Category Archives: Churches

An “Unknown” Christmas Site Near Bethlehem

KathismaMap02All Christian tour groups will make the bus trip from Jerusalem south to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  Along the short 5 mile journey there are so many things to see that buses race past the remains of an important octagonal church that is located just along the east side of the busy highway—just inside of pre–1967 Israeli Jerusalem.

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View looking south at the foundations of the Kathisma Church

The usually unnoticed excavations are the remains of the  “Kathisma Church” that is located about half way between New Testament Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  It was built around A.D. 456 to commemorate the spot where, according to the Protoevangelium of James, Mary rested (Kathisma, Greek for “seat” or “chair”) on the way to Bethlehem (text below).

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It is octagonal in shape with three concentric octagonal walls and a large apse area on the eastern side.  This type of church is called a martyrium.  Its octagonal design probably facilitated processions in the building.  Examples from Israel include churches from Capernaum, built over St. Peter’s house, and one at Caesarea (another is found at Hierapolis in Turkey).

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View looking northeast at the foundation walls of the octagonal
Kathisma Church — Place where Mary rested on the way to Bethlehem
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Between the two outer octagonal walls are four good-sized chapels—on the northwest, northeast, southeast, and southwest.  The floors of the chapels were covered with geometric and floral mosaics (now covered with sand).  In the center of the octagon is a large stone (bedrock?) that was probably venerated as the spot where Mary rested.

The church was turned into a mosque when the Muslims conquered Palestine in the seventh century.

“And they came into the middle of the road, and Mary said to him [Joseph]: Take me down from off the ass, for that which is in me presses to come forth.  And he took her down from off the ass, and said to her: Whiter shall I lead thee, and cover thy disgrace? for the place is a desert.  And he found a cave there, and led her into it; and leaving his two sons beside her, he went out to to seek a midwife in the district of Bethlehem”
(Protoevangelium of James 17 and 18)

To view more images of the Kathisma Church Click Here.

For a convenient description of this church see Hershel Shanks, “Rediscovering the Kathisma—Where Mary Rested.” Biblical Archaeological Review 32, no. 6 (November/December, 2006): 44–51.

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Sounds of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

For almost 1,000 years the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was the main church of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium).  It was converted into a Mosque in 1453 and in 1935 it opened as a museum.  As a “museum” no “services”—Christian or Muslim—are to take place in the building.

But would it not be interesting to hear the sounds of a Christian service in the building?  Well, you can!  For a group has produced the sounds of a Christian liturgy from the Hagia Sophia—but not in the building itself.  What?  To find out how they did this, along with samples of the liturgy, check out the following 5:00-minute video.

See some descriptive commentary Here.

Magdala: the Chapel of the Encounter — Hemorrhaging Woman

For the many who have inquired, this mural is available for purchase Here.

In a recent visit to Magdala the students of the Jerusalem University College were graciously and expertly hosted by the excavator Arfan Najjar and Jennifer Ristine.

I like to visit Magdala for two reasons. One is to visit the antiquities of the First Century Synagogue and the Second is to reflect on the role of women among the first followers of Jesus.

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The Encounter Chapel, in the lower lever of Duc In Altum, is dedicated to Jesus’ encounter of all of us, as illustrated by the hemorrhaging woman.  Note how she touches the hem of Jesus’ garment.  (Mark 5:25–34)

The Encounter Chapel is first of all an archeological treasure: the floor is that of the original first century market place of the Magdala port.

A port market place is about as busy a spot in any town you can imagine – probably the main metro train station or airport in our terms – where people without any discrimination rub shoulders.
Since we have also discovered significant infrastructure for fish processing, it is most logical that fishermen of the Sea of Galilee, many known to us by on a first name basis, who wanted to sell their fish for export to Rome (documented by Flavius Josephus) would have gravitated to Magdala’s port, probably not unfamiliar to Jesus’ fishermen disciples. Jesus´ ease at sitting in their boats and mingling with large crowds helps us to see many people encountering him in this marketplace and he can engage the workers and the traders.

The large painting (titled “Encounter”) gives us a snapshot of the encounter of the hemorrhaging woman who tries to touch Jesus for healing (Mark 5: 25-29).

The Encounter Chapel, in the lower lever of Duc In Altum, is dedicated to Jesus’ encounter of all of us, as illustrated by the hemorrhaging woman. Located on the marketplace of the first century port, the Encounter Chapel is modeled after the structure of the Magdala First Century Synagogue with room for up to 120 people.

As you visit the Sea of Galilee and reflect on Jesus’ ministry in the area, I commend to you a visit to Magdala—about 1 to 1.5 hours so see it all.


Daniel Cariola is the creator of the mural of the “encounter.”  For more information on the mural I suggest that you contact the folk at Magdala directly:
info@magdala.org
http://www.magdala.org

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb.

This tomb was discovered in 1867, at which time it was proposed that this was the burial place of Jesus, mainly because of its nearness to what would become known as “Gordon’s Calvary“.  Since that time, some Protestant piety has encouraged this identification, although the wardens of the property (The Garden Tomb Association) stress that it is the resurrection of Jesus, not the issue of finding the exact spot of his burial, that is important.

Inside of the tomb are the partial remains of a burial bench.  Looking at “burial place” #5 (below) The date of the tomb is not certain.

A plan of the interior of the tomb.

The Modern Door into the Tomb.

The Guides at  Garden Tomb stress that it is the resurrection of Jesus, not the issue of finding the exact spot of his burial, that is important.

To visit the official site of the Garden Tomb Association Click Here.

To view, what in my opinion is the best “rolling stone tomb” in Israel Click Here.

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

The Burial Bench of Jesus?

On Friday, 14 April, the National Geographic Channel will air (10:00 PM EDT)  a one hour special on the recent (November 2016) discoveries at one of the traditional sites of the burial of Jesus.  I have waited for years for this—I hope it will not disappoint!

View looking down from the dome of the rotunda on to the structure that covers the Tomb of Jesus.

This structure is the most recent of a series of structures, from the time of Constantine (ca. A.D. 335) that have enshrined the tomb of Jesus.  It was constructed after the great fire of 1808 and was completed in 1810.

In the lower left portion of the image the canopy over the Coptic chapel is visible, this is on the back (west) side of the structure.  Above, and to the right of center, is the entrance into the Greek Orthodox Catholicon.  The entrance to the two rooms of the tomb is from upper right moving to left (not visible in this image).

Note the iron casing that was put in place during the days of the British Mandate to prevent the structure from collapsing.

View looking down and west at the marble covering over the (traditional) burial bench of Jesus.

According to tradition, Jesus’ head was placed where the vase with five candles is located.  I expect that the National Geographic Channel presentation will show the “uncovering” of this bench—among other “goodies!”


The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, called the Church of the Resurrection by the Greek Orthodox, is the most sacred space in Christendom.

The New Testament gospels indicate that Jesus was crucified outside of the walls of Jerusalem and then was buried in a garden nearby. This church houses the site of the crucifixion and that of the tomb of Jesus.

This area was venerated by Christians in the first century A.D. However, the Roman emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117–138) turned it into a place of pagan worship.

This area was “rediscovered” and cleared when Constantine’s mother, Helena, visited Jerusalem in A.D. 326. By A.D. 335 a Christian Church was built over the area. Although destroyed by the Persians in A.D. 614 — it was rebuilt. In A.D. 1009 it was again destroyed by Hakim. The crusaders rebuilt the church and the basic structure that one enters today, basically follows the plan of the Crusader church.

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.