ISRAEL & THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
The Holy Land has been a land of great importance to the three major religions around the world and a meeting point for diverse cultures since prehistoric times. Today, the historic and holy places found in Israel and thePalestinian Territories are united in their importance to Christian visitors.
IN & NEAR JERUSALEM
A wall, erected by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1542, surrounds the Old City of Jerusalem. On the east end of the wall is Lions Gate, which is also known as St. Stephen’s Gate. It is the reputed site of the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr.
Near the gate, the Pools of Bethseda were originally built as part of a water supply system. Later, several grottoes were dug up at the east end of the pools for medicinal and religious purposes. According to the the Gospel of St. John, this is where Jesus cured a paralytic man. Next to the pools is the Church of St. Anne, which was built by the crusaders in 1130 and dedicated to St. Anne, Mary's mother.
The Old City of Jerusalem was originally built by King David in 1004 BC. Ancient maps show the three continents known at the time: Europe, Asia, and Africa, situated in a circle with Jerusalem at their center. Since then Jerusalem has been sought after by kings, rulers, and conquerors; and it has also been cherished by ordinary people who hold it important to their faith. This was the place where the Jews built their Temple, where Jesus was crucified, and where Mohammed rose to Heaven.
The city, resting on the original hills of the City of David and surrounded by a high wall with seven gates, 34 towers, and a citadel (the Tower of David), is divided into four residential quarters:
The Armenian Quarter is the smallest quarter of the Old City. The Armenians settled in Jerusalem in the 4th Century AD for religious reasons, and the St. James Cathedral was built in the 5th Century. This church later became the center for the Armenian people in Israel. It is one of the most beautiful churches in the country and is built upon the remains of a Byzantine church.
The Moslem Quarter is the largest quarter in the old city, and most of its population arrived after its original Jewish and Christian residents moved to newer neighborhoods. The Moslem Quarter has churches and mosques, and there are several Jewish homes still remaining. The most important sites in the Moslem Quarter are sacred sites for the Moslem faith such as the Dome of the Rock on Mount Moria (also a holy place for the Jews).
The Jewish Quarter is the main residential area for Jews in the old City. This quarter also contains the Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall, which is a holy place for the Jews since it was part of the Temple and close to the Holy of Holies within the Temple. In addition, there are interesting archeological sites such as the Burnt House - the remains of a house from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans 2000 years ago; and the Cardo is a typical Roman street built in the 6thcentury consisting of stores situated between two rows of columns. The remains of the tall columns, arches, and stone floor can still be seen in the Cardo.
The Christian Quarter has more than 40 churches, monasteries, and hostels that were built for Christian pilgrims. In the heart of the Christian quarter is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. According to Christian tradition, this is the site upon which Jesus was crucified and buried following his final walk along the Via Dolorosa, or Stations of the Cross. Along this path, Jesus was led from the place of His condemnation to that of His crucifixion and death. This traditional route starts from Antonia Fortress, where He was condemned to death, to Calvary, where He was crucified. The event is commemorated at fourteen stations, the last five of which are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Several of the most important Christian relics are housed in this church, including the anointing stone (on which Jesus’ body was laid before his burial) and Jesus’ grave.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a pilgrimage site for Christians from all over the world. The church was first built in the 4th Century by Constantine's mother, Helena, over the site of a Roman Pagan temple. The present structure is Crusader (12th century) and contains the last five Stations of the Cross. It includes the Chapel of Golgotha where Jesus was crucified, the sepulchre where Jesus was buried and from which He rose, and the Chapel of Mary Magdalene where the risen Christ first revealed himself.
Southwest of the Old City is Mt. Zion, where the Dormition Abbey was built on the site where some Christian traditions believe Mary spent her last night. The abbey was built about 100 years ago and in the basement there is a statue of the sleeping Mary. Beside the abbey is a building which houses the Cenacle (the Upper Room), where it is thought that Jesus celebrated the Last Supper and the events of Pentecost took place. The tomb of David is also in that building.
