Category Archives: Churches

Another Gethsemane?

Christian travelers to the Holy Land will often visit the Church of All Nations and its associated garden and/or the Grotto of Gethsemane that is located to the north of it.  Both are associated with Jesus’ experience in the Garden on the night that he was betrayed.

The White Russian Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives.

However, there is a third grotto that is located on the grounds of The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene where it is said that Jesus prayed on the night that he was betrayed.  Unfortunately the church compound is only open for visits for 4 hours each week, but its glistening golden domes are a familiar landmark on the western slope of the Mount of Olives.  It is a (white) Russian Orthodox Church built by the Czar Alexander III in 1888.  The church was dedicated to Alexander’s mother, Maria, but is named after Saint Mary Magdalene who was a follower of Jesus and is associated with anointing his body.  She was at the foot of the cross (John 19:25), and Jesus first appeared to her after his resurrection (John 20:1).

Entrance to the Gethsemane Cave on the grounds of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene.

Although not frequently visited by Christian Pilgrims it is believed by some that Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed in this cave on the night that he was betrayed.

View of the altar in the cave/chapel on the grounds of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene.

In addition to the icons, note the ossuary on the right side of the image.

To view additional, free, high–resolution images of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene Click Here

A Jerusalem Cross — An Unusual Photo

One of the sites that all Christian groups visit in Jerusalem is the site of Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives (see below for a description as to why this church is important).  Although the view from within the church, overlooking Jerusalem, is justly famous (see below) on that day I took the following photo.

View of Jerusalem from Dominus Flevit. Under the cross is the Dome of the Rock. To the left of the Dome is the bell tower of the Church of the Redeemer. To the right of the Dome is the bell tower of Saint Savior’s Church.

I have not added anything to the above photo!  For those of you who have visited Jerusalem you may be saying, “what in the world is this?”   This is what I saw—although I have flipped the photo horizontally 180 degrees.  (Ok, I cleaned up a few spots—the window was dirty!).

Yes, this photos was taken outside of Dominus Flevit looking back at the reflection of Jerusalem in its main window!

By the way — please notice the “crown of thorns tree” on the left side of the image.


Dominus Flevit is a Roman Catholic Church (compound) located on the upper third of the Mount of Olives overlooking the city of Jerusalem to the west.

This church was designed by Antonio Barluzzi and was constructed in the 1950’s.  The roof of the church is designed to resemble a “tear drop” — as the church commemorates Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41–44).  On each of the four corners of the church are large representations of small glass vessels which were used to catch the tears of mourners in the first century AD.

This is the “normal” view that visitors normally see from within Dominus Flevit.

 

Can Notre Dame Be Rebuilt? Yes!

Recently we have witness the catastrophic fire in the Cathedral of Notre Dame—and it’s loss to Christianity and Western Culture in general.  I have seen many sources dealing with the “traumas” that Notre Dame has suffered though its long history but I was surprised by “it will be rebuilt.”  Is this realistic? Or just wishful thinking?

Well, many churches have suffered sever damage through out their history, but to use an example of one in Rome, let me mention the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Rome — the remains of Saint Paul Outside the Walls after the fire of July 1823.

This is the church where, according to very early Christian tradtion, the Apostle Paul was buried after his martyrdom.  Constantine built the original church, but Theodosius built a new church in this spot around A.D. 390.  This church lasted until July 15, 1823 when it was destroyed by a fire caused by careless workmen who were repairing the roof.  This church had been standing for about 1,400 years before it was destroyed!  Much longer than even Notre Dame (ca. 800 years).

the interior of the church after its reconstruction in 1840.

View looking east down the central nave of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside of the walls. The nave is flanked by double aisle on both the north and the south.  At the far (east) end is a triumphal arch that is a relic of the old pre–fire of 1823 that is supported by two granite columns.

View looking east at the mosaic at the top of the Triumphal Arch. Although heavily reconstructed this is a relic of the old pre–fire of 1823 arch.

On the top is a “grim–faced” Christ holding his hand blessing in the Greek manner. The four winged creatures above him have “faces” that represent the four Evangelists—gospel writers. Below them are figures representing the saints of the Apocalyse (book of Revelation). On the lower left side of the arch is St. Paul with a sword (of the spirit/word) and to the right St. Peter holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

View of the “Grotto” (Confessio) that is located below the High Altar

Notice the grating and behind that, a small portion of the sarcophagus that is said to contain the remains of Saint Paul is barely visible.   During the reconstruction of the church two slabs were found with the inscription “PAULO APOSTOLO MART” (to Paul, apostle and martyr).  Below the glass floor are rock carvings and a portion of the apse of an earlier church.

