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April 8, 2010April 8, 2010  1 comments  Geography

The lowest point on Earth is also the site of one of the world's greatest treasures and an amazing place to visit when you are in the Holy Land. However, even more than that, it's also set to (potentially) become one of the seven new wonders of the natural world. What is it you ask? Why the Dead Sea of course.

Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is one of the most unique places in the world. In essence, it is a heavy salt sea where you don't go swimming, but instead, you simply go and float in the water. Even if you don't know how to keep yourself aloft, you'll be able to do so in the Dead Sea because of the unique properties of the water. The water is heavily concentrated with salt, so much that when you go into the water you would actually float on a river of salt.

For obvious reasons however, you should be sure to protect your eyes. In fact, the properties of the Dead Sea are related to a Jewish tradition which illustrates how people felt about the Dead Sea thousands of years ago at the time of Jesus and before. Some Orthodox Jews practice an ancient tradition to wash their hands after a meal; the tradition is called "Mayim Achronim," literally, the "after waters." The primary reason for the tradition was because most of the salt in Israel came from the Dead Sea and since it was so strong, if you got some in your eyes, it could cause damage to the cornea.

Now what about this business of it being a new wonder of the world? Well the New 7 Wonders organization is holding a competition online to decide what the world's most unique seven natural wonders will be. The Dead Sea is one of the finalists and is actually a fairly unique entry, even in a competition dedicated to unique things.

The reason why it's considered so unique (besides the obvious) is that it is an entry directly born of the peace process between Israel and her Arab neighbors. The New 7 Wonders competition requires national governments to put forward applications for places located within their borders. In the case of the Dead Sea, it has three distinct borders. The first of course is right here in Israel. The second one is in Jordan and the third is in the Palestinian Authority. The two countries of Israel and Jordan and the country-in-waiting (for lack of a better term) of Palestine all had to work together to make the entry a reality, making the Dead Sea a true symbol of peace in the Holy Land.

So next time you visit Israel, drop by and take a float in the Dead Sea. And while you're at it, visit the New 7 Wonders competition and vote for peace and Israel:


April 10, 2011April 10, 2011  1 comments  Geography

The Holy Sepulchre is more than just a large, ancient church, but is a holy site for Orthodox and Catholic Christians divided into many smaller chapels dedicated to different parts of the Easter story.

Also known as the Church of the Resurrection, the cavernous church commemorates the hill of crucifixion and the tomb of Christ's burial. It sits on the edge of the Christian Quarter in the Old City and is home to several Christian denominations: Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox and the (Latin) Roman Catholic are the larger denominations while the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox also possess rights and properties in the building.

Originally built by Constantine’s mother in 330 A.D. on top of a pagan worship site, inside the church many first-century tombs hewn from rock were discovered there, one identified as that of Joseph of Arimathea, used for the body of Jesus after his resurrection.

holy sepulchre, tomb, easterThe Church of the Holy Sepulcher has weathered many attacks during various periods of history in the Holy Land. Most of the present building is the result of 12th-century reconstruction by the crusaders. Since 1520, the keys of the church have been kept by a Muslim family rather than one of the Christian groups.

Because many denominations share the building, disputes often arise regarding the space. One is the continuing dispute between the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox concerning ownership rights in the Chapel of the Ethiopians, located on the roof of the Chapel of St. Helena. Also, during Easter fights sometimes break out between the Greek and Armenian Orthodox during the Holy Fire ceremony.

Click here for a list of services and the various chapels in which they take place.

The following is a description of the chapels and significant locations within the church, memorializing the death and resurrection of Christ.

The Tomb of Jesus
The tomb, also known as the edicule, is at the center of the Holy Sepulchre Church, and symbolically sits under the largest dome in the church. The tomb is used in turn by all of the denominations for daily mass. A rectangular, tall structure built of red granite and adorned with candlesticks outside the door, the edicule houses two small rooms - the Chapel of The Angel and the tomb itself. The Chapel of the Angel contains a stone, which represents part of the larger stone that was rolled away from Christ's tomb on the day of the resurrection, according to tradition. On this stone is an imprint of a hand believed to be that of one of the angels who waited in tomb to announce the resurrection. A Greek monk is always present in this room to guard the Tomb of Christ. The Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre contains the tomb of Christ, the 14th Station of the Cross and the holiest site in Christendom. A marble slab lies in the place where Jesus was laid.

holy sepulchre, tomb, easter, stone of anointingStone of Anointing
Upon entering the Holy Sepulchre from the spacious courtyard, the Stone of the Anointing or Unction, lies just beyond the iron doors. Tradition has it that this is the spot where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea. Jesus was anointed and wrapped in a clean linen cloth according to the Jewish tradition of those days. The limestone slab dates to 1808 replacing the one destroyed in the 12th century. Opulent lamps hang above the stone. Many pilgrims stop here first to kiss the stone before moving on to the rest of the church.

Golgotha (or Calvary)
To the right of the stone is a staircase that leads to two chapels on the tip of Golgotha, where Jesus was nailed to the cross. The first room is a Catholic Franciscan Chapel with an altar dedicated to the Nailing of the Cross (Station 11 of the Via Dolorosa). The Greek Orthodox Calvary is the second room, with the actual Rock of Golgotha (Station 12 of the Via Dolorosa) that can be seen through glass. Pilgrims may touch the rock through a small opening in the glass.

holy sepulchre, tomb, easterThe Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene
This Franciscan chapel, to the north of the tomb, is believed to the where Mary Magdalene watched Jesus’ burial, as recounted in Mark 15:47, and also encountered Jesus after his resurrection. This is the Catholic area of the church.

The Prison of Christ
This small area is believed to be where Jesus was temporarily held with the two thieves before he was crucified.

The Chapel of the Division of the Robe
The Armenian chapel is the location at which it is believed the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ robe according to John 19:24.

The Chapel of St. Longinus'
The Greek chapel is dedicated to Longinus, the Roman soldier who led the group of soldiers that escorted Jesus to Golgotha. According to Matthew 27:54, after the crucifixion the Roman centurion acknowledged that Jesus was the Son of God.

The Chapel of the Crowning of the Thorns
This Greek Orthodox chapel is located at the base of Golgotha and, as the name suggests, memorializes the abuse Jesus suffered at the hands of the Roman soldiers. According to John 19:2, the soldiers mocked Jesus and put on him a purple robe and crown of thorns. A small fragment of the column from the Prison of Christ is in this chapel.

holy sepulchre, tomb, easterThe Catholicon
The main chapel facing the Tomb of Christ is a large rectangular area with a dome and is considered the “naval of the world” - the spiritual center of the earth (Ezekiel 38:12). Two thrones are on the altar, one for the Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and the other for the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. The ornate chapel is a large area used by the Greek Orthodox.

The Chapel of St. Helena/Chapel of St. Gregory
The Greeks consider this Helena’s Chapel while the Armenians call it the Chapel of St. Gregory. Located at the base of the stairs near the Crowning of the Thorns, there is a throne and an original mosaic from the church which has been preserved. Along the stairway small crosses carved by medieval pilgrims are etched into the wall. The chapel has two apses, one dedicated to the repentant thief and the other to St. Helena, mother of Constantine who searched for the true cross, according to tradition.

The Chapel of St. Vartan
This Armenian chapel, not often open to the public, is adjacent to St. Helena’s Chapel and was only discovered in the 1970s. Remnants of the wall date back to the 2nd century and one is etched with a merchant ship and an inscription which translates "Lord, we shall go."

The Chapel of the Finding of the Cross
According to tradition, St. Helen discovered Jesus’ cross here in 330 AD. She found three crosses - one for Jesus and the two thieves crucified with him. She brought a sick man to touch each cross and determined that the one at which the man was healed was the cross of Christ.

The Coptic Chapel
Located on the other side of the tomb, the small chapel has its own separate entrance.

The Syrian Chapel
For the Syrian Orthodox Christians, this chapel on the east end of the church was used for burials in Jesus’ time.

By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for www.travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy Land.

April 15, 2011April 15, 2011  0 comments  Geography

With just a week until Easter, the celebrations that mark Holy Week begin on Sunday just as an estimated 100,000 Christian tourists flood the Holy Land this week to take part in the Easter season.

The Christians from overseas join the 146,000 Christians living in Israel who deem Easter their most important holiday.

This year, both the Orthodox and Catholic Easters coincide on April 24. Passover is in the middle of Easter week, beginning on Monday evening, April 18.

Jerusalem is the center of the Resurrection story. The following is a list of masses, gatherings and special events this week that commemorate the last days and resurrection of Jesus:

Sunday, April 17
easter, holy landPalm Sunday
7 a.m. Procession with Palms and Pontifical Mass at Holy Sepulchre
2:30 p.m. Procession from the Mount of Olives to St. Anne’s Church
the Armenians, Copts and Syrians join together for a processional three times around the rotunda in the Holy Sepulchre, each chanting or singing in their own language.

Monday, April 18
6 a.m. Mass at 5th Station of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa

Tuesday, April 19

7:30 a.m. Mass at the Church of the Flagellation

Wednesday, April 20
8:30 a.m. Mass at Gethsemane, Basilica of the Agony
All day: Veneration of the Flagellation Column at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the Holy Sepulchre:

Thursday, April 21

easter, holy land, foot washingHoly Thursday
8 a.m. Washing of the Feet at the Holy Sepulchre
2 p.m. Armenian Orthodox Foot Washing Ceremony at St. James Church
3:30 p.m. Catholic Pilgrimage to St. James in the Armenian Quarter and to the churches on Mount Zion
5 p.m. Armenian processional from the olive tree at the Holy Archangels Church, believed to be where Jesus before meeting Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas the High Priest (John 18:1
9-24). 9 p.m. Gethsemane: Holy Hour in the Basilica of the Agony

Friday, April 22
Good Friday

9:30 a.m. Good Friday Service in English at the Garden Tomb
12:15 p.m. Via Dolorosa: Way of the Cross. Starting from the First Station with the Franciscan Friars, followed by various

8:10 p.m. “Funeral" Procession at the Holy Sepulchre

easter, holy land, holy fireSaturday, April 23
Holy Saturday
6:30 a.m. Catholic Easter Vigil at Holy Sepulchre
1 p.m. Referred to as the Saturday of Light, or Sapt il-Noor, the Holy Fire Ceremony takes place at the Holy Sepulchre and is observed by Eastern Orthodox sects, such as the Greek, Syrian, Armenian, Greek and Russian churches as well as the Copts. Must arrive with a pass issued by one of the churches hours in advance of the service.
16:15 p.m. Resurrection Service in Arabic, with translation into Hebrew
7 p.m. Ethiopian Holy Fire service on roof of Holy Sepulchre. No pass required.

Sunday, April 24
Easter Sunday
holy sepulchre, tomb, easterMasses held at Holy Sepulchre, St. James Church and other churches in the Old CIty
6:30 a.m. “Son-Rise” Resurrection Service in English at the Garden Tomb
9:30 a.m. “Son-Rise” Resurrection Service in English at the Garden Tomb
11 a.m. Resurrection Service in Scandinavian at the Garden Tomb
12:30 p.m. Resurrection Service in French at the Garden Tomb

Monday, April 25
Easter Monday

Masses held at Holy Sepulchre, St. James Church and other churches in the Old City

Tags: easter holy land 

April 18, 2011April 18, 2011  1 comments  Geography

Holy Week was ushered in to Jerusalem on Sunday with thousands of Christians waving palms and walking the route believed to be the same one Jesus took when he entered Jerusalem in his final week.

easter, holy land, palm sunday“The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!’ Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’” John 12:12-15

Thousands of Christians, both local Arabs and Armenians, plus pilgrims, poured into the alleys of the Old City to attend Palm Sunday services and then left with their symbolic fronds for family dinners or to visit more of the city.

The excitement that always marks this time in Jerusalem was palpable in the Old City on Sunday.  As the week carries on, the anticipation of the holy day builds until the Saturday of Light and then ultimately Easter Sunday.

Many of the Holy Week events in Jerusalem are relived as in the Bible. Because of the geography here, Christians can actually follow the footsteps of Jesus around Jerusalem to the holy sites that commemorate the week of his last supper, death and resurrection.

Anthony, a tourist from Romania, was making his first Easter pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He said he was moved by being able to live out some of the passion of Jesus, on location.

easter, holy land“I think it is important to do this at least once in order to strengthen my faith,” he told Travelujah. “I feel the Easter story coming alive to me.”

Services took place at various churches around Israel and the Palestinian territories.

By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for www.travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy Land.


April 18, 2011April 18, 2011  0 comments  Geography

Why is this Passover night different from all the rest? Mainly because more and more Christians, both in Israel and overseas, will be partaking in some observance of Passover, a phenomenon that is catching on among many Christians, evangelical and otherwise.

Erev Pesach (Passover Eve) begins at sunset on Monday night in Israel. Jews all across Israel and the world will sit down for the traditional Seder dinner commemorating the miraculous exodus of the Israelites form Egypt. Each year, more Christians join in whether with their Jewish neighbors or at Seder dinners of their own. 

passover, israel, christiansWayne Hilsden, senior pastor of King of Kings Community in Jerusalem, said that Christians have a precedent for observing the Passover: Jesus’ last supper was a Passover Seder with his disciples.

“Celebrating Passover is an enriching experience for every Christian,” Hilsden told Travelujah. “The symbols in the Passover celebration ultimately point to the Messiah. To sever our link with the Old Testament scripture - the root and foundation of our faith - causes Christians to miss out on some very significant spiritual truths.”

Every other year King of Kings hosts a large seder dinner for the entire congregation while the other years congregants gather with smaller groups in homes. They use a range of the traditional order of the meal, the Hagaddah (telling in Hebrew), written by Orthodox Jews to ones written by Messianic believers. Hilsden said that church leaders present the Seder with the belief that “Yeshua (Jesus) is the Passover lamb and his blood has been sprinkled over the doors of our hearts through faith.”

“Prominent churches around the world are awakening to and having Passover Seders,” Hilsden said, adding that observing the feast “will bring a far greater measure of spiritual health and understanding to churches.

Christine Darg, president of Exploits Ministry, has led Passover conferences in Israel and in countries around the Middle East for Christians over the past 14 years.

passover, israel, christians“We gain a deeper revelation of the principles and precepts of our God by observing the (biblical) feasts, all of which are types and shadows of Messiah,” Darg said. “Every element of the Passover meal and Seder points in some way to Him. The striped and pierced unleavened bread speaks of Him as the sinless one who was pierced and wounded for our sins and sicknesses.”

