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The Sites

Israel and Palestine – In Jerusalem

Israel and Palestine – Outside Jerusalem




Tombs of the Patriarchs

West Bank


Tombs of the Patriarchs

Tombs of the Patriarchs at Hebron (Seetheholyland.net)

The Tombs of the Patriarchs in the West Bank city of Hebron is the burial place of three biblical couplesAbraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah.

The second holiest site in Judaism (after the Western Wall in Jerusalem), it is also sacred to the other two Abrahamic faiths, Christianity and Islam.

It was the patriarch Abraham who bought the property when his wife Sarah died, around 2000 years before Christ was born. Genesis 23 tells how Abraham, then living nearby at Mamre, bought the land containing the Cave of Machpelah to use as a burial place. He paid Ephron the Hittite the full market price — 400 shekels of silver.

Today the site is the dominant feature of central Hebron, thanks to the fortress-like wall Herod the Great built around it in the same style of ashlar masonry that he used for the Temple Mount enclosure in Jerusalem.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Cenotaph of Abraham in Tombs of the Patriarchs (Eric Stoltz)

Herod left the interior open to the sky. The ruins of a Byzantine church built inside the wall around 570 were converted by Muslims into a mosque in the 7th century, rebuilt as a church by the Crusaders in the 12th century, then reconverted into a mosque by the sultan Saladin later in the same century.

Most of the enclosure is now roofed. Inside, six cenotaphs covered with decorated tapestries represent the tombs of the patriarchs. The actual burial places of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah are in the cave beneath, to which access is not permitted.


Scene of God’s covenant with Abraham

Set in the Judean Mountains about 30 kilometres south of Jerusalem, Hebron stands 930 metres above sea level, making it the highest city in Israel and Palestine. It is also the largest city in the West Bank, with a population in 2007 of around 165,000 Palestinians and several hundred Jewish settlers, and is known for its glassware and pottery.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

City of Hebron, with Tombs of the Patriarchs at left (Marcin Monko)

It was near Hebron that God made a covenant with Abraham, that he would be “the ancestor of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:4).

Abraham had pitched his tent “by the oaks of Mamre” (Genesis 13:18), 3 kilometres north of Hebron, at a site now in the possession of a small community of Russian Orthodox monks and nuns.

Here Abraham offered hospitality to three strangers, who told him his wife Sarah — then aged 90 — would have a son (Genesis 18:10-14).

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, about 700 years after Abraham, the men he sent to spy out the land of Canaan returned from the Hebron area with a cluster of grapes so heavy that two men carried it on a pole between them — an image that is now the logo of the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

Later, King David ruled Judah from Hebron for seven and a half years before moving his capital to Jerusalem.

Emulating Abraham’s hospitality, early Muslim rulers of Hebron provided free bread and lentils each day to pilgrims and the poor.


Complex is in three sections

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Herod’s stonework on Tombs of the Patriarchs (Seetheholyland.net)

Herod’s mighty wall around the Tombs of the Patriarchs avoids the appearance of heaviness by clever visual deceptions. Each course of stone blocks is set back about 1.5 centimetres on the one below it, and the upper margin is wider than the others.

The corners of the edifice — called Haram al-Khalil (Shrine of the Friend [of God]) in Arabic — are oriented to the four points of the compass.

Inside, amid a confusing mix of minarets, domes, arches, columns and corridors of various styles and periods, the complex is divided into three main sections, each with the cenotaphs of a patriarch and his wife.

The main entrance, to the Muslim area, is up a long flight of steps beside the northwest Herodian wall, then east through the Djaouliyeh mosque (added outside the wall in the 14th century) and right to enter the enclosure.

Straight ahead, in the centre of the complex, are octagonal rooms containing the cenotaph of Sarah and, further on, the cenotaph of Abraham. Each of these domed monuments has a richly embroidered cover, light green for Sarah and darker green for Abraham.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Cenotaphs of Rebekah and Isaac (Seetheholyland.net)

In a corner just past Abraham’s room, a shrine displays a stone said to bear a footprint left by Adam as he left the Garden of Eden.