The familiar couryard of the church.

View looking east through the courtyard (Quadriporticus) of the  Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.  The statue on the left is that of Saint Paul.   Notice the beautiful mosaics of the church.

If this wonderful church can be rebuilt, certainly Notre Dame can as well!

For 21 images of the important Basilica, Click Here.

Church of Holy Sepulcher — The Syrians and the “Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea”

While visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I had a chance to observe portions of a Syrian Jacobite Service in the “cavern-like” chapel just to the west of the Tomb of Jesus.

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact

Syrian Jacobite service near the “Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.”

Most Christian groups visiting Jerusalem will visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem.  A few of them will visit the small cavern-like chapel that is located west of the Tomb of Jesus.  If they do, the following is what they see and many will pronounce it “uglee.”

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Syrian Chapel — without a service!  Contrast the image above when it is prepared for the worship service of the Syrian Jacobites!

On the left is the wooden altar—where the priest above was serving—and in the lower right portion of the image is the low entrance into the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (see following).

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View of two of the niches (kokhim) of a first century A.D. tomb, into which bodies were placed. The entrances were then sealed.

This tomb is entered via the Syrian Chapel and is sometimes called the “Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.” The tradition is that Joseph of Arimathea was buried here, after he had given his original tomb for Jesus to be buried in (see, for example, John 19:38-42). For an additional example of a typical tomb from the first century A.D. – from the Mt. of Olives – click here.

I believe that “technically” this area is under the authority of the Armenians, but they permit the Syrian Orthodox to worship here.

Place of Peter’s Denial of Jesus?

Many Christian tour groups to the Holy Land will visit the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. This church is located on the eastern slope of the western hill of ancient Jerusalem—south of the Old City wall, on present day Mount Zion.

View looking west southwest at the church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. Below and to the right of the church note the excavations and the staircase the leads up and down the hill that dates to the Second Temple Period.

According to a sixth or seventh century tradition this is the site of the Palace of Caiaphas before whom Jesus was questioned (mentioned 9 times in the New Testament; Matt 26:57–68; Mark 14:53–65; Luke 22:54).  According to the Gospel accounts, Peter, in the courtyard denied any association with Jesus after which the “rooster crowed” (= Latin: galli-–cantu; Matt 26:69–76; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:55–65; John 18:25–27).

The church was completed in 1931 and the Assumptionist Fathers serve there.  The church is built on three levels, the bottom of which contains a series of rock cut caverns that are said to date to the time of Jesus.

View looking west at the steps that ascend the western hill (Mount Zion) from the central Tyropoeon) Valley.possible that Jesus walked on these steps.

Excavations to the north of the church have revealed a variety of rock cut remains along with a flight of steps that leads up and down the hill—it is said to date to the time of Jesus (= Second Temple Period).

View of one of the underground rock cut chambers located on the lowest level of Saint Peter in Gallicantu.

Supposedly the church is build over/near the house of Caiaphas the High Priest (mentioned 9 times in the New Testament), before whom Jesus was questioned.  According to tradition, Jesus was imprisoned here during that time and later Peter and John were imprisoned here as well (Acts 5).

The caves/chambers evidently date to the Second Temple Period.

For 16 images of Saint Peter in Gallicantu Click Here.

A.D. 70 The Destruction of the Temple — Where did the Temple Treasure Go? Part 3

As noted in a previous post, most of the articles from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem had been placed in the Temple of Peace in Rome—but in A.D. 192 the Temple of Peace was burned down.  There are two important discussions that trace the history of the articles after this event—one by Fredric Brandfon and the other by Clyde Billington (see below).

A.D. 192 — Billington (p. 18) argues that “. .. the Temple Menorah and the other ‘Treasures of the Jews’ were rescued and placed in the royal palace where, according to the Byzantine historian Procopius, they remained until the mid 5th Century AD.”   This would mean that they were kept in one of the Palaces on the Palatine Hill.

A Garden from the Palace of Domitian on the Palatine Hill in Rome—where the Royal Palaces were located. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Click Here to view images of and on the Palatine Hill.

