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Mount of Olives

Jerusalem

Mount of Olives

Church of St Mary Magdalene (left) and Church of Dominus Flevit on Mount of Olives (Seetheholyland.net)

The Mount of Olives, one of three hills on a long ridge to the east of Jerusalem, is the location of many biblical events. Rising to more than 800 metres, it offers an unrivalled vista of the Old City and its environs.

The hill, also called Mount Olivet, takes its name from the fact that it was once covered with olive trees.

In the Old Testament, King David fled over the Mount of Olives to escape when his son Absalom rebelled (2 Samuel 15:30).

After King Solomon turned away from God, he built pagan temples there for the gods of his foreign wives (1 Kings 11:7-8).

Ezekiel had a vision of “the glory of the Lord” ascending from the city and stopping on the Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 11:23).

Zechariah prophesied that in the final victory of the forces of good over the forces of evil, the Lord of hosts would “stand on the Mount of Olives” and the mount would be “split in two from east to west” (Zechariah 14:3-4).

 

Jesus knew it well

In the New Testament, Jesus often travelled over the Mount of Olives on the 40-minute walk from the Temple to Bethany. He also went there to pray or to rest.

He went down the mount on his triumphal entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, on the way weeping over the city’s future destruction (Luke 19:29-44).

In a major address to his disciples on the mount, he foretold his Second Coming (Matthew 24:27-31).

He prayed there with his disciples the night before he was arrested (Matthew 26:30-56). And he ascended into heaven from there (Acts 1:1-12).

 

A place for pilgrims to sleep

Mount of Olives

Jewish cemetery on Mount of Olives (Seetheholyland.net)

Until the destruction of the Temple, the Mount of Olives was a place where many Jews would sleep out, under the olive trees, during times of pilgrimage.

During the Siege of Jerusalem which led to the destruction of the city in AD 70, Roman soldiers from the 10th Legion camped on the mount.

In Jewish tradition, the Messiah will descend the Mount of Olives on Judgement Day and enter Jerusalem through the Golden Gate (the blocked-up double gate in the centre of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, also known as the Gate of Mercy, or the Beautiful Gate).

For this reason, Jews have always sought to be buried on the slopes of the mount. The area serves as one of Jerusalem’s main cemeteries, with an estimated 150,000 graves.

Among them is a complex of catacombs called the Tombs of the Prophets. It is said to contain the graves of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, who lived in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, but the style of tombs belongs to a later time.

From Byzantine times the mount became a place of church-building. By the 6th century it had 24 churches, surrounded by monasteries containing large numbers of monks and nuns.

 

Several major pilgrimage sites

Mount of Olives

Church of All Nations on Mount of Olives (© Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

The Mount of Olives is the location of several major sites for pilgrims. They include:

• Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony): A sombre church at Gethsemane, built over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have prayed in agony the night before he was crucified.

• Church of St Mary Magdalene: A Russian Orthodox church whose seven gilded onion domes, each topped by a tall cross, make it one of Jerusalem’s most picturesque sights.

• Church of Dominus Flevit: A church in the shape of a teardrop, commemorating the Gospel incident in which Jesus wept over the future fate of Jerusalem.

• Church of Pater Noster: Recalling Christ’s teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, this church features translations of the prayer in 140 languages, inscribed on colourful ceramic plaques.

• Dome of the Ascension: A small shrine, now a mosque marking the place where Jesus is believed to have ascended to heaven.

The garden and grotto of Gethsemane: The ancient olive grove identified as the place where Jesus went to pray the night before he was crucified, and the cave where his disciples are believed to have slept.

• Tomb of Mary: A dimly-lit, below-ground church where a Christian tradition says the Mother of Jesus was buried.