Pilgrims also visit the Church of St. Peter Gallicatu. Since at least the 6th century, this spot is believed to be the location of Caiaphas' house, the setting of Peter's denial of his connection with Jesus on the night of his trial and the shedding of his tears of sorrow. It is the place where Jesus was imprisoned the night before He was condemned by Pontius Pilate, and where Saint Peter denied that he knew Jesus, fulfilling Jesus 'prophecy: " Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice." (Mark: 14:72.). The church commemorates Saint Peter's repentance as he heard the cock crow. There are Byzantine and Herodian remains here at the entrance to the church.
The Mt. of Olives is located east of Jerusalem, across the Kidron Valley. It is associated with some of the most important events in Jesus' life. Here, Jesus ascended to Heaven (Chapel of Ascension), foretold the destruction Jerusalem, taught his disciples the Lord's prayer (Pater Noster Church) and wept over Jerusalem on His way to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Church of Dominus Flevit).
Located at the foot of the Mt. of Olives, the Church of All Nations was originally built by the Byzantines in 379 AD over the place made holy by Jesus' prayer and agony. The present church was built in 1919-1924. It is called the Church of All Nations because sixteen nations contributed to its construction.
Near the church, the Garden of Gethsemane appears today as it did 2000 years ago, and within it are some of the world's oldest olive trees. It was here that Jesus spent the beginning hours of His passion.
The Kidron Valley separates the Mt. of Olives from the city of Jerusalem. Jesus crossed the valley many times, including on the evening of Holy Thursday when He went with his disciples to Gethsemane.
The ancient tombs of Absalom, Jehoshaphat and St. Zacharias are located in the Kidron Valley. According to local tradition, the Kidron will be the site of the Last Judgment. This belief leads to the creation of cemeteries in the Kidron Valley for Christians, Muslims and Jews alike.
Located 2 miles east of Jerusalem on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, Bethany was the home of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. It is where Jesus performed the great miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. Several churches have been erected over the tomb of Lazarus and over the home of Mary and Martha. The Franciscan Church of Lazarus that stands today was built in 1952 near the remains of the ancient buildings.
Silwan is a Palestinian village located on a ridge that slopes downhill south of the present Old City of Jerusalem. The village is built over an area which was once surrounded by a city wall and considered to have been the original Jerusalem. The area includes several sites of archaeological interest, notably Hezekiah'sTunnel, Warren's Shaft (an earlier water supply system), and the Pools of Siloam. All these water supply systems drew their water from the Gihon Spring which lies on Silwan's eastern slope, and is generally considered the reason that the city was originally built at this location.
The Palestinian city of Bethlehem is known as the little town where Jesus was born. Many sacred Christian sites, churches and monasteries are located in the region.
Church of the Nativity is the oldest church in the Holy Land still in use. Constantine's mother, Helen, came on a pilgrimage to Palestine in 325 AD to investigate the sites associated with the life of Jesus Christ. Helena chose the Grotto of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, as the site for the huge basilica which was completed in 339 AD. Inside the Church, two sets of stairs on either side of the altar lead down into the Grotto, the site where Jesus was born. A silver star embedded in white marble and bearing the Latin inscription "Here of the Virgin Mary Christ was born" marks the site.
According to tradition, the Milk Grotto is where Mary nursed baby Jesus while hiding there from Herod's soldiers before going to Egypt. Located southeast of the Basilica, it is an irregular Grotto hewn out of soft white rock. Tradition says that some drops of Mary's milk trickled down, turning the rock white.
Shepherds Field is located in the town of Beit Sahour, 2km east of Bethlehem. This is the site where the angel of the Lord appeared before the shepherds bringing them the good tidings of the birth of Jesus.
St. Theodosius Monastery was built by Theodosius in 500 AD. The monastery is located east of the historic village of Ubediyyeh, 12km east of Bethlehem. A white-walled cave marks the burial site of St. Theodosius. Tradition has it that the wise men rested here after God warned them in a dream that they should not return to Herod.
A small building marks the traditional Tomb of Rachel, Jacob's wife. The present sanctuary and mosque were built during the Ottoman period and are situated on the Jerusalem-Hebron Road near the northern entrance of Bethlehem.
Nazareth is famous as the site of the announcement of the Incarnation. Visitors to Nazareth have the privilege of praying in the Basilica of Annunciation on the site where the Virgin Mary received the annunciation of the Incarnation. Other churches in Nazareth, including the Church of St. Joseph and the Synagogue Church, commemorate Jesus' early life.
