Holy Land

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Church of St. John the Baptist
Ein Karem, which means, “The Spring of the Vineyard,” is considered by tradition to be the hometown of Zechariah, Elizabeth and John the Baptist since Byzantine times. The name comes from the abundance of springs to water the many vineyards and orchards nearby.


Steps Entering St. John the Baptist Church
During a time of famine in the time of Judges (around 1100 BC), the Bethlehem family of Elimelech and Naomi and their sons Mahlon and Chilion, moved to Moab. After Elimelech died, the sons married Moabite women, Orpah, and Ruth. Then the sons died. Their mother Naomi decided to return home to Bethlehem and Ruth accompanied her. Here on the [R] our group is entering St. John the Baptist Church.

Story of John the Baptist
But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.. . He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. . . And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ ” LUKE 1:13-17

Late Evening View of Church and Monastery

Overhead Night Shot

Little remains of the Byzantine sanctuary which once commemorated the birth of John the Baptist. However, unlike other houses of worship constructed over holy sites in Jerusalem, it was not destroyed by seventh-century Persian or Moslem invaders. Instead, this church was apparently ravaged 200 years earlier, during an uprising of Israel’s Samaritans. Persecuted by the Byzantines, the Samaritans rebelled on several occasions by massacring Christians at prayer and devastating their chapels.

The Church of St. John the Baptist was rebuilt by the Crusaders, but after they left the Holy Land the sanctuary was either destroyed or fell into complete disrepair. A few centuries later, the Franciscan Order purchased the site and work began on its reconstruction. Most of the church was restored in 1674 with the aid of the Spanish royal family (their coat-of-arms is located above the entrance inside the sanctuary). Many of the paintings are originals, drawn by Spanish artists and donated by Spanish kings. Diverse blue-and-white tiles considered to be Spanish in style line the enormous square pillars and cover parts of the walls. Further work on the church was carried out in the nineteenth century, again with Spanish assistance. This included a new marble altar for the grotto, donated by Queen Isabella II of Spain.

The Grotto Beneath the church

Grotto Beneath St. John the Baptist Church
Little remains of the Byzantine sanctuary which once commemorated the birth of John the Baptist.
However, unlike other houses of worship constructed over holy sites in Jerusalem, it was not destroyed by seventh-century Persian or Moslem invaders. Instead, this church was apparently ravaged 200 years earlier, during an uprising of Israel’s Samaritans. Persecuted by the Byzantines, the Samaritans rebelled on several occasions by massacring Christians at prayer and devastating their chapels.

The Church of St. John the Baptist was rebuilt by the Crusaders, but after they left the Holy Land the sanctuary was either destroyed or fell into complete disrepair. A few centuries later, the Franciscan Order purchased the site and work began on its reconstruction. Most of the church was restored in 1674 with the aid of the Spanish royal family (their coat-of-arms is located above the entrance inside the sanctuary). Many of the paintings are originals, drawn by Spanish artists and donated by Spanish kings. Diverse blue-and-white tiles considered to be Spanish in style line the enormous square pillars and cover parts of the walls. Further work on the church was carried out in the nineteenth century, again with Spanish assistance. This included a new marble altar for the grotto, donated by Queen Isabella II of Spain.

Shepherd’s Chapel
Approximately 2 km to the east of Bethlehem lies the village of Beit Sahour, where one of the most sacred places to Christians; the Shepherds’ Field; is found, identified as the scene where the Angel of the Lord visited the shepherds and informed them of Jesus’ birth;

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And the Angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:8-10

The Roman Catholics and the Greek Orthodox each have their own Shepherds’ Field. The Roman Catholic site features a Franciscan Chapel designed to resemble the shepherds’ tent while the Greek Orthodox site features a 5th century church built over a cave.

Shepherds Flock
The area to the east of the city is traditionally believed to be the area of the fields of the        shepherds “keeping watch o’er their flocks by night.” Several churches have been built to commemorate this event. Even today local shepherds can be seen tending their flocks in this same area (even on Christmas eve!)


Entrance to King David’s Well

The niche at the entrance to King David’s tomb where the 200 year old charity box was affixed. For thousands of years people have come to pray at the tomb of Kind David. This well, used by millions of people who made pilgrimages to his tomb became a symbol of hope that all prayers offered at the tomb would be answered.

King David’s Well

Wayfarers and Pilgrims would stop and drink, and legend tells of the tears of supplication which fell into the deep well, mingling with the cool waters that they would drink. Somehow, the waters of the well seemed to do more than simply refresh and quench thirst. People noticed that their prayers always seemed to be answered. It became known that the well itself contained a blessing. Anyone coming to pray at the tomb of David knew that their prayers would be answered if they first made a blessing and then drink from the well.

Rachel's Tomb

Rachel’s Tomb
The actual “tomb” consists of a rock with eleven stones upon it, one for each of the eleven sons of Jacob who were alive when Rachel died in childbirth. Over the centuries, the rock was covered by a dome supported by four arches. (In the Middle East, domes were used for structural support in small buildings until modern times due to a lack of wood beams for roofs

Aerial View of Jerusalem – This aerial photograph shows the main road to Bethlehem from the north (Jerusalem). The modern city stretches out from the historic center in all directions. Today Bethlehem is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and has a population of about 22,000 not including the suburbs of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.

