Israel Travel Blog


Day Trip to Nazareth and Galilee

Greetings readers! I’m Sarah Mann, writer, editor, and travel blogger and today I’m on the road, once more, with Bein Harim Tourism. They’re a family-owned and family-run travel company that organizes all kinds of tour packages in Israel, not to mention plenty of day trips around the country too.Capernaum, aerial view.Photo credit: © ShutterstockWhilst I write often on their blog (which is a great read, by the way, and you can find it here) I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to group travel since I’m usually on the road solo. But there’s nothing wrong with taking a day trip and - actually - if you don’t have a driver’s license, feel nervous about renting a car in Israel, want to learn more with a professional guide, or simply want to meet new people, this is the chance to do it.Today, I’m giving you the rundown on Bein Harim’s day trip to Nazareth and Galilee, which is the perfect way to get a taste of Israel’s north, not to mention the opportunity to see extraordinary historical sites. People often ask us what to expect on our day trips and it’s a good question. Since I’ve never been on this particular tour before, I arrived at the pick-up point with an open mind…and here’s what I discovered…Tel Aviv Pick-Up for Nazareth and Galilee Tour - 7 amIt’s an early start for us since it’s a reasonably long drive north but everyone seems in good spirits. We climb into our minibus (we’re a group of 12) and all start chatting to each other - it’s a mixed group, with half the participants from the USA (including two kids) and the other half from Latin America.Luckily, our guide Yuval (“Call me Yuvvi”) is a whizz kid with languages - he’s trilingual (Hebrew, English, and Spanish) which means everyone’s happy (and also gets the chance to brush up on their second languages). He tells us to get comfortable and promises us a coffee stop before we reach Nazareth, so we can dose up on caffeine for the trip that lies before us.Nazareth is approximately 105 km north of Tel Aviv, and with the coffee stop, it takes around two hours. We watch urban landscapes give way to fields of spring flowers and, luckily for us, it’s a glorious day, with almost no clouds in the sky. By the time we arrive at our destination, the sun is out!The Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, Tabgha, Israel. Photo credit: © ShutterstockExploring NazarethNazareth, as is well-known, is famous for being the city where Jesus spent his early years. Although he was born in Bethlehem, this is where his parents, Mary and Joseph, were from and it is where Jesus was raised, studied, and began attending Temple, astounding the Priests there with his knowledge. The central point of interest is, of course, the Church of Annunciation, the Catholic basilica where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, telling her that she would conceive and bear the Son of God.Tourism is picking up again in Israel but we’re in luck - there’s only one other group with us. We enter the courtyard and gaze at the beautiful artwork outside - there are many mosaics of the Madonna, all donated by Catholic communities from around the world (including one, poignantly, from Ukraine) and also a statue commemorating a Papal visit.Inside, we see that the church is on two levels - the lower part is the holiest, being the cave where Mary was visited by an Angel. Inside there is an altar, on which is inscribed, in Latin, ‘Here the Word was made Flesh’. The first church here was built on the site in 427 CE and others have been built and destroyed since. This building, which is designed in a modern style, is one of the largest and most impressive churches in the Middle East.The basilica takes our breath away. Almost 60 meters high, it is shaped like an inverted lily. Designed by the Italian architect Giovanni Muzio, it is decorated with indented dots, and, staring up at it, we realize why it dominates the Nazareth skyline. Glance down at the marble floor to read the names of Popes over the centuries and don’t miss the large mosaic portraying Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and St. Peter.We then make the short walk to the Church of St. Joseph, where Joseph had his carpentry workshop - in contrast to our first stop, it’s a modest, humble building, run by the Franciscans and was erected in 1914, over the remains of a Crusader church. Walking back to the bus, we stop at a fruit stand nearby, for some pomegranate juice (it’s freshly squeezed and delicious) then it’s onwards and upwards, to our next destination - the Sea of Galilee.Inside the Annunciation Church, Nazareth.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsOnwards to GalileeIt’s a beautiful drive, with all the flowers in bloom - particularly the cyclamen - and as we continue we pass Cana, where Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into wine. Before we know it, we have a fantastic view not just over the Sea of Galilee (or ‘Kinneret’ as it’s known in Hebrew) but also ofMount Hermon in the Golan Heights. We’ve really hit the jackpot in terms of weather…and it’s a stunning sight.The next stop is Yardenit, Israel’s official baptismal site, where Christian pilgrims come from around the globe to be immersed and ‘born again’ in the waters of the River Jordan. This isn’t actually the spot Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist - that is down near Jericho in Qasr al Yahud - but it’s set up nicely with a lovely entrance, where the Lord’s Prayer is written in an array of languages.Inside, it’s incredibly tranquil, with Jordan’s waters clear and green. Normally, Yardenit welcomes around 400,000 visitors each year and - at peak time - can be packed but because of Corona, it’s a lot quieter. However, we’re in luck - a group of pilgrims from Brazil is down at the water’s edge, dancing, singing, and being immersed, one by one, by their Priest, and it’s a moving sight, watching it all. For any Christian, being able to partake in a baptism ceremony here is the opportunity of a lifetime and Yardenit obliges, offering white garments for rent and plenty of space for people to stand, sit or wade into the water. Whilst it’s definitely more commercial than the site down by Jericho, it’s well-organized, with clean facilities, a gift store, and even a restaurant. It really is a beautiful spot and we’re all happy to spend 45 minutes there.And now it’s lunchtime - and we head off to a local restaurant, offering classic Middle Eastern fare - either fish, chicken, or a kebab, with plenty of mezze (salads and dips) to enjoy too. We all chat about our reasons for visiting (or in my case living in) Israel and it seems everyone’s having a wonderful vacation in the Holy Land, even the kids (who got a week off school in the US to come here but are learning plenty!). It’s not a long, leisurely affair though because there’s much more to see…after all, this is where much of Jesus’ ministry took place.St. Joseph's Church Franciscan Roman Catholic church in the Old City of Nazareth.Photo credit: © Oksana MatsTabgha and CapernaumWe drive through the regional capital, Tiberias (located on the water’s edge) but don’t stop - we’re heading to the Church of the Multiplication, in Tabgha, on the northwestern shore of the Galilee, the spot where Jesus performed another of his miracles, turning two fishes and five loaves of bread into enough food to feed a crowd of 5,000.The church is maintained by a Benedictine order and rests on the sight where a Byzantine church was erected in the 4th century. It’s a simple and modest structure, constructed out of limestone with black basalt walls. Inside, we’re all captivated by intricate floor mosaics, actually the earliest examples of Christian art in the region. All of them relate to plants and animals found in Galilee, save for a lotus flower. At the altar, there is one more, showing two fish and a basket of bread. Yuval, our ever-knowledgeable guide, fills us in on the history of the area and points out a large stone structure in the courtyard, asking us what we think it is. My guess is closest - I think it’s a wine press. In fact, it’s an olive oil press. Olive oil is what made this community wealthy - used for lighting, soap-making, anointing, cooking and as a medical remedy, you can’t underestimate the importance of the olive trees in this area…Our last stop of the day is to another church, close by in what was once the ancient village of Capernaum. Rediscovered in 1838, it was restored by Franciscan monks, and today it’s known as the ‘House of Peter’. According to Christian tradition, this is where Jesus appeared to his disciples, after being resurrected, as well as appointing Peter as head of this new movement.In fact, it is a compound of three different churches - the Insula Sacra (circa the time of Jesus), Domus Ecclesia (4th century), and the Octagonal Church (5th century). Its location is beautiful - adjacent to the shores of the Sea of Galilee it affords us perfect views across the water. At its entrance, Yuval points out the statue of St. Peter, holding keys (symbolizing the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven) and as we walk inside the building, we notice the stand-architectural feat.Yardenit baptismal site, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe church has been built above the ruins of what is thought to be the centuries-old home of St. Peter. Yes, this is truly a futuristic design - as you look down, you see what was his dwelling, through a glass floor! Now, this really is walking in the footsteps of Jesus and his disciples!Peter’s house, moreover, pre-dates the Constantine era and is the earliest known example of a house/church in the area. Beneath the large glass windows are sculpted icons with scenes from Christian history - including a tabernacle, wooden panels depicting the Virgin and Peter on a boat, and an altar mosaic showing the miracle of the loaves and fishes and the manna was sent by God to the Israelites, whilst they wandered in the desert.Adjacent to the house under the glass floor are the ruins of the synagogue that Jesus himself attended. It was clearly an impressive structure in its day, built of white limestone blocks hewn from the surrounding Galilee. Built on a platform above the houses in the town of its time, its southern facade was decorated, and - of course - it faced Jerusalem since this was (and remains) the direction in which all Jews pray.As I wander around, listening to Yuval captivating me and the rest of the group with all kinds of interesting stories, I try to imagine the courtyard, entrance porch, and staircase that led to the synagogue itself. The prayer area was divided by a row of columns, creating three aisles, and the columns were on high pedestals, with Corinthian capitals. As I shut my eyes, the years fall away…I am transported back to the time of the Bible.Yuval points out engraved motifs - animals (eagles and lions) as well as Jewish motifs such as a seven-branched menorah (today one of the national symbols of Israel and found on every citizen’s passport), bunches of grapes, pomegranates, and what is thought to be the Ark of the Covenant.Sea of Galilee (Kinneret), Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThere are also geometric motifs - stars, pentagons, hexagons, and even tiny rosettes! Finally, he takes us to an area where archaeologists made a fine discovery - evidence that children played games when they were tired of the rabbi’s sermons in the form of ‘tic-tac-toe' engravings in the stone! This is the kind of thing that makes you glad you’re with a guide - their knowledge and passion for the job can really bring this kind of site to life.There’s also time just to sit by the water, in quiet contemplation, looking out over the Sea of Galilee, and hearing the waves lap against the shore. It’s incredibly peaceful and light-years away from the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv. I think some of us would truly like to stay longer, up here in the north, but time is marching on, the sun is fading and our day is drawing to a close. It’s been another great day out with Bein Harim - my first ‘day tour’ experience was down in Masada and the Dead Sea, last November. This time, I’ve swapped the desert for green hills and floating in the Dead Sea for views of the Golan Heights, but the fact is that this tour held its own, and everyone’s talking about how much they’ve enjoyed themselves. We drive back to Tel Aviv, talking amongst ourselves, swapping phone numbers, and I can’t help thinking to myself that we’ve packed an awful lot into today’s trip. We’re all tired, and our feet ache (I’ve just checked my fitness app, and I’ve clocked up over 13,400 steps today) but no one’s complaining. This is one day out no one will forget in a while.If you are interested in Christian day tours or Christian Tour Packages in Israel, feel free to contact Bein Harim's office.Entrance to Capernaum biblical site, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Par Sarah Mann

Christian Holy Sites in Israel

Whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or any other faith, Israel’s holy sites should be part of your itinerary. There are sacred places spread across Israel, from Galilee in the north to Jericho in the south. This is where biblical events unfolded and where every place has some mystical, religious, or historical significance. So, plan your pilgrimage to the Promised Land today, and prepare to be awe-struck.The Sacred City of JerusalemThe best Christian tours in Israel always include Jerusalem, where Jesus spent the last week of his life and was crucified. If you have to pick just one destination in Israel, it should be Jerusalem. This incredible city is steeped in religious significance and thousands of years of history. When you tour Israel with a top-rated guide, you can see places you might not have found by yourselfThe Wailing Wall. Photo credit: © ShutterstockChurch of the Holy Sepulchre - Without a doubt, this is the top Christian attraction in Israel. This impressive 4th-century church holds the last Stations of the Cross, including Golgotha and Christ’s tomb.Via Dolorosa - Walking along the same route Jesus took, bearing his cross to Calvary, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Follow the stone-paved lanes through Jerusalem’s Old City, pausing at the Stations of the Cross.Church of All Nations - You can’t miss the stunning golden mosaic on the facade of this church. Also known as the Basilica of Agony, this holy site is on the Mount of Olives, alongside the Garden of Gethsemane.Dormition Abbey - This impressive abbey and church, stands on Mount Zion, just outside the Old City walls. It is one of the largest and most beautiful Christian sites in Jerusalem.Garden Tomb - Protestant tradition holds that the rock-cut tomb in this serene garden is Christ’s burial site. Join a Jerusalem tour to visit the sacred tomb.Dominus Flevit - This is one of the most important Christian landmarks on the Mount of Olives. From here there are stunning views of the Old City, and it’s easy to imagine Jesus looking out over the city as he wept.Mount of Olives - The Mt. of Olives is a highlight for all visitors to Jerusalem, and it is home to several sacred sites. Tour the churches on the Mount of Olives, including the Pater Noster Church and the Chapel of the Ascension.The Lush Green Galilee’s Must-See Christian SitesTake a trip through the picturesque scenery of northern Israel, to the Sea of Galilee. This is where Jesus spent his ministry, going from village to village, teaching the word of God. It is also where he recruited his apostles and where Jesus performed unforgettable miracles like walking on water.Aerial view of Capernaum. Photo credit: © ShutterstockCapernaum -This ancient fishing village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee is where Jesus based himself during his ministry. Discover the religious and historical treasures of Capernaum, starting with an ancient synagogue where Christ may have preached.Church of Annunciation - One of the most sacred Israel holy sites is the Church of Annunciation. It marks the spot where the Angel Gabriel told Mary of her future son, the Messiah. The church is in Nazareth, a popular stop on Christian Galilee tours.Jordan River Baptismal Site (Yardenit) - Christian pilgrims often stop at Yardenit, to be baptized in the Jordan River. Grab the opportunity to be baptized in the same river where John baptized Jesus.Church of the Multiplication - When you visit Tabgha, you can stand where Jesus shared the loaves and fish among the multitudes. It is easy to picture the Biblical scene that took place at this sacred site by the Sea of Galilee.Mount of Beatitudes - From here there are breathtaking views across the Sea of Galilee. The magnificent Church of the Beatitudes is rivaled only by the views from the mount.The Wedding Church - Learn how Jesus attended a wedding in Cana and turned water into wine. Israel Christian tours of the Galilee stop at the Wedding Church, which was built to commemorate the miracle that took place here.Magdala - Walk among the remains of this ancient city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and be transported back in time to when Magdala was a Biblical fishing town and home to Mary Magdalene.Visit Bethlehem, Where Christianity Was BornKids all over the world learn about the night before Christmas and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Join a guided tour of this iconic city, and see for yourself where Christ was born. With a Bethlehem tour, you can sit back and relax while your guide takes care of all the details and gets you safely, and conveniently to the most sacred places in Bethlehem.Basilica of theNativity.Photo credit: © ShutterstockNativity Church - Standing in front of the Holy Grotto where Christ was born, is an emotional moment for Christians. Travelers on to Israel say that the Nativity Church is one of their most memorable experiences.Shepherds’ Fields - Imagine those shepherds, 2,000 years ago, watching their sheep at night, on the first Christmas Eve in Israel. Christian tours pass by Shepherds’ Fields en route to Bethlehem.Milk Grotto -This unforgettable Israel holy site is where Mary nursed baby Jesus. The small, peaceful grotto, hollowed out from white stone, is the perfect place for a moment’s reflection.Church of St. Catherine - Discover the underground crypts beneath the church and see where Midnight Mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve.The church stands where Jesus had his apparition of St. Catherine and foresaw her future martyrdom.Manger Square - Close your eyes for a moment and be transported back 2,000 years to when the Holy family arrived at the Bethlehem inn in the middle of the night. Surrounding Manger Square are ancient churches.Jericho - A Hidden GemCheck out one of the oldest cities in Israel. In the well-known biblical story, Joshua marches his troops around the walls of Jericho until they fall. And Jesus passed through Jericho performing several miracles on the way. Jericho is a Palestinian city in the West Bank, near the Dead Sea. The quickest, safest, and easiest way to visit Jericho, is with a guided tour. Sign-up today for a tour of Jericho to make your trip stress-free.Qasr Al-Yehud.Photo credit: © ShutterstockQasr Al-Yehud - Not far from Jericho is the Jordan River and the site of Christ’s baptism by John. Take advantage of the opportunity to be baptized at this sacred location.If you’ve dreamed of seeing where Jesus lived, or if you’re just curious, now is the time to book an Israel Christian tour. Come and explore the biblical sites of the Promised Land.
Par Petal Mashraki