Darg noted the striking parallels between Passover and Jesus’ death. The process of the Passover sacrifice began in the temple at 9 a.m.; Jesus was bound to his cross at the third hour, 9 a.m. The temple sacrifices continued until the the evening sacrifice at the ninth hour, or 3 p.m., when then the high priest would cry out, “It is finished.” At the ninth hour Jesus also cried from the cross, “It is finished!” as he died.

“The church historically never should have distanced itself from its Hebraic foundations,” Darg told Travelujah. “It is important to commemorate the death and burial of Jesus, the Lamb of God, and to celebrate the resurrection of Yeshua as the first fruits from the dead at the appropriate season, at Pesach, rather than during the pagan spring holiday named after a fertility goddess.”

This doesn’t mean that Christians don’t or shouldn’t also celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Most do observe Easter, but many call the holiday “Resurrection Sunday” instead.

Visiting Israel during Passover is especially unique. Since most Israelis observe the holiday, the days leading up to it are marked by a rush at the supermarkets and massive spring cleaning to get rid of the leaven from one’s home according to the biblical command in Exodus 13 and Deuteronomy 16.

Hilsden said that with the whole country taking part in a Seder in most homes, you can’t help but hear the traditional songs and joy pouring through the open windows and through the walls as families sit around the Passover table. It is a galvanizing moment in the nation.

“You have a sense of participating in something bigger than yourself,” he said. “Any holiday (here) is special. There’s something in the atmosphere that you breathe and you feel. When you come to the Holy City for a holy day, it is just unlike anything you experience in any part of the world.”


By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for www.travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy Land.


Tags: holy land passover 

April 22, 2011April 22, 2011  0 comments  Geography

“Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” John 19:17-19

easter, holy land, good fridayThrough occasional rain drops and thick clouds, thousands of Christian pilgrims carrying wooden crosses made their way along the slick stones of the Via Dolorosa to retrace the steps of Jesus as he carried his cross to Gologotha and was crucified on Good Friday in Jerusalem.

The Via Dolorosa, or the Way of Suffering, is marked by 14 Stations of the Cross, where Jesus is believed to have stopped on his way to Golgotha. The final four stations are in side the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Some 100,000 Christian pilgrim
s from Egypt, Ethiopia, Italy, Russia, Armenia, France, the United States and many other nations, are visiting the Holy Land for Easter Week. Hundreds were crowded into the courtyard of the Holy Sepulchre this morning awaiting their turn inside the church that most Orthodox and Catholic Christians contain the original crucifixion and burial site.

Jesus was sentenced and crucified on Good Friday, and rose from the dead three days later.

“It is awesome, how can I explain?” said Meaza Yohannes, an Ethiopian pilgrim who was in Israel for the first time. “Especially for me being a Bible teacher. Everything that is in the Bible I am seeing with my own eyes. The Bible is coming alive.”

easter, holy land

An Italian tourist, Mirella from Florence, said that every stone in the Old City was special.

Local Christians were busy preparing for the holiday, the highlight of the Christian calendar for the community here. Candles were being sold in anticipation of the Saturday of Light, the climax of festivities for Orthodox Christians.

On Good Friday, each church held  its own procession from its Old City headquarters to the Holy Sepulchre to hold mass there. Some churches hold a burial service in the afternoon as well and then prayer vigils in dark churches throughout the night.
By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for www.travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy Land.


April 24, 2011April 24, 2011  0 comments  Geography

From the Holy Fire Ceremony on Saturday to all-night services and sunrise celebrations on Sunday, Christians in Israel reveled in Easter festivities celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.

For many Orthodox Christians, the climax of the Easter season is on Saturday at the Holy Fire ceremony.

Angelina Karageuzian, an Armenian Orthodox Christian, told Travelujah she goes to the service every year - and it never gets old for her. She walked with the Armenian processional to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at 11 a.m. where she and thousands of other faithful - local Christians and pilgrims alike - waited standing for the ceremony at 2 p.m.

holy sepulchre, tomb, easter“That moment when the light comes out, it’s a different, special feeling,” she said. “I wait for that moment. I am ready to wait for hours for that moment. It is very spiritual.”

Some 10,000 worshippers packed into the Holy Sepulchre for the ceremony including Greek, Russian, Armenian Orthodox and Coptic and Syrian Christians. From early morning, Christians begin to crowd into the Old City to get into the church.

The Holy Fire ceremony has been taking place at the Holy Sepulchre for 1,200 years. Worshippers believe that a flame miraculously emerges from the tomb of Jesus at 2 p.m. each year. Greek and Armenian clergymen in the tomb catch the flame with their candles and then pass it to the congregants in the dark, cavernous church. As the flame is passed from person to person, the church lights up with the candles of 10,000 worshippers and the church bells announce the arrival of the light.

Each person holds a bundle of 33 slim candles bundled together, the number representing Jesus’ age before he was taken to Heaven. The flame is passed to anyone waiting with a candle, from inside the church all the way to those who couldn’t get passed the police barriers at Jaffa Gate. THe same day, candles ignited by the same flame are flown out to Orthodox communities throughout Israel, the Palestinian territories and the world. Some Catholics attend, although the ceremony is not endorsed by the church.

easter, holy landScouts from all the churches beat their drums in a festive procession leading the way to the Holy Sepulchre.

For Catholics and Protestants, Sunday is the primary day to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. A sunrise service took place at the Garden Tomb, a place where many Protestants believe the tomb of Jesus could be located. Several services in different languages took place throughout the day.

In the Old City, masses were held at the Holy Sepulchre and the churches in each of the convents marking the many Christian communities.

Traditionally, Christians have a large feast on Sunday afternoon before another afternoon mass.

By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for www.travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy Land.


Tags: easter holy land 

April 28, 2011April 28, 2011  0 comments  Geography

In a first known tour of its kind, 25 Ethiopian Catholics made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land designed specifically for them and their specific spiritual needs especially during the Easter holiday.

Usually Catholics from Ethiopia join Orthodox Christians, the majority religion in their nation, on tours to the Holy Land. But this time, the Catholic pilgrims celebrated Easter in Jerusalem and have been touring the entire country in a weeklong visit spiritually catered to Catholics.

Most of the people in the group were in Israel for the first time.

Meaza Yohannes, a Bible teacher, said it is amazing for her to see everything she has been teaching for 20 years  with her own eyes.
catholic, holy land tourism
“The Bible is coming alive,” she told Travelujah. “It is so awesome I cannot even explain. We know what we read in the Bible, but now it is real. This country is rich in culture and rich in history and tradition.”

Ethiopia is the second oldest Christian country in the world, after Armenia. Christians make up about 63 percent of Ethiopia’s population with about 44 percent Orthodox and 10 percent Protestant while Catholics account for less than 1 percent.

Tsehai Haile, who organized the trip in conjunction with Travelujah, explained that Catholics usually join Orthodox tours because more Orthodox come. In the future, however, more tours will be arranged for Catholics and perhaps even medical visits.

“It is better because they can pray together,” she said. “The communion service is also  different than the Orthodox one.”

Tutu Godana said that after she visited the Holy Land replica in Florida, she decided she had to make it a point to see the real Jerusalem.

“It’s more than I expected - to see the real, practical journey of Jesus,” Godana said. “It just touched my heart. I think my faith will be stronger because of this.”
catholic, holy land tourism

Michael Haile said he has traveled to many countries around the world including Europe and Australia, but nothing in all of his experience compares to the uniqueness of Israel. From the spiritual atmosphere to the vegetation to even how Israelis made use of the land when they built the nation, Haile said he was amazed with the country.

“I had to visit Israel because it is the place of the history of mankind,” he said. “The Bible says that all people will come up to Mount Zion.” 

“There are many churches in Europe, but here the design, the structure and the colors of the churches are different here,” he noted. “They are old churches, but they give you such a good feeling, they feel new and fresh.”

By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for www.travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy Land.


January 6, 2010January 6, 2010  1 comments  History

We'll begin with the ending: We may never know with certainty which of the four sites associated with "Emmaus" is the true site. Which one is the actual location where Jesus appeared to His disciples following His resurrection? The story in Luke 24 recounts how two of Jesus' disciples met Him while traveling. They were heading west from Jerusalem, to Emmaus. They spoke with the "stranger" for a while; only later, when they ate together, was Jesus' true identity revealed. Later, the two disciples headed back to Jerusalem.


The name "Emmaus" is a mispronunciation of the Hebrew word "Hammat," meaning hot springs, so the site must be near a natural spring. The distance is also crucial in identifying Emmaus. The disciples traveled in a single day from Jerusalem, to Emmaus, and back. Therefore, the biblical site of Emmaus needs to be within round-trip distance from Jerusalem. The distance in the Gospels is measured as "three-score furlongs" (Luke 24: 13), which is most commonly translated as approximately 60 "stadia," (an ancient Greek unit of length). However, there are discrepancies within the text; some translations state that the distance was 160 stadia. Depending on the translation, Emmaus can be anywhere from seven to 18 miles away.


Going on an "Emmaus" tour leads us to some fascinating sites for the Christian traveler.


We start with the most famous and most widely accepted of the four sites - Emmaus Nicopolis, or its Arab name, Imwas, located on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road. It was the earliest site to be identified with the biblical Emmaus - in the 4th century AD - and this early identification strengthens the argument that this is the true site. Likewise, when Arabs settle in a village, they traditionally keep its original name, and the similarities between "Imwas" and "Emmaus" further bolster the claim. However, it is far from Jerusalem - a distance of 16 miles, making quite a tiring round trip journey for the disciples.



Emmaus is located in the famous Ayalon Valley, where the Israelite ruler Joshua commanded the sun and moon to stand still. Today, there is a monastery located at the site, in Latrun. Originally built as an inn for travelers on their way to Jerusalem, it is now inhabited by Trappist Monks, who sell the monastery's famous wine and honey.

Visitors can also see a 12th century Crusader fortress. In nearby Park Canada - a nature lover's dream - tourists can visit the ruins of the ancient city of Emmaus, including a Roman-Byzantine bathhouse and an amphitheater.


The next possible Emmaus is in Abu Ghosh, a Christian-Arab village located between Nicopolis and Jerusalem. This was one of the locations favored by the Crusaders as the resurrection site. Abu Ghosh is also identified as the ancient Kiryat Ye'arim, where the Ark of the Covenant rested for 20 years until King David brought it to Jerusalem. Today, one of the best-preserved Crusader churches is in Abu Ghosh. Called the Church of the Resurrection, it was built atop Roman ruins and is now a Benedictine Monastery which can be visited. The Church of Notre Dame de L'Arche de L'Alliance (Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant) was built in the 1920s on the site of an ancient Byzantine church. A statue on the roof depicts the Virgin Mary carrying baby Jesus. On the Jewish holidays of Shavuot and Sukkoth, both churches hold spectacular music festivals. Abu Ghosh is also famous for its Middle Eastern cuisine, specifically hummus, and restaurants abound specializing in authentic regional delicacies.


We move on to Moza, likely the "Motza" mentioned in the time of Joshua and again in the Jerusalem Talmud. This is the closest of the four sites to Jerusalem, and there are Roman ruins visible. However, Moza's relationship to the resurrection is ambiguous; many conjecture that it was chosen as a possibility merely due to its close proximity to Jerusalem.


The final "Emmaus" is in El-Kubeibeh, an Arab village, located west of Nebi Samwil. The Crusaders were the first to identify this as the Biblical site, after finding a nearby fort named Castellum Emmaus. They reasoned the name could mean only one thing - this was the site of the biblical Emmaus. In addition, the village lies approximately eight miles from Jerusalem - perfect day-trip distance. The Crusaders declared it "Emmaus" and built a church on top of the site; later, the Franciscan order, at the beginning of the 20th century, built a church atop those remains. The Franciscan church is still standing and can be visited today. Archaeologists unearthed further remains dating from the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine eras. One of those remains, possibly from Byzantine or Roman time, is identified by some scholars as the house of Cleopas, one of the two disciples. However, although the distance and archaeological remains seem to verify El-Kubeibeh as the correct site, the lateness of the identification (12th century AD) casts aspersions on its veracity; many conjecture that the Crusaders identified this as "Emmaus" in order to have a convenient stopping point for pilgrims to the Holy Land.


So which one of these is "it?" We don't know for certain. But as so often happens, while the results of the journey may be inconclusive, hopefully the journey itself brought us meaning and fulfillment.

Tags: holy land emmaus history 

March 27, 2014March 27, 2014  0 comments  Masses

On Easter and the preceding Holy Week, Jerusalem usually fills with visitors from all parts of the world. Pilgrims flock to the Holy City to commemorate the important events from the last days of Christ’s life.


The main celebrations will take place in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the place of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. However, other churches and shrines will also hold religious services honoring various happenings from last moments of  Christ’s terrestial life.


This year 2014, according to western and eastern Eucharistic calendars, Easter will be celebrated by both Catholic and Orthodox Christians on 20th of April. Moreover, this time will coincide with Jewish holiday of Passover, which will begin on the evening of 14th of April and end on the evening of the 22nd of April. This cover up of the dates will probably increase the number of visitors to Jerusalem at once, but will also make this time more interesting and meaningful for all.


Holy Light Jerusalem


Travelujah’s tip:


The best way to have an unforgettable spiritual experience in the Holy Land is to commemorate the Easter happenings with the local Christian community. Have a look at the following list of masses and events for that period of the year.


Travelujah is a leading faith-based social network that could be also your space to share your Holy Land tour and travel experiences with others. If you would like to do that, simply contact us on: info@travelujah.com


List of the Holy Masses:




  • Commemoration of the Flagellation of the Lord in the Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem at 17:00



  • Resurrection of Lazarus, celebrated in Bethany (El-Azariya) at the Tomb of Lazarus at 6:30 with a Holy mass in the
 Church of St. Lazarus at 7:30, that will be followed with a solemn mass and spiritual pilgrimage to the Ascension Shrine on the Mt. of Olives and to the Church of the Pater Noster.



