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Holy sites in Jerusalem and south of Tel-aviv

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre-Jerusalem

Located in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City about 70 Km. west of our Short term apartments in Tel Aviv, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (also known as the Church of the Resurrection) contains two of Christianity’s holiest sites:

The site of Jesus’s crucifixion (Calvary in Latin and Golgotha in Greek) and the tomb where He said to have been buried and then resurrected.  Also within the church are the last four stages of Jesus’s walk through the streets of Jerusalem, carrying his cross to his crucifixion (The Way of the Cross).

The first recorded church on the site was constructed by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in 325 CE. Over the centuries the site has developed and grown into the amazing complex that we see today. The church is held in custody by a number of Christian denominations thanks to a series of accords and agreements established 160 years ago.

Every day, a moving and impressive procession takes place through the church. Starting and ending at the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament the procession passes through 14 station. At each station a hymn is recited or sung, The 14 stations are:

  • The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • The Column of the Flagellation.
  • The Prison of Christ.
  • The Altar of the Division of the Holy Robes.
  • The Crypt of the Finding of the Cross.
  • The Chapel of St. Helena.
  • The Chapel of Derision.
  • The site of the Crucifixion on Calvary.
  • The site where Christ died on the Cross.
  • The Altar of Our Lady of Sorrows.
  • The Stone of the Anointing.
  • The glorious Tomb of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • The site of the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene.
  • The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament (also known as the Chapel of the Apparition of the Risen Jesus to his Mother.

Jerusalem has many other site Holy to Christianity. Below are just some of the more notable:

  • Bethphage
  • Church of St. John the Baptist
  • Chapel of the Ascension
  • Dormition Abbey
  • Via Dolorosa.

Jericho

JerichoThe oasis city of Jericho, 100 Km. from Tel Aviv and 35 Km. from Jerusalem and 258 m. below sea level, is situated in an area controlled by the Palestinian Authority.

Close to the River Jordan and with many fresh water springs, the city is known for its fertile land and date palms.

The city is thought to be one of the oldest on earth dating back over 10,000 years to 8,000 BCE and is mentioned extensively in both the Old and the New Testaments.Christian tourism is one of the city’s main sources of income thanks to several important Christian sites in and around Jericho. These include:

  • The Mount of Temptation, has a Greek Orthodox monastery at its top (360 m. above sea level) is traditionally regarded as the mountain where the Devil tempted Christ during his 40-day fast.
  • The Spring of Elisha, where the Prophet Elisha is said to have purified the waters by throwing salt into them.
  • Zacchaeus’s Sycamore tree (Luke 19:1-10). • The traditional site of Jesus’s Baptism at Qasr el-Yahud on the Jordan River.• The Monastery of Saint Gerasimos.
  • The Saint George Monastery.

The Flagellation Chapel and the Church of the Condemnation

Geisselungskapelle BW 1

100 Km. from Tel Aviv, in the Old City of Jerusalem, we find the Flagellation Chapel. Set within the precincts’ of a Franciscan Monastery, the site contains two places associated with Christ’s death.

The Flagellation Chapel where he was flogged by Roman legionnaires and the Church of the Condemnation where he was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, dressed in kingly clothes, “crowned” with a crown of thorns before finally being burdened with the cross he would have to carry to his final place of execution.

The Flagellation Chapel was built in 1929. The design on the interior of the domed ceiling incorporates the crown of thorns and the chapel’s windows, those around the mail alter, depict the mob who came to witness His humiliation.

The Chapel of the Condemnation was originally built during the Byzantine period. Later on, when Jerusalem was ruled by the Muslims, it was turned into a mosque.

Towards the start of the 20th century, it was once again consecrated as a church and completely renovated in 1904. Today this beautiful chapel has five brilliant white domes each resting on a series of breathtaking stained glass windows and magnificent series of papier-mache figures inside the chapel depicting Christ’s Passion.

Bethlehem – The Shepherds’ Field and Grotto

Christmas Church (Bethlehem)3

When God announced the arrival of Jesus, He did so, not to people of high standing but to simple shepherds (one of the least favored occupations of the time) tending their flocks in the fields and caves around the town now known as Beit Sahur, a suburb of Bethlehem.  (Luke 2:8-10).

Today, the site (some 80 Km. from Tel Aviv and 30 Km. from Jerusalem) is in the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority but is visited by many Christian tourists and pilgrims.

As with other Holy Sites, there are two sites (just 600 meters apart) claiming to be where Jesus’s coming was announced. Both sites, one under the supervision of the Greek Orthodox Church and the other by the Franciscans, have had churches and monasteries on them since before the 4th century CE.

The Franciscan site has a chapel designed to resemble a shepherds’ tent.  The Greek site has a 5th century church built over a cave that has been used as a place of worship since 325 CE when Saint Helena built the first church here.

Bethlehem is close to Jerusalem giving the visitor many Christian sites to explore. There are too many top list here, so here is just a selection:

  • Church of the Nativity
  • Church of the Holy Sepulchre
  • Church of St. John the Baptist
  • Chapel of the Ascension
  • Dormition Abbey
  • Via Dolorosa

The Church of the Nativity – Bethlehem

Grotto of the Nativity Orthodox Altar

The Church of the Nativity marks the spot where Jesus was born.  This is identified as a cave over which, ever since the first church, built by Saint Helena, was consecrated in 339 CE, has been sanctified as one of Christianity’s holiest sites.

Over the centuries, the Church of the Nativity has seen many changes and different rulers.  However, all, to a greater of lesser extent, recognized the holiness of the site and refrained from destroying the churches built there.