Related sites:

Church of All Nations

Church of St Mary Magdalene

Church of Dominus Flevit

Church of Pater Noster

Church of the Ascension

Dome of the Ascension

Gethsemane

Tomb of Mary

 

In Scripture:

King David flees over the Mount of Olives: 2 Samuel 15:30

King Solomon builds pagan temples: 1 Kings 11:7-8

“Glory of the Lord” stops on Mount of Olives: Ezekiel 11:23

Splitting of mount prophesied: Zechariah 14:3-4

Jesus enters Jerusalem: Luke 19:29-44

Jesus foretells his Second Coming: Matthew 24:27-31

Jesus prays before his arrest: Matthew 26:30-56

Jesus ascends into heaven: Acts 1:1-12

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
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)
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)
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

Mount of Olives (BiblePlaces)

Ein Karem

Israel

 

Church of the Nativity of St John the Baptist

Church of the Visitation

Ein Karem

Mary meets Elizabeth, at the Church of the Visitation (Seetheholyland.net)

Christian tradition places the birth of John the Baptist — who announced the coming of Jesus Christ, his cousin — in the picturesque village of Ein Karem 7.5km south-west of Jerusalem.

Luke’s Gospel tells of the circumstances of John’s birth (1:5-24, 39-66).

The angel Gabriel appeared to the elderly priest Zechariah while he was serving in the Temple and told him that his wife Elizabeth was to bear a son. Zechariah was sceptical, so he was struck dumb and remained so until the baby John was born.

In the meantime, Gabriel appeared to the teenage Virgin Mary in Nazareth, telling her that she was to become the mother of Jesus. As proof, he revealed that Mary’s elderly cousin Elizabeth was already six months’ pregnant.

Mary then “went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country” — a distance of around 120km — “where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb.” (Luke 1:39-41)

 

Two sites for two houses

The two main sites in the “Judean town” of Ein Karem are linked to the understanding that Zechariah and Elizabeth had two houses in Ein Karem (also known as Ain Karim, Ain Karem, ’Ayn Karim and En Kerem).

Their usual residence was in the valley. But a cooler summer house, high on a hillside, allowed them to escape the heat and humidity.

The summer house is believed to be where the pregnant Elizabeth “remained in seclusion for five months” (Luke 1:24) and where Mary visited her.

The house in the valley is where John the Baptist was born. Here, also, old Zechariah finally regained his power of speech after his son was born, when he obediently wrote on a writing tablet that the baby’s name was to be John.

Ein Karem is still a tranquil place of trees and vineyards, but the municipality of Jerusalem has spread to incorporate the former Arab village. It is now a town of Jewish artisans and craftspeople, but Christian churches and convents abound.

 

Church of the Nativity of St John the Baptist

Ein Karem

Church of St John the Baptist in the centre of Ein Karem (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

There are two major churches of St John the Baptist in the town. Best-known is the Catholic Church of the Nativity of St John, identifiable by its tall tower topped by a round spire. It is also called “St John in the mountains”, a reference to the “hill country” of the Scripture.

The church combines remnants of many periods. An early church on this site was used by Muslim villagers for their livestock before the Franciscans recovered it in the 17th century. The Franciscans built the present church with the help of the Spanish monarchy.

The high altar is dedicated to St John. To the right is Elizabeth’s altar. To the left are steps leading down to a natural grotto — identified as John’s birthplace and believed to be part of his parents’ home.

A chapel beneath the porch contains two tombs. An inscription in a mosaic panel reads, in Greek, “Hail martyrs of God”. Whom it refers to is unknown.

The other church, built in 1894, is Eastern Orthodox.

 

Church of the Visitation

Ein Karem

Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem (Seetheholyland.net)

The Virgin Mary’s visit to Elizabeth — depicted in mosaic on the façade — is commemorated in a two-tiered church, on a slope of the hill south of Ein Karem.

Completed in 1955 to a design by Antonio Barluzzi, the artistically decorated Church of the Visitation is considered one of the most beautiful of all the Gospel sites in the Holy Land.

This is believed to be the site of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s summer house, where Mary came to visit her cousin. On the wall opposite the church, ceramic plaques reproduce Mary’s canticle of praise, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) in some 50 languages.

In the lower chapel, a vaulted passage leads to an old well. An ancient tradition asserts that a spring joyfully burst out of the rock here when Mary greeted Elizabeth.