Biblical Tours in Israel

Every year, tens of thousands of people come on trips to Israel. Their reasons are varied - pristine beaches on Mediterranean coastlines, endless sunny days with beautiful blue skies, museums and art galleries, hiking trails, boutique vineyards and a foodie scene that’s taken the world by storm.Dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Photo byAdam KringonUnsplashIsrael - Land of the BibleBut, for many visitors, the most important reason to visit is to take a biblical tour of the Holy Land - to see the many beautiful and extraordinary sights connected with the history of the country. Israel is a melting pot, and home to people of many faiths - Jews, Christians, Muslims…and for each, there are places that are incredibly important.Walk in the Footsteps of JesusFor Christians, a tour of biblical Israel is often the trip of a lifetime, giving them a chance, literally, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and visit many of the places mentioned in their holy book. Whether it’s Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, Nazareth, where he spent his early years, Galilee, where he ministered and recruited his twelve disciples, or Jerusalem, where he was arrested, crucified, buried and then resurrected, taking a biblical tour in Israel will not disappoint.Even better, for anyone curious about archaeology, the land of Israel is literally bursting at the seams with fascinating sites, dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Places of worship, fortresses and ancient cities that were built in different eras (Roman and Herodian, Byzantine, Crusader, Arab, Mamluk and Ottoman) are easily accessible and can really bring history to life before your very eyes.The Church of the Transfiguration, Mount Tabor, Israel. Photo byJoshua LanzarinionUnsplashThe History of Christians in IsraelThe history of Christian communities in the Holy Land dates back to the life and times of Jesus. After his death, the Apostolic church - particularly around Jerusalem - remained Judeo-Christian but after 130 CE, when Emperor Hadrian established Jerusalem as the Roman city of Aelia Capitolina, the church changed its composition.Today, when exploring Israel, in particular Jerusalem, it really is possible to see a chain of continuity and survival of the Christian community in the country, despite the war, natural disasters and endless conquests. Many of the churches, convents, shrines and monasteries that pilgrims visit are sites associated with the earliest times of Christianity, back in Herodian and Roman times, and really give the visitor a sense of how Jesus lived.In this article, we’ll be looking at the biblical side of Israel - places of worship dating back thousands of years, their architectural styles, and what their particular traditions were. This will help you understand what different Christian communities exist in Israel today, and how they have not just survived the centuries, but are thriving. We’ll also give you an idea of the ‘must sees’ on your visit, as well as famous archaeological sites in Israel. Direction sign showing the way to the Garden Tomb, Jerusalem. Photo byJonny GiosonUnsplashHow Many Christians Live in Israel today?In 2022, Israel’s population stood at just under 9.5 million people. The majority of these are Jews, with a sizeable Muslim community, and then smaller communities, including Christians and Druze. Today, Christians account for about 2% of the country - about 182,000 people.Approximately 76.7% of Christians in Israel are Arab and Christians make up 7% of Israel’s Arab population. Most of these people live in areas such as Haifa, Nazarethand Jerusalem, so for anyone coming on a biblical tour of Israel, these cities will surely be visited.The Christian community in Israel can be broken down into four basic groups - Orthodox, Catholic (Latin and Uniate), Protestant and Non-Chalcedonian (Monophysite). Apart from the Armenian church, most of these communities use Arabic as their lingua franca and many of them may well be the earliest descendants of Christians born in the Byzantine period.What Places Should I Visit on a Biblical Tour in Israel?Israel is a small country, with very many sites of interest for Christians. However, if you really want to get the most out of your visit, taking an organised day tour or private tour is a good way of seeing a great deal in the shortest time. You’ll also have the services of a professional guide, whose job it is to answer every last question you have. The good news is that it’s easy to take an organised tour of biblical sites in Israel, as well as specific Christian tour packages. They run regularly and in many languages and set off both from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, so all you need to do is find one that suits you. Here are a few of the top holy sites in Israel we’d recommend, with links to specific tours you can take…Pilgrims lighting candles in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Photo byPeter AschoffonUnsplashThe Biblical Sites of JerusalemArguably the holiest city in the world, there is no shortage of sites to see in Jerusalem - in fact, you could spend weeks, if not months, exploring the churches and Christian sites of the Old City of Jerusalem. Divided into quarters (Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian), the Christian quarter is the second-largest and most marvellous place to explore, wandering through its narrow alleyways. The Christian quarter of the Old City is most easily entered through the Jaffa Gate and is a huge draw for most visitors, with a wealth of attractions which include: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre - the most sacred site in the world for Christians, it is filled with magnificent artwork, shrines and altars and can hold up to 8,000 people. The original structure was built by the mother of Constantine the Great, on what she considered to be the hill of Golgotha and the tomb in which he was subsequently placed.Inside, pilgrims can walk up a small staircase to the Place of the Crucifixion, and also see the Stone of the Unction, where tradition holds that Jesus’ body was prepared for burial here. All year round, pilgrims flock here, and in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday the Christian quarter of the Old City takes on a more serious (and subsequently joyful) tone. Jerusalem Biblical garden, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinFun fact: as you explore the church, pay attention to its stone walls, in which you will see inscribed thousands of tiny crosses. These were made by the Crusaders, who took shelter here after making their holy pilgrimage from Europe. Via Dolorosa - in Latin meaning ‘the Path of Sorrow’ in Latin is the traditional path Jesus took en route to his crucifixion, stopping at points along the way which are now known as ‘Stations of the Cross.’ Established in the 18th century, it runs through the Old City, beginning close to the Lions' Gate and ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is a place of contemplation and prayer, and comes alive particularly on Good Friday, at the annual procession. Temple Mount - this walled compound within the Old City, houses the famous ‘Dome of the Rock’. Whilst the debate usually focuses on Jews versus Muslims, it certainly has religious significance for Christians too, since it was here that Jesus came, studied, learned and argued with the leaders of the Temple at that time (an act which, it is argued, led to his eventual arrest and killing).Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on UnsplashMount of Olives, JerusalemEast of the Old City, Mount of Olives is the place where Christians believe Jesus ascended into heaven. It is a very special place for believers and home to many interesting sights, including the Church of All Nations - also known as the Basilica of the Agony, and built on the ruins of a 4th-century basilica and a 12th century Crusader chapel. The beautiful interior is built on Corinthian columns and a mosaic, portraying Jesus as a mediator between God and man.Dominus Flevit - this Roman Catholic church offers splendid views of the Temple Mount and is the spot at which Jesus stood and foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, before weeping (the church’s name actually means ‘the Lord Wept’). Designed in the shape of a teardrop (representing Jesus’ tears) its impressive western window (which looks out on the Old City) makes for marvellous photographic opportunities.Garden of Gethsemane - at the foot of the Mount of Olives, this is the spot at which Jesus prayed and was later arrested, the night before his crucifixion. Church of the Pater Noster - meaning ‘Our Father’ in Latin, the importance of this church is bound up with Jesus’ teaching of the Lord’s Prayer here, to his disciples. Indeed, throughout the cloister and church, you can see beautiful ceramic plaques on which this prayer is translated into no fewer than 140 languages. Mount of Olives, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe Biblical Sites of BethlehemChurch of the Nativity - one of the oldest working churches in the world today, was first built by Emperor Constantine in 4 CE over the grotto where, according to Christian tradition, Mary gave birth to Jesus. Walking down two flights of stairs, a fourteen-point silver star marks the exact spot where the Son of God came into the world.Today, custody of the Nativity Church is shared by three denominations - Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian and - of course, it is a focal point of any tour, Each year, on Christmas Eve, there are celebrations in Bethlehem as well as a public mass, attended by thousands, which is held in Manger Square.Shepherds' Fields- situated in Beit Sahour, about 1km east of Bethlehem, this is the spot where - according to Catholic tradition - angels announced the birth of Christ. Nearby is the Shepherd’s Field Chapel (adorned, inside, with beautiful frescoes depicting the nativity scene) and also the Greek Orthodox chapel of Dar El Rawat.Mar Saba Monastery - dating back to the 5th century, this Greek Orthodox monastery overlooks the Kidron Valley and, to this day, maintains many of its traditions (including forbidden entrance to women, past the main entrance). Its thick walls and small windows are reminiscent of a fortress, and its remote location, around 15 km from Bethlehem, and down a steep road, means it is difficult to reach independently, thus best seen as part of a private tour.The interior of Nativity Church, Bethlehem.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinThe Biblical Sites of Jericho, the Dead Sea and MasadaIn biblical times, it was the city of Jericho where Joshua fought his famous battle and, in the words of the song, ‘the walls came tumbling down.” Here also lies the Mount of Temptation which is where Jesus was tempted by the devil. Not too far away lies the ancient fortress of Masada, one of Israel’s top attractions and full of astonishing Herodian excavations. Built as a palace for the King, it stands atop a mountain, overlooking the wilderness of the Judean desert and really takes one’s breath away. From there, it’s an easy journey - by car - to the Dead Sea, where you can float in the salty waters and slather yourself in black mud (which is excellent for the skin!). Because public transport is rather limited in these areas, by far and away the most convenient way to see these places is with a Masada group tour or a private tour. The Biblical Sites ofNazarethChurch of the Annunciation - this is where the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and announced to her that she would conceive and bear Jesus, the Son of God. It was founded around the same time as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Church of the Nativity and has a splendid basilica, designed by Italian architect, Giovanni Muzio. Outside the courtyard is decorated with beautiful mosaics, donated by communities from across the globe. Church of St. Joseph - close to the Basilica, this Franciscan Roman-Catholic church was built over the remains of much older churches. According to tradition, it stands above what was once the carpentry workshop of Joseph, the husband of Mary.Donkey in Nazareth, Israel. Photo byJonny GiosonUnsplashThe Biblical Sites of GalileeAny highlight of an Israeli biblical tour has got to be a trip to the Galilee, in northern Israel. This is where Jesus spent much of his time ministering and performing miracles - turning water into wine, raising the dead, walking on water and transforming two fishes and five loaves of bread into sufficient food to feed a crowd of 500 people.Church of the Beatitudes-- this is the spot at which Jesus gave his famous ‘Sermon on the Mount‘. Built on the site of a 4th century Byzantine church, its octagonal design represents the eight beatitudes (‘blessings’) and, inside, seven virtues - charity, faithy, hope, justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude) are symbolised on the mosaic floor. Yardenit - located at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee, on the banks of the River Jordan, this is where Christian pilgrims from around the globe come to be baptised, replicating the baptism that Jesus undertook by John the Baptist, thousands of years earlier. Capernaum, a biblical village in Galilee, Israel. Photo byJoshua LanzarinionUnsplashChurch of Multiplication - located in Tabgha, a church and monastery were built here in the 5th century to commemorate the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. Parts of the exquisite mosaic floors (which are rare in Byzantine churches) were unearthed in archaeological excavations, and depict the flora and fauna of Galilee.Megiddo - In the New Testament, Megiddo is referred to as Armageddon and, according to prophecy, it is the spot where a great battle will take place at the ‘end of days’ i.e. before the Second Coming of Jesus. Today it is a splendid national park, full of archaeological finds including an 80- metre long aqueduct that supplied this ancient Canaanite city with spring water. An excellent way to see it is on a private tour of Megiddo and Nazareth.If you are interested in biblical sites in Israel, feel free to join one of our Day Christian Tours or a Christian Israel Package.Mount Precipice, Nazareth, Israel.Photo byShalev CohenonUnsplash
Par Sarah Mann

