemorates the Thirteenth Station.

XIV: Jesus is laid in the tomb

Via Dolorosa

Twelfth Station: Close-up of figure of Christ in Chapel of the Crucifixion (Picturesfree.org)

Another flight of steep stairs at the left rear of the Greek chapel leads back to the ground floor.

Downstairs and to the left, under the centre of the vast dome of the church, is a stone monument called an edicule (“little house”), its entrance flanked by rows of huge candles.

This is the Tomb of Christ, the Fourteenth Station of the Cross.

This stone monument encloses the tomb (sepulchre) where it is believed Jesus lay buried for three days — and where he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning.


Related articles:

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre Chapels


Via Dolorosa

Fourteenth Station: Edicule over the Tomb of Jesus (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

In Scripture:

The crucifixion: Matthew 27:24-61; Mark 15:15-47; Luke 23:24-56; John 18:13—19:42

Via Dolorosa

Resurrected Christ behind ornate lamps above the door of the edicule (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

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

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-2-6272692




Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Beitzel, Barry J.: Biblica, The Bible Atlas: A Social and Historical Journey Through the Lands of the Bible (Global Book Publishing, 2007)
Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Hibbs, Jon: “Jerusalem: Pilgrims and Playboys”, The Telegraph, April 3, 1999
Jacobs, Daniel: Jerusalem: The Mini Rough Guide (Rough Guides, 1999)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
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)
Pixner, Bargil: With Jesus in Jerusalem – his First and Last Days in Judea (Corazin Publishing, 1996)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Zohar, Gil: “X Marks the Spot”, Associated Christian Press Bulletin, January-February 2009

External links

Way of the Cross (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Via Dolorosa: Way of the Cross (iOS app, World Evangelical Alliance)
Flagellation (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)


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Israel/West Bank

Nicopolis (Amwas, Imwas, Emmaus)           Map: 31°50’21.48”N, 34°59’22.05”E

Abu Ghosh                                                Map: 31°48’26.6”N, 35°6’28.9”E

El-Qubeibeh (El-Kubeibeh)                          Map: 31°50’23.76”N, 35°08’12.66”E

Colonia (Kulonieh, Moza, Motza, Ammaous)  Map: 31°47’38.11N, 35°10’6.45”E


The village of Emmaus was the setting for one of the most touching of Christ’s post-Resurrection appearances.

Unfortunately for pilgrims drawn by the account in Luke’s Gospel, the identity of Emmaus became lost early in the Christian era. Only in the 21st century are scholars reaching a consensus favouring a location near Moza (or Motza), on the western edge of Jerusalem, where there is no commemorative site to visit.


“Supper at Emmaus”, by an anonymous 17th century Italian painter (Wikimedia)

The Emmaus story is well-known: Two disciples downcast by the death of Jesus, and confused by reports that his body is missing, are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They encounter a stranger who listens to their concerns, then gives them a Scripture lesson that makes their “hearts burn within them”.

Finally, as they share the evening meal, he breaks bread and they recognise him. By then the risen Christ has disappeared from their sight, and they immediately hurry back to Jerusalem. (Luke 24:13-35)

Out of several locations for Emmaus proposed over the centuries, expert opinion is focusing on Colonia (or Kulonieh), near the modern Jewish neighbourhood of Moza. Excavations instigated by the New Testament scholar Carsten Peter Thiede at the location from 2001 to 2004 confirmed the existence of an upper-class, 1st-century Jewish village which was called Emmaus.

Disciples may have been father and son

Luke’s Gospel says one of the disciples was named Cleophas. An ancient Christian tradition says he was the brother of St Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary, and that he was later stoned to death outside his own house for declaring that his nephew Jesus was the Messiah foretold by the prophets.

It is believed that the “Mary of Cleophas” who stood by the cross with Jesus’ mother was the wife of the Emmaus disciple.

The same tradition says the other unnamed disciple was the youngest son of Cleophas, called Simeon — who later served for 43 years as head of the Judaeo-Christian Church in Palestine and was martyred at the age of 120.

Several other candidates for the companion of Cleophas have been suggested, including his wife Mary.

Several possible sites suggested


Roads to four possible locations of Emmaus (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Positively locating the village of Emmaus has been made more difficult by conflicting distances from Jerusalem given in different texts of Luke’s Gospel.

Most texts (including the earliest) give the distance as 60 stadia, but some give it as 160 stadia. A Roman stadion (the plural is stadia) equals 185 metres.