A huge stone set in a niche is known as the Stone of Hiding. According to an ancient tradition, the stone opened to provide a hiding place for the baby John during Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents — an event depicted in a painting on the wall.

 

Mary’s Spring and the Desert of St John

In a valley on the south of the village is a fresh-water spring known as Mary’s Spring or the Fountain of the Virgin. Tradition has it that Mary quenched her thirst from this spring before ascending the hill to meet Elizabeth.

The water has become contaminated and is no longer safe to drink.

The spring gives the village its name — from the Arabic “ein” (spring) and kerem (vineyard or olive grove). Built over the spring is a small abandoned mosque, another reminder that this was once an Arab village.

South-west of Ein Karem, off Route 386, a Greek Melkite monastery and a Franciscan convent mark the Desert of St John, a site where John the Baptist is believed to have lived in seclusion.

 

In Scripture:

The birth of John the Baptist: Luke 1:5-24, 39-66

Mary visits Elizabeth: Luke 1:39-45

The Magnificat: Luke 1:46-55

 

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: Visitation Church 972-2-6417291; St John’s Church 972-2-6323000

Open: St John’s Church, 8am-noon, 2.30-5.45pm (4.45pm Oct-Mar); Visitation Church, 8-11.45am, 2.30-6pm (5pm Oct-Mar)

 

 

References

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)
Kloetzli, Godfrey: “Ain Karim”, Holy Land, winter 2003
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

Ain Karem – Saint John the Baptist (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Ain Karem – The Visitation (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Ain Karem – Saint John in the Desert (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
Ein Karem (Wikipedia)

Bethphage

Jerusalem

The village of Bethphage is remembered as the starting point of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the day that is commemorated as Palm Sunday.

Bethphage

Panorama of modern Bethphage (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The exact location of the village, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives and close to Bethany, is uncertain.

Bethphage was considered the outermost reach of the city of Jerusalem, the limit of a Sabbath-day’s journey (900 metres) from the city, and the furthest point at which bread could be baked for use in the Temple.

The name in Hebrew means “House of unripe figs” — recalling that in this area Jesus caused a fig tree with no fruit to wither (Matthew 21:18-22).

The memory of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem is kept in a Franciscan church built beside the steep road that descends from the Mount of Olives eastwards towards the village of El-Azariyeh (ancient Bethany) and the Jerusalem-Jericho highway.

This is where the annual Palm Sunday walk into Jerusalem begins — a tradition begun during Crusader times.

Disciples saw a prophecy fulfilled

Bethphage

Palm Sunday procession from Bethphage on the Mount of Olives (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

As the Gospels record, Jesus sent two of his disciples to find a donkey and her colt, and he rode into Jerusalem while crowds spread their cloaks and branches on the road, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Recalling the sight of their master riding a beast of burden, the disciples saw the fulfilment of a prophecy by Zechariah more than 500 years before: “Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9)

It was on his way to Jerusalem that Jesus stopped on the summit of the Mount of Olives, overlooking the panorama of the Temple, towers and palaces, and wept over the city as he predicted its impending destruction only 40 years in the future.

 

‘Mounting-block’ is queried

Above the altar in the church is a mural of Jesus riding the donkey and receiving the acclaim of crowds.

Bethphage

Jesus on the donkey, a mural in the Franciscan church (Seetheholyland.net)

On display in the church, protected by a wrought iron grille, is a large square rock that the Crusaders regarded as the mounting-block Jesus used to mount the donkey.

Biblical scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor is sceptical, suggesting the Crusaders forgot that “a Palestinian donkey was in no way comparable to their huge battle-chargers”.

On the sides of the rock are medieval paintings, restored in 1950. These depict the disciples collecting the donkey and colt; people holding palm branches; the resurrection of Lazarus at nearby Bethany; and the inscription “Bethphage”.

Just up the hill is a Greek Orthodox church whose courtyard offers a view and a place for reflection.

 

In Scripture

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11

Administered by:

Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-2-6284352

Open: Apr-Sep 8am-noon, 2-5pm, Oct-Mar 8am-noon, 2-4.30pm

 

References

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)
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)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External link

Bethphage (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
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