Catholics in Israel

Tourists who decide to journey to Israel come for all different reasons - sunshine, beaches, hiking trails, archaeological sites, food workshops, and adrenaline-charged activities such as sailing, rafting, and off-road jeep tours in the Judean desert. But one of the biggest attractions of a trip to the Holy Land - whether you’re a believer or not - is the fact that it’s home to three of the world’s major religions - Judaism, Islam, and, of course, Christianity.The dome over the Rotunda (Jesus's Tomb),Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinFor Christians, visiting Israel is often the pilgrimage of a lifetime. Every year, tens of thousands of Christians - both Protestants and Catholics - arrive in Israel, intent on exploring the life of Jesus. They will journey from his birthplace in Bethlehem, onto Nazareth, where he spent some of his early years, then continue to Galilee, where he spent a considerable period of time ministering, before traveling to Jerusalem, where Jesus spent the last week of his life. There, they can retrace his footsteps, from the Last Supper with his disciples, to betrayal and arrest, in the Garden of Gethsemane, then his journey along the Via Dolorosa, to the cross, and finally to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where he was buried and rose again. At any time of the year, but particularly Easter or Christmas, this pilgrimage can be a very moving experience for Christian tourists.View of the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion, Jerusalem, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinChristian Population, Dioceses, Parishes, and Communities in IsraelSo how many Christians live in Israel? The number is approximately 200,000, which amounts to 1.5% of the population. The largest Christian community in Israel is the Greek Catholics (Melkite), who make up 40% of the total. Then you have the Greek Orthodox at 32%, Roman Catholics in Israel at 20%, and the Maronites at 7%. The remaining Christian groups amount to around 1% of the total.Seven of the jurisdictions of the Catholic Churches in Israel overlap with each other - Armenian, Chaldean, Greek Melkite, Armenian Latin (Roman), Chaldean Maronite, and Syriac. At present, there are 103 Catholic parishes in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo byStacey FrancoonUnsplashRepresentatives of the Holy See in IsraelThe diplomatic relations between The Holy See and the State of Israel were first established on 30th December 1993. Three weeks later, after the two states adopted a ‘Fundamental Agreement’ a Vatican Nunciature in Israel and an Israeli embassy in Rome were opened. As the Vatican sees it, this ‘normalization’ is, to some degree, a way of promoting better Christian-Jewish relations which, historically, could be described as poor.Israel Catholic Travel GuideToday we’re looking at Catholic influences in Israel - because, for sure, the land of Israel is inextricably bound up with central events in Christian history, particularly the life and times of Jesus. It’s no surprise then that so many Catholics find the idea of a trip to the Holy Landand of visiting the Catholic holy sites in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Galilee completely compelling.Inside the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion, Jerusalem, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinCatholic Churches in JerusalemLet’s start with Jerusalem, which has a considerable number of Catholic churches and holy sites, including: 1. Church of the Holy Sepulchre - also known as the Church of the Resurrection, this is probably the most famous church in the Old City and presumed to be the site where Jesus was both crucified and then rose from the dead. Custody of the site is shared between the Roman Catholic (also known as ‘Latins’), Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syriac Orthodox Churches.2. Bethphage - situated on the Mount of Olives, east of the Old City, Bethpage is mentioned in the Christian Bible as the place where Jesus sent his disciples to look for a donkey. This donkey (ass) he would later use to ride into Jerusalem in what Christians now celebrate as Palm Sunday. Meaning ‘House of the Early Figs’ Bethphage was built in 1883 and today it is run by the Franciscans.Candles lit in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin3. Room of the Last Supper - located on the top floor of King David’s Tomb, the Cenacle is extremely holy for Catholics, since it is considered to be the place where Jesus held the Last Supper. ‘Cenacle’ in Latin means ‘dining room’ but Catholics also refer to the word as ‘retreat’. Today the building is controlled by the state of Israel although the Vatican contests this and says it belongs to the church.4. Dominus Flevit - this Roman Catholic church sits on the Mount of Olives, opposite the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Although only built in 1955, it occupies an ancient site, standing on the ruins of a Byzantine church that dates back to the 5th century. Designed by the Italian architect, Antonio Barluzzi, its famous window depicts a chalice and cross, within an arch-shaped design. Today, the administration of the church is carried out by the Franciscans.5. Dormition Abbey - on Mount Zion, close to the Zion Gate, this Catholic Abbey belongs to the Benedictine monks and is said to be the spot at which Jesus’ mother, Mary, died. Completed in 1910 by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the site dates back to the 5th century.Dominus Flevit Сhurch, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock6. Flagellation Church - found in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, near to the Lions' Gate, this Roman Catholic church is part of the Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation. According to tradition, it is the spot at which Jesus was flogged by Roman soldiers before he walked along the Via Dolorosa, en route to his crucifixion. 7. Garden of Gethsemane - located at the foot of the Mount of Olives, this is an incredibly holy site for Catholics, as it is where Jesus prayed before his betrayal by Judas Iscariot and his subsequent arrest. Next to it is the Basilica of the Agony (also known as the Church of All Nations), built on the foundation of a Byzantine church that dates back to the 4th century.8. Church of the Pater Noster - part of a Carmelite Monastery, this church also sits on the Mount of Olives. On its walls are a series of ceramic tiles, all bordered with colorful flowers, inside which the Lord’s Prayer is written in a wide variety of languages. Entrance to the Church of Pater Naster. Jerusalem, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock9. Church of St. Anne- built in the 12th century, and situated just at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa. St. Anne’s is considered to be one of the most beautiful Crusader Churches in Israel. Today, it is owned and managed by the White Fathers, an Order of the Catholic Church so named because of the color of their robes. 10. St. Peter in Gallicantu - Built on the slopes of Mount Zion, this church is named after the disciple Peter’s denial of Jesus 'Gallicantu’ in Latin, which means ‘cocks crow’ and refers to Peter refusing to acknowledge his relationship with Jesus three times. The church today belongs to the Assumptionist Fathers, a French Order established in 1887 and so named for Mary’s assumption into heaven.11. St. Stephen Church - located on the ancient road to Damascus, just outside the walls of the Old City, this Dominican monastery and French school for Biblical Archaeology, lie on the slope of the hill close to the Garden Tomb. Church of St. Anne, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock12. 3rd Stationof the Cross- this is the point where Jesus fell for the first time, on his walk to Calvary. It is also the place where you will find a Polish catholic church, purchased by Armenian Catholics based in Poland. 13.4th Station of the Cross - according to tradition, this is where the Virgin Mary stood and watched her son Jesus suffer, as he walked with this cross to his death. This is also the location of the Armenian Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Spasm, built in 1881. 14. 5th Station of the Cross - the fifth Station of the Cross is outside the Franciscan Chapel of Simon of Cyrene, and at this popular pilgrimage stop, it is traditional to place your hand inside the imprint where Jesus is thought to have leaned against the wall. 5th Station of the Cross, Jerusalem.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin15.6th Station of the Cross - here sits the Greek Catholic Church of St. Veronica, built in 1866, and today run by the Little Sisters of Jesus. It is believed to be the place where a woman named Veronica wiped Jesus’s face of blood, with a cloth. 16. Church of the Visitation - formerly known as the Abbey Church of St. John in the Woods, this catholic church in Ein Kerem, a hillside village in south-west Jerusalem, is run by Franciscans and honors the visit paid by the Virgin Mary (the mother of Jesus) to Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist). 17. Monastery of St. John in the Desert - built next to a spring on a wooded slope, this monastery is also run by Franciscans and is a short distance from Ein Kerem (considered to be the birthplace of John the Baptist).Church of the Visitation, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem. Photo credit:©Dan PorgesCatholic Churches in Central Israel and the West Bank1. Emmaus Church of the Crusaders - also known as the Church of the Resurrection and the Abbey of St. Mary this Benedictine monastery sits in Abu Gosh, a village close to Jerusalem. Traditionally, it is known as the place where Christ first appeared after his resurrection.2. Shepherds' Field - southeast of Bethlehem, in Beit Sahour, this Roman Catholic church is run by the Franciscans. It marks the place, according to Catholic tradition, where Christ’s birth was first announced by the angels.3. St. Lazarus - situated in the town of al-Eizariya (identified with biblical Bethany), this West Bank church is close to what Christian tradition says is the tomb of Lazarus and also the site of the house where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus once lived. 4. Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem - one of the oldest working churches in existence, this is a very holy site for all Christians, who believe its grotto to be the spot at which Mary gave birth to Jesus. Its actual guardianship is shared by three Church denominations - Armenian, Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox.Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin5. Milk Grotto, Bethlehem - also known as the Grotto of our Lady, Christian tradition says is the place where the Holy Family found refuge during the Massacre of the Innocents before they could flee to Egypt. The name comes from the story that the Virgin Mary spilt a ‘drop of milk’ on the cave’s floor.6. Emmaus Qubeibeh, Qubeibeh - this catholic church, owned by Franciscans, is about 10 km (7 miles from Jerusalem). Its sanctuary is where, according to tradition, a resurrected Jesus appeared on the road to Emmaus before two of his disciples, Simeon and Cleopas. 7. House of Parables, Taybeh - this is situated in the Palestinian Christian village of Taybeh, about 30 km northwest of Jerusalem. The ‘Parable House’ lies within the Roman Catholic church courtyard and its wooden door is estimated to be 2,000 years old.8. Church of Nicodemus, Ramla - Managed by the Franciscans, since the 16th century the site of this monastery is considered to have been the home of Joseph of Arimathea, who was one of Jesus’ disciples and asked for permission to take him down from the cross and bury him. The Milk Grotto, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockCatholic Churches in Galilee1. Stella Maris, Haifa - this 19th-century Carmelite monastery was built on the orders of Brother Cassini and opened in 1836, ‘Stella Maris’ meaning ‘Star of the Sea.’2. Wedding Church, Cana - also known as the ‘First Miracle Church’ and today operated by Franciscans, it is considered to be the place where Jesus performed his first miracle, turning water into wine at a poor couple’s wedding feast.3. House of Peter, Capernaum - this modern catholic pilgrimage church is part of a Franciscan monastery. Presumed to be the spot at which the disciple Peter once lived, it sits on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.4.Church of Beatitudes - situated on a small hill, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, this church sits close to the ruins of a small Byzantine-era church, dating back to the 4th century. The spot is considered to be where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount.Church of Beatitudes, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock5. Muhraqa Monastery - this Carmelite Monastery is situated at the spot where the Prophet Elijah is supposed to have confronted the false prophets of Baal. Situated in the village of Daliat-el-Carmel, it affords spectacular views of the Jezreel Valley.6. Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth - also referred to as the ‘Basilica of the Annunciation’ this church is managed by Franciscans and stands over the cave which Catholics believe was once the home of the Virgin Mary. Its cupola dominates modern Nazareth and today it is the largest church in the Middle East.7. Church of St. Joseph, Nazareth - this Franciscan church was built in 1914 over the remains of much older churches. According to tradition, this is where the carpentry workshop of Joseph, Jesus’s father, stood.8. Synagogue Church, Nazareth - this Greek Melkite Catholic church lies in the heart of Nazareth and is so named because of a claim that it is the same building that was once the village synagogue in the time of Jesus. Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock9. Church of Multiplication, Tabgha - this Benedictine church is located in Tabgha, on the northwest shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is built on the site of two former churches, dating back to Byzantine times.10. Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, Tabgha - this Franciscan church in Tabgha, also close to the shores of the Galilee, commemorates and is supposed to mark the spot where Jesus reinstated Peter as leader of the Disciples. 11. Сhurch of Transfiguration, Mount Tabor - this church is part of a Franciscan monastery built in 1922 by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi. It is considered by Catholics to be the site at which the transfiguration of Jesus occurred when Jesus met with Elijah and Moses. 12. Church of St. Peter, Tiberias - next to a monastery in Tiberias, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, this unusual Crusader church is administered by Koinonia Giovanni Battista, a Catholic community in Italy. Its roof is shaped like a boat that has been upturned, which references St. Peter, a fisherman on the Galilee who Jesus eventually chose as his lead disciple.Church of Multiplication, Tabgha, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockIf you are interested in visiting Catholic churches in Israel, feel free to check out our Christian Israel Tour Packages and Christian day tours.
Par Sarah Mann