Sixty stadia would be about 11 kilometres (just under 7 miles) and 160 stadia would be 29.5 kilometres (just over 18 miles).

Several possible sites have been proposed over the centuries. The four most seriously considered are:


Nicopolis (also known as Emmaus, Amwas and Imwas), near Latrun, at the end of the Ayalon Valley, around 160 stadia (30km) from Jerusalem.


Emmaus/Nicopolis: Cloister of Community of Beatitudes monastery (© Community of the Beatitudes)

Christians in the 4th century considered this the site of Luke’s Emmaus. St Jerome in one of his letters even implied it had a church built in the house of Cleophas. The tradition was so strong that it may have resulted in scribes “correcting” the Gospel text to read 160 rather than 60 stadia. Nevertheless, some of the most ancient manuscripts, such as the Codex Sinaiticus, have 160 stadia.

Around 220, following a delegation led by the prefect of Emmaus, Sextus Iulius Africanus (a prominent Christian), emperor Elagabalus gave Emmaus the status of a city and changed its name to Nicopolis.

The town was wiped out by plague in 639 but, re-established, became the last station of the Crusaders on their way to Jerusalem in 1099. By then the identification with Luke’s Gospel had largely been lost.

In modern times Amwas/Nicopolis was again accepted as Emmaus by 19th-century biblical scholar Edward Robinson. The identification was augmented by revelations received by Blessed Mariam of Jesus Crucified, a nun of the Carmelite monastery of Bethlehem. Advocates of Nicopolis raise the possibility that the disciples arrived back at Jerusalem the day after encountering Christ.


Emmaus/Nicopolis: Ruins of Byzantine church restored by Crusaders (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The Arab village of Amwas was levelled by Israel following the Six-Day War in 1967. Its ruins are in Ayalon (or Canada) Park, 2km north of Latrun Junction. North of the Cistercian monastery at Latrun are ruins of a large Byzantine church with mosaic floors, within which was built a smaller Crusader church.

Factors against Nicopolis: 1) The distance is much greater than the 60 stadia in most of the earliest Gospel texts. 2) It would have been very difficult for the disciples to walk here from Jerusalem and make the uphill return the same evening before the city gates were shut. 3) The existence of this Emmaus was well-known, so Luke would not have needed to identify it by distance.

Administration: Community of the Beatitudes

Tel.: 972-8-925-69-40


Emmaus/Abu Ghosh: Benedictine church built by Crusaders (Berthold Werner)

Open: Mon-Sat 8.30-noon, 2.30-5.30pm (5pm Oct-Mar)


Abu Ghosh, near Kiryat Yearim (or Kiryat el-Enab), just over 60 stadia (11km) west of Jerusalem on the main road to Joppa.

With the Amwas tradition lost, the Crusaders settled on Kiryat el-Enab as Emmaus. They built a church there in 1140 and called the place Castellum Emmaus.

After the Crusaders were defeated 47 years later, Muslims used the church as stables.

This town was previously known as the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant for 20 years between being retrieved from the Philistines and being taken to Jerusalem by King David around 1000 BC.

Early in the 19th century it was renamed Abu Ghosh after a family of brigands who controlled it and exacted tribute from travellers.

The Crusader church, now restored as the Church of the Resurrection, remains one of the finest examples of Crusader architecture. Its tranquil setting adjoins a Benedictine monastery. In the crypt is a spring used by the Roman Tenth Legion when it camped here after capturing Jerusalem in AD 70.


Emmaus/Abu Ghosh: Faded frescoes in Crusader church (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

On the hill west of the village towers a huge statue of the Madonna and Child surmounting the Church of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant. The hill affords an impressive view of the Judean mountains to the east and the coastal plain to the west.

Factors against Abu Ghosh: 1) Kiryat Yearim was not called Emmaus in the 1st century. 2) It was not identified with Luke’s Emmaus until the 12th century.


Church of the Resurrection: Benedictines

Tel.: 972-2-5342798

Open: 8.30-11.30am, 2.30-5.30pm (closed on Sundays and Christian feast days, and from Good Friday to Easter Sunday)

Church of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant: Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition

Tel.: 972-2-5342818

Open: 8.30-11.30am, 2.30-5pm (on Sundays phone before visiting).



El-Qubeibeh (or El-Kubeibeh), on the Roman road to Lydda, just over 60 (11km) stadia northwest of Jerusalem.