The International Mary of Nazareth Center (CIMDN) in Nazareth is a new project which opened in March, 2011. Ecumenical in its approach, it aims to show Mary in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim world by means of contemporary audio-visual techniques. A one-hour visit can include the terraced biblical gardens and the chapel on the roof, with views over Nazareth. Its associated web site was created to provide in-depth information for visitors to the International Marian Center or for those who simply visit its web site (maryofnazareth.com) on the Internet. The web site is divided into various topics such as life in Nazareth in the time of Mary, an overview of Mary's life, Mary in Holy Scriptures, Marian doctrine, praying to Mary, Mary in Judaism and Islam, the Virgin in art and the apparitions and messages of Mary.
The Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberias and Lake Kinneret, is a place where Jesus performed many miracles. He also chose his first disciples on its shores. Capernaum, which is also mentioned in the Gospels as the scene of miracles and sermons, is situated on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. St. Peter's House and the ruins of an ancient synagogue are also located here.
Cana is famous for being the site of Jesus’ first miracle, the transformation of water into wine at a wedding feast: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2:11). In addition to the traditional pilgrimage, many Christian couples come to Cana to renew their marriage vows.
Tabha, not far from Capernaum, is the site of the Church of the Multiplication, famous for its incredible mosaics and the place commemorating the Miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. Also at Tabha is The Church of St. Peter's Primacy, honoring the memory of Jesus reappearing to his Disciples after his resurrection and instructing Peter to “feed my sheep” (Jn 21).
The Mount of Beatitudes overlooks the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. This is where Jesus gave his “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt 5). The impressive Church of Beatitudes displays beautiful windows and mosaics.
Mount Tabor has played an important role in the history of this area since very early times. It is the site of the Transfiguration commemorated by the Church of the Transfiguration and an adjacent monastery.
Caesarea Philippi is the site where Jesus gave St. Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven…” (Matt 16: 18-19).
Mount Carmel is famous for its connection to the life of the Prophet Elijah. Here, the Prophet Elijah triumphed over the prophets of Baal. Many sites were built on the Mount to glorify Elijah, such as Mukhraka, the Carmelite Monastery, and a church, Stella Maris in Haifa, which houses a cave associated with him.
Caesarea was built by King Herod the Great on the site of an old town called "Strato's Tower." Caesarea is important in Christian history for being the place where the first gentile was converted to Christianity: “And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10: 45). When St. Paul fled Jerusalem, “they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him off to Tarsus” (Acts 9:30). After sailing from Ephesus, St. Paul “landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch” (Acts 18: 22). He was also kept in captivity there: “Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea” (Acts 25:4).
MORE HIGHLIGHTS IN ISRAEL
Massada is a high plateau in a desert setting overlooking the Dead Sea. It is a palace-fortress that Herod the Great built to last forever, a refuge for Jewish rebels in the century of Jesus. It is unique in its beauty and eventful history. Herod’s mountaintop palace and fortress was the site of the last Jewish stand against the Romans in 73 AD, where 960 defenders committed mass suicide rather than be killed at the hands of their enemies.
Yad Vashem, Israel’s main Holocaust remembrance and education center, is situated on the slopes ofHar HaZikaron, (the Mount of Remembrance) in Jerusalem. It opened to the public in 2005. The museum is designed in the shape of a prism. Divided into nine galleries, the museum relates the stories of Jewish communities before the Second World War and the series of events beginning from the rise of the Nazis to power, the pursuit of the Jews ,their eviction to the ghettos and ending with the "Final Solution" and mass genocide. The personal experiences and feelings of the victims of the Holocaust constitute the groundwork for the museum’s exhibits.Visiting the Yad Vashem museum is an emotional experience, but seeing the exhibits and remembering the Holocaust gives the more than one million individuals, world leaders and dignitaries who pass through its doors annually a meaningful way to commemorate the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Qumran is the site where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by a Bedouin shepherd, Mohammad Al Deeb, in 1947. The scrolls were hidden in clay jars inside the cliffs high above the Dead Sea. You can see the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book. Its shape evokes the cover of the jars that held the scrolls, which you’ll see inside in the exhibit, “A Day at Qumran.”