  • Mass at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre at 16:00



  • Mass for the Fifth Sunday of Lent at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre at 6:30



  • Commemoration of the Way of the Cross at Lithostrotos (Ecce Homo Convent) at 17:00



  • Friday of Seven Sorrows at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre at 9:00
  • Solemn mass on Calvary at
17:00 with a daily procession



  • Commemoration of the Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem at the Church of Betfage at 9:00
  • Eve of the Palm Sunday: Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre - 8 am; Solemn mass - 
14:30; Solemn entry of the Latin Patriarch, H.B. Fuad Twal and procession
at 00:40; Vigil in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament presided by Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custod of the Holy Land

13/04/2014 (Palm Sunday)


  • Procession with Palm branches and pontifical mass at the Mary Magdalene Altar in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre at 7:00
  • Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives at 14:30

14/04/2014 (Holy Monday)


  • Via Dolorosa - V Station - Holy Masses in different languages from 6:00 till 8:00
  • Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre: Holy mass in Arabic on Calvary at 7:00; Solemn mass in the Holy Tomb at 8 am; 
Daily procession at 17:00

15/04/2014 (Holy Tuesday)


  • Solemn mass with singing of the Passion of Christ

at the Church of the Flagellation at 8:00
  • Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre: Solemn mass with singing of the Passion of Christ at 8:00; Daily procession at 17:00

16/04/2014 (Holy Wednesday)


  • Solemn mass with singing of the Passion of Christ
 at Gethsemane in Basilica of the Agony at 8:00
  • Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre: Solemn mass with singing of the Passion of Christ and daily procession at 8 am;
Exposition and veneration of the Column in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament throuout the day from 10:00;
Tenebrae Service at 16:00

17/04/2014 (Holy Thursday)


  • Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre: Entry of the Latin Patriarch, H.B. Fuad Twal, pontifical mass with the Washing of the Feet and procession with the Blessed Sacramant
Notes at 8:00; Soon after the service (approx. 12:00) the doors of the Basilica will be closed - no exit or entrance; Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and service at 14:45 - The doors open and close shortly afterwards. After the service (approx. 18:00) the Basilica remains closed for the rest of the day.
  • Mount Zion - Last Supper Room: Spiritual pilgrimage to the Cenacle, Washing of the Feet, and to the Churches of St. James and St. Mark
with a departure from St. Savior's Monastery at 15:10;
  • Gethsemane - Basilica of the Agony: Holy Hour presided by Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land at 21:00 
(Note: 21:30 – 00:00 private prayer in silence)

18/04/2014 (Good Friday)


  • Celebration of the Passion of Christ on Calvary

in Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher at 7:15
  • Procession of the Way of the Cross, starting at 12:15
  • Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre: Service at 16:00; 
"Funeral" Procession at 20:15

19/04/2014 (Holy Saturday)


  • Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre: Easter Vigil at 6:30;
Evening Prayer in front of the Edicule at 18:00;
Pontifical celebration of the Liturgy of the Hoursat the Altar of Mary Magdalene, presided by the Custod of the Holy Land at 23:30

20/04/2014 (Easter Sunday)


  • Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre: Entry of the Latin Patriarch, H.B. Fuad Twal at 10:00;
Pontifical mass and procession at 10:30; Daily Procession at 17:00

21/04/2014 (Easter Monday)


  • Franciscan Shrine of Emmaus - Qubeibeh: Solemn mass presided by Fr. Piebattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land at 10:00;
Evening Prayer and Solemn Eucharistic Exposition
at 14:30
  • Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre:
 Solemn mass at 8:00;
Daily procession at 17:00

May 20, 2009May 20, 2009  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology

 Ras El Amud Neighborhood  - Jerusalem surroundings area

Settlement remains dating to different phases of the Middle Canaanite period (2200-1900 BCE) and the last years of the First Temple period (eighth-seventh centuries BCE), including an inscription in ancient Hebrew script that mentions the name Menachem, were recently exposed in an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the Ras el-Amud neighborhood of Jerusalem, prior to the construction of a girls’ school.


Among the remains from the First Temple period is a handle on which the Hebrew name Menachem is engraved. According to archaeologist Dr. Ron Beeri, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This important find joins similar names that were found in archaeological excavations in the Ancient East and in Israel in particular. The names Menachem and Yinachem are expressions of condolence – possibly related to the death of family members”.


Dr. Beeri adds that such names already appeared earlier in the Canaanite period: the name Yinachem was found written on an Egyptian pottery shard that dates to the eighteenth dynasty and the name Yinachemu is mentioned in the El-Amarna letters (from the fourteenth century BCE) as the name of an Egyptian governor on the Lebanese coast.


This is the first time that a handle with this name has been found in Jerusalem. The name Menachem is known from the corpus of Hebrew or Phoenician names and seals that bear this name were found in Israel, Assyria, Cyprus and Egypt. The name Menachem Ben Gadi is mentioned in the Bible. He reigned as king of Israel for ten years in Samaria and was one of the last kings of the Kingdom of Israel. According to Kings 2 Menachem Ben Gadi ascended the throne in the thirty-ninth year of Uzziah, king of Judah. Menachem, king of Israel, is also mentioned in the texts of the king of Assyria, Tiglath-Pileser III, as Menachem of Samaria and as one of the kings from whom he received tribute.


Photograph: Mariana Salzberger, Israel Antiquities Authority

August 8, 2010August 8, 2010  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology

While not the exact temple destroyed by Samson, archaeologists in Israel have uncovered a Philistine temple that dates back to the 10th century BC that could typify the type of structure Samson brought down with his God-given supernatural strength as told in Judges 16.
Prof. Aren Maeir of Bar Ilan University said he and his team of international volunteers have discovered a Philistine temple and a number of ritual items dating back to the Iron Age.

“We found a structure that we have been slowly exposing over the last few seasons,” Maeir told Travelujah, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. “What is unique about this temple is there are two large pillar bases situated 2 meters away from each other. That immediately rings the bell of the story of Samson.”

The temple of Dagon, the one Samson knocked over, was located in present-day Gaza, Maeir said. Finding this temple, however, is reminiscent of the time of Samson and the biblical narrative.

“It adds flesh on the bones or color on the story to the biblical story,” he said. “Even if you don’t believe if it happened ... the story resonates cultural authenticity (through the archaeology).”

The excavations at Tel Zafit National Park have been ongoing for 15 years. This year, the team also found evidence of an earthquake in the 8th century BC, possibly the one mentioned in the Book of Amos.

“In several parts of the excavation we found buildings that collapsed,” Maeir said.

holy land, archaeology philistine, templeHe explained how an exposed brick wall, more than 2 meters high, was toppled over. Seismologists estimate that the energy for such a fall can only be caused by a major earthquake. The destruction of the wall was dated in the mid-8th century BC and coincides with the earthquake mentioned in Amos 1:1.

Excavations have also uncovered evidence of the destruction of the city by King Hazael of Damascus, around 830 BC, as mentioned in 2 Kings 12, as well as evidence of the first Philistine settlement in Canaan, circa 1200 BC, and different levels of the Canaanite city of Gath.

The park is located in the southern coastal plain of Israel, between Jerusalem and Ashkelon.  It is open to visitors and includes a nature trail with a view to half of country, archaeology finds and a window into the nature of land of Israel.

The Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project is a long-term investigation aimed at studying the archaeology and history of one of the most important sites in Israel. It is one of the largest ancient ruin mounds in Israel and was settled almost continuously from the 5th century BC until modern times. Maeir blogs about the findings and other items at gath.wordpress.com.
Participants in this summer's dig hail from the US, Canada, Australia, Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, UK, Holland, Poland, and Israel.  Maier said volunteers are welcome to join the dig every summer.

“It is an enjoyable, enriching experience,” he said. “In the 14 years I’ve been doing this, of the hundreds of volunteers that have come through, I have yet to hear someone say, ‘I did not enjoy this.’”

For more information on how you can volunteer, visit the Tell es-Safi/Gath website.

By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah

Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy  Land.

January 23, 2013January 23, 2013  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology

Ruins of Kathisma, an important Byzantine church and monastery, are located near Mar Elias Monastery, on the side of the ancient road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.

Kathisma means in Greek: ‘seat’ or ‘place of rest’. According to the Proto-Gospel of James, the Holy Couple, while on their way from Nazareth, stopped to rest when already approaching Bethlehem, the place where Jesus shall be born.


A tradition says that the Blessed Virgin Mary seated there at the stone khatisma for a little while and then suddenly some water sprang out of a rock to quench her thirst. Until the 17th century, pilgrims saw there a large tree which, according to the legend, had lowered down its branches to provide shade for the Virgin.


Kathisma Way to Bethlehem Travelujah (Ruins of Kathisma)


There is also located Bir el Qadismu or the Well of the Magi, called in this way since 16th century. According to another tradition, it was there the Magi saw again the star which had guided them during their journey from the East (Matt. 2:9) Therefore, the well is also named "the well of the star".


Archaeological Excavations


What is interesting, the existence of this unique Kathisma church was known from Byzantine literature, but its location was a mystery. Its ruins were completely buried in the grounds of an olive grove.


Kathisma Way to Bethlehem Travelujah (The Sacred Stone)


It was actually discovered by chance in 1992 after the construction works of the Jerusalem-Bethlehem road hit the edge of the site. The rescuing excavations revealed a large church, so the road was therefore shifted to prevent damage to the site. In 1997 archaeologist Rina Avner and Yuval Baruch continued the excavations and it was only then identified as the long forgotten Kathisma church.


In 1999 the archaeologists  reconstructed the foundations of the church, uncovered the beautiful mosaic floors, and conducted other preservation works. However, there is still need of funding in order to prepare the site for a public opening. Nowadays, the area is neglected.


History and Architecture


The unique octagonal church (43 m x 52 m) - Ecclesia Kathismatis, was built in honour of the Virgin Mother of God – Theotokos in 5th century (around 450 – 458 AD) by a rich and pious widow – Iqilia (some sources call her Hicelia). It was the earliest Marian church in the Holy Land and one of the first in the whole Byzantine Empire.


Kathisma was a martyrium, a special structure that functioned as a church (or a mosque) marking the site of a holy event. The church was built over a flat limestone rock in the center – the place where according to the legend, Virgin Mary sat. As in all ancient churches, its main prayer apse was oriented to the east. Its octagonal shape could have been inspired by the Constantinian structure built over the Nativity Grotto in Bethlehem.


Kathisma Way to Bethlehem Travelujah (Ruins of Kathisma)


Kathisma was enlarged at the end of the 6th century. Probably because of the rising number of pilgrims visiting the site, the second layer over the inner octagon was added. As well, because of the growing demand for the secondary shrines within the big monumental martyria, the exterior ambulatory was divided into chapels and entrance rooms, which were connected by small corner rooms. These enabled worshippers to pass from each entrance room to a next chapel.


Archaeological evidence indicates that during the 8th century the building was used simultaneously as a mosque within the church. A mihrab, or prayer niche facing Mecca was built into the southern wall of the outermost octagon. This means that the church was not destroyed during the Persian conquest (614 AD) and existed at the time of Abd el-Malik who commissioned the building of the Dome of the Rock, which was also built on the octagonal plan with a rock in the middle.


The most remarkable feature of the church is a group of beautiful, very well preserved ancient mosaic floors from the 7th century. Their designs are geometric with palm leaves and flowers. Yet there are still in few places, distinguishable bits from the original 5th century mosaic floor.

Kathisma was destroyed in around 11-12th century, probably after the defeat of the Crusaders. Since then its location was forgotten and discovered just recently.


Kathisma Way to Bethlehem Travelujah (Mar Elias Monastery)


How to get there: Ruins of Kathisma are located near Mar Elias Monastery, on the way from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Bus no. #24 from Jerusalem to Bethlehem leaves from the bus station next to the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. You will notice the ruins just after passing a gas station when approaching the Mar Elias Monastery.


What to see nearby:




* * * * * 

Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.


April 19, 2009April 19, 2009  0 comments  Jesus


Saturday Night - April 18th.

The crowds swelled and pilgrims came from all over the world to join in the Christian Orthodox Holy Fire Ceremony. The festivities occurred at the sacred Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the believed site of Jesus's crucifixion, buriel and resurrection by many - located in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Church was built on the orders of Emperor Constantine in 325, and has attracted a steady stream of pilgrims since its construction with the exception of a few periods in history. Control of the grounds and interior is sharply divided between Catholics and various Orthodox denominations, in a tenuous status quo that often degenerates into physical violence between monks, and has prevented much-needed structural repairs.

Considered a miracle that occurs annually on Holy Saturday - the day after Orthodox Easter Sunday when at precisely 2 pm local time, a sun beam believed to shine through the windown in the ceiling of the Church lights a lamp placed inside the tomb of Jesus. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theofilos III entered the tomb structure of Jesus at the Church and after the lighting of the lamp, he lights a few candles with the holy fire and passes them to worshippers in the Church. The fire then spreads rapidly amongst the church-goers. An olive lamp is expected to bring the flame to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, where street celebrations are also held.

Traditionally, the pilgrims were expected to bring back the fire to their own communities in Eastern Europe and Russia.


May 31, 2009May 31, 2009  1 comments  Christian Guesthouses

Travelujah is announcing a special invitation to all users to send us your recent blog entry highlighting some aspect of your journey here as well as short video footage (less than 3 minutes) of a unique experience you had here in Israel and or the Palestinian territories, Jordan or Egypt.  There are many members of our social community as well as users worldwide who wish to enjoy your travels too. Not everyone is able to come and visit here but there are millions of people in the world who are keenly interested in the Holy Land and would like to learn more about this cradle of faith.


Travelujah is a unique social community for people interested in the Holy Land. We are different from other travel sites because we offer a place for people to connect to the Holy Land before and after their journeys. Travelujah is the premier destination site for Christians interested in learning more about the Land of the Bible. If you haven't yet joined Travelujah, please register to our site.  We will conduct a poll on the best blog and the best video and the winners will get front page billing as well as an annoucement in a special press release distributed to Christian and other mainstream media (online and offline) worldwide.

March 27, 2014March 27, 2014  0 comments  Christian Guesthouses

Dar Sitti Aziza (House of My Grandmother Aziza) is a newly opened boutique heritage hotel in Bethlehem. This recently renovated traditional Ottoman-era urban home is located just next to the Nativity Church, on the junction between Milk Grotto Street Street and Anatreh Street.


Hotel manager, Nabil Rishmawi aims to create a unique and comfortable lodging experience, where the visitors could enjoy the serenity of a boutique hotel and in the same time learn about the history of Palestinians from Bethlehem. He merges traditional with modern and functional.


Dar Sitti Aziza Bethlehem


Who was Grandma Aziza?