Emmaus/El-Qubeibeh: Church of St Cleophas (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

With the Crusaders expelled from the Holy Land, Christians in the following centuries were forbidden to use the main highway from the coastal plain to Jerusalem, denying them access to Abu Ghosh.

El-Qubeibeh, which had been part of the agricultural domain of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was first suggested as St Luke’s Emmaus in 1280. The village was on a Roman road and in 1099 the Crusaders discovered a Roman fortress there, which became known as Castellum Emmaus.

The site was adopted in 1335 by the Franciscans, who began an annual pilgrimage there. Excavation in the 20th century found evidence of occupation in Roman times.

The Franciscans built a church there in 1902, following the lines of the Crusader church. During the Second World War the British used their monastery to inter German and Italian residents of Palestine (including Franciscans).


Roman road at El-Qubeibeh (© vizAviz)

On the façade of the church is a ceramic depiction of Christ and the two disciples. Inside, under glass, are the remains of what is suggested to be the foundations of the house of Cleophas. Near the church a section of Roman road has been excavated.

El-Qubeibeh is the only Emmaus candidate in Palestine, and checkpoints make access more difficult. The elevated site offers a fine outlook over the hill country towards the Mediterranean Sea.

Factors against El-Qubeibeh: 1) The village was not called Emmaus in the 1st century. 2) No Jewish objects have been found there. 3) The village was not identified with Luke’s Gospel until late in the 13th century.

Administration: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land


Emmaus/El-Qubeibeh: Celebrating feast day of St Cleophas (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

Tel.: 050-5200417

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


Colonia (also called Kulonieh, Emmaus or Ammaous), just over 30 stadia (6km) west of Jerusalem, on the road to Jaffa.

The site now favoured by modern scholars as the most likely Emmaus is just off the highway from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and adjacent to the modern suburb of Moza.

Ancient Moza (or Mozah) was mentioned as a village of the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:26). In the days of the Temple, according to the Talmud, Moza was the place where Jews collected willow branches for the Feast of Tabernacles.


Emmaus/Colonia: Section of Roman road from Jerusalem to Moza (© BiblePlaces.com)

After the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, the emperor Vespasian established a colony of 800 army veterans there. This is recorded by the historian Josephus in The Jewish War. He calls the place “Ammaous”, and overestimates its location as “distant from Jerusalem threescore stadia”. The town subsequently became known as Colonia, after the veterans’ colony.

In modern times, a Palestinian village named Qalunya was destroyed by Jewish forces in 1948. Ruins and a few isolated houses remain. Excavations have revealed evidence of an upper-class, first-century Jewish village.

This Emmaus has no firm Christian tradition linking it to Luke’s Gospel, but it was within easy walking distance of Jerusalem and was known to pilgrims in the 11th and 13th centuries. There is no commemorative site.


Excavations at Moza (Z. Greenhut & A. De Groot excavation, © Israel Antiquities Authority)

Its supporters suggest that Luke’s 60 stadia could refer to the return distance. But there is another possibility. Josephus published The Jewish War in AD 77 or 78. Many scholars believe Luke wrote his Gospel between AD 80 and 85. Could Luke have mistakenly copied the “threescore stadia” from Josephus?

Factors against Colonia: 1) There is no certain link between the Ammaous of Josephus and the Emmaus of Luke. 2) There is no firm Christian tradition. 3) A question mark remains over the distance.

A lesson from elusive Emmaus?

The inability to identify the site of Emmaus with certainty, despite Luke’s richly detailed narrative, may leave devotees as downcast as the two disciples on the road.

They may be consoled by two compensating factors:


“The Walk to Emmaus”, by Gemälde von Robert Zünd (Wikimedia)

• The commemorative “Emmaus” sites at Nicopolis/Amwas, Abu Ghosh and El-Qubeibeh, even if not authentic, are all attractive places to reflect on the message of the Gospel story.

• Perhaps the elusive nature of Emmaus offers its own lesson — that what happened on that day is more important than where it happened, and that encounters with the risen Christ are not confined to one time or place.