A Guide to Some of the Oldest Churches in Israel

For many visitors to Israel, whatever their religious background, one of the highlights of the trip will be exploring the country’s many historical and religious sites. Israel has countless churches open to the public, many of them dating back hundreds of years, and as well as a great number in the capital, Jerusalem, there are some beautiful and fascinating buildings across the country. ForChristians visiting Israel on apackage tour, walkingin the footsteps of Jesusis an incredibly moving experience, and theexpedition of a lifetime. But you don’t have to be a Christian to find these sites extraordinary. Here, we look at ten of the most ancient churches in Israel and why tens of thousands of people each year flock to them, to gaze in awe at their architecture, mosaics, artefacts and let themselves be transported back in time…Church of Multiplication, Tabgha, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock1. Megiddo, Jezreel ValleyThe Meggido church, in the Jezreel Valley, is located near Tel Megiddo in northern Israel and was found in a dramatic archaeological discovery in 2006. Its foundations date back to the 3rd century, making it Israel’s oldest church (even older than Jerusalem’s famous Church of the Holy Sepulchre). Astonishingly, it was found behind the doors of a maximum-security prison - indeed, some inmates helped archaeologists with the excavations!Findings there included an elaborate, well-preserved mosaic, which is unusual in that there are no crosses there, rather a picture of two fish lying side by side. Historians say this is the sign of a very early symbol, dating back to the period before Christianity was officially recognized as a religion (i.e. before Saint Constantine’s rule). There is also the inscription on the mosaic which names a Roman army officer - Gaianus - who donated money to the building of the floor. Combined with atrip to Nazareth, a visit to Megiddo is well worth your time.Tel Megiddo, Israel.Photo credit: © Shutterstock2. Ein Avdat, Negev DesertSituated in a canyon, in the heart of the Negev Desert, the southern church there was part of the Byzantine Monastery or St. Theodoros. According to inscriptions found on the church floor, historians estimate that the church dates back to the 6th or 7th century. Archaeological findings show that the Ein Avdat church was inhabited both by the Nabateans and Catholic Monks. Historically, Avdat was a stop along the ‘Spice Route’ which transported spices and perfumes from the Arabian Peninsula to the port of Gaza. Because the area had many springs, a water supply was plentiful and the area quickly prospered. Little is left of the church today but we do know that reliquaries - containers holding a sacred relic - were kept inside. Once the oil had been poured over the relic, it was collected in bottles for pilgrims to keep as a souvenir.Ein Avdat, Israel. Photo credit: © Oksana Matz3. Church of the Multiplication, Tabgha, GalileeMuch of Jesus’ ministry and preaching was carried out in the Galilee and this church - situated in Tabgha, on the northwest side of the lake, the Church of Multiplication is famous for being the spot where the miracle of the ‘two fishes and fives loaves’ were multiplied, in order to feed 5,000 people. This extremely old Byzantine church contains beautiful mosaics, depicting animals, plants - particularly the lotus flower - and geometric figures, all adding to its charm.The church underwent excavation in the 1930s and a new building was inaugurated in May 1982, to commemorate the sacred space as well as to accommodate the thousands of visitors who wanted to visit each week. Today, it is one of the most popular places to visit for tourists traveling around Galilee and Nazareth, either on historical or Christian day tours. Fun fact; the church windows are not made of glass, rather of stone! For a moment of quiet reflection, visit the pool in the backyard, which is full of fish. Other churches in the area can be visited with aChristian galilee tour.Church of Multiplication, Tabgha.Photo credit: © Shutterstock4. Church of the Pater Noster, JerusalemSituated at the top of the Mount of Olives, the history of the Pater Noster dates back to the rule of Emperor Constantine, who erected a simple building on this site in 330 known as ‘Eleona’. ‘Pater Noster’ in Latin means ‘Our Father’ and according both to tradition and the Gospel of Luke, the cave forming the grotto (under the church) was where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, which begins “Our Father, who art in heaven...”In 1874, the present church (which is part of a Carmelite Monastery) was erected. This credo is represented on the walls of the church, in the form of the Lord’s Prayer translated into close to 130 languages, all painted on ceramic tiles. The gardens are well landscaped, full of olive trees, and this tends to be more peaceful and (generally) less crowded than others in Jerusalem. Ideal for a visit on a day tour of Jerusalem.Pater Noster Church, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock5. Church of the Nativity, BethlehemThe Church of Nativity, a famous Bethlehem basilica, located just 10 kilometers from Jerusalem, is loaded with significance in that Christians believe it to be the birthplace of Christ. Built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian, it replaced Constantine the Great’s original structure (dedicated in 339 CE), and today is the oldest complete church in the Christian world.The interior of the church is somewhat minimalist (no pews in which to sit) but the wall mosaics - depicting saints and angels - are stunning and have been restored. The roof is held up by red limestone pillars (the stone obtained from local quarries). Two sets of stairs will let you descend to the Grotto of the Nativity where there you will see a 14-point silver star. This marks the exact spot of Jesus’ birth. This sacred spot is well worth a visit, perhaps by joining a Bethlehem half-day tour?Church of Nativity, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock6. Church of the Transfiguration, Mount TaborThis church is located on Mount Tabor in Galilee and is recognized as the place where Jesus was transfigured in the presence of his disciples, Peter, John, and James (notated in the Gospels). Because of its location along the major trade routes, the area was always of strategic importance in wars. The entire surrounding area, including Tsipori and Beit Shearim,is well worth exploring on a private tour.The Church of the Transfiguration is perched very dramatically atop the mount, offering visitors stunning views, and was built over the remains of previous churches from both Byzantine and Crusader times. The current building was erected in 924 by the Franciscans and boasts an impressive mosaic and chapels dedicated to Elijah and Moses. The smaller Greek Orthodox church nearby is not usually open to the public.Church of the Transfiguration, Mount Tabor.Photo credit: © Natalia Brizeli7. Church of the Ascension, JerusalemThe beautiful Church of the Ascension, run under the auspices of Russian Orthodox nuns, is situated in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives. Dedicated to the ascension of Jesus (the day that Christ physically departed Earth, in the presence of 11 of his apostles) its tower - at 64 meters - was constructed at the end of the 19th century, so that pilgrims who could not walk as far as the Jordan River could at least climb its steps and take in the view. At the tower’s top is a belfry and inside it a heavy iron bell, the first-ever Christian bell to be rung in Ottoman times.The original structure was built in the 4th century but most of its inside, today, dates back to Crusader times. On the floor inside is a slab of rock, with an imprint inside which is considered to be Jesus’ footprint. This is known as the ‘Ascension Rock.’ After Muslims took control of the chapel from the Crusaders in 1188, they converted it into a mosque - look carefully and you will see a minaret. The Mount of Olives has three other churches that are associated with the ascension, and an excellent way to see them is on a private walking tourof the area.The Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Dan Porges8. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, JerusalemWithout a doubt, the most famous church in Israel and a highlight of any visit to the capital, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre sits within the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Famed for being the place not just at which Jesus was crucified but where he was also buried and resurrected, it is a focal point for Christian pilgrims, particularly at Easter when pilgrims retrace Christ’s last walk along the Via Dolorosa (the last four ‘Stations of the Cross’ are within this church).Built by Constantine the Great in 326 CE over a tomb believed to be that of Jesus, it took nine more years before commemoration and the wooden doors of the church are original. Inside the magnificent interior are a number of sites including the tomb of Jesus (which sits under the largest dome in the church) the Anointing Stone (tradition says that this is the spot where Christ’s body was prepared for burial) and Calvary itself (which has two chapels, one of which houses the Rock of Golgotha, which can be seen through the glass. The jurisdiction of the church compound is divided between the Catholic, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox Churches. (Interesting fact: look out for the thousands of crosses, scratched into the walls by Crusaders traveling to the Holy Land from Europe). Truly one of Jerusalem’s most breathtaking sites and a must-see on a tour of the Old and New City.Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © Dmitry Mishin9. St. George's Monastery, Wadi QeltSt. George's Monastery, one of five monasteries in the Judean desert this extraordinary building has been carved into the edge of a cliff in the north-eastern part of a huge canyon in which it sits. To reach it, you walk down a somewhat steep but paved hill and across a bridge - the location is extraordinarily picturesque and impressive and even overshadows the monastery itself.The monastery itself was settled in 420 CE, by Syrian monks, in the emptiness of the desert. It is, however, named after Saint George of Choziba, a Cypriot monk who lived there in the 6th century. Inside, the chapel remains in its original form. The monastery is multi-layered, with two churches, both of which contain icons and mosaics, and the doors in iconostasis date back to the 12th century. Following the stairs down from the courtyard, you will find the Cave of Elijah. It is possible to explore this monastery alone but not easy or particularly advisable because of its remote location so probably best to take a private guided tour. St. George's Monastery, Wadi Qelt. Photo credit: © Shutterstock10. St. Joseph’s Church, NazarethSt. Joseph’s Franciscan Сhurch is located in Nazareth, the town of Jesus’ birth, and was built, according to tradition, over what was once the carpentry workshop of Jesus’ father, Joseph. The site was converted into a place of worship in Byzantine times and after the Crusaders arrived, in 12 CE, another church was built over it. After the Crusaders were defeated by the Arabs, the church was destroyed and was not rebuilt until 1914, by the Franciscans.Inside, the apse of the church has three paintings of interest: The Holy Family, The Dream of Joseph, and The Death of Joseph in the Arms of Jesus and Mary. Down a stairway lies a crypt where visitors can see caverns through a floor grille. A few more steps along leads to a black and white mosaic floor - some historians think that it was in use as early as the 1st-2nd century, and used as a pre-Constantine Christian Baptistery.St. Joseph is situated north of the Basilica of the Annunciation and close to the large Franciscan convent Terra Santa. It can be visited easily, along with other places of interest in Nazareth, and perhaps combined with a visit to the nearby Sea of Galilee. A perfect fit would be theNazareth and the Sea of Galilee Tour.St. Joseph’s Church, Nazareth.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Par Sarah Mann

The Life and Times of Jesus in Israel

If you are visiting Israel as a Christian pilgrim, it is no doubt going to be one of the great experiences of your life. Literally, you will be walking in the footsteps of Jesus, treading on the same ground he did, two thousand years ago. This is the part of the globe where he was born and raised, where he recruited his disciples and preached the word of God, where he performed miracles, gained thousands of followers, was arrested and crucified, then rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. Mount of Olives with the Church of all Nations, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockIn this respect, Israel is truly a Holy Land - for it is the land he lived in quite ‘normally’ (for the most part, anyway), amongst the Jews of the day, for his entire life. No wonder, then, it can feel quite surreal, making a trip (as a pilgrim) to this part of the world. This article is here to help you plan your trip to Israel and to answer some of the many questions you might have. These include “What was Israel like in Jesus’ days?” and “Where was Jesus crucified and buried?” It will also give you an idea of the ‘Holy Land map’ of that time, look at Jesus’s life in Galilee and delve into his final journey to Jerusalem.Plan a Trip to Israel in Jesus’ FootstepsThe Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give us a fair idea of where Jesus spent his days and this has also been confirmed by the excavation of archaeological sites mentioned in the Bible. To help you plan your next trip to Israel, here we want to focus on two specific geographical regions where Jesus lived and preached - the Galilee and the Jerusalem area. Of course, these are just two of the many regions Jesus spent time in Israel but...Of course, there are more than 10 places where Jesus walked in Israel, but we wanted to highlight these two because - in theological terms - they really clarify the message he was preaching at that time. Let’s try and do this by providing you with a chronological timeline of Jesus’ life (including his early and formative years, before he became famous for his teachings).The ancient tombs in the Kidron Valley.Photo credit: © ShutterstockTimeline of Jesus' life.Birth in BethlehemIt is estimated that Jesus Christ was born between 4-6 BC in Bethlehem, which is located just six miles from Jerusalem. The Gospels refer to his birth as occurring at the time of King Herod and this is substantiated by non-Christian accounts by Tacitus and Josephus. Today, Bethlehem is a major pilgrimage center, where it is possible to visit a number of sites connected with this monumental event. The most important of these is the Church of the Nativity, the oldest church in daily use, and an incredibly sacred site for Christians. A visit to the Milk Grotto and Shepherds' Field is also recommended, either independently or as part of a visit with a tour of Bethlehem.Early Years in NazarethJesus spent the first months/years of his life, after his parents Joseph and Mary, fled with him to Egypt, to spare him from certain death warned off by an Angel that appeared to Joseph in a dream - King Herod’s decree had been to slay all baby boys born under the age of 2 in Bethlehem. Historians and theologians are unclear as to how long the family spent in exile; it could have been somewhere between a few months and several years. The family returned home to Nazareth (in northern Israel) after Herod’s death. We do not know too much about Jesus’ childhood and early adolescence there although, since his father was a carpenter, it is possible that he was involved in construction projects (he learned skill and hard work from his father). It is believed he lived there until he was around 30 years old, when he then began traveling around the wider area, including the Galilee, preaching the word of God to locals and urging them to change their ways. Today, Nazareth is a popular place for Christian pilgrims, the most popular site of which is the Basilica of the Annunciation (believed to be the home of Mary and where the Angel Gabriel appeared to her, announcing that she would give birth to the Messiah). On the grounds of the Basilica is the Church of St. Joseph, marking the site thought to be Jesus’ childhood home. Walking the streets of this ancient city and exploring Nazareth churches and other sites, as part of a tour of Nazareth, is a wonderful way to get a sense of all this.Interior of the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth.Photo credit: © ShutterstockJesus’s Ministry in Galilee and the Miracles he Performed ThereThe years Jesus spent around the shores of the Sea of Galilee (today around 30 minutes drive today from Nazareth) are well known for many reasons. It was here that Jesus preached about God’s love and the Kingdom of Heaven. It was also where he recruited his twelve disciples - fishermen - urging them to put down their nets and follow him. And it was here that he performed a series of miracles which remain famous to this day - walking on water, raising a man from the dead, and multiplying two fishes and five loaves of bread into food sufficient for a crowd of five thousand.Galilee is home to a number of beautiful churches of Jesus' Ministry which no pilgrim should miss seeing. These include the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha, the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, and the Church of Beatitudes - where Jesus gave his famous Sermon on the Mount. It is also home to Yardenit - the famous Baptismal site where it is believed Jesus was baptized by John - and Cana, the village where Jesus notoriously performed the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding of a poor couple. Taking a Christian Galilee touris an ideal way to see the Christian sites in Galilee, and to get a real feel for the places he preached.Sea of Galilee.Photo credit: © ShutterstockJesus in Jerusalem - From Arrival and Arrest to Crucifixion and ResurrectionJerusalem, arguably, is the most sacred of all cities in Israel for Christians for this is where Jesus was not just killed but buried and then resurrected. Here we look at Jesus’s road to Jerusalem, and the events that took place there, on the Mount of Olives, before his arrest and death, and his walk to Calvary, the point at which he was nailed to a cross and died, several hours later. Palm Sunday - it was on this day that Jesus triumphantly entered the city of Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, as his supporters cheered him, waving palm branches and shouting ‘Hosanna’ to their King. There is a Palm Sunday Procession Tour which one can join each year.Holy Thursday - this day commemorates the Last Supper when Jesus broke bread with his disciples and washed their feet, as a gesture of humility. This is also the occasion on which Jesus was betrayed by his disciple Judas, in the Garden of Gethsemane.Good Friday - this is by far and away the most solemn day of the year for Christians since this is when Jesus took his final walk, along the Via Dolorosa (‘the Way of Sorrows’) before arriving at the site where he would suffer an agonizing death at the hands of the Romans. Church of Multiplication, Tabgha, Israel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockEach Easter in Jerusalem, thousands of pilgrims recreate this solemn procession, following in the footsteps of Jesus, stopping along the way at the various Stations of the Cross (where Jesus paused, to rest briefly). The procession culminates at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, inside which are further stations of the cross. Masses are held at churches across Jerusalem.Easter Sunday - this joyous occasion celebrates the resurrection of Christ and all across Jerusalem, and the Holy Land, sunrise services are held (often after all night Vigils). According to the Gospels, Mary Magdalene, along with some of Jesus' disciples, discovered that the tomb in which his body had been placed was now empty.For Christians, this death followed by resurrection is indicative of new birth and salvation. The Paschal greeting is recited by Priests and Ministers - ‘Christ is Risen” - to which the congregation responds “He is risen indeed, hallelujah.” Visiting Israel during Easteris an unforgettable memory in the life of every Christian.Yardenit baptismal site.Photo credit: © ShutterstockPlaces of Historical and Religious Interest in JerusalemCan you visit the place where Jesus was buried? Unequivocally, the answer is yes. There is more than one site associated with his burial - the first, of course, is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City This has been a major pilgrimage site since the 4th century, and inside its enormous, grandiose interior are several chapels, the Anointing Stone and Calvary, the very spot where Jesus is believed to have been crucified. The church has withstood Byzantines, Crusaders, and Ottomans, and the enormous wooden arched doors are opened each day by a key made of iron, by a family that Saladin entrusted with it after he reclaimed this church from the Crusaders.The second is the Garden Tomb, just outside the City Walls of Jerusalem. It is a rock-cut tomb that was discovered in 1867 and is considered, by some Protestants, to be the spot at which Jesus was buried. The entrance is free but reservations should be made in advance.Many Christians, when visiting Jerusalem, also spend time at the Mount of Olives. Home to several churches, including Pater Noster,Dominus Flevit, the Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony), and the Chapel of Ascension - the spot where Jesus ascended into heaven.Pater Noster Church, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe Message of JesusFor sure, Jesus’ teachings were extraordinary - by any standards, but particularly by the times of the day - what he preached was radical and counter-cultural. Thousands of people flocked to Galilee and Jerusalem to hear him preach. There, he inspired them and challenged them to shake off old habits and start living different kinds of lives.Unfortunately, Jesus’ message was sufficiently radical to infuriate and antagonize many of the religious leaders of the day. They conspired with some of Jesus’s closest followers (including his disciple Judas) to have him arrested for blasphemy, knowing all too well that the price he would pay would be death. Ultimately, this was the case - Jesus was put on trial, condemned by Pontius Pilate, and executed by crucifixion in around 30 AD. However, his resurrection proved to his supporters that Jesus and his message could not be silenced. According to the Gospels, he rose from the dead and appeared to more than 500 people in the weeks following his resurrection. As is written in the Gospel of St. Luke, he was then carried up into heaven, hidden from view by a cloud. His disciples understood then that he was to be exalted and sit at the right hand of God. Today, the resurrection is a cornerstone of Christian teaching.Garden of the Church Of The Beatitudes, near Sea of Galilee, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Par Sarah Mann