According to an old Middle Eastern custom, a house would be rather given a name of a family member than have a postal address. In this case, the hotel was named after Aziza Shaheen, a special member of the family and wife of Issa Shaheen, a son of a Syrian bride that came from Aleppo to live in Bethlehem at the end of the Ottoman Era.


Interior & Rooms:


Dar Sitti Aziza was built as a hosh – a typical Levantine residential building with a open roof common space in the middle, surrounded with different rooms. Now the common area functions as a dining space and is decorated with a small fountain.


Dar Sitti Aziza Bethlehem


Each room in this heritage house had a different use. Today, the visitors could stay in the beautifully renovated hotel rooms that previously functioned as storage areas for wine, grain, olives and vegetables or even as a stable. The purpose of the last one, immediately makes us associate it with the Biblical story of Christ being born in a stable and shows that it was completely natural to keep animals within the living space.


At present, there are nine rooms on two floors. Each room has its private toilet and two comfortable twin or one double bed with a possibility of adding another bed. The rooms are equipped with a desk, TV set, electrical cattle and a small fridge. The interior design of each space aims to reflect its previous function, for example walls of the ‘olive room’ are painted in green.


Dar Sitti Aziza Bethlehem


One of the special rooms is named after Emily Shaheen, mother of the Dar Sitti Aziza manager Nabil Rishmawi. Emily was actually born in 1946 in this room and now she is ready to welcome guests to her family house. It is also her image incorporated in the hotel’s logo. Emily, as a young woman, wears a traditional Bethlehemite dress and takes on water to her jar.


The visitors can also enjoy their time in an outside café in a shadow of two pistacio trees – probably the only ones in Bethlehem.


Dar Sitti Aziza Bethlehem




For more information and reservations visit Dar Sitti Aziza’s official webiste: http://www.darsittiaziza.ps/


Related articles:





Beata Andonia blogs regularly for Travelujah, the leading faith-based social network in the Holy Land. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010. 

December 12, 2014December 12, 2014  1 comments  Food & Drinks

Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity may be the city's most visited tourist attraction, but there is no doubt that the  narrow stone streets of Bethlehem’s historic centre offers the tastiest attractions in this historic town renowned as the birthplace of Jesus. Beginning at the edge of Bethlehem's central Manger Square, begins a trail of  stores and vendors, where you can also get a taste of the regions unique culture.

Ka’ak Bakery

Start your day with a traditional breakfast at Abu Fuad’s Bakery located next to the King David Wells at the entrance of the Star Street. Try a ka’ak,  a ring-shaped, slightly sweet bread sprinkled generously with sesame seeds. Most locals will eat it with a freshly baked egg or a baked falafel, and top it with a blend of zaatar (thyme) and salt. 

There are  many street vendors selling this type of bread, and you can see several each morning as they walk the city with their pushcarts and sing: ka’aak, ka’aak or ka’ak sokhon, if it is still hot. 

Street Vendors

Mobile stalls are very popular among Bethlehem’s food vendors. One can find all sorts of specialties sold on the streets of Bethlehem’s souq, a traditional bazaar. We recommend that you try some of the local snacks like turmus, which are yellow pickled lupini beans. Arabic sweets like harissa (or basbousa), a syrup covered semolina cake is also a worthy favorite. 

Arabic Sweet Harissa

Seasonable Vegetables and Fruits

The highlight of the souq are the elderly women who travel to Bethlehem from their nearby villages to sell their seasonable vegetables and fruits which they plant and gather themselves. They often will sell dried fruits like figs or raisins, and even their handrolled and stuffed grape leaves and pickles. These women, wearing traditional Palestinian embroidered robes, that are unique in design to each village, usually sit at the street curbs and display their goods on the ground. Do not hesitate to bargain with them, but in the same time be generous.

Palestinian Woman Selling on the Souq in Bethlehem

Coffee and Spices

Strong coffee, often spiced with cardamom, is a very common drink in the Levant. It is brewed in a Turkish style and is quite thick and strong. The locals prefer to drink it freshly grounded and there are several small shops selling coffee and spices in Bethlehem. One  popular store is called 'The Mill' or 'Al Ama' after the owner’s family name - and is located at the intersection of Pope Paul VI and Star streets. The shop offers also all kinds of spices, grains, nuts and even stones of incense that are quite popular among pilgrims and that cost significantly less than those found in the souvenir shops. 


Knafeh, a cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup, may be speciality of Nablus, but it can also be found in Bethlehem, and quite delicious too. Dana Cafe serves this traditional delicacy as well as with other kinds of sweets and us located just a couple of steps past The Mill shop as you walk towards  Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity.   

During the month of Ramadan, this area becomes very busy with the sale of qatayef, small pancakes that locals will purchase and when they return home they will then stuff with sweetened akkawi (name means ‘from Acre’) cheese or a mixture of walnuts, cinnamon and sugar. These are then baked  in the oven and served at night. It is possible to watch how the baker  pours the qatayef batter on a huge pan to prepare the pancakes.


Old City of Bethlehem

Falafel & Hummus

Afteem Al-Yafawi Restaurant, located next to the Manger Square, has been welcoming its guests since 1948. This spot is renowned as Bethlehem's most famous place for falafel & hummus and enjoys a good reputation among locals and visitors alike. The restaurant has a simple, traditional menu serving falafel sandwiches, hummus, foul, (a dip made from cooked, mashed fava beans, as well as fresh lemon), mint drink, seasonal juices and different kinds of salads. The restaurant is set inside a historical building further adding to the overall experience.

Helpful Phrasebook

Perhaps you want try conversing with locals as well? Some phrases in Arabic that might be useful when buying and tasting food: 

hello - marhaba 

How much is that? - Keddesh hada?

ten - ashara; twenty - ashreen; thrirty - talateen

(not) expensive - (mish) ghali

tasty - zaki

thank you - shukran

you’r welcome - afuan


Beata Andonia blogs regularly for Travelujah. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.

May 11, 2009May 11, 2009  0 comments  Pope Benedict XVI


The second papal visit to the Holy Land in nine years has been picked up by leaders of the Jewish State as a clarion call to beckon Christians from all nations and denominations to visit the Holy Land.

"The fact that he's actually coming here to the Holy Land conveys a strong message to Christians  around the world that they should come here," Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said at a media briefing. "The government of Israel joins this message in calling Christians, come to the Holy Land, come as pilgrms, we ae ready to receive you and welcome you."

Misezhnikov spoke of Christian sites as well as other packages the State of Israel can offer - from spa treatments to holy sites - that can provide a "spiritual, extraordinary experience in a country with extraordinary landscapes and a progressive infrastructure."

Indeed, old infrastructure is getting a facelift while new is being added.

Some of the ancient sites renovated include the room in the Old City believed to be the site of Jesus' last supper. The site on Mount Zion will be host to a personal and private visit by Pope Benedict XVI.

Also in Jerusalem, the Kidron Valley, once a haven for drug dealers and users, has been cleaned up and will host Jerusalem's first papal mass. The valley separates the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem's Old City. Nestled between the Eastern Gate and the Garden of Gethsamane, the valley is now home to newly planted olive trees and refurbished tombs of  including the Pillar of Absalom, the Tomb of Bene Hezir and the Tomb of Zechariah. The mass will seat up to 6,000 worshippers in the historic location.

Besides sprucing up historic and ancient sites, Israel has invested in new structures as well. "As a government we have drawn numerous lessons from previous visits (by officials)," Misezhnikov said. "All of the infrastructure is going to remain and will of course this infrastructure is designated for future."

In Jesus' home town of Nazareth, for example, a 7,000-stone seat amphitheater has been built on site for future use.

"This is one of the important things that will remain and will be an economic lever," said Nazareth Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy. "We know this will be seen from around the world. This is first-class exposure and will encourage tourism in the future. We are expecting a wave of tourism following this. We hope for a specific call from the Pope for people to come and make prilrimage to the Holy Land."

By Nicole Jansezian

August 9, 2010August 9, 2010  0 comments  Events

Last March, I met a man who experienced a small miracle here in  the Holy Land. Today I was incredibly saddened to learn about his passing.


On February 15, 2010 my connection with Robert Buchan began with a simple email exchange. On the recommendation of some friends, he wanted to bring his wife, Anne, and himself on a private 8 day guided tour of the Holy Land. He asked for George Said, the same Catholic guide that we hired to guide the Buchan's friends in a similar  tour a couple months earlier. From that point began an exchange of emails that lasted approximately a month, until he arrived in Israel on March 13, 2010 with wife, Anne.  Robert was very involved with the particulars of his itinerary. He wanted to ensure that the program that we designed would  include major Catholic sites of interest because his wife, unlike him, was a practicing and baptised Catholic. It was critical that they journey to the holy sites and experience the rituals  and services that were important to her. For instance, he wanted to  make sure that they went to the Jordan at some point along their tour. We made sure that they were able to attend mass at appropriate holy sites during their tour as well.  But beyond that, he really made it sound as if he was kind of going along for her sake. Nowhere, did he mention that he was going to collect water from the Jordan so that he could be properly baptised with the same water that Jesus was baptised in. You see,  Robert was terminally ill, and  his last wish was to come to the Holy Land.


Anne Buchan inside the Grotto at the Church of Nativity

I did not know any of this. I learned the details of his motivation for travel when I spent time with Robert and Anne one afternoon at the Israel Museum during their tour. I was looking forward to meeting them. I was awed by the attention and care that Robert had put into planning the perfect program for his wife and so I was curious to I was meet him. As we sat in the museum coffee shop, I admired how good they both looked especially considering the long journeyas well as the extensive days of touring in warm weather.  But then Anne dropped the bombshell - she told me that Robert was suffering from a terminal melanoma and had only a few months to live.


I was shocked. Sitting beside me was the picture of health.


Anne continued. She explained how he was very ill, but that he felt strongly about traveling to the Holy Land before his death.  Never baptised, he wanted to be baptised using the same Jordan waters that Jesus had been baptised in. She further explained how just the day before they left Australia on their long journey, Robert was incredibly sick and they questioned whether they should really go. But somehow they decided to board the plane. It was in God's hands.


From the moment he arrived in the Holy Land and throughout the duration of their 8 day stay, Robert felt wonderful. He looked wonderful. Anne said it was a miracle to see him feeling so good, filled with renewed energy, spirit and life. It was no wonder that I thought he seemed the picture of good health. Anne attributed his glow to the Holy Land. Yup, miracles do happen. And that's what it was. For those those few days that he spent here, he was feeling wonderful.


At the end of April, Robert sent me a couple pictures from his trip which I am now sharing in this post.


This morning, I awoke to find Anne's email informing me of Robert's passing. " Rob, passed away on 5th July, at home, after suffering Melanoma for some 6 years."  Among other things she told me how he was properly baptised on June 15th with water from the Jordan collected during their visit, She also asked me to pray for the happy and eternal repose of his soul. She wrote a few personal words to me and then added what is known as the Benediction from Numbers 6 -  "May the Lord let his face shine upon you . . " It reminded me of my father who always recited this blessing to my siblings and I each week at the Sabbath table, and it is the same blessing that is regularly included in services in churches and synagagues.  Anne and Robert's week long visit to the Holy Land was truly a miracle, one  which I was blessed to witness.


Robert was an inspiration and I feel lucky to have had an opportunity to meet him and get to know him. Though our lives only touched ever briefly, his strength and that of his wife Anne's, left an indelible mark on me forever.  It is said that all prayers ascend to heaven through Jerusalem. When i visit Jerusalem next week, I will put my prayer for Robert into the Western Wall.

Tags: holy land miracle 

May 25, 2014May 25, 2014  0 comments  Events


Pope Frances arrives to Bethlehem today for the start of a two day visit to the Palestinian Territories and Israel in a pilgrimage entitled "Peace, Faith, Tolerance". The Pope is making this historic visit accompanied by his very close friend, Abraham Skorka, former director of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary in Buenos Aires, and Sheik Omar Abboud, a former secretary-general of the Islamic Center of Argentina. Both figures are involved in inter-religious dialogue.


Highlights of the visit include a mass in Bethlehem on Sunday as well as a meeting and prayer service with Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew who is based in Lebanon. It is the first such visit of a Lebanese clergy to Israel. Together they will preside over a prayer service in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre located within the Old City of Jerusalem.  The meeting marks the  anniversary of a similarly historic meeting by their predecessors 50 years ago on the Mt. of Olives. That meeting ended 900 years of Catholic-Orhtodox estrangement.


On Monday May 26th, the Pope will focus on visiting the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, as well as Israel's chief rabbis. He will also visit Yad Vashem and   pray at the Western Wall before meeting Shimon Peres at his residence where there will be a short reception with the international diplomatic core residing in Israel.  He will also have a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


The Pope's official schedule is as follows:

16:30 - Official arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport

17:15 - Departure by helicopter to Jerusalem

17:45 - Arrival at the Jerusalem helipad on Mount Scopus

19:00-20:00 - Ecumenical meeting on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre

20:15 - Dinner and meeting with Patriarchs and Bishops at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem

Monday, May 26, 2014

08:15-09:00 - Meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and tour of the Temple Mount/Esplanade of the Mosques

09:10-09:30 - Visit to the Western Wall

09:45-09:55 - Lay a wreath at grave of Theodor Herzl, at Mount Herzl (with the President and Prime Minister)

10:00-10:30 - Visit to Yad Vashem (with the President and Prime Minister)

10:45 - Visit to the two chief rabbis at Heichal Shlomo

11:40-12:40 - Meeting with President Shimon Peres, at the Presidential Residence

13:00 - Private meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

15:30 - Meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew, Mount of Olives

16:00-16:50 - Meeting with 500 priests and seminarians in the Church of Gethsemane, and the planting of a tree

17:20-19:00 - Holy Mass in the Room of the Last Supper (Cenacle)

19:30 - Transfer by helicopter from the Jerusalem helipad on Mount Scopus to Ben Gurion International Airport

20:00 - Farewell ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport


The Pope also plans a private visit to the Notre Dame Center where we will official bless the tabernacle of the new "Duc In Altum" Spirituality Center  at Magdala on the Sea of Galilee. The Spirituality Center will formerly be inaugurated at a special service and reception this coming Wednesday, May 28th at 3 pm.


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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah-Holy Land tours, the leading Christian travel network focusing on Holy Land Tours. People can learn, plan, and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.



