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Pools of Bethesda

Jerusalem

Pools of Bethesda

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Evidence of pagan healing sanctuary

Pools of Bethesda

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Early church was built over pool

Pools of Bethesda

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

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

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

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

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

Related site:

Church of St Anne

In Scripture:

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

 

Administered by: White Fathers

Tel.: 972-2-6283285

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

 

 

References

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

 

External links

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

Church of St Anne

Jerusalem

Church of St Anne

Church of St Anne (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The Church of St Anne is the best-preserved Crusader church in Jerusalem. It marks the traditional site of the home of Jesus’ maternal grandparents, Anne and Joachim, and the birthplace of the Virgin Mary.

Located just north of the Temple Mount, about 50 metres inside St Stephen’s or Lions’ Gate, the church stands in a courtyard with trees, shrubs and flowers. Its tranquility contrasts with the bustling streets and alleys of the Muslim Quarter.

Next to the church is the large excavation area of the Pools of Bethesda, where Christ healed a sick man (John 5:2-9).

The New Testament says nothing about the birthplace of Mary. However, an ancient tradition, recorded in the apocryphal Gospel of James which dates from around AD 150, places the house of her parents, Anne and Joachim, close to the Temple area.

A church built around 450 on the site of St Anne’s was dedicated to “Mary where she was born”.

Strong lines and thick walls give St Anne’s a fortress-like appearance. Its simple dignity offers a space for prayer and contemplation without distraction. It is also unusually asymmetrical in the detail of its design: Opposite columns do not match, windows are all different sizes, and buttresses differ in thickness and height.

The Church of St Anne is renowned for its remarkable acoustics and reverberating echoes. The voices of even a small choral group can sound like a large congregation in a vast cathedral.

 

Church survived Muslim conquest

Church of St Anne

Interior of Church of St Anne (Seetheholyland.net)

The present basilica was built by the Crusaders just before 1140 AD. Its crypt was the cave where the Crusaders believed Mary had been born.

Shortly after its construction, the Church of St Anne was enlarged by moving the facade forward by several metres.

Unlike other churches in Jerusalem, St Anne’s was not destroyed after the Muslim conquest in 1189. Instead, it was turned it into an Islamic law school by the sultan Saladin, whose name appears in the Arabic inscription still above the main entrance.

After two or three centuries, the building was abandoned.

At the end of the Crimean War between the Ottoman Turkish Empire and Russia, the Sultan of Istanbul in 1856 offered the site to the French government in gratitude for its help during the war.

By then the building was in ruins and “roof-deep in refuse”, according to Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, who now describes it as “certainly the loveliest church in the city”.

France undertook extensive restoration, returning St Anne’s as closely as possible to the original basilica. A second restoration was necessary after the church was damaged during the Six Day War in 1967.

 

Crypt believed to be Mary’s birthplace

Church of St Anne

Believed birthplace of Mary, under the Church of St Anne (Seetheholyland.net)

Three episodes from the life of the Virgin Mary are depicted at the front of the high altar in the Church of St Anne: The Annunciation on the right; the Descent of Jesus from the Cross in the centre; and the Nativity of Jesus on the left.

On the left-hand side of the altar is an illustration of the education of Mary by St Anne. On the right-hand side is a portrayal of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple.

A flight of stone steps descends from the south aisle to the crypt. This cave is the supposed remains of the house of Anne and Joachim, and the Virgin Mary’s birthplace.

Here, in a tiny chapel with a domed ceiling, an altar is dedicated to the birth of Mary.

The compound containing the Pools of Bethesda and St Anne’s Church is administered by the White Fathers. It also contains a museum and a Greek-Catholic (Melkite) seminary.

Related site:

Pools of Bethesda

 

In Scripture:

Jesus heals a sick man: John 5:1-18

 

Administered by: White Fathers

Tel.: 972-2-6283285

Open: Apr-Sep 8am-noon, 2-6pm; Oct-Mar 8am-noon, 2-5pm

 

 

References

Baldwin, David: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Companion (Catholic Truth Society, 2007)
Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Bouwen, Frans: “St Anne’s Church and the Pool of Bethesda”, Cornerstone, spring 2000.
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Starkey, Denis: “The White Fathers in Jerusalem”, White Fathers — White Sisters, April-May 1999.
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Church of St. Anne, Jerusalem (Sacred Destinations)
Church of Saint Anne, Jerusalem (Wikipedia)
Bethesda Pool panorama (Jesus in Jerusalem)
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