A wide door between these two cenotaphs leads to the Great Mosque, containing the cenotaphs of Isaac (on the right) and Rebekah. The vaulted ceiling, supporting pillars, capitals and upper stained-glass windows are from the Crusader church.

Ahead, on the southeastern wall, a marble-and-mosaic mihrab (prayer niche) faces Mecca. Beside it on the right is an exquisitely carved minbar (pulpit) of walnut wood. It was made (without nails) in 1091 for a mosque in Ashkelon and brought to Hebron a century later by Saladin after he burned that city.

Next to the pulpit, a stone canopy covers the sealed entrance to steps descending to the burial Cave of Machpelah.

Directly across the room, another canopy stands over a decorative grate covering a narrow shaft to the cave. Written prayers may be dropped down the shaft.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Minbar (pulpit) in Great Mosque in Tombs of the Patriarchs (Seetheholyland.net)

Entry to the Jewish area is via an external square building on the southwestern wall. This building houses a Muslim cenotaph of Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons (though Jews and Christians believe he was buried near Nablus).

Inside are synagogues and the cenotaphs of Jacob and Leah, each in an octagonal room. (Jacob’s beloved second wife, Rachel, is remembered at the Tomb of Rachel, on the Jerusalem-Hebron road north of Bethlehem).


Site and city are divided

Friction between Jews and Muslims at Hebron dates back to a 1929 riot in which Arab Muslims sacked the Jewish quarter and massacred 67 of its community.

More recently, in 1994 a Jewish settler entered the Tombs of the Patriarchs during dawn prayers and shot 29 Muslim worshippers (the mihrab still bears bullet marks).

Since then, Jews and Muslims have been restricted to their own areas of this divided site, except that each faith has 10 special days a year on which its members may enter all parts of the building. Pilgrims and tourists may enter both areas.

Tombs of the Patriarchs

Israeli soldier guarding Jewish synagogue in Tombs of the Patriarchs (Seetheholyland.net)

The city of Hebron is also divided into two zones. The larger part is governed by the Palestinian Authority. The remainder, including the town centre and market area, is occupied by Jewish settlers and under Israeli military control.

In 2019 Unesco named the old town of Hebron as a Palestinian world heritage site.


In Scripture

Abram settles by the oaks of Mamre at Hebron: Genesis 13:18

God makes a covenant with Abram and changes his name: Genesis 17:3-5

Three strangers pay a visit to Abraham: Genesis 18:1-16

Abraham haggles with God over the future of Sodom: Genesis 18:17-33

Sarah dies and Abraham buys the Cave of Machpelah: Genesis 23:1-20

Abraham dies and is buried with Sarah: Genesis 25:7-10

Joshua attacks Hebron and kills its inhabitants: Joshua 10:36-37

David is anointed king over Judah at Hebron: 2 Samuel 2:1-4, 11


Administered by: Islamic Waqf Foundation

Tel.: 972-2-222 8213/51

Open: Usually 7.30-11.30am, 1-2.30pm, 3.30-5pm; Muslim area closed on Fridays, Jewish area closed on Saturdays. Passport checks apply and it is wise to check the security situation before visiting (the Christian Information Centre in Jerusalem suggests telephoning 02-2227992).



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)
Chadwick, Jeffrey R.: “Discovering Hebron: the City of the Patriarchs Slowly Yields Its Secrets”, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2005
Dyer, Charles H., and Hatteberg, Gregory A.: The New Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land (Moody, 2006)
Eber, Shirley, and O’Sullivan, Kevin: Israel and the Occupied Territories: The Rough Guide (Harrap-Columbus, 1989)
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)
Prag, Kay: Israel & the Palestinian Territories: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 2002)
Shahin, Mariam, and Azar, George: Palestine: A guide (Chastleton Travel, 2005)


External links

Hebron (BiblePlaces)
Tombs of the Patriarchs, Hebron (Sacred Destinations)

Church of St Anne


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




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)




St John’s Crypt in the Crusaders’ Hospitaller Quarter at Acre (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

Because Acre, 22 kilometres north of Haifa, had the best natural harbour on the coast of the Holy Land, it achieved importance from early times.