April 26, 2013April 26, 2013  0 comments  Historical Sites

Sabastiya, located in the northern West Bank, is a small Palestinian village with a charming old town consisting predominantly of Mamluk and Ottomoan style architecture. However, the complex history of the village traces its roots back thousands of years earlier, with significant archaeological remains in and surrounding the village.



Biblical Samaria


According to Biblical accounts, Omri (882-871 BC),  the sixth king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, bought the strategically located hill of Semeron. There he decided to build his new capital, which was transferred from Terzah. He named the city Samaria, after the hill’s previous owner, Shemron. (1 Kings 16:21-24)


Sabastiya Ottoman Building (Old Town of Sabastiya - Ottoman Building)


Ahab and Jeroboam II, the successors of Omri, strenghtened Samaria by surrounding it with a fortification. Ahab, who had a Phoenician wife, built a temple there to worship Baal (1 Kings 16:32), which was later destroyed by Jehu. (2 Kings 10:28)


The Northern Kingdom of Israel together with its capital, Samaria, faced destruction, as foretold by Prophet Micah: “I will make Samaria a pile of ruins in the open country, a place for planting grapevines.” (Micah 1:6) The Assyrians, after defeating King Hosea, captured the city in 721/2 B.C. As the result, the Israelites were exiled to Mesopotamia and the conquered land was populated with the Akkadians.


Garnison of Alexander the Great


In 331 BC, Samaria became Hellenistic village, after Alexander the Great brought thousands of his Macedonian soldiers to the town. Excavations revealed three round towers (13 m in diameter) and later-period massive fortifications with square towers, as well as plenty of artifacts dating to the period of Alexander the Great.


Hellenistic Tower at Sabastiya (Round Hellenistic Tower)


Sebaste of Herod


The Macedonian fortifications were destroyed by Maccabee King John Hyrcanus, who took the city in 108 BC. However, after the Roman conquest in 63 BC and the subsequent fall of the Hashmonean Kingdom, Roman governor Gabinus rebuilt Samaria around 55 BC. In 27 BC, Cesar Augustus awarded Samaria, among many other sites, to Herod the Great. Herod wanted to honor the Emperor, so he gave a new name to the city -  Sebaste, which in Greek means Augustus.


Roman Basilica Sabastiya (Ruins of the Roman Basilica)


Soon after Herod initiated construction of a great temple, which he also dedicated to Cesar. Renowned for his imposing monuments, Herod built there a theatre, stadium and many other public edifices at Sebaste.


However, most of the Herod’s buildings were later rebuilt in the 2nd century AD under the rule of the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus. Sebaste was also expanded and many new structures were constructed. Even today we can still view the ruins of the basilica and the forum colonnade from that earlier time period.


Early Christianity


Soon after the death and resurrection of Christ, Philip, who was one of the seven deacons, started to preach the Gospel in the principal city of Samaria - Sebaste. His mission was so successful that Peter and John soon joined him there. Many citizens of Sebaste were baptized and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8)


Tomb of John the Baptist


Tomb of John the Baptist Sabastiya (Inside the Tomb)


From the earliest days of the Christian faith, tradition held that the body of St. John the Baptist was entombed alongside prophets Abdias and Eliseus in the town of Sebaste. The earliest written account about the tomb was mentioned in the documents of priest Rufinus of Aquileila (378 – 397 AD). There he writes that the body of John the Baptist was removed from the tomb and burnt by pagans who were against Christians. It is said that, fortunately, the monks from the Jerusalem monastery of deacon Philip rescued some of the relics. The identified site of the tomb is located in the middle of present day Sabastiya.


Byzantine Church Sabastiya (Icon of St. John the Baptist inside the Church of the Head)


The site also contains ruins of a Byzantine church from the 5th century, said to be built over the traditional place of John’s beheading – Church of the Head (Kniset el-Ras). This belief,  however, contradicts, the writings of the ancient historian Josephus Flavius, who wrote that John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod Antipas in Machaerus, located on the eastern side of the Jordan river.


The ruins of Kniset el-Ras are still visited - many pilgrims pray there while visiting Sabastiya. A small Christian cemetery can be seen at the side of the basilica.


Islam and Crusaders


In 634, Sabastiya peacefully surrendered to the Islamic army. 


Crusader Cathedral of John the Baptist – Mosque of Yahia (Crusader Cathedral of John the Baptist - Mosque of Yahia)


With the arrival of the Crusaders to the Holy Land, a splendid Cathedral of St. John was built at the site of John the Baptist’s tomb. In 1187, The church was however turned into a mosque by Saladin’s nephew Husam ed-Din Muhammad. Since then the mosque of Prophet Yahia (the name of John the Baptist according to the Quran) underwent multiple renovations and changes, but the Crusader structure is clearly visible.


Spring Season Festival in Sabastiya


So let’s come back to our question from the title: Was the body of John the Baptist buried in Sabastiya? Try to find the answer by visiting the place on your own!


The Spring Season Festival in Sabastiya begins on April 27, 2013 and the public is welcome to attend.


Roman Theatre Sabastiya (Roman Theatre)


Program of the Festival:


  • 10.00 am – Tour of the Sabastiya’s Old Town, starting in front of the mosque of Prophet Yahia
  • 12.00 am – Hospitality on the main square – coffee etc.
  • 2:45 pm – Tour in the archaeological area
  • 3.30 pm – 9:30pm – Cultural program at the site of the Roman theater: welcoming words of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Sebastia’s Municipality representatives; performance of a traditional Palestinian wedding; face painting; musical and folk performances.


Tours in English are possible as well. For more information contact Sabastiya Cultural Center at sab-youth-center@hotmail.com or call 09-2532545 or 0569789631.


If you go:


How to get there? Sabastiya is situated around 10 km north-west from Nablus on the road #60. If you are planning to travel by public transportation take bus #18 to Ramallah from the bus station situated in front of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. After reaching Ramallah, take a collective taxi (orange vans) to Nablus and from there take another collective taxi to Sabastiya. Traveling there on public transportation can be complicated and might take up to 2:30 hours.  The approximate cost for one way travel would be 30 NIS. For those interested in driving themselves, you can rent a rental car from one of the East Jerusalem car rental companies that is insured for travel in  the Palestinian Territories. Alternatively, one can travel there with a private tour guide as well, arranged through Travelujah.


Info: Sabastiya’s Information Centeris located within the Sabastiya Cultural Center project and can be contacted at sab-youth-center@hotmail.com or by calling on 09-2532545 or 0569789631.


Sabastiya Guest House (One of the guest house's rooms)


Accommodations: Sabastiya Guest House is a charming place situated in the center of the village. It offers two double and two single rooms. The rate for B&B per person per night is 120 NIS ($35 per person). To contact the guest house email cultural_centre2006@yahoo.com or call 09-2532545.


* * * * * 

Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010. 


March 1, 2010March 1, 2010  0 comments  attractions

In Sakhnin - a village in the Lower Galilee you've probably never heard of - grand steps are being taken to tackle one of the environmental movement's most perplexing problems: wastewater treatment.


Sakhnin is located approximately 45 minutes from Tiberias. It rests on the site of the ancient town of Sikhnin, a Jewish village which prospered during Roman rule. Today, the Arab community of Sakhnin is mostly Muslim, though there is a sizable Christian community as well. In fact, visitors can join the locals and worship at the Greek Orthodox church of St. George.


Sakhnin is also known for its premier soccer club, Bnei Sakhnin, one of the first Arab teams to play in the top tier of Israeli soccer. The Bnei Sakhnin holds the honor of being the first Arab team to win the state cup.


Aside from producing star soccer players, Sakhnin is working to produce usable wastewater. The LIFE project was implemented by the Sakhnin Regional Environmental Education and R&D Center of the Town Association for Environmental Quality (TAEQ), of Agan Beit Natufa. The project is also run in cooperation with Istanbul Technical University (ITU), and the main agenda of the program is to deal with wastewater treatment.


Wastewater has tantalized environmentalists for decades - if only there were a way to reuse the water, it could be a boon to the crop growth of arid areas. But of course wastewater is tainted, impure. The mere mention of it causes people to wrinkle their noses. Untreated, the wastewater, or effluent, can cause health problems. Furthermore, it can even damage existing soil and water resources. But - and here's what excites the environmental scientists - if it is properly treated, the effluent may be reused for agricultural purposes, as a substitute for fresh water. Reusing is the number-one priority of the green movement - why throw out what can be repurposed and repackaged? In addition, if the wastewater is treated properly, it can actually reducegreenhouse gases. To an arid region, being able to reuse effluent is like finding stacks of twenties hidden in your sock drawer.


The Sakhnin project entails upgrading the existing wastewater treatment facilities, in order to improve the quality of effluent. The water can then be used for agricultural irrigation (though it is not suitable for drinking water.) In addition to creating treasure from trash, the project is also a model of international cooperation, as the educational and research activities related to the upgrade are carried out by high school and university students from Israel and Turkey. Israel and Turkish scientists have agreed to exchange R&D programs and scientific information.


In 2002, a new ecological building was planned for the Sakhnin Educational Center. Using the age-old adage of practicing what you preach, the design for the building was to include as many energy-saving elements as possible. For example, an internal yard was built to introduce cooler air to the hallways throughout the night. Plants in the yard cast cooling shadows around the main area, so as the outside temperatures rise with the sun, the inside remains cool and inviting. In the mid-afternoon, doors of the rooms facing the main area are opened, to transfer the cooler air from the rooms to the main area. Architects designed the building to work in concert with the natural topography of the area, and the building was constructed using natural building materials, such as local stones, soil, straw, and stabilized lime.


In Sakhnin, one witnesses firsthand what happens when necessity meets inventiveness. Less waste, more water, better crops. Waste not, want not, indeed. 



Towns Association for Environmental Quality

Israel Environment Ministry

January 31, 2010January 31, 2010  2 comments  Traveling with Kids

You come to the Holy Land with your children. You're excited to show them the land, to teach them about its rich history and its centrality to Christianity. But kids just wanna have fun! Fret not! In Israel, you can do both at the same time. Take advantage of the unique experiences the Holy Land offers. Swim in the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water. Clamber over ancient Crusader fortresses. Point out the flora and fauna that existed in the times of Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

Here are 5 kid-friendly stops for your Holy Land itinerary:



Walk in the water at the Majarsa Nature Reserve! The Daliot River, which runs into the Kinneret, forms the perfect water hike. Wade through the river, befriending exotic dragonflies and fish along the way. Remember to bring waterproof shoes or sandals - the rocks are slippery! The water level ranges from ankle to waist-height (though the level depends on the rainfall from the previous winter.) You might have to carry the small ones through the deeper portions; older ones will relish the chance to swim in the refreshingly cool water. Babies and toddlers can enjoy the hike as well, happily reclining in a baby carrier, as Mom or Dad does all the work! The hike lasts about twenty to thirty minutes, depending on the crowds (and the speed of your crew.) Reward your kids - and yourself - for a job well done at the ubiquitous "artik" (Hebrew for ice pop) stand that will greet you upon exit.

Note: Depending on the amount of time you will be in Israel, it might be worth investing in a parks pass. For the price of the pass, you have unlimited access to all the national parks in Israel for a year. You can purchase a pass at any of the parks.


At Bat Ya'ar Ranch, near the ancient, mystical city of Tsfat, you may hear your kids say, "Wow!" "Cool!" or "Can we do that again?" But they will definitely not say, "I'm bored!" The ranch, one of the foremost horseback riding sites in Israel, has plenty of fun for everyone. Parents and kids, ages 10 and up, can take a (gentle, trained) horse out for an hour (or longer). For a true "havaya" (Hebrew for "experience"), go on a two-day horseback trek! Meander "out west," stopping for the night at a unique ecological village. Bat Ya'ar also offers a challenging ropes course (open on Saturdays and holidays), as well as Israel's only outdoor bowling site! The younger crowd can enjoy all sorts of age-appropriate activities, such as pony rides, pita-making, and a petting zoo. Bat Ya'ar also offers activities for groups - contact the ranch for more information or to make reservations. (office@batyaar.co.il or 04-682-2268)



The Tisch Family Zoological Gardens - aka The Biblical Zoo, located in Jerusalem - offers all the wonder and enchantment of a zoo through a unique Biblical perspective. The informational signs tell readers not only about the animal's diet and habitat - but also where this animal is mentioned in the Bible. The zoo is spread out over 62 lush, well-maintained acres. Observe the magnificent animals - regal lions, playful monkeys, slithery reptiles, and majestic elephants; hike a short path to a fantastic viewing area and observe zebras, giraffes, and hippos bathing in the cool water. Don't miss out on the Children's Zoo, complete with a petting zoo and a Noah's Ark-themed playground. Surrounding the playground is a beautiful sculpture garden - which youcan touch and climb on! The Children's Zoo also offers shade and comfortable benches, and, of course, refreshments. Relax with an ice cream or ice-cold drink before continuing on your way.


Have a budding archaeologist on your hands? Then grab your trowel and soil sifter and head to Bet Guvrin to participate in Dig for a Day! (What? You don't have your own trowel and soil sifter? That's okay - the folks at Archaeological Seminars, who run the digs, will provide them for you!) The program, which is appropriate for adults and kids over the age of five, runs approximately three hours. While that might not be enough time to unearth and reassemble King Tut, it will be jam-packed with digging, sifting, examining your finds, and then touring the park. Crawl through the vast, labyrinthine cave system (don't worry, it's guided) and marvel at the complex underground rooms built hundreds of years ago. Keep in mind that you need to pay separately for entrance into the park, in addition to the fees for the dig.


Ein Hemed, just off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway (Route 1), an oasis of green in a mostly brown country, is filled with fascinating Crusader remains and leafy grounds. The Crusaders who lived here long ago gave the place a different name - Aqua Bella, meaning "beautiful water," in appreciation of the refreshing stream that runs through the park. At the entrance of Ein Hemed is a small playground, but what will surely fascinate the little guys for longer is the imposing, two-story Crusader manor. Walk through the magnificent arched gate into a central courtyard and investigate the well-preserved rooms. (Terrific for a game of ultimate hide-and-seek!) Follow a path to a burial cave that scholars have dated to the Second Temple period. The gurgling stream adds to the beauty and serenity of the park. Guided tours are available with a reservation, including a "Genesis Tour," "Nature's Right to Water" and "William the Crusader."