In Scripture: The road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)




Brownrigg, Ronald: Come, See the Place: A Pilgrim Guide to the Holy Land (Hodder and Stoughton, 1985)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
De Sandoli, Sabino: Emmaus-el Qubeibe (Franciscan Printing Press, 1980)
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)
Josephus, Flavius: The Jewish War, trans. William Whiston (Kregel, Baker, 1960)
Laney, J. Carl: “The Identification of Emmaus”, from Selective Geographical Problems in the Life of Christ, doctoral dissertation (Dallas Theological Seminary, 1977)
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)
Pierri, Rosario: “The Emmaus Enigma” (Holy Land Review, spring 2010)
Thiede, Carsten Peter: The Emmaus Mystery: Discovering Evidence for the Risen Christ (Continuum International, 2006)
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

Emmaus (BibleAtlas)
The Identification of Emmaus (J. Carl Laney)
Emmaus (Catholic Encyclopedia)
Emmaus (Nicopolis) (BibleWalks)
Emmaus Nicopolis (Community of the Beatitudes)
Emmaus – El Qubeibeh (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
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Guide explains mosaic map in Church of St George, Madaba (Seetheholyland.net)

The remains of the oldest known map of the Holy Land, painstakingly assembled from more than a million pieces of coloured stone, lie on the floor of a church in the Jordanian city of Madaba.

This unique art treasure was designed by an unknown artist and constructed in a Byzantine cathedral in the middle of the 6th century.

It was rediscovered only in 1884, but its unique character was recognised only in 1896, after the new Greek Orthodox Church of St George had been built over it.

The discovery of the Madaba Mosaic Map, and mosaics in the remains of five more churches and other locations in the town, led to Madaba, 30km south of Amman, becoming known as “the City of Mosaics”.

The map originally covered an area of more than 15.5 metres by 5.5 metres with a geographic sweep from Lebanon in the north to the Nile delta in the south. Less than a third of the map has survived.

In spite of some inaccuracies, it is regarded as the most exact map of the Holy Land before modern cartography was developed.


Jerusalem is the main feature


Madaba map showing fish in Jordan River (Dale Gillard)

Unlike modern maps, which face north, the Madaba mosaic is orientated to the east, with the Jordan River flowing from left to right.

Using a palette consisting of coloured stones and glass, the artist ingeniously depicted biblical locations, regional names and events, labelling them with about 150 inscriptions in Greek.

There is Jericho ringed with palm trees, Jacob’s Well at Shechem, the Oak of Mamre at Hebron, John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, and the allotments of the 12 tribes of Israel.

East of the Jordan River, a lion pursues a graceful gazelle. Fish swim down the river, with one turning back against the flow to avoid the poisonous Dead Sea. Two pulley-drawn ferries cross the river. Two boats cross the Dead Sea, one being rowed and the other under sail.

But the artist’s dominant focus is on the “Holy City” of Jerusalem. A lavish bird’s-eye view of the city is presented, with its walls, gates, main streets and 36 specific buildings represented. Many of the buildings (including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) are clearly identifiable.


Purpose of map is debated

Scholars have differing opinions on why such an expensive piece of religious art should have been commissioned by Church authorities on the floor of a Christian building in a provincial town of the Roman Empire.

St George's Church, Madaba (Seetheholyland.net)

St George’s Church, Madaba (Seetheholyland.net)

Some of the possibilities debated are:

• To aid pilgrims in making their way from one holy place to another. But pilgrims could not take this map with them, and portable maps and local guides were available at the time.

• To represent Moses’ vision of the Promised Land. Moses glimpsed the Promised Land from the top of nearby Mount Nebo, and Madaba was the episcopal see of the bishopric to which Mount Nebo belonged.

• To enhance the spiritual experience of worshippers during liturgy. The mosaic was originally on the floor of a large church, stretching across between the priest at the altar and the congregation.

The contents of the map indicate that it was intended as a work of biblical geography, probably based on the Onomasticon of Eusebius, a gazatteer of placenames, as well as on pilgrims’ journals and the artist’s own knowledge of the land.

The importance given to Christian holy places, especially the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, rather than Old Testament locations, suggests that the map is a Christian exposition of the message of salvation in a geographic context.


Madaba in ruins for centuries


Mosaic map in Church of St George (© Visitpalestine.ps)

Madaba was an important town in the early centuries of the Christian era. It was on the King’s Highway trade route, it had its own bishop and it had about 10 other churches with impressive mosaics. The remains of two of these churches are in the city’s archaeological park.

A conservative estimate is that the mosaic map would have originally contained about 1,116,000 pieces of stone and glass. A team of three workmen, working 10-hour days and directed by a superior artist, would have needed about 186 days to assemble it.

