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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem

Jordan

Egypt

Extras

Monastery of the Cross

Jerusalem

The Monastery of the Cross is one of Jerusalem’s lesser-known gems, although its claimed connection to the cross on which Jesus was crucified may belong more to legend than to reality.

Monastery of the Cross

Bell tower dominating Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The fortress-like appearance of buttressed walls and high windows confirm that its location in the Valley of the Cross was originally an isolated site outside the protective walls of the city.

Now the monastery and its adjacent parkland in West Jerusalem are surrounded by Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) to the north, the Israel Museum to the west, the upmarket Rehavia neighbourhood to the east, and four-lane highways on the south and east.

The monastery’s name comes from a traditional belief that the wood of Jesus’ cross came from a tree planted here in ancient times.

The most common account says Lot planted the tree, but another version involves Adam.

Monastery of the Cross

Painting of Lot watering the tree in Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The monastery appears to have been founded no later than the 5th century, though no two sources agree on who founded it.

Some credit the emperor Constantine, his mother St Helena or King Mirian III of Georgia.

It was rebuilt in the 11th century by the Georgian monk Prochorus, on the remains of an earlier structure destroyed by the Persians. Occupied by hundreds of monks, it became the religious and cultural centre for Georgians living in Palestine.

In 1685, with Georgia in decline and subjugated by the Persians and Ottomans, the monastery was taken over by the Greek Orthodox, who restored and repaired it in the 1960s and 70s.

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Georgian epic poem was written here

A haven of quiet in busy Jerusalem, the Monastery of the Cross seems to have changed little in centuries.

Monastery of the Cross

Frescoes on walls and pillars in Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

The complex contains a chapel, living quarters for monks, several courtyards, a small museum with exhibits illustrating monastery life in the past, the old refectory and kitchen, a coffee shop and a gift shop.

In the chapel, a basilica with a central dome, the walls and pillars are decorated with frescoes from the 12th and 17th centuries. The iconostasis separating the sanctuary from the nave contains many icons and paintings.

To the right of the altar is a mosaic floor, all that remains of a 5th-century church destroyed by the Persians in 614.

One of the frescoes commemorates Georgia’s national poet, Shota Rustaveli, who lived in the monastery in the early 13th century and wrote the epic poem The Knight in the Panther’s Skin.

In 2004 an unknown vandal scratched out Rustaveli’s face and part of the accompanying inscription — a fate that had also been suffered by other Georgian artworks in the monastery during the preceding decades.

Monastery of the Cross

Disc under altar marking supposed site of the tree in Monastery of the Cross (Seetheholyland.net)

 

Frescoes tell story of the tree

On the left side of the chapel, a doorway leads to the heart of the monastery.

A narrow passageway with displays of old vestments in glass cabinets leads to a darkened chapel. Beneath the altar, a circular plate surrounds the place where the tree of the cross is supposed to have stood.

Beside it is a repository for photographs of people who are sick or in need of help, for whom prayers are being offered.

Heavily-restored medieval frescoes on the walls tell the story of the tree.

First, Abraham is shown with three heavenly visitors (Genesis 18:1-15) who give him three staffs, of cedar, cypress and pine. After Sodom is destroyed, Abraham gives the staffs to his nephew Lot.

Lot plants the staffs and waters them from the Jordan River. The three woods grow into a single tree.

Monastery of the Cross

Wood from the tree being used for the Crucifixion (© Chad Emmett)

Centuries later the tree is cut down and a beam prepared for the cross.

 

Administered by: Confraternity of the Holy Sepulchre (Greek Orthodox)

Tel.: 052-221-5144

Open: Apr-Sep, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; Oct-Mar, Mon-Sat 10am-4pm

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
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)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Rossing, Daniel: Between Heaven and Earth: Churches and Monasteries of the Holy Land (Penn Publishing, 2012)

 

External links

Monastery of the Cross (BibleWalks)
Monastery of the Cross (Orthodox Wiki)

Dead Sea

Israel/Jordan/West Bank

Dead Sea

Bathers by the shore of the Dead Sea (© Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

The Dead Sea, which shimmers like a blue mirror under all-day sunshine, is one of the most unusual bodies of water in the world.

