Tag Archives: mar saba

Israel Roundup

Rockefeller Museum

Although few visit, the historic Rockefeller museum in Jerusalem is definitely worth a visit. A blend of western and local eastern architecture, combining historic architecture with modern innovations, the museum was built in 1938, during the Mandate period by the British architect St. Barbe Harrison.

Rockefeller courtyard

Ohanessian tile workIn the main hall is a model of the museum – exit to the courtyard to see the pool, the Armenian mosaics by Ohanessian and the 10 iconic stone reliefs sculpted by Eric Gill representing the major civilizations that left an imprint on this region. Many of the exhibits in the museum are a little dated, walnut wood framed glass cases with dozen of artifacts each, labelling is just a number which you have to cross-reference with a mimeographed book that you can ask for at security. But they have some important pieces: Greekthe Crusader marble sculpted panels from the lintels of the entranceway to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Roman sarcophagi, Umayyad architectural details with their original paint, Crusader capital with goblin from Church of Annunciation, mosaic from an early synagogue, like the one in Jericho also called Peace unto Israel, found in the Druze village of Usifiya.

Having visited the actual site of Hisham’s palace in Jericho and been Romandisappointed at how few of the mosaics and artifacts are on display it was heartening to see the impressive exhibit of sculpture and stucco from Hisham’s palace safe at the museum.

An incredible piece in the courtyard is a Roman wash basin from the 1st century that was found in the Crusader fortress at Montfort – striking how similar it is to the basin that Emperor Augustus sent with Marcus Agrippa as a present for King Herod on display at the Israel museum exhibit on Herod (viewable at https://israel-tourguide.info/2013/02/14/herod-design-realpolitik/).

Wash basin Montfort

There is a very interesting article about architects St. Barbe Harrison and Erich Mendelssohn and their contributions to beautifying Jerusalem. http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/Jerusalem-the-beautiful-312517

BBC has an article about the Hula painted frog at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22770959

A species of frog that was recently rediscovered after being declared extinct in 1966 has been reclassified as a “living fossil”.

Israel’s Hula painted frog had not been seen for nearly 60 years, but in 2011 one was found lurking in a patch of swampy undergrowth. Tests have revealed that the frog belongs to a group of amphibians that died out 15,000 years ago.

 

BBC interviewed me for their series, In the Prince’s Footsteps and asked me to take them to the Mar Saba monastery in the Judean desert. We talked about photographer Francis Bedford’s 1862 photograph of the monastery on his travels with Edward, Prince of Wales to the Holy Land. You can read my blog post at Mar Saba and Judean Desert Revisited.

You can hear the interview by clicking on the red button.

I am Gabriel A unique 87 line Hebrew inscription, ink on stone, from the beginning of the Roman period, I am Gabriel, is on display at the Israel museum. Its content is prophetic-apocalyptic, its style literary-religious, and its language reminiscent of the later books of the Prophets. Accompanying it are rare ancient manuscripts, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Qur’an. The exhibition traces the changing roles of the angel Gabriel in the three monotheistic religions.

While thinking about the Israel museum plan to spend a day with Herod the Great, legendary builder and King of Judea. Combines an in-depth guided tour of Herodium, Herod’s palace complex in the desert and the site of his tomb with the monumental exhibit “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey”.  https://israel-tourguide.info/herod-the-great-tour/

Jerusalem Botanic Garden is open for free on Fridays & Saturdays in the month of June 2013 for residents of Jerusalem with presentation of your teudat zehut. This is a great opportunity to wander around the garden and discover the lovely, shaded areas of green that are one of the best kept secrets of the City.  http://en.botanic.co.il/Pages/Show/7

Prince of Wales Pine Tree

I was visiting with friend and fellow tour guide, Tom Powers, in Bethlehem and we were talking about our interest in photography and what you can learn by comparing photographs taken 100 years ago or more with the same scene today. I mentioned Francis Bedford’s photographs from Edward, Prince of Wales visit to this area in 1862 and my guiding for the BBC to Mar Saba and my blog post https://israeltours.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/mar-saba-and-judean-desert-revisited/. This reminded Tom of a photograph from the Matson collection, image #00776, titled “Prince of Wales Tree near Palestine Museum” (link to the image online at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/matpc/00700/00776v.jpg).

Prince of Wales Pine Tree

Tom did the research and wrote the captions for several hundred high-resolution photographs taken between 1898 and the 1940s in the American Colony and Eric Matson Collection. The complete set of photographs, some 4,000 images has been produced as two DVDs by Todd Bolen – http://www.lifeintheholyland.com/49_matson_american_colony_8_volumes.htm
Here is the writeup for the Prince of Wales Tree:

The area pictured lies north of the northeast corner of the Old City. The view is to the southeast, with the Russian Ascension Tower on the Mount of Olives visible on the skyline (left). The Rockefeller Museum buildings, if they are visible at all (through the trees), would be in an early stage of construction.
A late 19th century observer describes this area as “a large field on the north-east side of the town, which extends from the town-ditch [rock-hewn Crusader moat at the Old City’s NE corner] to the splendid pine tree near an oil-press worked by the Moslems. This region is known by the general name of Kerm esh Sheikh [the Sheikh’s Vineyard]”
— Charles Clermont-Ganneau in Archaeological Researches (1899), Vol. 1, p. 248
The “Sheikh” was Muhammad al-Khalili a prominent member of an aristocratic Muslim family from Hebron who settled in Jerusalem in the 17th century and owned this plot of ground. In antiquity it was a cemetery, whose many documented burials stretch back to the Hellenistic period, and in Crusader times it served first as the staging-ground for Godfrey de Bouillon’s successful assault on the nearby city wall on July 15th, 1099, and later as a farm called by the Crusaders “Belveer.”
Muhammad al-Khalili, who served for a time as Mufti of Jerusalem, built a two-story summer residence here in 1711, the structure seen at right, which came to have the name Qasr el-Sheikh. It had an olive press on the ground floor and living quarters above and was one of the first buildings ever erected outside the Turkish city walls. Such buildings were especially useful for guarding the agricultural fields that covered the area, and the property of “Karem esh-Sheikh” was planted with olive and fig trees, date palms, and of course grapevines.
As for the tree, it is said that Muhammad al-Khalili brought the pine seedling from Hebron, wrapped in his head-covering, and planted it here. When it was grown, the venerable pine seems to have become a well-known local landmark, and over the years numerous dignitaries, including members of the British royal family, enjoyed its shade. Among them was Edward, Prince of Wales (later to be crowned King Edward VII) who visited Jerusalem in 1862 and made his encampment here, hence the tree’s name. In 1865 Prince Arthur likewise camped at the site.
In the late 19th century the Muslim Rashidiyah School was built on part of Karm el-Sheikh and it remains in use today as part of Jerusalem’s public school system. At the beginning of the 20th century the Arab neighborhood of Bab a-Sahairah, named after the nearby city gate (Herod’s Gate), grew up in the surrounding area. Then in 1919 the Mandatory government selected the site for the construction of an archaeological museum, although it was only in 1930 that the eight-acre tract, Karm el-Sheikh, was purchased from the al-Khalili family and the cornerstone was laid. Construction was completed in 1935, and the museum officially opened to the public in 1938.
At the time the Rockefeller Museum was coming into existence, the old “Prince of Wales Tree” still stood here, just to the west of the main museum site. In fact, the original architectural plan called for a rear (western) courtyard surrounded by cloisters, which would communicate between the historic villa structure, Qasr el-Sheikh, and the main museum building. And the old pine tree, at the suggestion of Rockefeller himself, was to have pride of place at the center of this court, as “an ‘organic’ counterpart to the imposing tower” at the front of the building. This meant, in concrete terms, that the central axis of the entire museum complex was aligned on the tree!
Rockefeller museum model
In the end, the envisioned rear courtyard was never realized, nevertheless the venerable tree — through all the vicissitudes of British, international, Jordanian and then Israeli control – stood as a silent witness behind the museum. In its later years it was actually propped up by a special concrete buttress, however by 1988 the so-called Prince of Wales Tree – then close to 300 years old – had finally died and had to be cut down. The great stump is still visible behind the museum. As for the historic villa, Qasr el-Sheikh, much of it remains intact; restored and modernized, it today houses the Restoration Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Rockefeller museum and pine tree

Sources:
  1. A. Mertens, “Who was a Christian in the Holy Land? (Edward VII)”, an on-line resource at www.christusrex.org
  2. West Meets East: The Story of the Rockefeller Museum (2006), by Fawzi Ibrahim; excerpt online at http://www.imj.org.il/rockefeller/eng/index.html

Mar Saba and Judean Desert Revisited

I received an email a few weeks ago from Kevin with the BBC in England that he gave me permission to share here.

Dear Shmuel,

I’m producing  a BBC radio series, presented by the British broadcaster John McCarthy. We have been commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to make a series of ten 15 minute programmes to follow in the footsteps of Edward Prince of Wales who toured much of the Middle East in 1862.  I’ve been looking at your blog, and saw your excellent entry Photography and Visitors to the Holy Land about his time in Israel.

As you know, he visited Egypt, the Holy Land, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Greece. His journey and the sights along the way were recorded by the photographer Francis Bedford. This was the first time that a royal tour was captured by the still new medium of photography.

As you are clearly interested in this tour, I would very much like to discuss our recording with you, perhaps with a view to interviewing you as a part of the programme.  We will be intending to visit each of these sites, to take a new photograph to match the old one, and to discuss the changes over the intervening 150 years in each location.

Very best and thanks for your time.
Kevin

Here are another few Bedford photographs.

Tiberias-Sea-Galilee-Bedford

Tomb of Absalom

Mar-Saba-Kidron-Bedford

In reviewing the photographs taken by Bedford in Israel and talking with Kevin we decided to do Mar Saba, the monastery in the Judean desert.