 

Interior Nativity Basilica

The Basilica of the Nativity The present Basilica of the Nativity was built by the Emperor Justinian            (527-565) on the site of the earlier (4th century) Constantinian basilica, which had been badly damaged in the Samaritan revolt of 529. The Basilica is dedicated to the Holy Mother of God (Theotokos).


The traditional site of the Nativity is enshrined in the grotto beneath the choir. Bethlehem was first settled by the Canaanite tribes, naming the city Beit Lahama. They built a temple to the God Lahama on the present mount of the Nativity. Around 1200 BCE, the Philistines had a garrison stationed in Bethlehem because of its strategic location.

Courtyard Entrance

The entrance to the famous church in Bethlehem is remarkably unimpressive. The large courtyard is perfect for priests, pilgrims or tourists, but most noticeable are the vendors. Palestinian police now patrol the area. Buses no longer are allowed to enter the square, but instead are directed to a large parking structure. This building is the oldest standing church in the Holy Land. Originally built by Constantine’s mother in the 4th century, Emperor Justinian rebuilt the current structure in the 530s. It was apparently spared destruction from the Persians in 614 A.D. because the invaders saw the depictions of the Magi on the walls. Local Muslim-Christian friendship is believed to be why the church was not destroyed during al-Hakim’s rule in 1009

Ancient Mosaics

Ancient Mosaics in the Church of the Nativity
Underneath the present floor are beautiful mosaics of the earlier church. The church built at the direction of Constantine’s mother was octagonal in shape, typical of Byzantine memorial churches. Before the Roman empire converted to Christianity, the area was a sacred grove of Thammuz.


Christ's Birth Spot

Birth Place of Christ. According to tradition, Mary gave birth to Jesus at the place of where the star is located on the floor. The tradition that the birth was in a cave is one of the oldest Christian traditions. Justin Martyr mentions it in the mid-2nd century, as does the Protoevangelium of James (also 2nd c.). Origen, a priest, notes that the cave of Jesus’ birth was pointed out in his day and no doubt this was the same place where the Byzantine church was erected.

“] Jerusalem Old City Wailing Wall Pilgrims can enter the  Old City through a gate on the eastern wall, which is known as St. Stephen’s Gate by Christians, the Lion’s Gate by Jews and the Gate of the Lady Mary by Moslems. A short distance to the right is the property of the White Fathers.

 

Inside View of the Old City Inside their gate is a garden, the Church of St. Ann and the excavations of the Pool of Bethesda. A number of events from the New Testament and a Christian apocryphal book called Proto-Gospel of St. James, are located here.

St Ann's Church, Jerusalem

Church of Saint Ann – This Crusader church is preserved because it became an Islamic school after the Crusades. It has some of the best acoustics in the Holy Land, so many groups like to sing here. The crypt below the church is a grotto where local tradition says the Blessed Virgin was born. The New Testament mentions nothing of Her birth, but the story is told in a second century Jewish-Christian book known as Proto-Evangelion or First or First Gospel of St. James: The birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not recorded in the New Testament, but the Proto-Evangelion of James tells the story of her parents’ childlessness in old age and the birth of Mary to St. Ann and St. Joachim. St. Ann lamented her childlessness in Proto-Evangelion 3:2ff.

Pool of Bathseda

Pool of Bethesda – Outside the Church of St. Ann are the excavations of the Pool of Bethesda. At the east end are the ruins of the Byzantine church and the structure in the center of the pool is a Crusader church. Various pagan shrines can be found among the ruins. At the west end of the pool is a stone wall still partially covered with plaster. This is probably the eight century wall of the Upper Pool mentioned in Isaiah 7:3.

Pool of Five-porticos

Moving Water Healing Pool of Mercy – Not far from the Temple, by the sheep gate through which they drove the sheep for sacrifices, there was a pool with five porticoes or galleries. This pool with the galleries was called Bethesda, which means house of mercy. In the galleries beside the pool, lay many sick, blind, lame and withered. They were all waiting for the moving of the water, for an angel of the Lord went down at a certain season into the pool and stirred the water. Whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.

Jesus Christ visited this house of mercy. There, He saw a man who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. Jesus Christ said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

The sick man answered, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred; and while I am going, another steps down before me.”

Jesus Christ said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.”

Flagellation Chapel

Chapel of the Flagellation – After leaving St. Ann’s and Bethesda, continue walking West (turn right) up to the property of the Franciscans, a couple of blocks on the right side of the street. This property contains a school, a museum,. and two chapels, one on either side of the courtyard.

Interior, Flagellation Church

Inside Dedication to Jesus’ Scourging – Inside the church is dedicated to Jesus’ scourging and crowning with thorns. The windows depicting Christ’s scourging and crowning are made of alabaster, not glass. This a a good place to consider Our Lord’s suffering.

Pilate then had Jesus scourged. The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and placed it on his head and they clothed Him

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