In A.D. 445 Gaiseric and the Vandals conquered and looted the city of Rome and “carried off the Temple Menorah and the other Treasures of the Jews . . .” to their capital city of Carthage in North Africa (Billington, 18).   Procopius of Caesarea also describes how later, the Byzantine general Belisarius conquered Carthage in A.D. 534.   He then goes on to describe the victory parade of the booty in Constantinople in the presence of the Emperor, Justinian (r. 527–565).  Conveniently, Billington provides his translation of the relevant passage from Procopius of Caesarea’s, History of the Wars (p. 18).

. . . and then followed all of the royal treasure which was worth an exceedingly great amount, because Gizeric (The vandal king) had looted the (Imperial) Palace in Rome, as was stated in a preceding portion of this history.  among the items take from the Palace in Rome were the Treasures of the Jews, which Titus, the son of Vespasian, and others had brought to Rome after the capture of Jerusalem.”

The Hippodrome in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) where the victory Parade may have taken place.

Thus the Temple Treasure was brought to Constantinople in A.D. 534.  But Procopius also says that one of the Jews warned that a curse would fall on Justinian, the Emperor, if the treasure was not returned to Jerusalem!  Billington’s translation continues . . .

When the Emperor (Justinian) heard of the things that were said (by this Jewish man), he became frightened, and with all haste sent all of these (sacred Jewish) items to the Christian churches in Jerusalem.

At this point, Billington has a detailed discussion of exactly when the articles were sent to Jerusalem, but both he and Brandfon agree that they were placed, for a time, in the newly built Nea Church dedicated A.D. 543.

Sixth Century Map on the floor of a Church in Madaba (Jordan). The Nea Church is in the upper right corner. The map is east oriented (at the top).

Some of the remains of the Nea Church have been excavated (Nahum Avigad) and are located in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem—but much of it is covered by the Jewish Quarter Parking Lot!

View looking northeast at the Parking Lot of the Jewish Quarter. The Nea Church is buried under part of it!

View looking north at the southern wall of the Old City outside the Jewish Quarter. Two courses of the stone foundation of the Nea Church protrude from under the wall of the Old City.

On March 14, 2019, AL-MONITOR published an article entitled Decades after discovery, Jerusalem’s Byzantine masterpiece may open to the PublicThe article is worth a read as it describes the current state of the remains of the Nea Church.

I hope to publish the next (hopefully last) installment of this saga later this week.


Brandfon, Fredric. “Did the Temple Menorah Come Back to Jerusalem?” Biblical Archaeology Review 43, no. 5 (September/October, 2017): 40–49, 70.

Billington, Clyde E. “What Happened to the Golden Temple Menorah?” Artifax 34, no. 1 (Winter, 2019): 18–21.

2 Christmases in Bethlehem

Christmas Number 1 — On December 25 Protestants and Roman Catholics celebrated Christmas.  The festivities in Manger Square in Bethlehem was broadcast worldwide—and some Protestants and Roman Catholics celebrated in “Shepherds’ Field” east of Bethlehem (now filled with homes and shops of the village Beit Sahur).

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Grotto/Cave at the Roman Catholic Site of Shepherds’ Field
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

Christmas Number 2 — On January 7, the Greek, Coptic, and Syrian Orthodox and Armenian Churches will celebrate Christmas.

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The Grotto of the Nativity
Said to be the very spot where Jesus was born
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A Greek Orthodox Priest Celebrating the Eucharist
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On January 7 the Armenian Orthodox Church will celebrate Christmas.

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An Armenian Service in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
Armenians Celebrate Christmas on 7 January
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For additional images of Bethlehem Click Here.

Our friends a “Israel’s History – a Picture a Day” have posted 6 photographic images of Bethlehem at Christmas around 1900 under Turkish Rule: grotto, processions, etc.  They are very interesting!

–   –    –    Personal Story Follows    –    –   –

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Grotto of the Manger — Only 15 feet from the “star”
Said to be the place where the “manger” was
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

In the early 1970’s, when we were living in Israel, Mary and I and John (our two-year old barely–able–to–walk son) were visiting the grotto of the Nativity, Mary and I were looking at a variety of things.  When we turned around, looking for our son John, there he was, blowing out the candles that the faithful had placed by this site—sorry about that!