The Magdala Center Project is located on 21 acres in the former city of Magdala, home to Mary Magdalene, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The project was begun with the following purposes:
1. To provide a hotel to welcome pilgrims who visit the Holy Land.
2. To preserve and display the ruins of that holy place.
3. To offer a multimedia center to show the message and life of Jesus, and the history of the place.
4. With the inspiration of Mary Magdalene, to offer a center promoting the vocation and dignity of woman.
During his visit to the Holy Land in May, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI blessed the cornerstone of the Magdala Project. Subsequently, excavations unearthed one of the oldest synagogues in the world, with traces of frescos and decorations dating from the time of Christ and the apostles. The synagogue dates back to the Second Temple period (50 BC-100 AD), and in the middle of the synagogue, a stone was found engraved with a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), unlike any ever seen before. Excavations of the ancient synagogue continue today and the new archaeological findings will be an important part of the planned center to be opened at a future date.
MORE HIGHLIGHTS IN PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
Jericho contains some of the world's most historic sites and is frequently mentioned in the Bible.The summit of Mt. Temptation, rising to a height of 350 meters above sea level and offering a magnificent view of the Jordan Valley, is the site where Jesus spent forty days and nights fasting and meditating during the temptation of Satan. The Fountains of Jericho were called the Fountain of Eliseus by Christians, because the prophet, touched by the prayers of the inhabitants of Jericho, corrected the bitterness of the water by casting a handful of salt into it (2 Kings:2,19). The Byzantines built a church here in honor of St. Eliseus. It was the water of the spring which led to the early occupation of the nearby site, and today its water, regulated by law, accounts for the beautiful gardens of bananas, oranges, dates etc., which grow here.
Located 10km east of Jerusalem, on the main road to Jericho, Al-Khan al-Ahmar is a 16th century structure where travelers on this ancient trade route stopped to rest. On the other side of the road are the remains of St. Euthymius Church, built in the fifth century to commemorate Jesus' famous proverb of the Good Samaritan.
Ramallah is a fast-growing cosmopolitan town where ancient biblical sites can be found. Its twin-city, al-Bireh, was first built by the Canaanites around 3500 BC. According to Christian tradition, Joseph and Mary rested in al-Bireh on their way from Jerusalem to Galilee when they discovered that Jesus was missing. A Crusader church, known as the Church of the Holy Family, marks where it is believed they stopped.
Located at the southern entrance of al-Bireh, Tell al-Nasbah is an important Bronze Age site. Visible ruins include a gate dating back to the ninth century BC, a massive wall, the remains of a Byzantine church and an Ottoman Khan. Tell al-Nasbah is believed to be the site where Saul was crowned king.
According to religious tradition, the head of John the Baptist was found in Sebastia and a Crusader church, later converted to a mosque, was built in his honor. In the village of Sebastia one can see the remains of the Church of St. John the Baptist, built by the Crusaders in 1165 on the ruins of a Byzantine basilica, in the crypt of which were the relics of St. John the Baptist and those of the prophets, Eliseus and Abdias.
Located 3 km east of Nablus, Tell Balata or Shechem, was one of the earliest and most powerful Canaanite cities. Destroyed and rebuilt several times, the ruins of this ancient city occupy a hill rising 525m above sea level. A fortress temple on the summit of the hill is a large and impressive Canaanite temple . Other visible ruins include two monumental gates, massive city walls, and a governor's palace with a small private temple, guardrooms, an assembly, living quarters, and a kitchen.
Taybeh is mentioned several times in the Old Testament as Ophra and, in the New Testament, as Ephraim. Christian tradition identifies Taybeh (Ephraim) as the place where Jesus chose to stay with his disciples on the night before his Passion (John 11:54). The Al-Khader Church, originally Byzantine, then rebuilt by the Crusaders, was abandoned at the end of the Crusader occupation.
Located 1.6km south of Nablus, Jacob's Well is where Jesus met the Samaritan woman who offered Him a drink of water. Originally, Jacob dug the well for himself, his children, and his flock. The Crusaders restored it; and today, it stands within the walled complex a Greek Orthodox Monastery.
After leaving his nephew Lot, Abraham came to Mamre where he pitched his tent. Here, Abraham received the three angels who announced to him that his wife Sara would have a son. An oak tree 2km west of Hebron marks the legendary site where Abraham pitched his tent. Until recently pilgrims used to peel pieces of the trunk for good luck; however, now the trunk has been wrapped with steel braces for protection by the Russian Orthodox Church, who owns the site and the nearby monastery.