The experiential is what we remember the most. Let your kids run, swim, climb, and dig - let them touch their history with their own two hands (and feet). The impact of this experience will resonate with them long after the dirt is scrubbed off and the ice pops are finished.

November 29, 2012November 29, 2012  0 comments  Museum

Solomon Pools

In the south of Bethlehem, on the road to Hebron lie three legendary pools surrounded by a forest of pine trees. These pools were a part of an ancient waterway supplying water to Jerusalem. They  are attributed to the prosperous and wise King Solomon (950 BC) and may have been mentioned in the Book of Ecclesiastes 2.6, where Solomon says "I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees".


Solomon Pools Bethlehem Travelujah 


The three large pools are partly forged into the bedrock and partly built. The legend says that King Solomon not only wanted to create reservoirs for storing rain and spring water, but to also have place where his many wives could bathe.


While the construction of the pools is attributed to King Solomon and the date of their construction is not exactly known, scholars claim they date to the 2nd or 1st century BC. Part of the construction occurred under the Pontius Pilate.  It was Herod the Great who carried the water by aqueduct to his fortress at Herodion, located just a couple of kilometers outside of Bethlehem.


During the Ottoman period water from the Solomon Pools would reach Jerusalem by a four-inch clay pipe laid in 1902, installed to replace two ancient aqueducts. Below the second pool, the pump station and pipes that carried the water are still visible today.


Solomon Pools Bethlehem Travelujah   Solomon Pools Bethlehem Travelujah


Murad Castle Museum


Next to Solomon Pools are the remains of the Ottoman Castle called Qal’at al Burak (citadel of the pools) or Qal’at Murad. The castle was built in the 17th century by the Turkish Sultan Murad to protech the pools, which were a crucial water source at the  time.


 Murad Castle Solomon Pools Bethlehem Travelujah


While the Murad Castle once served as a base for Ottoman soldiers, it now hosts one of the largest ethnographic collections of Palestinian history and culture. The Murad Castle Museum features over 1500 precious artifacts representing many chapters of the Palestinian history. The impressive display shows various handicrafts, amulets, pottery and more. Part of a Roman Aqueduct is also displayed in the museum. In addition, a unique collection of archeological items was offered by the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.


Murad Castle Solomon Pools Travelujah


‘Kani Mani’ Restaurant


‘Kani Mani’ Restaurant, which in Coptic means ‘butter and honey’,  is located in the heart of the beautifully renovated Ottoman Citadel, just next to the museum. The spacious restaurant serves traditional biblical and Palestinian dishes within its ancient interior.


Murad Castle Solomon Pools Travelujah


To learn more about the project at the Solomon’s Pools area check: www.solomonpools.com


Village of Artas


Artas (Ortas, Urtas) is a Palestinian village outside of Bethlehem. Its name comes from the Arabic pronounciation of the Latin name for the area ‘Hortus Conclusus’, meaning the Enclosed Garden of King Solomon. The site is famous for its delicious lettuce and the annual lettuce festival, usually celebrated in the middle of April.


The old core of the village features several ancient buildings, including the former guest house, the taboun (traditional bread) oven and the Artas Spring. One of these buildings houses the village folklore museum, with a stunning view on the Artas Valley and the lovely Convent of the Hortus Conclusus.


Solomon Pools Bethlehem Travelujah


The Artas Valley is located along the Abrahams Path and with its diverse flora and fauna, is a worthwhile hike. Artas Folklore Centre and Abraham’s Path initiatives both specialize in organizing hikes in that area.


If you go:


Solomon Pools

Murad Castle Museum

Artas Folklore Center

Abraham’s Path

Kani Mani Restaurant


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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.

January 13, 2010January 13, 2010  0 comments  Christian Communities

Israel - the homeland of Jesus of Nazareth. Most of His life - birth, ministry, crucifixion - happened right here. Wherever you turn, you find remnants of eras past, bearing silent witness to the beginnings of Christianity. Though of the three Abrahamic religions, the Christian population in Israel is the smallest, Israel is indeed home to thriving pockets of Christians. Scattered throughout Israel, especially in the northern section, the Galilee, are small enclaves of Christians, some even living in their own Christian villages. To lead a Christian life in the land of its birth is truly a unique experience. And, in fact, Israel is the only Middle Eastern country in which the Christian population is actually growing.


The kibbutz of Nes Ammim is one such Christian village. Located in the Western Galilee, near the city of Nahariya, Nes Ammim was created in the wake of the Holocaust. Christians in Europe, horrified by the atrocities of the war, decided to do more than offer sympathy. They wanted to lend a hand in building a homeland for the Jewish people. In the early 1960s, the movement settled in Israel. Like inhabitants of all of the early kibbutzim, the first few years were filled with hard physical labor, as they built the land, literally. They planted avocado orchards, and started a thriving flower industry. Nes Ammim became a popular spot for Christian pilgrims to volunteer, whether for a few weeks, a few months, or even longer. A youth hostel and guesthouse sprung up. But the Intifadas hit the Christian tourism industry hard, and the numbers of guests to Nes Ammim dwindled. The flower industry, too, was hit by rising production costs and withered.


However, the Christian community of Nes Ammim did not simply close up shop. Today, Nes Ammim is synonymous with reflection and peace, offering a neutral arena for dialogue between Jews and Arabs. The volunteers at Nes Ammim facilitate constructive talks between the two sides, and many of them then return to their own homelands as ambassadors for peace. Nes Ammim also runs a guesthouse, which offers modern amenities, as well as guided tours, access to local sites, and a Museum of Jewish-Christian Relations. Come as a guest or stay to volunteer - it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the Christian traveler.


Shfar'am, also known by its Arabic name, Shefa-Amr, is another, predominately Arab, village in the Galilee which is home to a large Christian community. Located northeast of Haifa, Shfar'am is mentioned in the Talmud and was once the seat of Sanhedrin (the Jewish high court). Today, the population consists of Druze, Christian, and Muslim residents. There are many fascinating Christian sites in Shfar'am, including an ancient Crusader fort. Byzantine tombs indicate a strong Christian presence here in the 5th and 6th centuries, and on the entrance to the graves are inscriptions which mention Jesus. Another highlight of Shfar'am is an ancient synagogue, recently renovated. St. Jacob's Church was an active church in the 4th century; now, it is it the site of the Sisters of Nazareth Convent. And the Greek-Catholic community of Shfar'am still prays at St. Peter and St. Paul's Church.


In addition to the Christian holy sites, Shfar'am is famous for its mastic-flavored ice cream. (Mastic is a member of the pistachio family). It is also home to the Bet al-Musica Conservatory. The conservatory offers courses in various instruments, and holds concerts and performances throughout the year. There is also the yearly "Fort Festival," an event which draws people from all over as Arab children compete in a singing contest. The Nakhleh Coffee Company, the leading coffee producer in the Arab world, is based in Shfar'am. More cafes are opening up, drawing tourists and locals alike.


Of course, no mention of Christian communities in the Galilee would be complete without talking about Nazareth. After spending some time in the city proper and visiting the churches, spend a day in "Nazareth Village," - as its website says, "The Nazareth that Jesus Knew." The village is a full-scale, authentic reproduction of life in a 1st century Holy Land village. Visit 1st century homes, synagogues, olive presses, and more, all based on archaeological evidence.


Many of the north's large cities, like Nazareth, Haifa, and Tiberias, have sizable Christian presences. Visit the Scot's Hotel in Tiberias, run by the Church of Scotland. Haifa is home to a Maronite church, a Carmelite church, and St. Mary's Greek Orthodox Parish Church, in addition to the Stella Maris Carmelite Monastery.


While touring the Holy Land, make sure to visit the villages and enclaves of fellow Christians, to see first-hand that Christianity, a strong presence in the land hundreds of years ago, is still a vibrant - and growing - presence today.

October 17, 2012October 17, 2012  0 comments  Christian Communities

History of the Franciscan Order


The order of Franciscan Friars was initiated by Francis of Assisi and officially accepted by the Pope Innocent III in 1210.

Francis, born in 1181 and baptized as Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, was a son of a wealthy cloth merchant of Assisi in Italy and a French mother. The boy was commonly called Francesco (“Frenchman”) likely due to his French language skills.

St. Francis Feast Bethlehem Travelujah

His early days were fairly typical, and he was raised in an affluent family.  It is said that one day Francis Francis heard a sermon on the 10th chapter of Gospel of Matthew and was quite moved. This chapter discusses the story where  Christ gives His disciples the authority to heal and proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven and to not take any wealth with them for their way: Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts; no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff […]” (Matt. 10:9-10) After that, Francis decided to leave behind his life of means and he became a beggar.

Wearing a rough garment and with no shoes, Francis started to preach repentance. Soon he was joined by his followers. However, he knew that without receiving a special acceptance from the Pope he could not work on a larger scale and, in fact, he could be accused for heresy.

Acts of Francis were accepted by the Pope and this enabled Francis to establish the Order of Franciscan Brothers for monastic men and Order of Poor Clares for nuns. He also formed the Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance for lay members who wished to carry the principles of the Franciscan way of life.

Francis of Assisi died in 1226 and was pronounced a saint in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX.

The Franciscans in the Holy Land

In 1212, St. Francis set out for Jerusalem, but due to a heavy storm his ship was wrecked, and forced him to return to Italy. In 1219, the friar again tried to reach the Middle East. This time his travel was successful. After visiting Egypt, St. Francis arrived in the Holy Land. During his pilgrimage, the brother visited and preached within the sacred sites.

St. Francis Feast Bethlehem Travelujah

The Franciscan presence in the Holy Land had initially begun a couple years earlier, in 1217, with the Brother Elias, the Vicar of St. Francis, as Minister to Acre.  By 1229, the Francisans lived in a small house near the 5th station of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem and in 1272, the sultan Baibars let the friars to settle in the Cenacle, which is also called the Upper Room, on Mount Zion. Latter, in 1309, they settled in the Holy Sepulchre and in Bethlehem.

The Franciscan presence in the Holy Land received an official status from the Pope Clement VI in 1342 and despite the various obstacles through the centuries, the Franciscan presence has continuously remained in the Holy Land through the present day.

The Franciscans care for many Catholic monasteries in the Holy Land such as Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth to name just a few.

Custody of the Holy Land

The Custos of the Holy Land is an officer of the Franciscan order, and he is appointed by the General Definitorium of Friars Minor, with the approval of the Vatican. He plays the function as head of the Franciscans in the Holy Land.

To learn more about the Custody of the Holy Land check their official website - www.custodia.org . Franciscan Media Center could be also a great source of information about their activities for the local Catholic community – visit their website at: www.fmc-terrasanta.org/en .

Feast of St. Francis

Saint Francis’s Feast comes on 4th of October.  However, this year, the solemn celebrations in Bethlehem’s St. Catherine’s Church was moved to the first Sunday after the feast.

St. Francis Feast Bethlehem Travelujah

It was a special day for new members of Bethlehem’s Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance, who help the Franciscan Brothers serving within St. Catherine’s Church. During the mass they were formally accepted into the brotherhood after giving a special promise to follow the principals of St. Francis’ life in front of God. As a sign of membership, they received symbolic wooden crosses, which they are to wear on every future meeting of the Third Order.

After the mass  all the members of the congregation brought special gifts for the church: a Holy Communion set in a carved wooden holder, a handmade icon of St. Francis, a beautifully decorated candle, and a bouquet of fresh flowers. These symbolical gifts decorated the altar.

The ceremony was followed by a treat in the building of the Franciscan Froars, prepared for all the people gathered in the church.

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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.



August 29, 2012August 29, 2012  1 comments  Religious ceremonies


On the 26th of August 2012 the Sisters of Carmel in Bethlehem celebrated their 29th anniversary of the beatification of their founder St. Mary of Jesus Crucified. She was beatificated  in 1983 by Blessed Pope John Paul II.

For that annual occasion, many Christians from Bethlehem and other parts of the Holy Land gathered in the beautiful chapel and gardens of the monastery. The feast began with a solemn mass and special prayers to the St. Mary and was followed by a sweet treat prepared by the sisters.


Carmel Monastery in Bethlehem Travelujah(Solemn Celebration)


History of the Carmelite Convent in Bethlehem


The Carmelite Convent in Bethlehem was founded by Mariam Baouardy - Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified. On 20th of August 1875, ten sisters under her leadership left their mother monastery in Pau, France to start the Carmel in Bethlehem, the town where Jesus Christ was born.


Who was Sister Mariam?


Mariam Baouardy was born in 1846 to a poor Melkite family in Ibilin, a village beween Haifa and Nazareth in the Galilee of the Holy Land. Mariam’s parents suffered before her birth - they had twelve children who were stillborns. The mother prayed to God for a child and in exchange Mariam’s mother promised to dedicate her next child to God.


Unfortunately, Mariam’s parents died quite young, so her uncle took her with his family to Cairo in Egypt. There he wanted her to be engaged to a much older man, however, Mariam refused.


After that, her uncle treated her badly and made her one of his servants. The other workers wished to dissuade her from her Christian faith, but she was strong. One night, one of the servants beat her almost to death. It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to Mariam, healing her wounds and miraculously bringing her back to life.


Relicts of Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified Travelujah (Relicts of Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified)

From that point, Mariam decided to devote herself to God and went to a Carmelite convent in Pau, France and took the name of Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified. It is said that she had supernatural powers: she could predict the future;  levitate during prayers; and she received Jesus’ stigmata. Sister Mary was very active and she founded three different Carmelite monasteries: one in India and two in the Holy Land – one each in Nazareth and Bethlehem.


Initially the ten sisters lived in a temporary house close to the Basilica of the Nativity. Sister Mary, guided by God, chose to locate the future Carmel on a hill facing the hill of the Nativity.


Entrance to Monastery’s Chapel Travelujah(Entrance to Monastery’s Chapel)

Although the building was still under construction, the inauguration of the convent took place in November 1876. Mariam died on 26th of August 1878, before the building was completed.


According to her wish, she was buried on the grounds of Bethlehem’s convent. Her relics are housed in the monastery’s chapel.


Present Life in the Convent


Nowadays, the Carmel community in Bethlehem has approximately 15 sisters from both local and international backgrounds, but they communicate with each other in French. The sisters live a lifestyle focused on prayer and fellowship and most of the sisters remain in the monastery each day.


The sisters operate a pilgrim house for those travelers seeking a quiet and spiritual place in Bethlehem.


