Baptismal Sites in Israel
Baptism is a Christian ritual practice that is imbued with religious meaning and emotional significance. Essentially, for many Christians, it is about making a public profession of faith in Jesus and a testament to being born again. It is also about the individual’s willingness to identify with Jesus’s life, death, burial, and resurrection and a way of strengthening their belief system. Some see it as real spiritual salvation.
Baptism at Yardenit, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Many non-Christians assume that baptism is a ceremony carried out only on infants, in a church, with a minister/priest, godparents, and close family and friends in attendance. But actually, this is not the case - baptism can be carried out on an individual of any age. This kind of baptism consists of full body immersion in water, after salvation, which also testifies to obedience to God. For many believers, it is not just an act of redemption but also spiritual growth.
Baptism Procedures and Opportunities in Israel
As well as strengthening faith, baptism is a way of joining an individual to his or her wider community - and being baptised is a constant reminder to Christians that they are not alone but part of a wider family - a family of God. Furthermore, the last command that Jesus gave to his disciples was “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
Today, Christians from all over the world who are looking to be baptised, or rebaptised, journey to Israel to do so. Baptism in Israel - in the Jordan River - is a once-in-a-lifetime experience they can enjoy, following in the footsteps of Jesus who, himself, was baptised in the Jordan River by John, in ancient Israel.
In this article, we are going to look at the two major baptismal sites in Israel where Christian pilgrims can journey, to undergo this sacred ritual, whether as individuals or within the framework of an organised tour. Whether you choose to be baptised at Yardenit, next to the Sea of Galilee and close to Nazareth, or in Qasr al-Yahud, nearer to Jericho and Jerusalem, let’s take a look at some of the practical information needed to make the day go as easily and happily as possible for you.
Baptism at Yardenit Baptismal Site. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
1. Yardenit Baptismal Site in the Galilee
Situated on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee, close to Tiberias, and directly on the Jordan River, Yardenit is the official site for baptism in Israel and famous for being the site at which Jesus was baptised by John. Each year, it receives over half a million visitors, some of whom actually choose to undergo a baptism ceremony where, literally, they believe their sins will be ‘washed away.’
The Jordan River, of course, is a religious site mentioned on many occasions, both in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles - Genesis, Joshua, Kings and all four Gospels. Most Christians who visit here, whether to enjoy the views or to undertake the ritual, regard it as a spiritual highlight of their trip to the Holy Land.
The site itself is beautiful - surrounded by Eucalyptus trees and lovely flora and fauna. If you are lucky, you may get a glimpse of egrets and spur-winged plover birds or even an otter swimming in the water. Yardenit has modern and well-maintained facilities, including toilets and dressing rooms, which lead directly to the stairwell running down to the river. Visitors can also enjoy meals at the restaurant and buy keepsakes from their visit at the well-stocked gift shop, including bottles of holy water, olive wood crucifixes and mineral mud products.
The Wall of New Life, Yardenit Baptismal Site. Photo credit: © ShutterstockIf you wish to organise your baptism within the framework of the Nazareth and Galilee tour we will be delighted to help, although please note that our company does not participate directly. If you wish to be baptised using a priest, then please contact Yardenit directly (see below) to make the necessary preparations.
Once you have been given a date by Yardenit, they will send you the priest's contact details and you can call him directly. Please notify your guide of the arrangements you have made with the Priest. Please note that there is a fee for buying or renting the white baptismal clothes. As a rule of thumb, you will need 60-90 minutes for the entire procedure, and this means you will have no problem catching up with your tour group.
Yardenit Practical Information
Yardenit is open seven days a week, except for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). From Saturday to Thursday the site is open from 08.00 - 18.00. On Fridays and on the eve of Jewish holidays, the site is open from 08.00 - 13.00. Baptisms can take place only up to an hour before closing time. General enquiries can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or telephoning (972) 4 675-9111 (Yardenit is two hours ahead of GMT and 7 hours ahead of East Coast Time in the USA).
Directions: Driving from Nazareth (approx. 42 km or 26 miles) will take about one hour. Many visitors enjoy stopping in Kfar Cana, which is directly en route, and the place at which Jesus performed his miracle of turning water into wine. Driving from Jerusalem (approx. 188 km or 116 miles) will take about 2 hours, using the Yitzhak Rabin Highway (Route 6). There is a large parking lot outside the site, in which you can leave your car, free of charge, for as long as you desire.