Christian Holidays in Israel

As with other Christian communities across the globe Israeli Christians celebrate the traditional religious holidays although as a Jewish country the Christian holidays are not national holidays. If you want to enjoy Christian holidays in Israel you should head for the largest Christian communities which congregate in Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Israel is home to a number of Christian denominations including Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopians and Copts as well as other smaller denominations. Sometimes the denominations celebrate the Christian holidays on different days and have additional holy days unique to their faith.Lighting candles in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinChristmas in IsraelChristmas in Israel is observed by most Christians on December 25th. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 6th– 7th 2014 with a procession from Jerusalem’s Old City to the Monastery of Mar Elias and on to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where midnight services are held. Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 19th.Holy Week in IsraelHoly Week begins with the celebration of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, culminating in the commemoration of the Mystical or Last Supper on Holy or Maundy Thursday and the Passion of Jesus on Holy or Good Friday. Holy Week concludes with Christ's repose in death and descent into Hades on Good or Holy Saturday.Palm Sunday in IsraelPalm Sunday in Israel is celebrated by Catholics and Protestant Christians who walk from the Mount of Olives down into the Old City as they sing and hold palm fronds. The Orthodox and Armenian communities together with other Christian denominations enjoy a Palm Sunday procession through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with palm fronds. A priest taking part in the Palm Sunday Procession. Photo byGrant WhittyonUnsplashGood Friday in IsraelGood Friday in Israel sees Christians following the Via Dolorosa through Jerusalem’s Old City. Other ceremonies are held at the Garden Tomb.Holy Saturday in IsraelHoly Saturday sees the Patriarch perform the Ceremony of the Holy Fire as he lights a candle in the tomb and soon the church is full of Christians holding lit candles.Easter in IsraelEaster Sunday the Orthodox Armenian and Catholic communities attend mass in churches across the country including the Holy Sepulchre. Protestants attend the Sunrise Service at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. Easter Monday at Emmaus is marked by masses in various Catholic churches and some pilgrims make the 30km walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus-Latrun for mass. More information on Easter celebrations in Israel can be found in the articles Easter in Jerusalem and Easter in Israel.Ascension Day in IsraelAscension Day is celebrated by Catholics at the Chapel of the Ascension, a midnight mass continues until morning followed by a procession to ViriGalilaei Church and back. Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.Exaltation of the Holy Cross is celebrated by Catholics with mass at Calvary in the Holy Sepulchre; an Orthodox evening procession goes from the Chapel of St. Helena in Deir el-Sultan to the Holy Sepulchre and the Armenians celebrate with morning Divine Liturgy in St. James Cathedral, Jerusalem.Garden Tomb, Jerusalem.Photo byJonny GiosonUnsplashOther Christian Holidays in IsraelIn addition to the above Christian holidays in Israel, Catholics celebrate many additional feast days and events including the Eve of Epiphany; the Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated with a procession through Nazareth to the Church of the Annunciation where vespers are held and mass the following day. The Visitation of the Virgin Mary is celebrated in Ein Kerem and Jerusalem culminating with a procession through the Christian Quarter; Nativity of St. John the Baptist; on Assumption Day Catholics gather at the Abbey of Dormitionon Mt. Zion; Nativity of Mary is celebrated with a mass at St. Anne’s Church in Jerusalem and the celebration of the Immaculate Conception.Additional Orthodox Christian holy days include the Feast of St. Basil; the Feast of St. Simeon is celebrated in the house of St. Simeon in Katamon, Jerusalem; the Dormition of Theotokos and the Nativity of Mary are celebrated in Jerusalem’s St. Anne’s Church. The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the finding of the head of St. John the Baptist at the monastery on the Mount of Olives with morning services.The Ethiopian Orthodox Christian community celebrates Timkat in Jerusalem Old City’s Ethiopian Church. Many of the events mentioned for Orthodox Christians are observed by the Ethiopian community.In addition to the other Christian holidays, the Armenian community celebrates the Feast of St. James the Minor with a service in St. James Cathedral in Jerusalem; the Feast of St. Vartan the Warrior is celebrated with morning services in St. James Cathedral and the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak is celebrated in the Holy Sepulchre.If you wish to bookChristian day tours in Israel or to join a Christian tour package, feel free to visitour websiteArmenian Catholic Patriarchate, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Par Petal Mashraki

Churches of the Old City of Jerusalem

The Old City of Jerusalem is home to some of the most beautiful and unique churches in Israel and certainly the most important church of all, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is, according to the Orthodox and Catholic church, the place where Jesus Christ was crucifed, burried and resurrected. In 1982, the Old City was put on the List of Worldheritages in Danger by UNESCO. The site is at risk due to urbanization of its surroundings, mass tourism, and geopolitical issues.Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinChurch of the Holy SepulchreThe largest and most important church in Jerusalem’s Old City is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It holds the 10th to 14th Stations of Cross along the Via Dolorosa which Jesus took on his route to his crucifixion. On this site Jesus was stripped (10th Station); nailed to the cross (11th Station); died on the cross on the Rock of Golgotha or Hill of Calvary (12th Station); taken down off the cross (13th Station ) and Jesus was laid to rest in his tomb or Sepulchre at the 14th Station. An early church on this site dates back to 333 AD but it was destroyed by the Persians about 300 years later and a new structure was constructed. This too was leveled in 1010 AD and under the Crusaders the church was rebuilt and inaugurated in 1149 AD. The church is shared by the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian, and Syriac Orthodox churches. The vast church is adorned with many stunning works of liturgical art, there are many small altars and individual chapels within the church but the focus of the structure is the large Rotunda where Jesus’ tomb is located. At the entrance to the church is the Stone of Anointing where Jesus’ body was laid after being removed from the cross. All major Christian events and festivals are celebrated in the church.Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © ShutterstockLutheran Church of the RedeemerThis German Lutheran Church of the Redeemer is in the Christian Quarter and was constructed in the 19th century on the site of a Crusader church; the Crusader gate was incorporated in the side of the present church. At one point the church functioned as a hostel and hospital for Crusaders. The first Chapel of St. John was constructed here in 1871 and in 1898 the Church of the Redeemer was built by Friedrich Adler. Above the entrance is the sign of the lamb of God and on one side is an eagle, the symbol of Imperial Germany while on the other side is the Maltese Cross, a symbol of the Crusader order of St. John. The church’s white square bell tower is 48 meters high making it the tallest tower within the Old City walls. It is possible to climb a spiral staircase within the tower for views across the city.German Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockChurch of St. John the BaptistThis Greek Orthodox Church and monastery of St. John the Baptist in the Christian Quarter consists of a 5th-century Byzantine church on a lower level and an upper dome and a double bell tower from the 11th century Crusader era. The lower church holds relics of John the Baptist and was destroyed in the 7th century. The Knights Hospitallers took over the site in the 11th century and used the space as a hostel and hospital. The Hospitallers were a military group of Christians charged with protecting the Holy Land. They saw the renovation of the church site. Again in 1839 the church and monastery were renovated.St. Anne’s ChurchSt Anne's Church, Jerusalem - believed to be the birthplace of Mary. This is a large building close to the Lions’ Gate adjacent to the Pools of Bethesda. The church was built during the Crusader era over the ruins of a 5th century Byzantine church. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary’s mother Anne and father Joachim; Mary is believed to have been born in a cave-dwelling now located beneath the church in the church crypt. An inscription above the entrance dated 1192 tells of how Saladin converted the church to a school. The interior is divided into three halls by thick pillars supporting a vaulted ceiling.St Anne's Church, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockChapel of the FlagellationThis Catholic Franciscan church complex is situated at the 2nd Station along the Via Dolorosa where Roman soldiers flogged Jesus. The first chapel on this site was constructed in 1832 on land given to the Franciscans by the conquering Egyptians. It was rebuilt in the 1920s and designed by well-known Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi. A sealed gate entrance on the outer wall of the monastery is topped with a metal seal bearing the 5 cross symbol of the Franciscans and the arms of Jesus and St. Francis crossed over a crucifix. The church’s best features are the large stained glass windows on three sides of the church. The church of Condemnation is also accessed from the inner courtyard, it commemorates where Jesus was condemned and where he took up his cross. This church has 5 white domed roofs and large stained glass windows. The church interior is predominantly white with a colorful mural behind the altar and pink marble columns supporting the ceiling. Archaeological findings are displayed on the western wall outside the chapel and in the garden courtyard.Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinChurch of Our Lady of the SunLocated at the 4th Station along the Via Dolorosa this Armenian Church marks the place where Mary saw her son pass by carrying the cross. Within the church is a beautiful 5th-century mosaic floor, imprinted in the floor is the outline of two sandals said to be the footprints of Mary.Church of the Holy FaceChurch of the Holy Face - JerusalemThis small church is run by the Little Sisters, a Greek Catholic order, inside you can see restored Crusader arches.Monastery of St. CharalambosThis is a Greek Orthodox monastery located at the 8th Station along the Via Dolorosa.; it marks the place where Jesus comforted the lamenting women.Near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockSt. James CathedralLocated in the Armenian Quarter,St. James Cathedral is dedicated to James the Great, one of the apostles, and James the Less, Jesus’ brother who was also the first bishop of Jerusalem. It is thought to have been built on the site where Herod killed James the Great. An inscription above the main entrance features the date 1488 but earlier churches on this site date back to the 6th century. The Armenians are famous for their intricate artwork, ceramics mixed with metals and stone and the church displays many stunning examples of their talents. This is also the site of the Armenian library where there are more than 4,000 illuminated manuscripts and the Church of St. Toros which is covered with brightly colored glazed tiles. The cathedral complex has several inner courtyards.Dei res-Sultan Ethiopian ChurchThe Ethiopian Christians have been a part of Jerusalem since the 4th century, this church which is situated on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the only Ethiopian church in the city until 1888 when the land was acquired outside the Old City walls and the Debra Gannet Monastery was built. The chapel is dedicated to St. Michael and the walls are adorned with brightly colored exotic pictures of the saint which date back 100 years. One of the paintings is of King Solomon meeting the Queen of Sheba who is believed to have come from Ethiopia. The ceiling of the church is covered with a starry night in blue, silver, and gold.Dei res-Sultan Ethiopian Church.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinChurch of Saint Alexander NevskyThis Russian Orthodox Church is located near to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the church is built over the remains of what is thought to have been the Judgment Gate where Jesus passed on his way to Golgotha. The church structure incorporates a section of the ancient Herodian city wall and a pagan temple constructed after 70AD. The plain stone structure is decorated with pictures of saints and icons, it is possible o see the remains of the Judgment Gate at the church.St. Mark’s Syriac Church and MonasteryLocated in the Armenian Quarter this church belongs to one of the oldest Christian denominations in the world. The Syriac Church practices the earliest known form of Christian liturgy and uses the Syriac language, which is a dialect of Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. They believe that the church is located on the site of Mary of Jerusalem’s house, she was St. Mark’s mother, and the house features in the New Testament. The church is associated with the Last Supper, an appearance by Jesus following his resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Here you can see a Byzantine painting on the leather of Mary and Jesus; inscriptions on the walls and the rich embellishments of the church decoration. The 12th-century church was constructed on the site of a 4th-century place of worship which is located in the church crypt.To see the churches of the Old City of Jerusalem join one of multiple Jerusalem tours.Church of Saint Alexander Nevsky. Photo credit: © Dan Porges
Par Petal Mashraki