However, what man did not do, nature did and in 1834 an earthquake, in 1869 and 2014 a fire destroyed much of the 6th century CE church’s interior but left the building intact.

Since 1852, the Roman Catholic, the Armenian, Syrian and Greek Orthodox churches have enjoyed shared custody of the site with each denomination being responsible for different areas of the complex.

Here’s an interesting fact: The exact site of Jesus’s birth is marked by a silver star set in the floor of the Grotto of the Nativity. This star was stolen in 1847 and, as part of a dispute with the Ottoman Empire over Christian access to Holy Sites, led to the Crimean War (1854 – 1856).

Bethlehem is close to Jerusalem giving the visitor many Christian sites to experience. There are too many too list here, so here is just a selection:

  • Church of the Holy Sepulchre
  • Church of St. John the Baptist
  • Chapel of the Ascension
  • Dormition Abbey
  • Via Dolorosa
  • Bethphage

Bethphage

Betfage11 054 (1)

The Church of Bethphage marks what is considered to be the starting point of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we celebrate today as Palm Sunday. Matthew 21:1-11.

The Franciscan church commemorating the event is found in Jerusalem, on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives close to Bethany where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. John’s Gospel 11:1-44.

It is from here that the traditional Palm Sunday procession begins each year.
Inside the church, above the alter, is a stunning mural depicting Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem to the cheers of an adoring crowd.

Also in the church you will see a large rock enclosed by a wrought iron railing. This was thought, by the Crusaders, to be the rock which Jesus used to mount the donkey. However, some scholars are skeptical as the height of the rock is more suited to a Crusader war horse rather than a humble donkey.

The sides of the rock are decorated medieval paintings depicting the disciples, crowds with palm branches and Lazarus’s resurrection that were restored to their former glory in 1950.

The Church of the Visitation – Ein Kerem, Jerusalem

Ancient well at Church of the Visitation

66 Km. from Tel Aviv and just 7 Km. from the Old City of Jerusalem we find the Church of the Visitation, in the picturesque Ein Kerem neighborhood.

The church commemorates the visit by Mary, to Elizabeth. (Luke 1: 56). Both women were pregnant, Mary with Jesus and Elizabeth with John the Baptist (John was born in Ein Kerem).

According to tradition, the unborn John recognized the unborn Jesus and “leaped with joy” in his mother’s womb (Luke 1: 44).  Following this miraculous event, Mary sang a song of praise to God known as the “Magnificat”.

The present day church was completed 1955 and is built on the restored remains of a lower church that was constructed in 1862 on the site of a Byzantine Crusader church over a grotto that once contained a small spring.

The interior of the upper church is lavishly decorated with many murals and frescos depicting the life of the Virgin Mary and her gradual evolution into a central figure in Christian faith.

The lower church contains frescoes of other women mentioned in the Bible for their songs of praise.
In the church’s courtyard, one wall is covered with ceramic tiles with the word “Magnificat” in 42 different languages.

Other sites in interest in Ein Kerem include:

  • Mary’s Spring
  • Russian Monastery
  • Greek Orthodox Convent
  • Sisters of Our Lady of Zion Convent
  • The Church of Saint John the Baptist

The Church of Saint John the Baptist, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem

Church of John the Baptist, Ein Kerem

The Church complex stands over a grotto that is said to be the birthplace of John the Baptist, known as the “Forerunner” since it was he who baptized Jesus and proclaimed Him to be the Messiah.

Like many Holy Sites, the church has a long history of building and destruction.
The first church was constructed here during the Byzantine period around 500 CE.  There are ruins of two chapels (the Martyrs Chapel and a chapel under the monastery’s southern side).  Both were destroyed during Samaritan revolts in 529 and 556 CE.

The Night Order of the Hospitallers rebuilt the chapel in 1104, naming it after John the Baptist, when the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem. However, the structure was destroyed in the middle 12th century CE and remained a ruin until the end of the Ottoman period.

During Turkish (Ottoman) rule Franciscan monks (from around 1670) began purchasing land around the site as well as the site itself. A monastery was consecrated only in 1895 and the present day church was completed in 1920.

Both the monastery and the church with their breathtaking frescos, tiled walls and stained glass windows are well worth a visit.

Other sites in interest in Ein Kerem include:

  • Mary’s Spring
  • The Russian Monastery
  • The Greek Orthodox Convent
  • The Sisters of Our Lady of Zion Convent
  • The Church of the Visitation
  • The Monastery of Saint John in the Desert

The Monastery of Saint John in the Desert, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem

Monastery of Saint John in the WildernessContrary to its name, the monastery sits in the lush, green hills of Ein Kerem, just 7 km. from the Old City of Jerusalem.  So why the “desert” monastery”?

According Luke (1:80), John the Baptist lived as a hermit in the desert until his destiny manifested itself to him. In those times, the village of Ein Kerem (where John was born) and the surrounding area of the Judean Hills looked very different from today and merited being called a desert or wilderness.

Today, Saint John in the Desert is surrounded by forests and greenery, and a fresh water spring feeds ma pool with many amazing red fish. The grounds of the monastery are crisscrossed by paths and steps cut into the rock. Some lead to two caves one of which has a pool used for ritual cleansing and baptisms.

The second is said to be the cave where John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, hid with the young John during from Herod’s massacre of the innocents
Other sites in interest in Ein Kerem include:

  • Mary’s Spring
  • The Russian Monastery
  • The Greek Orthodox Convent
  • The Sisters of Our Lady of Zion Convent
  • The Church of the Visitation
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