Yardenit, the Jordan River Baptism Site, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock2. Qasr al-Yahud close to Jericho
Qasr al-Yahud is located about 20 minutes drive (10 km or 6 miles) from Jericho and about 45 minutes drive (49 km or 30 miles) from Jerusalem. It lies within the West Bank area and the area is home to a significant number of now-abandoned churches, monasteries and chapels. The River Jordan here is much smaller than many visitors imagine - at some point it is more like a stream.
Historically, pilgrims would travel here from Jerusalem by camels, which were hardy enough to withstand the desert conditions. The journey would take days, of course. When they arrived, they would set up camp, close by, sometimes staying for days or weeks. The site is also important in Jewish theology, insofar as it is considered to be the place where the children of Israel ended their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness and crossed back into the ‘Promised Land’.
In Hebrew, Qasr al-Yahud means ‘Tower of the Jews’. In Arabic, ‘Qasr’ means ‘break’ which might signify the place where the Jews ‘broke’(crossed) the water of the land they were entering. According to tradition, this is also the place where approx. 200 years later, the Prophet Elijah crossed the Jordan (but in the opposite direction) and was then taken up into heaven by ‘fiery chariots’. For many, after the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, this is the third most holy site for Christians in the Holy Land.
Qasr al-Yahud Baptismal Site. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Recent History of Qasr al-Yahud
As a result of conflict between Israel and its neighbours - and a number of landmines in the area - the site was closed for many years. After the Six-Day War, in 1967, when Israel captured the territory, Qasr al-Yahud was put under the control of a National Parks group. The site is far less equipped than its ‘rival’ in Galilee although it does have some facilities.
There is no fee for entrance and also dressing rooms and toilets. However, there are no officials there and nor are there refreshment facilities. There are some benches where you can eat the food you have brought and a little shade. Sometimes, you will see priests and pastors giving lectures to their groups here. We would advise you to bring your own water (bottled) since, for much of the year, it can be very hot and if you do not consume sufficient fluids, you run the risk of heatstroke.
The water is a little muddier (and even murky) at this site, but it is possible to wade here. Just a few metres away is the Jordanian side, and the ‘border’ between the two countries is marked with nothing more than yellow ‘floater’ ribbons. For those who are looking for a less commercial (and perhaps more unspoilt) experience of baptism, it offers an ideal opportunity to contemplate the Jordan river or, indeed, immerse oneself.
Church at Qasr al-Yahud Baptismal Site. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Organising a Baptism at Qasr al-Yahud
Just as with Yardenist (see above) we will be more than happy to help you organize your baptism at this site with the framework of our Jericho, Dead Sea and the Jordan River Tour. Again, as with Yardenit, Bein Harim does not participate directly in the baptism ceremony and if you wish to be baptised with a priest to hand, you will need to contact the office at Qasr el Yahud directly. There is no priest on site here.
If you do wish to be baptised as part of an organised day trip, arrangements can be made to ensure the experience is incorporated into your visit to the area - you should allow between 60-90 minutes in entirety. This baptismal site is also relatively close to Jerusalem, which means it is possible to rent a car privately and drive to the area independently.
From here, you can explore the wider area - either sites of religious interest or perhaps make a trip to Masada and Ein Gedi, which are not too far away. Public transport in this area is extremely limited and we would not recommend using it, especially if you have a fixed appointment with a priest.
Practical Information on Qasr al-Yahud
Opening Hours: Sunday–Thursday and Saturday: 08.00 - 16.00. Friday and Jewish holidays: 08.00 - 15.00. Tel: (972) 2 650-4844. In winter hours, between November and March, the site closes one hour earlier. Please note that there is no official office at Qasr al-Yahud, and from what we understand it is easier to coordinate a baptism online. If you are staying in Jerusalem, it may also be possible to talk directly with ministers and priests there.
Please note that Catholics regard “Bethany Beyond Jordan” as the baptism site of Jesus. It is located in Jordan, not in Israel and has been identified recently as the place where Christ was baptised by John.
Because of the ongoing situation with the pandemic, please phone ahead to both sites to check on opening hours. For more Christian day tours and Christian tour packages in Israel please feel free to check this page
Baptismal ceremony at Qasr al-Yahud baptism site in the Jordan River. Photo credit: © Shutterstock