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: © ShutterstockMany 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 IsraelAs 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: © Shutterstock1. Yardenit Baptismal Site in the GalileeSituated 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 InformationYardenit 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 info@yardenit.com 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 JerichoQasr 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: © ShutterstockRecent History ofQasr al-YahudAs 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: © ShutterstockOrganising a Baptism at Qasr al-YahudJust 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 onQasr al-YahudOpening 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.COVID-19 UpdateBecause 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 pageBaptismal ceremony at Qasr al-Yahud baptism site in the Jordan River.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Par Sarah Mann

Jerusalem and the Crusades

The Crusades are an extraordinary and fascinating period for anyone intrigued by history, particularly in the context of Israel (or what was then referred to as ‘the Holy Land’). Some scholars argue they were a pilgrimage whilst others see them as a Holy War. Much has been written, and can still be written, about these military expeditions but for those who want the basics, this article is an attempt to explain some of the major events that occurred over these centuries, and how they impacted Jerusalem.A Crusader in the Army Museum, Paris.Photo byJeremy BezangeronUnsplashWe don’t promise here to give you all the answers (we couldn’t, even if we wanted to!)...rather look at a few of the important questions dealing with the long and arduous journeys undertaken by nobles and knights, all the way from northern Europe to Jerusalem....and what transpired when they finally reached the Levant. Today, we’re going to focus primarily on the First Crusade (scholars are still arguing about exactly how many there were) and the impact it had on Europe and the Levant.So what exactly were the Crusades?Essentially, from the perspective of the Christian history timeline, the Crusades were a series of religious wars/military expeditions that took place between Christians and Muslims. They began in the 11th century and were instigated by Western European Christians who were angered by centuries of Muslim rule. Supported, and often directed, by the Latin Church, the best known of them are the ones directed towards Jerusalem, between the period of 1095 and 1281.Sunset in the Old City of Jerusalem.Photo byDavid HolifieldonUnsplashIn 1009, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre needed to be rebuilt, after being destroyed by the Caliph of Egypt, Al-Hakim. Subsequently, Christian pilgrims were free to visit the church. Around 1077, Muslim Seljuk Turks took control of the Holy Land, and it became harder for Christian pilgrims to visit there and rumors of pilgrims’ mistreatment spread. Soon, the Byzantine Emperor Alexius, who feared that the Seljuks might soon invade his land (and reach the Christian city of Constantinople) reached out to the Pope, appealing for help. The call to arms by Pope Urban II was heard by tens of thousands of men, young and old, across Western Europe, and apparently, his words resonated with them. “May you deem it a beautiful thing to die for Christ in that city in which he died for us” he told them. Thousands cut out red Crusader crosses and sewed them into their white tunics before setting off. For them, the die was cast - they would fight for Jerusalem, at whatever personal cost. Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Photo byAdam KringonUnsplashWho took part in the Crusades?The popular response across all social classes was enormous - both the People’s Crusade and the Princes’ Crusade attracted no end of participants. The Crusader's journey to Jerusalem was certainly seen as a ‘worthy’ penitential privilege and a willingness to accept Papal commands was common. What we do know is that the ‘call to arms’ was spearheaded by Pope Urban II at the 10-day Council of Clermont. There he gave a rousing and impassioned speech, designed to recruit men.As a result, many noblemen from France and England also signed up for the Crusades. Knights were particularly well represented, particularly a mysterious Order named the Knights Templar. Originally, their purpose was to protect pilgrims from danger but, over time, they ‘expanded’ their duties and became known as defenders of the Crusader states in the Holy Land. These knights were certainly brave, skilled warriors, and even today, tales of their military prowess are told to schoolchildren.Сrusader armor. Photo byNik ShuliahinonUnsplashWhat were the motives behind the Crusades?There were all kinds of reasons behind the Crusades in fact. Some individuals felt the need to obey the Pope, who had decreed that the Holy City of Jerusalem should be freed from Muslim infidels, in order to grant Christian pilgrims free access to worship. In the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux: “Oh men of war, oh mighty soldier, you now have something to fight for. If you win, it will be glorious. If you die fighting for Jerusalem, you will win a place in heaven.”Others were anxious to be forgiven for their sins since the Pope offered automatic forgiveness for anyone who signed up. Particularly for Knights, who had killed many in battle, this was an opportunity to have their soul cleansed. Serfs signed up because they were promised freedom from indentured labor. And then there were some troublesome young men who were ‘packed off’ abroad by their families. Obviously, there were other more materialistic reasons too - if victorious, the spoils of war would be theirs, particularly in the form of land (which could always tempt knights who were not destined to inherit their father’s lands). Finally, let us not forget the question of ‘honor’. Participating in a Crusade was an opportunity to prove one’s bravery, as well as see the world and have an adventure into the bargain.Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. Photo byGary ChapmanonUnsplashWhy was Jerusalem important in the Crusades?To medieval Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the Holy Land was not a mere geographical entity in the Middle East. Rather it symbolized purity and spirituality. All three faiths revered Jerusalem - for Christians, it was where Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose again. For Jews, it was where the city of King David was once captured and then made the capital of the ancient Jewish people.For Muslims, the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount was the place where Mohammed the Prophet was said to have flown over, on his fateful journey to Mecca. The enormous significance of Jerusalem to all three faiths in the time of the Crusades could not be underrated.The First CrusadeThe Crusaders marched across Europe, from France, Germany, and Italy, to Constantinople. After crossing into Asia Minor, they split up and began pillaging the countryside. There was an orgy of killing, in which citizens and enemy soldiers alike were massacred and even the arrival of a large Turkish army could not stop them. The Antioch fortress surrendered to the Europeans.The Crusaders rested and reorganized for some months but their eyes were still on the great prize - Jerusalem. Although they had lost many men in previous battles, they still numbered 1,200 cavalries and around 12,000-foot soldiers. On reaching Jerusalem, they found the city to be heavily fortified and so began building three huge siege towers. A week later they were complete. The Gate of St. Stephen was first to be penetrated and, once opened, the Crusaders flooded in.Knight's armor, the Army Museum, Paris. Photo byJeremy BezangeronUnsplashIn this battle, thousands of its Muslim defenders were massacred without mercy. The attack was so brutal that a Christan from that time actually claimed: “the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles.’ Another eyewitness, Ralph of Caen, watched the battle from the Mount of Olives and reported, “the scurrying people, the fortified towers, the roused garrison, the men rushing to arms, the women in tears, the priests turned to their prayers, the streets ringing with cries, crashing, clanging and neighing.”For sure, having to surrender Jerusalem to the Crusaders was an enormous blow to the Muslims. Christians quickly took control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Many Jews fared just as badly - thousands hid in their synagogues but were found and killed. Soon after, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was established under the rule of Godfrey of Bouillon. Al-Aqsa Mosque, Temple Mount. Photo byToa HeftibaonUnsplashThe Crusader StatesOnce they had fulfilled their vows of pilgrimage, many of the Crusaders left the Holy Land to return to Europe. This, of course, left the problem of who would govern these now conquered territories. At first, there was some disagreement about what kind of government should be established. Godfrey of Bouillon refused to take on the title of ‘King’ since he wished Jerusalem to be a secular state. Eventually, he took on the title of ‘Defender of the Holy Sepulcher‘.After Godfrey of Bouillon died suddenly of typhus (there was great mourning, and his body lay in state for several days, before being buried at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) the throne passed to his brother Baldwin I, also known as Baldwin of Boulogne. His Latin Kingdom eventually boasted 15 cathedral churches including the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Four large western settlements, or Crusader states, were eventually established, in Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch, and Tripoli By 1112, Caesarea, Arsuf (Apollonia), Acre, Beirut, and Sidon had been captured. Crusader castles were built in Galilee.In the meantime, all around the city of Jerusalem, you could see arts and crafts from different traditions - Latin gold workers on one side of the market, and Syrian goldsmiths on the other. Some pieces that you can see today even bear inscriptions, showing that they were made by an Islamic craftsman for a Christian purchaser!Muslim people near Herod's Gate, next to the Old City of Jerusalem. Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplashThe French Influence of the CrusadesThe vast majority of the Crusaders in the Jerusalem Kingdom were from France, not to mention the soldiers and knights who arrived in the next 200 years to act as reinforcements. Of course, with them they brought the French language, thus making Old French the lingua franca of the Levant. Without a doubt, King Baldwin was able to take advantage of the rivalries that existed between his Muslim enemies and soon extended his control along the Mediterranean coast.The states were ruled very successfully for the next 20 or so years. But by 1131, the rule of the early Crusaders had come to an end. There was no more a policy of expansion, rather a consolidation of what had been captured. Unfortunately, the northern Crusader states were now endangered, since the Byzantines were preparing to go to war. In 1133, Edessa was captured and this would set the scene for the next chapter - the Second Crusade.Analyzing the CrusadesSo what was it all about? Some historians argue today that whilst the overriding initial motive for the Crusades was religious, many pilgrims succumbed to their darker impulses i.e. greed and a lust for power. What we do know is that the dead number is millions. Ultimately, the Crusades never did manage to create a ‘Holy Land’ that they envisaged would be part of Christendom but with their actions, they certainly changed history forever. Montfort, the principal Crusader castle of the Teutonic Order, Israel.Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinWhat was the Impact of the Crusades?The Crusades, over time, did not have the impact they had hoped insofar that Islam was not defeated - in fact, the actions of the Crusaders in what is now Israel eventually produced a backlash. When Saladin famously conquered Jerusalem in 1189, his plan was to avenge the slaughter of Muslims in Jerusalem by killing all of the Christians he found in the city. Luckily for them, he eventually agreed to let them ‘purchase’ their freedom, as long as they gave assurances that Jerusalem’s Muslim citizens be left unharmed.Who controlled Jerusalem after the Crusades? Without a doubt, Saladin’s achievements were astonishing - he unified the Muslim Near East, using a clever mixture of diplomacy and warfare. At the height of his power, his sultanate spanned Egypt, Syria, the Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia), the Hejaz (western Arabia), Yemen, parts of western North Africa, and Nubia. After defeating the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin, he regained control over the city after 90 years of Christian occupation. Muslims across the world still consider this liberation of Jerusalem a great incident, particularly because Saladin restored the city’s religious, political, and social balance. Arsur of Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, Apollonia National Park, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry MishinIn the meantime, Europeans learned a great deal from this period of history too. They became better warriors - more adept at designing castles and using gunpowder. They learned a great deal from Muslim scholars about medicine and science, and eventually adopted their numbers system (1, 2, 3) which they found more straightforward than Roman numerals.The Crusaders also learned that the world was vast, and that beyond Jerusalem were India and China, places where they could buy and sell. Over the years, trade flourished and many goods were brought to Western Europe, including silk, spices, cotton, and lemons. Much was also learned about agriculture, the breeding of animals and flora, and fauna.Today, of course, the argument still reigns about the Crusades and whether they were a legitimate reaction to Muslim aggression or simple colonial aggression. What we do know, however, is that the battle for Jerusalem was far from over - and that centuries of war would lie ahead, as armies wrestled for control of this extraordinary city.If you are interested in Christian day toursfeel free to contact us. If you are willing to visit some Crusader castles in Israel, let us know and we will elaborate a customized private tour for you.Belvoir Crusader Castle,Jordan Star National Park, Israel.Photo credit: ©Dmitry Mishin
Par Sarah Mann