Jeep tour

So we met up with Raanan, a great jeep driver, who took us off-road across the Judean desert to the overlook of the monastery in the Kidron valley. The desert is very green after the winter rains we had this year. We saw sheep, goats, donkeys and camels grazing on the plants and wildflowers. I took the opportunity to photograph some wildflowers (but that’s for another post).

Our challenge was to try to shoot a photograph that matched the one Bedford took 150 years ago. Bedford’s is a very interesting image because of the angle. Bedford had a good eye and chose to shoot the monastery complex cascading down the cliff, focussing on the channel of the Kidron stream between the two cliffs. Here is my image shot March 18, 2013 with a Nikon D90 digital SLR camera and 18-200mm zoom lens (ISO 200 50 mm f/10 1/320) in black and white and color.

Mar-Saba-Kidron-B&W

Mar-Saba-Kidron-Browns

Euthemius, Judean Desert Monastery

The history of the third monastery of Euthemius, which bears his name, illustrates the history of Christian monasticism in the Judean desert. Young monks were drawn to the holy Euthemius and the monastery became the most important and central among the Byzantine monasteries in the 5th century CE.

Northern wall Euthemius

Euthemius came to the Holy Land as a pilgrim in 406 from Armenia and stayed at the laura of Faran, founded by the monk Chariton at Wadi Qelt. A laura is a cluster of caves or cells where monks live in seclusion and meditation. They gathered centrally once a week, generally on Sunday, for prayer. After five years, he and a fellow hermit, Theoktistus, moved to a cave on the cliffs of Nahal Og. With additional monks attracted to Euthemius, the site became the first coenobium in the Judean desert. A coenobium is a communal monastery where the monks live together with a strict daily schedule of work and prayer, a walled complex that consists of living quarters, refectory and church.

Inside Euthemius monasteryTo continue in solitude, Euthemius and a fellow hermit, left the monastery and moved to the ruins of Masada. In 428 CE he returned to the monastery of Theoktistus but preferring solitude went to live in a cave to the west of the monastery off the main Jericho-Jerusalem road. When other monks joined him, it grew into a laura. In 475, after a full life, Euthemius died at the age of 97.  After his death, the laura became a coenobium and a crypt was built in the center of the monastery around the same cave where the monastery had begun and his bones re-interred there. Pilgrims came to visit the monastery to pay their respects to Euthemius and a tradition arose to pour wine down a chute to the crypt which poured over his bones – the wine was collected as a keepsake.

By the end of the fifth century many important monasteries were established, including Mar Saba, Martyrius, Gerasimus and St. George – all of which can be visited on a tour of monasteries in the northern Judean desert, also called the desert of Jerusalem because of its proximity to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Unlike most Christian sites, the monastery was not damaged by the Islamic conquest of 638. However, it was severely damaged in the 659 earthquake – the ruins of the church that we see today are from after the earthquake, the mosaic floor is from the Byzantine period.

Mosaic floorThe monasteries in the Judean desert were frequently attacked during the Islamic period and in 809 the monastery was plundered and destroyed in the 12th century. The main arched gate on the northern wall and the eastern wall and the opus sectile floor in the church are from the Crusader period.

Crusader opus sectileThe other important aspect of the Judean desert monasteries are their water systems, for little rainfall falls in the region and water had to be accumulated or it would be impossible to live there. Four tremendous cisterns were discovered in the monastery. You can enter the largest one (12 meters by 18 meters and 12 meters deep that would hold 3000 cubic meters) which is outside the eastern wall. Channels bring water from runoff to a collecting pool and then to the covered cistern.

Large cistern Euthemius

Mar Saba, a Judean Desert Monastery

Jerusalem sits on the edge of the Judean desert which make exploring this area a great day trip. It’s a fun adventure to take a jeep and drive off road where all you see is a barren landscape and suddenly bump into camels or have a a cluster of buildings come into view over the hill. It’s also a great place for a photo shoot.

  

Christian monks came to the quiet of the Judean desert in the early 4th century identifying with Moses, Elijah, Jesus and others who spent time here. Mar Saba, who lived at Euthymius for 12 years before receiving permission to live alone in the desert, found the spring and caves in the Kidron valley. Some 15 years later, in 483CE he built a laura, a cluster of caves for hermits around the monastery, that bears his name to this day.

This is the largest monastery complex in the Judean desert, multiple buildings enclosed by a wall and tower for protection. He directed it for 50 years. At its peak it accommodated hundreds of monks, today there are about 20 monks who live there. Women are not allowed inside the monastery, the closest they can get is to view the complex from the Women’s Tower; interesting that meat and apples are also prohibited.

As a guide, I can take you to experience the desert and discover that isolated monastery in the Kidron valley.

For more information about Mar Saba, including photographs inside the compound see the entry at the excellent BibleWalks site http://www.biblewalks.com/sites/MarSaba.html

It’s worth combining a visit with other sites in the area, the monastery of St. George tucked into the cliff in Wadi Qelt, the monastery of Euthymius and Martyrius, in the midst of an Industrial park and housing project respectively, museum of mosaics at the Inn of the Good Samaritan and Qasr el Yahud, the site on the Jordan River where according to tradition John baptized Jesus.