In 746, about 200 years after the mosaic map was constructed, Madaba was largely destroyed by an earthquake and subsequently abandoned.

The town was still in ruins and uninhabited in the early 1880s when a group of Christians from Karak, 140km south of Amman, decided to move there to escape conflict with Muslims in their home town.

The new settlers were removing debris from an old church in 1884, so they could build a new one on the site, when they discovered the remains of the map. They incorporated the surviving fragments into the new St George’s Church.

The map’s extraordinary value was not recognized until the librarian of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate in Jerusalem, Fr Kleopas Koikylides, visited in 1896. A report he published the following year brought international attention to the dusty village of Madaba.

By the middle of the 19th century the mosaic was in poor condition. Restoration and conservation was carried out by archaeologists Herbert Donner and Heinz Cüppers in 1965.

Madaba is now the fifth most populous city in Jordan and the administrative centre for the territory south of Amman. St George’s Church is northwest of the city centre.


Administered by: Greek Orthodox Church

Tel.: 962-5-324-4984

Open: Sat, Mon-Thur 8am-6pm; Fri 9.30am-6pm; Sun 10.30am-6pm (5pm closing in winter)




Donner, Herbert: The Mosaic Map of Madaba: an introductory guide (Kok Pharos, 1992)
Haddad, Fadi Shawkat: A Christian Pilgrimage Journey in Jordan (published by author, PO Box 135, Amman 11733, 2015)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Piccirillo, Michele: “The Madaba Mosaic Map”, Holy Land, winter 2002


External links

Madaba (Wikipedia)
Madaba (VisitJordan)
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Yad Vashem


Yad Vashem

Hall of Names at Yad Vashem (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust, is dedicated to documenting the story of the six million victims and imparting their legacy for future generations.

Its location is a hillside site on Har Hazikaron, Jerusalem’s Mount of Remembrance. Tree-studded walkways lead visitors through a sprawling complex of museums, outdoor monuments, exhibition halls, an archive, a library and other resource centres extending over 18 hectares.

One avenue is lined with plaques bearing the names of many thousands of non-Jews who risked their own lives to rescue Jews from the Nazis. They are honoured as the “Righteous Among the Nations”.

Yad Vashem’s history museum, a long corridor with stark walls of reinforced concrete, is carved into the mountain. Ten exhibition halls each focus on a different chapter of the Nazi Holocaust that began in 1933.

A visitor to the museum begins underground and walks upwards. The exit involves stepping from a dark corridor into daylight, on a balcony overlooking the Jerusalem valley. The symbolism represents the passage of the Jewish people through the dark days of the Holocaust to the light of Israel.


5000 communities were destroyed

Yad Vashem

Eternal flame at Yad Vashem (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The archive at Yad Vashem contains 68 million pages of documents, nearly 300,000 photographs and thousands of films and videotaped testimonies of survivors.

It houses comprehensive Holocaust-related departments — historical and art museums, schools and research institutions, extensive archives and library facilities. It also contains a memorial to the 5000 Jewish communities destroyed during the Nazi era and a Hall of Names listing millions of survivors.

Among the memorial sites, the hall of remembrance is a solemn, tent-like structure that allows visitors to pay their respect to the memories of those who died. Here ashes of the dead are buried and an eternal flame burns in their memory.

A memorial to the deportees has a railway cattle-car on rails jutting out over the cliff on the road winding down from the mountain. This cattle-car was used to transport Jews who had been banished from their homes to the concentration camps.

Yad Vashem’s name comes from a biblical verse: “I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name [Yad Vashem] that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:5)


Administered by: The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority

Tel.: 972-2-6443574

Open: Sunday to Thursday, 9am to 5pm (entry till 4pm); Friday and eves of holidays, 9am to 2pm (entry till 1pm). Closed on Saturdays and all Jewish holidays. Entry is free. Children under 10 are not permitted to enter the history museum. Men should cover their heads (kippahs are available). Entrance to the complex is via the Holland Junction, situated on the Herzl Route opposite the entrance to Mount Herzl and the descent to Ein Kerem.



External links

Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center)
Yad Vashem (Wikipedia)
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Tomb of Mary


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



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)
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Shrine of the Book


Shrine of the Book

Inside the main exhibition hall of Shrine of the Book (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem uses quirky contemporary architecture to house and display ancient manuscripts — including the first Dead Sea Scrolls to be discovered.