If you go:


The Carmelite Monastery in Bethlehem is located at 119 Jamal Abdel Nasser St. All guests are welcomed to the convent, however, the sisters are not always available as they have designated hours for prayers.


Please call before visiting: +972 (02) 2742486 or contact online: carmelbet@palnet.com

To learn more about the Carmelite convents in the Holy Land visit their website: www.carmelholyland.org


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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010. 

June 7, 2013June 7, 2013  0 comments  Religious ceremonies


When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place. […] Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit […]” (Acts 2:1-4)


According to Jewish tradition, feast of Pentecost (Shavout) commemorates the day in which Moses received the Law of the Lord God on the Mount Sinai. Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Passover.


2 millennia years ago, on a day of Pentecost celebration, all the believers in Christ gathered together in one place in Jerusalem. At once, they heard some strange noise which came from the sky and was similar to blowing of a strong wind. Then all of the sudden, the Holy Spirit in a shape of fire tongues touched disciple’s heads and filled them. That enabled the believers to speak in many different languages.


Pentecost by Jean Restout, 1732 Pentecost by Jean Restout, 1732


It was the time in which those words of Christ has been fulfilled: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift I told you about, the gift my Father promised. John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5) The beginning for the Church was marked by that first baptism of the Spirit.


After that, many people, and among them religious Jews who came to Jerusalem from all over the world, heard the disciples speaking in their languages. Most of the gathered ones were amazed by the miracle, but there were also some who disbelieved. So apostle Peter, explained to them that the things they have just seen were foretold by prophet Joel: I will pour out my Spirit on everyone.
Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message. […] (Joel 2:28-32)


On that day, also many of the gathered people believed and were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ the Messiah and joined the Church.


Where did it happen?


Pentecost; Cenacle the Upper Room


The tradition states that the Descent of the Holy Spirit took place in the Cenacle or the Upper Room, which was the same spot where Jesus and his apostles held the Last Supper.


The church of the Cenacle is located on the Mount Zion, today just outside of the Zion Gate, but in the times of Christ, this area was included in the city walls.


This spot is believed to be the place where the very first congregations of early Christians took place. The foundations of the chapel might date even earlier than to the 3rd century AD. Thus many scholars refer to it as to the ‘little church of God’, which Epiphanus of Salamis (310 - 403) described in his writings based on scripts from the 2nd century. Epiphanus in his documents mentioned that when Hadrian in 135 established Aelia Capitolina, the part of Jerusalem where the Cenacle stood was not much destructed.


To learn more about the Cenacle read:




 Christian Feast of Pentecost


Pentecost; Cenacle the Upper Room


Christians celebrate Pentecost (the fiftieth) 50 days, or more specifically 7 weeks, after the Easter Sunday. It is a movable feast as the Easter is. This year the Western Churches will celebrate it on the 19th of May 2013 and Eastern Churches will celebrate it on the 23rd of June 2013. The difference in the date is caused by using of different liturgical calendars.


Pentecost celebrations in Jerusalem


Join the Holy Land’s Christians in Pentecost celebrations in Jerusalem on Sunday the 19th of May 2013. There will be a Solemn Mass celebrated by the Patriarch, H.B. Msgr. Fuad Twal in the Church of the Dormition Abbey at 10 am. And in the evening, at 4 pm, the believers will gather in the Cenacle for Vespers presided by Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custos of the Holy Land.


If you go:


Pentecost; Cenacle the Upper Room


The Upper Room is located just outside of the Zion Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. After exiting through the gate, you will see a gray door of a Franciscan Convet and on its side there will be a sign ‘Coenaculum’ directing you to the right. When turning, in front of your eyes will show up the magnificent Dormition Abbey church. Follow along church’s wall to the left until you will see a statue of King David. In front of the statue are the door you shall enter and take stairs up.


Opening Hours: Summer (April – September) 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. Winter (October – March) 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.


Tel.:  02 671-3597

Visit as well:



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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.




December 13, 2013December 13, 2013  0 comments  Religious ceremonies

Christmas season and the celebration of Christ’s birth is the special time when the attention of the whole world suddenly turns towards the place where He was born – Bethlehem. Millions of people dream of joining the annual commemoration of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, yet few still make this important pilgrimage. For those that do choose to realize their dream of Christmas in Bethlehem they will undoubtedly enjoy a very special Christmas experience.

Come Home to Bethlehem

Christmas in Bethlehem 2013 Travelujah

“Come Home for Christmas” is this year’s marketing slogan. Bethlehem’s mayor, Vera Baboun explains “Bethlehem is home for every faithful in the message of peace”. She also compares Bethlehem to “Home” because of “its people, its safety, fraternity and its warmth …”

On December 1 2013, Custodian of the Holy Land Pierbattista Pizzaballa came to Bethlehem to celebrate the first week of Advent, a season of four weeks of eager preparations for the celebration of the Nativity of Christ. This was also the day of the lighting of the 15 meters high Christmas tree, placed on the Manger Square in front of the Basilica of the Nativity. The event, which also included fireworks and cultural performances attracted a many people from all faiths.  

Not surprisingly, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on the 24th and 25th of December respectively, are the peak days of the season. Visitors flock to the city in hope to participate in Christmas Eve Mass in the St. Catherine's Church of the Nativity Church, which is celebrated exactly over the grotto where Christ was born. Others simply wish to enjoy Bethlehem during this very significant period.

No room for Mary and Joseph

Christmas in Bethlehem 2013 Travelujah

Christmas season 2013 should have a positive impact on the local economy. Many hotels and guest houses are reporting full occupancy between 24th and 26th of December. Locals joke by saying that if Mary and Joseph would travel to Bethlehem this year, they would again have a difficulty with finding room at the inn, and while this might be true – there are many families that open their houses to the visitors. It is possible to rent a room or a whole apartment and enjoy Christmas in Bethlehem.

Planning to spend Christmas 2013 in Bethlehem? Travelujah has compiled a number of useful tips and answers on the frequently asked questions regarding this year’s Christmas in Bethlehem:

1.    Where is Bethlehem located?

Bethlehem is a Palestinian town under Palestinian Authority’s administration, which is located around 9 km south from Jerusalem.

2.    How to travel form Jerusalem to Bethlehem?

It is possible to reach Bethlehem from Jerusalem by public transportation. Buses to Bethlehem can be found on the Bus Station located in front of the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. Bus #21 (7.5 NIS) can take you through Beit Jala to Bab el-Zkak, which is a main junction in Bethlehem (Beit Jala and Hebron-Jerusalem roads), situated around 1 km from the Manger Square, which can be reached on foot after 15 minutes of following Pope Paul VI street. Bus #24 (5.5 NIS) can take you to the ‘checkpoint 300’ (Rachel’s Tomb checkpoint), which has to be crossed on foot. It is around 2 km away from the Manger Square. It is very easy to find a taxi after the checkpoint. However, if you would like to walk this distance, please first follow Manger Street for 15 minutes, and then turn towards Star Street, which after another 15 minutes will lead you to the Manger Square.

Please remember to take your travel document with you. Your identity will be checked at both  the Beit Jala checkpoint and Rachel’s Tomb checkpoint on your way back into to Jerusalem.

A free shuttle bus, organized by the Bethlehem Municipality is available on December 24 to help everyone who would like to join the Christmas Celebrations on the Manger Square. The shuttle buses are expected to operate from 3 pm until 9 pm. Pick up points are: 1) ‘DCO’ – which is the entrance to Beit Jala that can be reached with the bus #21 from Jerusalem. The shuttle will pass through Beit Jala Municipality Square and dropping passangers at the Bus Station close to the Manger Square and the Nativity Church.
2) After checkpoint 300 with drop off at the Bus Station
3) Nissan Restaurant Roundabout with drop off at the Bus Station
4) Beit Sahour Market Square with drop off at the Bus Station.

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism also aims to facilitate visitors with free buses leaving according to demand from Mar Elias Monastery to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and back again. These buses will operate non-stop from noon on 24 December through to noon on 25 December. Mar Elias Monastery can be reached by both buses #21 and #24 from Jerusalem.

3.    Can I visit the Nativity Church during 24th – 26th of December?

The Nativity Church and the St. Catherine’s Church can be visited on December 24th only during the morning hours (5 am – 12 am). On the 25th and 26th of December the Nativity Church can be visited from 5 am till 5 pm. The Church of the St. Catherine can be visited only after 12 am on December 25 due to the Christmas masses.

4.    When is the best time to visit Bethlehem to enjoy the Christmas celebrations?

Decembers 24th is generally the most interesting day with a variety of activities available. To tour the Nativity Church, you must arrive before noon, the church will be closed at 12 pm to prepare for the Christmas Eve Mass.

The solemn welcoming of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is a major highlight on December 24th. The annual scout parade begins from the King David Wells and follows Star Street towards Manger Square. The scout shows begin at 11 am and the Patriarch is scheduled to arrive at the Rachel’s Tomb at 1 pm and he will enter the Nativity Church at 2:30 pm.

Arrive as early as possible, even a day prior if possible, to avoid any last minute delays.

5.    How to obtain tickets to the Christmas Eve Mass in the St. Catherine’s Church?

Christmas in Bethlehem 2013 Travelujah

The St. Catherine’s Church door opens at 9 pm and the Christmas Eve mass service begins at 11:15 pm. Special tickets are required to attend Christmas Eve Mass. To apply for a ticket please contact the Christian Information Center in Jerusalem at fpo@cicts.org. More information and the application form can be found here: http://cicts.org/default.asp?id=739&ricerca=christmas+mass

While tickets are free of charge, there is always a higher number of the pilgrims seeking to attend the mass than space available in the church. The mass is also shown on a giant screen to those outside in Manger Square.

6.    Are there any alternative church services for Christmas in Bethlehem? -Yes.

24/12 – Tuesday – Christmas Eve Mass:

  • 5 pm – Christmas Lutheran Church (Madbaseh Square) in Arabic
  • 6 pm - Mass of Salesian Fathers in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church (Star Street) in Arabic
  • 8 pm - Greek Catholic Church (Star Street) in Arabic
  • 9 pm - Christmas Lutheran Church (Madbaseh Square) International Christmas Eve Service
  • The Christmas Eve Mass has been also yearly celebrated in the Latin Shepherd’s Fields Church in Beit Sahour. According to the information given by the CIC in Jerusalem the exact hour of the service will be announced one week before the celebration.

25/12 (Wednesday) - Christmas Day Mass:

  • 8:30 am - Mass of Salesian Fathers in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church (Star Street) in Arabic
  • 9:30 am - Greek Catholic Church (Star Street) in Arabic
  • 10:30 am – Christmas Lutheran Church (Madbaseh Square) in Arabic

26/12 (Thursday) - Christmas Day Mass:

  • 10 am - Greek Catholic Church (Star Street) in Arabic

7.    Are there any civic events during this period?

Yes, of course! Bethlehem Municipality and other private organizations prepared a very nice program of interesting civic events

24/12 – Tuesday:

  • 10 am – The Bible College Choir on the Manger Square stage
  • 11 am – Vocalist Fares Abu Farha on the Manger Square stage
  • 1:30 pm – Reception of his Beatitude the Latin Patriarch on the Manger Square
  • 3 pm – Forgive All Concert in the Convention Palace (next to Solomon Pools – Artas)
  • 4 pm – The Anglican Cathedral of St. George holds a carol service at Shepherd’s Fields of YMCA
  • 4 pm – Show of Traditional Palestinian Costumes by Palestinian Heritage Center on the Manger Square stage
  • 4:05 pm – St. Catherine Church Choir on the Manger Square stage
  • 4:45 pm – Al-Bishara Choir from Nazareth on the Manger Square stage
  • 5:30 pm – Kisi Kids – Austrian & Russian Kids on the Manger Square stage
  • 6:30 pm – Trondheim, Rim Banna, Henning Sommerro on the Manger Square stage
  • 7:30 pm – Christmas Carols by the Baptist Church from Jerusalem on M. S. stage
  • 8:30 pm – The Korean American Everlasting Choir on the Manger Square stage
  • 9:30 pm – Chichi Choir from England on the Manger Square stage
  • 10:45 pm –  Vocalist Elizabeth Von Trapp on the Manger Square stage
  • Shepherd’s Nights Musical Festival in the Old City of Beit Sahour: 3:30 pm Al Harah Theater – show for children; 6:00 pm – Thaer Bargouthi; 7:00 pm – Lutheran School Choir

25/12 – Wednesday:

  • Shepherd’s Nights Musical Festival in the Old City of Beit Sahour: 4:30 pm Candles March (from the Orthodox Shepherds’ Field to Souk el Sha3eb, then to the Old City of Beit Sahour.); 6:00 pm – Dam Band; 7:00 pm Closing Ceremony

8.    Can I have a Christmas lunch / party in Bethlehem?

Yes. Numerous restaurants and hotels are available in Bethlehem where one can reserve a Christmas lunch or dinner. Reservations are suggested.  For more information, please contact: vicbethlehem@gmail.com

9.    How can I book an accommodation in Bethlehem with a local family for Christmas?

If you would like to book any kind of accommodation in Bethlehem, the team of the Visitor Information Center in Bethlehem can help you. Contact vicbethlehem@gmail.com

10. Can I return to Jerusalem after the Christmas Eve Mass is finished?

Yes, there will be provided a free bus service, which will operate non-stop from noon on 24 Dec. through to noon on 25 Dec. from the Nativity Square to the Mar Elias Monastery. Please note that Mar Elias Monastery is closer to Bethlehem than to the Old City of Jerusalem and therefore you may wish to consider arranging a taxi to pick you up directly from Bethlehem or from Mar Elias Monastery.

Christmas Eve Tour

Christmas in Bethlehem 2013 Travelujah

If you would like to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem on the Christmas Eve with a guided tour, join this special Christmas Eve Tour offered by Travelujah. There are sheduled pickups from Herzliya, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.


Beata Andonia blogs regularly for Travelujah, the leading faith-based social network in the Holy Land. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010. 