But its role as the main stronghold of the Crusaders made the most lasting impression on its long and chequered history.

Before the Crusaders took Acre in 1104, the city had been captured by Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Greeks and Muslims. Its name had been expressed as Acre, Akko, Acco or Accho.

It was King Ptolemy of Egypt who called it Ptolemais, the name mentioned by St Luke (Acts 21:7) when he and St Paul visited it at the end of Paul’s third missionary journey around AD 58.

By then a Christian community was already established. Christianity spread rapidly in the city and by AD 190 it had a bishop.


Crusaders made Acre their capital

By the 11th century, Muslim forces were oppressing Palestine’s Christians and harassing pilgrims, so the Emperor of Constantinople appealed to Pope Urban II for armies to aid the Christians.


Courtyard of the Hospitaller Quarter in Acre (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The Pope called for a Crusade from Europe to wrest the Holy Land, in particular the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, from Muslim control.

The Crusaders captured Acre in 1104. They made it their capital and the main link between their Latin kingdom and Europe. They also gave it another name, St Jean d’Acre, in honour of the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem.

In 1187 Acre fell again to Muslims after the Kurdish general Saladin finally ended the Crusader kingdom at the battle of the Horns of Hattin, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

In 1191 Richard the Lionheart of England and Philip Augustus of France took Acre back. The Crusaders held the city until 1291, when Mamluk forces penetrated its massive fortifications.

Acre was almost totally destroyed and lay in ruins for 450 years.

Remains of Crusader city can be seen


Street scene in old Acre (Seetheholyland.net)

Among Acre’s bewildering network of narrow streets, today’s visitors can see much of the old Crusader city. The extensive remains are sometimes referred to as the “Underground City” because they lie well below street level.

The most important edifice is the great refectory hall of the Knights Hospitallers of St John, a chivalrous order concerned with the health and spiritual welfare of pilgrims. It is a fine example of Crusader architecture.

A pit in the hall gives access to an underground passage (perhaps originally a sewer from well before the time of Christ) which the Crusaders discovered and maintained.

There are also Gothic knights’ halls (not all open to the public), each belonging to one of the nations represented in the crusading Order of the Knights Hospitallers: Auvergne, England, France, Germany, Provence and Spain.


St Francis and Marco Polo visited

After the Crusader kingdom collapsed, St Francis of Assisi arrived at Acre in 1219. He had gone to Egypt with the Fifth Crusade and walked into a Muslim camp. His peace-loving nature impressed the sultan, Melek-el-Kamel, who allowed him to visit the holy places, then off limits to Christians. Today many of these sites are maintained by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.


Khan al-Umdan (Inn of the Pillars) at Acre (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

The Venetian traveller Marco Polo was a later visitor. He made Acre the staging point for his great journey to the Orient.

In the second half of the 18th century, Acre became ruled by a local Arab sheik and then by a harsh Albanian soldier of fortune, Ahmed Pasha, who became known as “al-Jazzar” (the Butcher). The walls were built at this time and they resisted a 60-day siege by Napoleon in 1799.

The present Acre is largely an 18th-century Turkish town built on the ruins of the old city, and almost surrounded by Jewish suburbs.

Above the Crusader town stands the dominant landmark of Ahmed Pasha’s domed mosque, known especially for its beautiful courtyard.

Acre’s old city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many archaeological digs have taken place there. Large-scale renovations and rebuilding have taken place, and slick audio-visuals introduced to present the history of the impressive remains to tourists.

In Scripture:

Paul arrives at Ptolemais: Acts 21:7




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)
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:

Acre (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Acre (Akko) (BibleWalks)
Acco, Ptolemais, Acre (BiblePlaces)
Akko (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
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