The building’s white-tiled dome is shaped like the lid of the first jar in which the scrolls were found at Qumran. In contrast nearby stands a black basalt wall. The black-white imagery symbolises the theme of one of the scrolls — The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness.

The rest of the structure, two-thirds of it below ground level, recalls the caves in which the scrolls were found.

The Shrine of the Book is a wing of the Israel Museum in western Jerusalem.  Also on the museum’s campus is an extensive outdoor Second Temple Model of Jerusalem in AD 66, before its destruction by the Romans.


Longest scroll is 8 metres long

Shrine of the Book

Fragment of scroll found in a Qumran cave

The Shrine of the Book holds all seven of the scrolls found in what is called Cave 1 at Qumran, near the Dead Sea. They are Isaiah A, Isaiah B, the Habakkuk Commentary, the Thanksgiving Scroll, the Community Rule (or the Manual of Discipline), the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness (or the War Rule) and the Genesis Apocryphon. All are in ancient Hebrew except the last, which is in Aramaic.

A facsimile of the scroll of Isaiah, arranged around a huge elevated spindle, provides a dramatic centrepiece in the exhibition hall under the dome.

Also at the Shrine of the Book is the Temple Scroll, the best-preserved of the Qumran scrolls. At more than 8 metres long, it is the longest of the Qumran manuscripts.

The Community Rule is the rule book for the group that wrote or copied the library of scrolls — believed to be a group of Essenes, a strict Jewish sect, who lived an austere lifestyle in their remote desert surroundings.


Cloak-and-dagger negotiations

The uncovering of the Essenes’ literary treasure trove has thrown new light on Israel during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, as well as on the origins of rabbinical Judaism and the Jewish society in which Christianity began.

The discovery, by a Bedouin goat- or sheep-herder searching for a missing animal, occurred in 1947. Israel was on the eve of its War of Independence, a factor that lent a cloak-and-dagger character to negotiations for the purchase of the scrolls.

Professor E. L. Sukenik of the Hebrew University clandestinely acquired three of the scrolls from a Christian Arab antiquities dealer in Bethlehem.

The remaining four scrolls from Cave 1 reached the hands of Mar Athanasius Yeshua Samuel, Metropolitan of the Syrian Jacobite Monastery of St Mark in Jerusalem. In 1949 he took them to the United States and on June 1, 1954, he placed an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal offering “The Four Dead Sea Scrolls” for sale.

The advertisement came to the attention of Yigael Yadin, Professor Sukenik’s son, who had just retired as chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces and had reverted to his original vocation, archaeology. With the aid of intermediaries, the four scrolls were purchased from Mar Samuel for $US250,000.

Part of the purchase price was contributed by Samuel Gottesman, a New York philanthropist. His heirs sponsored the construction of the Shrine of the Book to house the scrolls.


Scrolls need to ‘rest’

Shrine of the Book

Dome of Shrine of the Book, kept cool by water sprays (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

As the scrolls are too fragile to be on display permanently, a rotation system is used. After a scroll has been exhibited for 3–6 months, it is removed from display and placed temporarily in a special storeroom, where it “rests” from exposure.

The Shrine of the Book also displays the Aleppo Codex, the earliest known Hebrew manuscript comprising the text of the Jewish Old Testament. It dates from the early 10th century.

Strictly speaking, as the museum acknowledges, only two or four pages are actually displayed at any one time. Behind them is cardboard modelled to look like the rest of the codex (which is in fact stored in a safe place).

Related site:


Model of Ancient Jerusalem


Administered by: The Israel Museum

Tel.: 972-2-6708811

Open: Sun, Mon, Wed, Thur 10am-5pm; Tues 4-9pm; Fri and holiday eves 10am-2pm; Sat and holidays 10am-5pm



Sussman, Ayala, and Peled, Ruth: The Dead Sea Scrolls (Israel Antiquities Authority and Israel Museum Products, 1994)


External links

Shrine of the Book (The Israel Museum)
Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library (Israel Antiquities Authority)
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Pool of Siloam


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

In December 2022 Israel authorities announced plans to fully excavate the site and include the pool in a controversial “Pilgrims Route” from the City of David to the Western Wall.


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



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)
Obel, Ash: “Israel, right-wing group to fully excavate biblical Siloam Pool in East Jerusalem”, The Times of Israel, December 27, 2022
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


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)




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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