Bethlehem

Bethlehem is the place of Christ’s birth but also a thriving modern Palestinian city. Today visitors can travel to Bethlehem to see the exact place where Jesus was born. To reach Bethlehem tourists in Israel must go through a border crossing into the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank and travel past places like the Inn of the Good Samaritan and Shepherds’ Field where shepherds watched their sheep on the night of Jesus’ birth. Once in Bethlehem tourists can visit historic churches built to mark specific biblical sites.Bethlehem rooftop view. Photo credit: © ShutterstockAccording to an ancient Hebrew saying, “a man is the fruit of his home’s landscapes.” The Christ is no mere man, of course, but as God sent His only begotten son to walk among us, we should feel blessed for having the opportunity to know Him and walk in his footsteps, as well as witnessing with our own eyes the environment in which He was born.For that reason, many Christians choose to take a tour of Bethlehem. In order to provide themselves with the best and most convenient tour possible, many Christians choose to take guided Israel toursand receive information about the place from experts who know all there is to know about Jesus Christ, the city, and its connection with Christianity throughout the generations.When the word Bethlehem rises to mind one could not be held guilty if he or she thinks of faraway biblical times, but as we know Bethlehem is not just a city of the past. Adorned with amazing churches built by many congregations during many different periods, filled with many significant museums and artifacts and containing beautiful natural surroundings, while Jesus’ birth is of course the city’s main attraction, it is far from being the only one. A good tour of the city will not only enlighten you as to what the city was but also show you what it is today.Bethlehem in the BibleBethlehem features in the Old Testament as the birthplace of King David; it is also where Rachel was buried when she died in childbirth giving birth to Benjamin (Genesis 35:19). In the Bible, the city is referred to as Beth Lechem – House of Bread; the City of David and as Ephratah. Bethlehem is mentioned many times in the Bible, for example in Ruth; Genesis; Joshua; Samuel I; Judges, and John.The New Testament’s Book of Luke and of Matthew tells the story of the Nativity. Joseph and Mary, who was pregnant, traveled from their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, near Jerusalem. They made the journey because of a census that required each citizen to return to their ancestral town to register. As Joseph was from the House of David he needed to return to Bethlehem, the City of David. When the couple arrived they found the city overflowing with visitors and no accommodation was available. As Luke tells us: “Mary laid Jesus in a manger as there was no room in the inn.”The Shepherds' Field Chapel.Photo credit: © ShutterstockBethlehem HistoryLess than a century after Jesus’ death tradition had established a site in Bethlehem that was believed to be the place of Jesus’ birth. Many houses at the time had an adjacent cave that was used for storage and to house animals and so a cave became the venerated site of the nativity. In the 4th century St Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine took it upon herself to travel through the Holy Land authenticating biblical site. In 326 she commissioned a church to be built in Bethlehem around the nativity cave. A part of the floor mosaic of this original church can still be seen in the present Church of the Nativity. St Helena’s church was replaced in 530 by a larger structure that has survived. Under the Crusaders two kings were crowned in this church and it was completely redecorated in 1169. Despite later looting under the Ottomans, fires, and an earthquake the Church of the Nativity has survived.In modern times Bethlehem came under the British from 1920 to 1948 when the British Mandate was in place. The UN 1947 partition resolution included Bethlehem in the international enclave of Jerusalem which would be administered by the UN. However, just a few months later Jordan captured the city in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and controlled the region until the Six-Day War in 1967 when Israel captured the West Bank including Bethlehem. Israel administered the city until 1995 when the Oslo Peace Accord placed Bethlehem within the Palestinian Authority West Bank and Israel withdrew from the area.Bethlehem TodayToday Bethlehem is home to Muslim and Christian Arabs who live mostly in harmony. The city’s economy depends largely on tourism as well as traditional products and handicrafts like Middle Eastern jewelry, olive wood carvings, olive oil, marble, and religious objects.Silver Star Marker of Jesus' Birth Site, Grotto of Nativity, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockBethlehem AttractionsManger Square – This is the first stop for Christina visitors to Bethlehem.Manger Square is bordered by the Nativity Church; the Mosque of Omar and the Palestinian Peace Center. Manger Square is the site of a festive gathering each Christmas Eve of Christians from across the globe who come to celebrate Christ’s birth.Church of the Nativity – Also known as the Basilica of the Nativity this church is built around the Holy Grotto of the Nativity, the oldest continually worshipped Christian site. Although originally built in the 4th century the present structure dates back to 565 with additions made later by the Crusaders. The earliest mention of the manger site in Bethlehem was by Justin Martyr in c.160 AD followed by a mention by Greek historian Eusebius of Caesarea.The structure we see today was commissioned by Christian Roman Emperor Constantine and his mother St. Helena in 326 AD. The church was built around the Sacred Cave. The original structure was replaced in 530 AD by a larger church but parts of the Constantinian floor mosaics can still be seen. Miraculously the church was not destroyed when the land came under the rule of the Persians and later Muslim rulers. During the Crusader era of the 11th century, Baldwin I and II were crowned in the Church of the Nativity.Under the Crusaders the church was renovated and redecorated. The church remained untouched under the Mamluks and Ottomans although precious marble was removed by the Ottomans for use in construction on Temple Mount Today the church is shared by the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian Churches. Church of Nativity, Bethlehem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockHighlights of the church include the Door of Humility; a small entrance to the church that requires visitors to bow down as they enter. It also served a practical purpose during the Ottoman era when looters couldn’t fit their carts through the doorway. The church’s wide nave is flanked by 44 columns painted with Crusader images and the walls are adorned with murals. There are two Greek Orthodox altars and an Armenian altar dedicated to the Three Kings (three wise men). The Chapel of the Manger is a Roman Catholic shrine with 12th-century mosaics. The Grotto of the Nativity lies beneath the church and is reached down a flight of stairs. A silver star marks the place where Jesus was born. A door connects the Church of the Nativity to the Church of St. Catherine.Church of St Catherine – Alongside the Church of the Nativity stands another historic church marking the site where Christ is said to have appeared to Saint Catherine of Alexandria. It was here that Christ is said to have predicted Catherine’s martyrdom when she was burnt on a wheel (hence: Catherine Wheel) at Mount Sinai in c.310. The church was dedicated in 1347; mentioned in records in the 15th century and enlarged in 1881. Manger Square, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockThe church is flanked on two sides by a Franciscan monastery where there is a beautiful cloister restored by Barluzzi using 12th-century capitals and columns from the monastery. Visitors to the church can descend a flight of steps to caves where there is the Chapel of the Holy Innocent; St. Joseph’s Chapel; Chapel of St. Eusebius; the Tomb of St. Paula and her daughter Eustochium and the Tomb of St. Jerome. Jerome is said to have translated the Bible in one of the church’s subterranean caves in 386 AD.Milk Grotto – Also called the Grotto of Our Lady and the Chapel of the Milk Grotto. It was here that the Holy Family took refuge when escaping from Herod’s decree to kill all newborn males (Massacre of the Innocents). As Mary nursed baby Jesus a little of her milk is thought to have dropped to the ground turning the cave surfaces white. A 5th-century Byzantine chapel once stood here and the present chapel dates back to 1872.PracticalitiesWhere to eat: Ha’agala, a country café located a short car drive or a beautiful bike ride away from Bethlehem, is a charming place for those who want to combine great food with relaxation. Ha’agala, Ha’Horesh 3, Alonei Aba.Where to sleep: Talitha Kumi Guest House is known for high standards and great service and is just five minutes walk from the most important destinations. B’eit Jala 7.A street in Bethlehem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Par Petal Mashraki

Most Recommended Ways to Visit Bethlehem During Your Trip to Israel

Bethlehem is a must destination for all Christian visitors to Israel, and for many non-Christians as well. Bethlehem is the biblical location of the nativity, where Jesus Christ was born on the first Christmas Eve. Bethlehem has become a household name to most Westerners.Saint Jerome Statue, Saint Catherine Church, Bethlehem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockBethlehem is remembered in nativity scenes at school; in Christmas carols (Oh Little Town of Bethlehem) and in biblical stories of the shepherds watching their sheep that night; the Wise Men (Magi) and the manger that gave Mary and Joseph shelter when there was "no room at the inn." These childhood memories of Christmas tales are what make Bethlehem a magical destination for anyone on a trip to Israel.Where is Bethlehem?Bethlehem is situated in the central West Bank in the Palestinian Authorities Territory on the southern portion of the Judean Mountains. Although Bethlehem is in the West Bank it is only 10km (6.2 miles) from Jerusalem and can be reached from Jerusalem in under an hour. The journey to Bethlehem takes you across the border (Checkpoint 300) between Israel and Palestine so you will need to take your passport. There is no restriction on passing between Israel and Palestine at this checkpoint as many times as you want. This is generally a safe and friendly crossing and even if traveling alone in a taxi you will probably have no problems at the border.Visiting Bethlehem on FootOK, this is only for the hard-core pilgrims who want to retrace Joseph and Mary's steps. The walk is doable but difficult and will take you at least 2 hours following Tel Khai Street out of Jerusalem, joining Bet Lechem Road and on to Hebron Road that leads you to Bethlehem. This route is best done with a group of pilgrims or guide and is not recommended.St. Catherine's Church, Bethlehem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockVisiting Bethlehem by TaxiYou can catch a taxi from Jerusalem to Bethlehem in one of the West Jerusalem taxis with a white number plate which can only drop you at the checkpoint. There you can cross into Palestine and catch a Palestinian taxi with a yellow number plate to Bethlehem or even walk the remaining way which could take about half an hour. Alternatively, you can take an East Jerusalem taxi with a yellow number plate which may be able to take you all the way to Bethlehem. You should negotiate a price before leaving Jerusalem and have the taxi driver wait for you in Bethlehem to take you back to Jerusalem.Visiting Bethlehem with a Rented CarAlthough you can rent a car in Israel and drive part of the way to Bethlehem you cannot take cars rented in Israel into the West Bank or across the border into the Palestinian Territory. This is for insurance reasons as cars rented in Israel are not covered by insurance in the West Bank areas not controlled by Israel. However, you could rent a car in East Jerusalem and drive to Bethlehem.Star Marks the Spot, Where Jesus Christ Born, Grotto of the Nativity Bethlehem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockVisiting Bethlehem by Public BusSeveral buses connect Jerusalem to Bethlehem. You can take the Egged #234 from near the Old City of Jerusalem or the Central Bus Station to Checkpoint 300 where you will have to disembark, cross into Palestine on foot and take a taxi or Palestinian bus into Bethlehem. The blue "Arab" Israel bus #21 leaves the East Jerusalem Bus Station on Sultan Suleiman St opposite the Damascus Gate of the Old City. This bus takes a different route than the Egged bus and travels through Beit-Jalla, across the checkpoint, and straight into Bethlehem. So this bus route is longer, cheaper and you won't have to change to a Palestinian taxi at the border. You will need to show your ID at the border crossing but will probably be able to stay on the bus. Unless you are looking for an adventure a bus journey is not recommended, it can be unsafe and there can be delays.Rooftop view of Bethlehem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockVisiting Bethlehem with a Guided TourBethlehem tours leave Tel Aviv and Jerusalem regularly throughout the year. These tours include pick-up and drop-off from your hotel or a convenient point in the city. Bethlehem one-day tours often combine half a day in Bethlehem with half a day in Jerusalem or Jericho or the Dead Sea. With day tours to Bethlehem, you don't have to worry yourself about any of the logistics of the border crossing process. Bring your passport and the tour guide will take care of the rest. On a typical tour to Bethlehem, you will visit Manger Square, the Church of the Nativity, St. Catherine's Church, and sometimes the Milk Grotto as well. This may not be the cheapest option but it is definitely the most recommended way to visit Bethlehem in terms of safety and convenience.What is the Most Recommended Way to Visit Bethlehem?Traveling on foot, by bus, taxi or rented car is not recommended. Although this part of the country is usually safe the language barrier, checkpoint crossing, and cultural differences can make these methods of visiting Bethlehem challenging. Overall the most recommended way to visit Bethlehem is with an organized tour. Prices are reasonable considering you get transportation, security, convenience and you're accompanied by a knowledgeable guide. For a really special experience take a tour to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and enjoy Midnight Mass in Manger Square.Entrance to the Church of Nativity.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Par Petal Mashraki

