Tag Archives: Crusader

Bethesda Pool and Church of Santa Anna

Near Lion’s Gate is a large wooden door that gives access to the White Fathers’ compound and one of my favorite sites in Jerusalem’s Old City – Bethesda pools and the Church of Santa Anna.

Mary (mother of Jesus) was born to Anna and Joachim who lived near the Bethesda pools.  Because Jerusalem is on the edge of the Judean desert water has always been crucial for the residents of the city and the first pool was built in the 8th century BCE, when a dam was built across the valley, collecting rain runoff in a reservoir (40×50 meters), known as the Upper Pool. A sluice-gate in the dam allowed the water height to be controlled, and a rock-cut channel brought the water into the city. Around 200 BCE, the channel was enclosed, and a second pool (50×60 meters) was added on the south side of the dam.

Bethesda pool

In the 1st century BC, natural caves to the east of the two pools were turned into small baths, as part of an asclepieion, a healing temple. As it was outside the city walls, scholars think it likely that the Roman garrison of the nearby Antonia Fortress built the site as they would have been able to protect it. According to Christian tradition the site is one of two places in Jerusalem where Jesus performed a miracle, healing a paralytic of 38 years (John 5:1-15).

In the mid 1st century CE, Herod Agrippa built the third wall enclosing the northern area of the city and bringing the asclepieion within the walled city. When Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, he placed a roadway along the dam, and expanded the asclepieion into a large temple to Asclepius and Serapis. In the Byzantine period, 5th century, a large church was built on the dike, requiring support of two rows of arches.

After the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in 1099, the Byzantine church, destroyed by the Persians in 614 CE, rebuilt by patriarch Modestus and destroyed in 1009 by the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim, was rebuilt on a smaller scale. A new Romanesque church, named for Saint Anne was completed in 1138 CE by Arda, widow of Baldwin I, the first Crusader King of Jerusalem, built over the site of a grotto believed by the Crusaders to be the birthplace of Mary. After the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin it was transformed into a school for Islamic jurisprudence. Over time, the buildings fell into ruin. In 1856, the Ottomans, in gratitude for French support during the Crimean War gave the site to France. It was subsequently restored, but the majority of what we see today is original.

Santa Anna interiorThe three-aisled basilica incorporates cross-vaulted ceilings and columns, clean lines and an unadorned interior. Because of the fine stonework and large volume of the church the acoustics are amazing. The altar is by the French sculptor Philippe Kaeppelin – on the front of the altar are depicted the Nativity, the Descent from the Cross and the Annunciation; on the ends the teaching of Mary by her mother and her presentation in the Temple.

Kaeppelin altar

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Crusader Jerusalem

A reader asked me to post something about the Crusaders in Jerusalem. I am happy to and also to lead tours focussing on the Crusader period.

Raymond of Aguilers, who wrote a chronicle of the First Crusade (1096–1099), relates that on the morning of June 7, 1099, the Crusaders reached the summit of Nebi Samuel, from which they saw Jerusalem for the first time. The elated Crusaders fell to the ground and wept with joy, calling it Mons Gaudi, mount of joy. The same day they reached the walls of Jerusalem.

Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph as Crusader

With insufficient troops and supplies and rumor of a Fatimid advance, the Crusaders could not besiege the city for long but had to organize a direct assault.  After about a month they were able to get skilled builders and wood by cannibalizing Genoan ships that had arrived at Jaffa port for siege towers. This enabled the Crusaders to breach the walls in 3 places on July 15th. The Crusaders massacred most of the Muslims and Jews and evicted the remainder leaving Jerusalem almost uninhabited until Christians could be encouraged to settle there. On 22 July, a council was held in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that chose Godfrey as the princeps for the newly created Kingdom of Jerusalem which became an important Christian center.

Crusader sites in Jerusalem

In 1160 the Crusaders added a glacis to the tower at the Citadel and dug a moat around it.

The Roman Cardo was subdivided into 3 covered markets: Vegetable or Spice market, Market of Malcuisinat and Covered market – this property was donated to the convent at Santa Anna. Nearby along David St. today, was the poultry market selling eggs, milk, cheese.

The Crusaders built a church in Kidron valley that contained the Tomb to the VIrgin Mary  and Queen Melisende was buried there. Beside it was Gethsemane and a Barluzzi church in 1920s was built on earlier Byzantine and Crusader ruins.

The remains of the Church of Mary of Latina can be seen in part of the German Lutheran Church of Redeemer that was dedicated in 1898 during the German Kaiser’s visit.

Capitals outside German Lutheran churchClose by is the Church of Holy Sepulcher, rebuilt by the Crusaders and dedicated in 1149. The sculpted marble panels on lintels over the two main doors, in Romanesque style, are now in the Rockefeller museum.

Ascension of Jesus Crusader mosaicOn the ceiling of the Catholic Chapel of the Nailing to the Cross (11th station) is a 12th-century medallion of the Ascension of Jesus — the only surviving Crusader mosaic in the building. Small geometric-shaped pieces of marble inlaid in the floor is a style known as Cosmati or Cosmatesque a traditional technique from the Crusader period though it was done when the chapel was renovated in 1937 by Barluzzi.

There are Hospitaler sites in the Muristan and German knights in the Jewish quarter, remains of a hospice, hospital and church, St. Mary of Germans.

Up on the Haram el-Sharif, the Knights Templar, used the Al Dome of AscensionAqsa mosque, called Templum Solomonis by the Crusaders, and the underground arches of Solomon’s stables. The Dome of the Rock functioned as a church, Templum Domini. A short distance to the northwest, is the Dome of the Ascension, which served as its baptistery. The Dome of the Chain to the east was a Christian chapel to St. James.

If you have the chance, visit the Temple Mount Sifting Project to try some hands-on archaeology and take the opportunity to see artifacts like arrowheads, coins and relics from the Crusader period.

At Bethesda Pools is the ruins of a Crusader chapel, Mary of Bethesda, built on the ruins of a much larger Byzantine church from the 5th century named for St. Mary (Church of the Probatica) and the Church of Santa Anna, one of the most exquisite examples of Crusader architecture in the country.

Santa AnnaOn Mount Zion, the German Dormition Abbey was built on the ruins of the Crusader church of St Mary of Mount Zion which includes an upstairs room which can be visited today, the Coenaculum or Room of the Last Supper.

The Crusaders built many buildings which affected the city’s image, adding a Christian flavor to the 450 year old Muslim city and many of these changes can still be seen in the Old City today.