Jenin is a picturesque region lying on the hills overlooking the biblical Jerzeel Valley. Located 3km west of Jenin, the village of Burqin contains the ruins of a Byzantine church and the cave where lepers who were healed by Jesus once lived. The church has been restored several times and is still being used by the village's Christian Greek Orthodox community. It is composed of the leper cave and an 18th century hall and nave. Khirbet Belama is located at the southern entrance of Jenin and is the site of the Canaanite city of Ibleam whose residents resisted the tribe of Manasseh.
Hebron is closely identified with Abraham and is regarded as holy by Christians, Moslems and Jews. Al-Haram is a rectangular building, which looks like a fortress. The construction of the walls and pavement is the work of King Herod. Inside, a vaulted Crusader church has been turned into a mosque. There are six tombs in the Mosque of Abraham, which are said to stand directly above the graves of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah, the prophets and their wives who are said to be buried in the Cave of el-Anbia.
The Church of St. Prophyrus, a 4th Century church where St. Porphyrus was buried (420 AD), is located in the Gaza Strip's old city and is still in use by the Greek Orthodox Community.
The archaeological site of the ancient harbor city of Anthedon, the first known seaport of Gaza, is located along the Mediterranean Sea, in the northern corner of the Gaza Strip. It was inhabited from 800 BC to 1100 AD.
The site of Tell Umm Amer is located in Al Nusairat Village on the Mediterranean Coast, 8.5 km south of Gaza City. The first settlement in the site was established during the Roman era with the name Tabatha. The site contains the ruins of St. Hilarion’s Monastery, perhaps an early center of missionary work in the Gaza region.
DID YOU KNOW?
Palestinian Christians are called the "Living Stones." They are the living members of the churches whose ancestors are the very first disciples of Jesus. They invite visitors to the Holy Land not merely to see the stones of old churches and ruins, but also to meet together in worship and understanding. They make up anywhere between 1.1 - 2.4% of the population of Gaza and the West Bank, and just under 2% of the population of Israel. The majority of Palestinian Christians belong to the Greek-rite Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. There are also Maronites, Melkites, Jacobites, Roman Catholics, Syrian Catholics, Copts and Protestants among them.
The newly opened Gospel Trailwinds for 39 miles, south from Nazareth, through Jewish and Arab towns and down to Capernaum, the fishing town where Jesus is said to have established his home base. The new trail across northern Israel offers pilgrims the chance to walk, bike, drive or ride horseback through New Testament sites in the footsteps of Jesus.
Seeking perfection and renouncing material possessions, monks from all over the Christian world settled in Palestinian caves suspended on the sides of the cliffs in the desert. Only three of the first monasteries are still active today – the Monastery of Saint Theodosius,Mar Saba to the west of Bethlehem, and the Monastery of Saint George in Wadi Qelt, a natural rift in the hills between Jerusalem and Jericho.
The Palestinian Armenian Community has roots in ancient times. Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity as its official religion, in 301 AD. At that time, the Armenian Patriarchate acquired properties near various holy places and established the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem. Today, the Armenian quarter of the Old City covers one sixth of the total area inside the walls; half the Palestinian Armenian community of Jerusalem (over 1,000 people) live here.
Jericho is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. One can a ride cable car above the architectural dig revealing the original city walls of the 10,000-year-old city. Situated on a mound overlooking the Jericho oasis, excavations at Tell al-Sultan have uncovered 23 layers of ancient civilizations, dating back to 9000 BC. Many structures are visible, including the oldest known stairs in the world, the oldest wall, and the massive defense tower, dating back to 7000 BC.
Olive wood carving has its origins with the Franciscan monks who taught the local residents the craft of carving and inlay work around the time of the construction of the Church of the Nativity (approximately the fourth century). Today Palestinian olive wood carvings are known worldwide for their beauty.Handcrafting from abalone shells, or mother-of-pearl, started in the 17th century when Franciscan monks brought their skills from Italy. Today Bethlehem is still the center for the manufacture of mother- of-pearl objects with designs inspired by both Muslim and Christian influences.