Easter in Israel

Easter is, by far and away, the most important festival in the Christian calendar, celebrating the events surrounding the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Being able to spend Easter in Israel is an incredible experience for any visitor, let alone a pilgrim. For Christians, a trip to the Holy Land has no equal, and being able to make a pilgrimage here, particularly at the time of Easter, where Christ’s last days on earth took place, is always very moving and emotional.Easter eggs. Photo by Michal Balog on UnsplashThe actual dates of Easter are not ‘fixed’ (as is the case with Christmas) and the week itself, beginning with Palm Sunday and ending exactly a week later on Easter Sunday, are based on the lunisolar calendar (which is the solar year plus the Moon phase - actually similar to the Hebrew calendar).Whilst the ‘central events’ of the week take place in Jerusalem, both on the Mount of Olives and the Old City, there are many ceremonies that take place across the country, in Haifa, Nazareth, and Jaffa, which are very interesting to watch, as well as participate in. Let's take a closer look at some of the events taking place in these cities to commemorate the last days of Jesus’s life, followed by the jubilant celebrations marking his resurrection. Easter in JerusalemEaster in the Holy Land is a time like no other, and no more so than in Jerusalem, the capital of the Holy Land. In the days preceding Palm Sunday, Jerusalem begins filling up with tourists arriving with Christian tours of Israel, many of whom will not just be witnessing the events but taking part in them personally (having obtained tickets for the Palm Sunday Procession Tour). Easter Sunday in 2022 falls on 17th April, but special services will commence and continue the entire week, commencing on Palm Sunday, on 10th April culminating on Easter Monday on 18th April. If you do decide to attend these celebrations, be prepared for large crowds and a fair bit of pushing and shoving in the Old City, as spectators jostle for the best places to see the view of the processions. Of course, it’s worth it - it’s a moving and often overwhelming experience to be in the city - and walking the Via Dolorosa (the ‘Way of Sorrows’) - where Jesus took his final steps.From Palm Sunday (commemorating the moment Jesus rode into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey), Maundy Thursday (where you can see Priests and Ministers washing the feet of their parishioners, emulating Jesus washing the feet of his disciples) to Good Friday (a solemn experience, to say the least), Holy Saturday (with the extraordinary spectacle of the ceremony of the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) and the jubilation that accompanies Easter Sunday (with pilgrims crying out ‘Christ is Risen), this will be a week you will never forget. For more of an in-depth look at what happens in Jerusalem at this time, take a look at our article ‘Easter in Jerusalem.’Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem.Photo credit: © ShutterstockEaster in Tel Aviv-JaffaThere are several churches - both Protestant and Catholic - in Jaffa, (which sits next to Tel Aviv) and events celebrating Easter week are held throughout the week at Tel Aviv’s largest Catholic and Protestant Churches, based in Jaffa in the South of the city.St. Peter’s Church - there are services held in English, Polish, Spanish, and Hebrew on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday. This is a Franciscan church that sits at the top of the Jaffa hill (which has served as a strategic point for thousands of years). The church is large and beautiful, built at the beginning of the 20th century in baroque style. According to historians, Napoleon stayed here during his 1799 campaign. The church faces towards the Mediterranean Sea and on the walls are paintings depicting the fourteen Stations of the Cross that Jesus trod, en route to Calvary on the day of his crucifixion. St Anthony’s Church - this Franciscan Catholic church, located on Yefet Street, is built in a Gothic revival style and is noticeable because of its bell tower. Built in 1932, it is Jaffa's largest church and has an active community. Easter Services are held in English, Arabic, and Philippine throughout the week. St. Anthony's overlooks the harbor and many of its nuns, in the past, worked in the nearby French hospital. Today, the church is popular with migrant workers, especially those from Asia, and the priest is said to be very welcoming.The Immanuel Church in Jaffa is of the Protestant denomination. It was built in 1904 to serve the local German Evangelical community but after 1940 it remained empty, until 1955 when the building was transferred to the control of the Norweigan Church Ministry. Today, it is popular with different Protestant groups but also used by Messianic Jews. Over Easter, services and concerts are held continuously - for more specific information, check their Facebook page.St. Peter’s Church, Jaffa.Photo by Jeremy Zero on UnsplashEaster in NazarethNazareth holds a special place in the hearts of Christians since it was the city where Jesus spent much of his childhood. There is a number ofNazareth churches, all of which celebrate Easter in their own style.The Basilica of the Annunciation - According to Catholic tradition, this was the spot at which the Angel Gabriel appeared before Mary and announced that she would bear a child (i.e. Jesus). Built in 1958, over the remains of what were once Byzantine and Crusader houses of worship, today, it is the largest Catholic church in the Middle East. Inside, there are beautiful mosaics of Jesus and Mary, located in the portico, as well as a spiral staircase at the top of which is a beautiful Dome.Over Holy Week, a number of services are held including mass, reconciliation, and solemn prayer, as well as an Easter Vigil and sunrise service. When the church is at capacity, it is even possible to follow on live stream!Interior of the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth.Photo credit: © ShutterstockSt. Gabriel’s Church - Also known as the Greek Orthodox Church of Annunciation, it is of Eastern Orthodox origin and is located in downtown Nazareth and is the largest Christian church in the East. Built in a modern style, Inside it boasts beautiful stained glass murals and lovely murals. Its old stone steps lead down to a beautiful spring. Holy Week is celebrated at St. Gabriel’s with prayers, homilies, services, and a Vigil.In Nazareth, visitors can walk through the city’s alleyways on Palm Sunday, accompanying the local residents and many other devout Christians in a procession. What is very nice is the special musical compositions that are played at this time. Easter week in this northern Israel city is a good example of how Easter is celebrated as a colorful grassroots religious festival.Easter in HaifaHaifa is actually home to a number of Christian communities and any visitor spending time there over Easter will be able to enjoy the traditional procession there, where locals and pilgrims walk through the streets, waving palm leaves and passing by the city’s churches. The annual procession begins at the St. Elias Greek Orthodox Church. This Melkite Cathedral was designed by architect Sammihom Atallah and built between 1938 and 1939. It then continues onto St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, administered by the Carmelites, and members of this congregation join the procession at this point. It then passes by the Latin Church (looked after by three Carmelite friars), moves onto the St. Luke Maronite Church, and concludes at the New Orthodox Church.Haifa aerial view.Photo by Shai Pal on UnsplashEaster in BethlehemBethlehem is a special place for Christians, being the birthplace of Jesus. Holy Week there, as everywhere else, begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday, during which quite a number of church services and religious processions are held. The three most special days before Easter Sunday are Maundy Thursday (when Jesus practiced humility by washing the feet of his disciples). Good Friday (the date Jesus walked to his death, through the Old City, to Calvary (Golgotha) where he was crucified, and also Holy Saturday (known locally as Sabt El Nour). Then, religious communities are given candles lit by a ‘Holy Light’ which has traveled all the way from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.During the Roman Catholic Holy Saturday, crowds gather in Bethlehem at the entrance to Star Street to welcome the large procession, which moves down to the Catholic Church of the Annunciation (also known as Al Bishara). Moreover, at the time of the Greek Orthodox Easter (which can be up to a week or so later), you will always see crowds standing at the city square in Beit Sahour and at Al Sahel Street in Beit Jala, ready to welcome the procession arriving from Jerusalem. As day turns to night, an Easter Vigil will begin and will continue for many hours. The following day, of course, is Easter Sunday and is marked at every Church in Bethlehem, including the Nativity Church and the Church of St. Catherine with sunrise services and enormous celebrations. To explore Bethlehem it is recommended to join one of numerous Bethlehem tours.Church of Saint Catherine, Bethlehem.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Par Sarah Mann

Easter in Jerusalem

For Christians, there is no doubt that Easter is the most spiritual holiday in their religious calendar - yes, it even trumps Christmas in the sacred stakes! Why? Because this is the time of the year that the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus, the son of God, is commemorated and celebrated. They last for a period of time known as ‘Holy Week’ commemorating the events before and after the crucifixion.Easter celebration.Photo by freestocks on UnsplashIn late March or early April each year (depending on the calendar), thousands of pilgrims from all denominations descend upon Jerusalem for a period like no other. Taking place within the walls of the Old City, and at the Garden Tomb (which is open for visits throughout Holy Week (8:30 am to 12 noon and 2 pm to 5:30 pm) they recreate scenes from the last week of Jesus’s life, culminating in a solemn procession on Good Friday and a great celebration on Easter Sunday. Let’s take a look at how the week unfolds and some of the rituals the make Easter in Jerusalem so special and moving for Christians…Palm SundayPalm Sunday always falls one week before Easter. It is the first day of’ ‘Holy Week’ and is a festival that commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. According to all of the Gospels, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was greeted by his followers who all waved palm branches to celebrate. Historically, the palm branch may have been a symbol of victory and triumph and the donkey seen as an animal of peace (not war, as would have been a horse).Today, in the Old City, pilgrims recreate this scene as part of the Jerusalem Palm Sunday Procession Tour Beginning at the Mount of Olives, descending into the Kidron Valley and Gethsemane Garden, pilgrims walk solemnly through the Lions' gate and into the Old City. They proceed along the Via Dolorosa where Jesus walked his last steps before arriving at the cross. All along you hear cries of ‘Hosanna’ from the crowds. The procession is led by leaders of the Catholic Patriarchate (in brown robes), the Latin Patriarch (in purple robes) and the Greek Archbishop (in black robes). All along the way, the route is lined with Christian pilgrims (both local and those who have travelled from across the world) reciting blessings and singing songs. It is a very colourful and interesting ceremony, which culminates at St. Anne’s Church.Palm Sunday Procession. Photo by Brady Leavell on UnsplashMaundy ThursdayMaundy Thursday is also known as Holy Thursday and its name derives from the Latin ‘mandatum’ which means ‘command’. This ties up with Jesus’ commandment to his disciples “Love one another, as I have loved you.” This day, in essence, commemorates three major events:1. It is the day Jesus and his disciples sat down to eat the Last Supper. During this meal, Jesus took bread and wine and shared them with everyone at the table. Today, Christians around the world of all denominations continue to use bread and wine in their services of worship (such as the Eucharist and Mass). 2. Furthermore, on Holy Thursday, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus washed the feet of his apostles. This act has different meanings - to show that as an important person, Jesus practised humility and love to others. Some Christians also regard it as a way of seeking reconciliation with someone before taking communion. Today, there is a traditional Washing of the Feet ceremony carried out in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.3. Finally, this is the day in which Jesus was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, after being betrayed by Judas. This was, for sure, a pivotal moment in Christianity.Today. In Jerusalem, pilgrims celebrate Maundy Thursday at the Room of the Last Supper (the Upper Room), located on Mount Zion. Some even hold an all-night vigil there, remembering Jesus’ hours in Gethsemane. In terms of the churches themselves, a Pontifical Mass (Supper of the Lord and Mass of the Chrism) is held at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre early in the morning. In the afternoon, in and around the Old City, there are pilgrimages from one church to another followed by services of the Washing of the Feet. Typically, the route of procession passes by the Church of All Nations, through the Lions' Gate, into the Old City and along the Via Dolorosa. All along the way, pilgrims sing songs in a number of languages and pray. Room of the Last Supper. Photo credit: © ShutterstockGood FridayGood Friday (also known as Holy Friday and Great Friday) is a very solemn - and incredibly important - day in the Christian calendar, marking the death of Jesus by crucifixion at Calvary (Golgotha). Many members of the various Christian denominations attend church services, abstain from eating meat and even fast. In the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican tradition, there is a service held between 12 and 3 pm, called ‘The Three Hour’s Agony’ (alluding to the hours Jesus was on the cross).In Jerusalem, each year, thousands of pilgrims descend on the Old City early in the morning, either to be part of the procession itself (tickets are numbered, limited and much sought after) or to pack the streets for a view. The procession itself is a recreation of the route Christ took, retracing his final steps on his way to the cross.The procession begins at the Mount of Olives, entering through the city walls and tracing its way along what is known as the Via Dolorosa (in Latin, ‘The Path of Sorrows’). Known as ‘the Way of the Cross’ it begins at 11.30 am at Station.1. The Stations of the Cross (14 in all, 8 en route and 6 in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) refer to various images relating to Christ’s journey and his suffering as he walked this path.Mount of Olives. Photo credit: © ShutterstockIn the Old City, many pilgrims carry wooden crosses, sing hymns as they walk and often stop to recite prayers at each station. This is to symbolically offer ‘reparations’ for the insults and suffering that Jesus had to endure on his last journey which is estimated to have lasted 1.5 km (from Gethsemane to Calvary). The atmosphere is solemn and charged - many Christians, afterwards, describe it as one of the most moving moments of their lives. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the service is broken down into several parts: the Liturgy of the Word (carried out in silence). The Great Intercessions, the Adoration of the Cross, Communion (or Mass). Within this time, the liturgy will also include readings of the Gospel Passion narrative. After the ‘Three Hour’s Agony’ service - between 12 midday and 3 pm - vespers are read, to commemorate the time Christ’s body was taken down from the cross.Traditionally, on Good Friday, many Christians in Jerusalem will not eat meat or even fast entirely (to show their sorrow), will not perform any work, including washing clothes, breaking ground or playing with children. Since сhurches of the Old City of Jerusalem are open for the entire day, some pilgrims will spend much of the evening or night in contemplative prayer.A pilgrim in Via Dolorosa. Photo credit: © ShutterstockHoly SaturdayFor Orthodox communities, this day is known as Holy Saturday (‘Saturday of Light’) and each year in Jerusalem, it is commemorated with a ceremony named the Holy Fire Ceremony. This is held in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - it is a popular ritual that is well attended by Christians from across the denominations.According to Orthodox tradition, at this time a blue light emanates from the tomb of Jesus and rises up from the marble slab (upon which his body was placed for burial). It is believed that the light forms a column of fire and, as a result, candles can be lit from it, both for the clergy and pilgrims in attendance. It is also thought that this ‘Holy Fire’ will not burn them and can be used to spontaneously light other candles and lamps in the church.In the darkness, the Patriarch kneels in front of the stone, and the crowd waits anxiously. When he emerges, with two candles lit, his audience breaks into applause and cheers with joy. The dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © ShutterstockEaster SundayThe final day of the Holy Week culminates in enormous celebrations - commemorating the day that Christ rose from the dead. In Jerusalem, celebrations begin early - at 7 am - with the entry of the Latin Patriarch into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. An hour later, the Mass of Resurrection is held and this includes a procession around the Rotunda. The service begins in darkness and one by one candles are lit. The Priest will state ‘ Christ is risen’ and the congregation will respond "He is risen indeed". All heads of the various Churches in Jerusalem will wear their brightest robes, in celebration, and bells will peal out. People pray individually and collectively. Protestants celebrate with an Easter sunrise service at the Garden Tomb.The week following Holy Week the Orthodox Christians (including Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Syrian and Russian Orthodox) celebrate Easter with similar ceremonies and services. Without a doubt, if you are thinking of making a trip to Israel, a visit at this time of the year is highly encouraged. Springtime is beautiful in the Mediterranean and, combined with the rituals enacted in this special week, you will have the opportunity to witness something quite unique in Jerusalem - something that is sure to stay with you for the rest of your life.The best wat to visitholy Christian sites in Jerusalemis to join one ofChristian Day Tours.Inside the Church of Holy Sepulchre.Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Par Sarah Mann
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