It is set in the lowest dry land on earth, so it has no outlet. It is so loaded with minerals that no fish can live in it. It is so dense that bathers can lie back on its surface and read a newspaper.

The Dead Sea is located about 25km east of Jerusalem, along the border between Israel and Jordan. About half of it is actually in Jordanian territory.

The ancient Hebrews called this body of water the Sea of Salt. Other ancient names include the Sea of Solitude, the Sea of Arabah and the Asphalt Sea. The Crusaders called it the Sea of Satan.

The Dead Sea’s therapeutic qualities attracted Herod the Great. Its minerals and sticky black mud provided balms for Egyptian mummies and cosmetics for Cleopatra.

Now its health resorts treat psoriasis and arthritis, its skin-care products are marketed worldwide, and its industrial evaporation pans harvest potash and other minerals.

 

Wicked cities were destroyed

Dead Sea

Pillar of salt, on Jordanian side of Dead Sea, known as Lot’s Wife (© Visitjordan.com)

The region has many biblical connections. Here, though their locations are unknown, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God with “sulphur and fire” and Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at the destruction (Genesis 19:24-26). Among the salt encrustations around the sea is an unusual column at the southern end called Lot’s Wife (though it is 20 metres high).

On the eastern side, the highest peak visible is Mount Nebo, where Moses glimpsed the Promised Land. Further south stands the fortress of Machaerus, where Herod Antipas imprisoned and then executed John the Baptist.

On the western side, from north to south, are Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found; Ein Gedi, where David hid from King Saul in a cave (and cut off a corner of the king’s cloak when he entered the cave to relieve himself); and Herod the Great’s fortress of Masada.

 

Evaporation concentrates the minerals

Dead Sea

Afloat in the Dead Sea (David Niblack)

By 2013 the Dead Sea was 50km long, 15km across at its widest point, and 430 metres below sea level. Its area was constantly shrinking and the water level was dropping by more than a metre a year.

Because it has no exit, water is lost only through evaporation, which leaves behind the minerals. The Dead Sea is nearly 10 times as salty as the open seas. The high concentration of minerals (predominantly magnesium chloride) provides the buoyancy that keeps bathers suspended — as well as a bitter taste.

A low promontory of land called el-Lisan (“the tongue”) projects across the sea from the east, dividing the southern third from the northern section. The southern part is now devoted to evaporation pools for mineral extraction.

Most of the water that once flowed from the Jordan River into the Dead Sea is being diverted for drinking water and agricultural purposes, so there is not enough to offset the high evaporation rate.

Since the late 1980s the landscape around the sea has been reshaped by thousands of sinkholes — caused by fresh water from the mountains dissolving underground levels of salt. This phenomenon has caused some tourist beaches in Israel to close.

Rescue proposals to prevent the sea drying up have included canals to bring water from the Mediterranean Sea or the Red Sea.

If the Dead Sea becomes rejuvenated with fresh water, this could fulfil a prophecy in Ezekiel 47:8-10, that it will “become fresh . . . and there will be very many fish”.

In December 2013, representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority agreed on a long-term desalination project in which brine would be piped about 180 kilometres from Aqaba, Jordan, to replenish the Dead Sea.

 

Related sites:

Qumran

Masada

In Scripture:

God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah: Genesis 19:24-26

Prophesy that the Dead Sea will become fresh: Ezekiel 47:8-10

 

 

References

Anonymous: “The Dead Sea”, Holy Land, summer 2005
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Frumkin, Amos: “How Lot’s Wife Became a Pillar of Salt”, Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2009
Kershner, Isabel: “A Rare Middle East Agreement, on Water”, New York Times, December 9, 2013
Lidman, Melanie: “As the Dead Sea dries, its collapsing shores force a return to nature”, Times of Israel, February 13, 2017
Martin, James: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Westminster Press, 1978)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)

 

 

 

External links

Dead Sea (Wikipedia)
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