January 3, 2010January 3, 2010  0 comments  Bike


The most powerful stories of the Bible are those of journeys. Abraham finding Mt. Moriah, Moses crossing the desert and Jesus traveling to speak the word of God are just a few well known examples. In many cases, the journey is no less important than the destination itself, a concept that is slowly being forgotten in our day and age. Traveling by bike can take us back to those days where our personal journey was part of the pilgrimage. By biking in the Holy Land we better understand many of the geographical challenges that were part of biblical times. Cycling also allows us to be part of the land rather than to just see it passing by a window. For those who seek challenging courses, cycling around the Sea of Galilee is a fairly easy ride, yet it certainly provides an intimacy with the land and a spiritual connection. The pace of traveling by bike is the most important element, fast enough to get from place to place, yet slow enough to see and appreciate the land, meet the locals, smell the flowers and taste the locale cuisine.  Another aspect of cycling is city tours; you see the city in a whole new perspective that allows for personal connection.  Especially in a place like Jerusalem, even if you\'ve been there before, riding through the alleys and sidestreets will provide you with a an entirely new perspective of the city, its people, history, its geography, the architecture and day to day movement of life there.

Note: Travelujah members receive a 10% discount on all bike tours arranged through our preferred provider, Eco Bike. To receive your 10% discount, you must first join Travelujah, and we will send you a 10% discount coupon that you can use when reserving at info@ecobike.co.il

February 24, 2013February 24, 2013  0 comments  Tourism

The unexpected beauty of the Negev offers a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a 2-day getaway. Promising a myriad of biblical archaeological sites, hiking trails, Bedouin hospitality and even some delightful boutique wineries, the Negev desert is the perfect place to get away from it all and enjoy it all!

Tel Beersheba

And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of the well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away. (Genesis 21:25) …Wherefore that place was called Beer-sheba; because there they swore  both of them (Genesis 21:31)

How did Abraham achieve greatness? As the Bible tells us, he knew where to dig wells. He could access water, even in the desert! Drive just a few minutes east of the modern city of Beersheba, named for the oath sworn by Abraham and Abimelech 3,000 years ago, and you’ll see how the search for fresh water has shaped Negev life for thousands of years.  Man could only settle in places where he could find water for himself and his flocks. Tel Beersheba was such a place. With remains dating back to the Chalcolithic era, you can see how successive civilizations settled there, where the Hebron and Beersheba Streams merge. Climb down a 200-foot-deep ancient cistern that dates back to the time of King Hezekiah in the 8th century BCE.  It’s the largest one ever found in the Negev!  Don’t miss the hewn-stone alter.  Its design, in violation of the Lord’s commandment that altars be built of undressed stone, proved that King Hezekiah faced great challenges when he embarked on a course of religious reforms. When you visit the remains of the residential settlement, marvel that some of these homes were built almost a 1,000 years before King Hezekiah ruled!  This has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and as you survey the remains from the lookout tower, it’s easy to understand why.

Tel Beersheva Travelujah 

Tel Beersheva, photo courtesy Travelujah- Holy Land tours

Once you’re back in your car, follow the signs to Route 40 south. As you head south, notice the impressive chalk plateaus as well as the tamarisk trees that dot the landscape. These are just like the tamarisk trees that Abraham planted in Beersheba when he made the oath to Abimelech promising that he would deal honestly with him.

In less than an hour, you will find yourself at Kibbutz Sde Boker, home to Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben Gurion.  Just past the kibbutz is the Ben Gurion Institute.  Follow the palm tree-lined access road into the institute where you’ll find a cafeteria that offers a variety of food at moderate prices.

Take a moment and visit Ben Gurion’s grave. As you near the end of the short walk from the parking area to his final resting place, you will be overwhelmed as you look out over the expansive breaks in the rock that form the Zin Valley. The majestic view, striking in its stark beauty, was a constant source of inspiration to the country’s first prime minister who worked the earth with his own hands to make the desert bloom.

Tel Beersheva Travelujah     Tel Beersheva Travelujah

Tel Beersheva, photo courtesy Travelujah-Holy Land tours

Would you believe grapevines grow in the Negev? See for yourself at the Sde Boker Winery located in Kibbutz Sde Boker. Zvi Remak was born in the U.S. and he is delighted to introduce visitors to desert wine.  He’ll be thrilled to pour you a glass!  Why not buy a bottle so that your designated driver can enjoy a glass at the end of the day! Imagine opening a bottle while you watch the mountains reflect the purple and pink hews of the setting sun!

For nature lovers, a short drive south from Sde Boker is the Ein Avdat National Park , where you’ll have the unique opportunity of walking in a desert canyon. The path winds its way along a spring-fed stream through magnificent chalk cliffs. Look out and see ibex grazing as they gracefully navigate the rocky cliffs.  If you’re lucky, you may be able to see eagles nesting on the cliffs. While there is a path that is designed for experienced hikes which involves ascending a large set of stone steps, there is an equally breathtaking circular route for novice hikes that is relatively flat and can be complete in an hour. If ancient culture is what you are after, don’t miss the striking ancient Nabatean fortress of Avdat, a UNESCO world heritage site situated along the ancient Nabatean spice route.

And now for a night like no other! A trip to the Negev would not be complete without unparalleled Bedouin hospitality. A few minutes from Ein Avdat you’ll find Khan Chan Hashayarot offers five Bedouin tents of various sizes to provide you with an idyllic Bedouin experience.  Whether you are traveling on your own and looking to meet other lone travelers, or with your family, you’ll find a tent that is perfect for you. The tents, decorated with colorful mats, are made of goat wool and provide warmth during the cool desert nights.  Step outside the tent and view a sky blanketed with stars. Far from city lights, you’ll be able to easily spot Orion, Ursa Major along with a host of other stars and constellations you had only read about. If you want to spend a night in the desert but aren’t ready for the tent experience, Chan Hashayarot has furnished cabins as well.


Kfar Anokdim meal

After a deliciously restful night, wake up to a full Bedouin breakfast including Bedouin coffee served with array of homemade breads, cheese and puddings colorfully displayed on a balcony overlooking the desert.

The Khan will arrange special camel tours and other outdoor adventures for you if you wish.

Day 2

Drive south on Route 40 to Mitzpeh Ramon, home of Israel’s largest crater, or machtesh. This machtesh was not created from a meteor collision but from an unusual geological process where erosion caused the collapse of heavy limestone that covered the softer sandstone underneath. There are only six in the world and three of them are here in Israel.  As you stand at the Machtesh Ramon Lookout you’ll have a chance to view the length and breadth of Israel’s largest machtesh!  It’s 25 miles long, between 1 and 10 miles wide and over 1,600 feet deep!  Situated on the machtesh’s northern edge, it’s the perfect spot for viewing the various geological features.  Look out at the nearby Givat Gaash (Volcanic Hill), a basalt-covered hill resulting from a pre-historic volcanic eruption.  Look south to the tabletop mountains of Mount Ardon and Mount Arpek.  Don’t be surprised if some ibex wander past you as you explore! The new Ilan Ramon visitor center overlooking the crater is a must see as well.

Mitzpe Ramon Travelujah Mitzpe Ramon Visitor Center

But, for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, either hike down into the machtesh itself or enjoy a jeep ride to the crater’s bottom, or get a local private biking guide, rent bikes and ride inside the crater.  The hike is 4-5 hours so this is only appropriate for very experienced hikers.  Bring lots of water with you as the trail is not shaded.  If you choose the jeep option, you’ll all enjoy all of the natural beauty without breaking a sweat.  Drive to the middle and see the “carpentry” shop.  These “wooden” planks are actually ancient geological prisms.  Or drive along the northern wall and see the ammonite fossils; large snail remains that indicate that this desert was once covered by water.  But even if you decide to just enjoy the vast beauty from the observation point, enjoying the yellow and pinks of the surrounding sandstone mountains, you will enjoy an unforgettable morning!

For some manmade fun! Drive five minutes from the Machtesh Ramon Lookout to Desert Archery World and giggle your way through a desert archery course designed for the whole family.  The rubber-tipped arrows are safe and the various sizes of bows mean that even children as young as nine can join in the fun!  Traveling with younger children? Visit the nearby Alpaca Farm where you and your children can hand feed the alpacas and 400 llamas. You can even try weaving in the wool house and learn about the process of shearing the animals.

Grab fast food in the town of Mitzpeh Ramon  and head back on Route 40, past Sde Boker and turn left a Mashavim Junction onto Route 222. You’ll arrive at Khirbet Halutza a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was part of the ancient Nabatean Spice Route and served as a way station for Nabatean traders traveling between Gaza and Jordan.  The Nabateans were a nomadic people who came to Israel almost 400 years before Jesus and existed here until the 7th century. These expert desert farmers ultimately converted to Christianity not long after Constantine made it the official religion of the Roman Empire and, eventually, this became the most important city in the Negev.  You can see remains of the Byzantine church basilica as well as remains of the only known Roman style theater in the Negev.

Continue on route 222 and then turn left onto route 232.  If you’re traveling during the winter months, look for the beautiful red anemones and purple irises that can be found along the way. Follow signs to the town of Talmei Yosef for the final stop on your two-day Negev getaway.

Learn how Israel has made the desert bloom and join agronomist Uri Alon at the Salad Farm for a tour where you’ll not only learn about desert agriculture, you also have a chance to eat fruit right off of the vine.  From strawberries to peppers to tomatoes, you’ll learn about the latest advances in greenhouse technology, while enjoying some of the most mouthwatering fruits and vegetables imaginable.  Savor the taste of pita baked before your eyes and then served with fresh olive oil and hyssop while you watch homing pigeons carry out their jobs.  Then see if you can navigate your way through a passion fruit maze. Eating your fruits and vegetables was never this much fun!

After a few hours at the Salad Farm, it will be time to leave your Negev getaway, but don’t despair. As you traverse the Negev landscape, you’ll be able to enjoy the magnificent colors as the setting sun reflects its brilliant color off the Negev’s sandstone mountain.

If you go:


Onnie Schiffmiller is a licensed tour guide and contributes regularly to Travelujah-Holy Land Tours.


March 17, 2013March 17, 2013  1 comments  Easter


“In two days, as you know, it will be the Passover Festival, and the Son of Man, will be handed over to be crucified.” (Matt. 26:2)


Those are the words Jesus said to his disciples two days before he was captured and sentenced to death. At the same time, chief priests and elders, who were against Jesus, were making plans how and when to arrest him.


Jesus Is Anointed at Bethany


Bethany Travelujah


Jesus was then anointed in Bethany, at the house of Simon. While he was eating, a woman came and broke a jar containing a very expensive perfume made of the pure nard, which she poured on his head. Christ’s disciples did not understand why she would ‘waste’, as they thought, such a valuable thing. However, Jesus excused her and said that she prepared him for the upcoming burial.


To commemorate this event, Franciscan brothers make an annual pilgrimage to Bethany (El-Azariya). This year 2013, they gathered on Thursday 14th of March, first at the Tomb of Lazarus and later in the church. The celebration was followed by the spiritual pilgrimage to Pater Noster Church and the Chapel of Ascension.


Holy Thursday - The Last Supper and Arrest of Jesus


Getsemane Travelujah


On the first day of Passover, the disciples asked Jesus, where they should eat their meal. So He ordered that they say these words to a ‘certain man’: “The Teacher says, My hour has come; my disciples and I will celebrate the Passover at your house.” (Matt 26:18).


Already at the supper, suddenly, Jesus rose from the table and started to wash and dry disciple’s feet. When he approached Simon Peter, the disciple wanted to refuse: “Are you going to wash my feet Lord?” (John 13:6) Jesus wanted to teach his followers that all the people are equal and that no one is better than another: “I am telling you the truth: no slave is greater than his master, and no messenger is greater than the one who sent him.” (John 13:16)


Again at the table, Christ said to his twelve disciples: “I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (Matt 26:21) After hearing those words, all of the apostles became very upset. Jesus surely knew that one of his disciples - Judas Iscariot, went to the high priests and agreed with them on a prize of the thirty silver coins for betraying his teacher.


While they were eating, Jesus took a piece of bread and asked the gathered to eat it as it was his body, and he took a cup of wine and told them to drink from it as it was his blood. At that moment, Christ revealed that he is going to die for the forgiveness of sins of all his followers.


Cenacle Travelujah


After the meal, Jesus and his disciples went to the Mount of Olives to Gethsemane. He wanted to pray on the mount, he took with him only Peter and two sons of Zebedee: James and John, so they could guard the place while he was praying. However, the apostles fell asleep. Suddenly Judas arrived with the soldiers behind him. He kissed his teacher, and pointed out who should be captured. Christ let the people arrest him to fulfill the prophecies written in the Scriptures.


Holy Thursday (28th of March 2013) solemnizes the events described above.  At 7 a Pontifical Mass of Washing of the Feet will be celebrated in the Holy Sepulchre. At 3:10pm in the afternoon, there will be a pilgrimage beginning from St. Saviour’s church to the Cenacle and to the churches of St. James and St. Mark. There will also be a mass in the Basilica of Agony in Gethsemane at 9 pm, followed with time for private prayers from 10 pm.


Good Friday – Passion of the Lord


Jesus was taken to the house of the High Priest Caiaphas, where all the teachers of Law and elders gathered. “The chief priests and the whole Council tried to find some false evidence against Jesus to put him to death.” (Matt. 26:59). Christ, when asked if he is the Messiah, admitted but the gathered people did not believe him and accused him for blasphemy.


In the morning, the priests handed Jesus over to Pilate, the Roman governor, who tried to inquire if the one he received was the “King of the Jews”.


There was a tradition that at every Passover Festival a Roman governor would free a Jewish prisoner selected by the crowd. The people had a choice between two prisoners: “Which one do you want me to set free for you? Jesus Barrabas or Jesus called the Messiah?” (Matt. 27:16) Barrabas was one of the well-known criminals, but neverthe;ess the crowd wanted him to be freed.


Even though, Pilate saw Jesus the innocent, he could not go against the people’s wish. “I am not responsible for the death of this man. This is your doing!” (Matt. 27:24) They wanted Jesus to be crucified.


At the governor’s palace, Pilate’s soldiers took off Christ’s garments and put on Him a scarlet robe and a crown made of the thorny branches, which hurt him. After making fun of him, they dressed him in his own clothes and led him towards his crucifixion at Golgotha (Place of the Skull).


Via Dolorosa Travelujah


Jesus died on a cross, after screaming “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” Many strange things happened on the day of his death. There was an earthquake and it was completely dark in the middle of the day. “Then the curtain hanging in the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Matt 27:51) All this made many people believe that he really was the Son of God.


Good Friday (29th of March 2013) is marked by various celebrations held in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. The Way of the Cross will be followed at 11:30 am from the First Station to the Golgotha. The “Funeral” procession will take place after midnight.


Easter Sunday – The Resurrection


There was a prophecy that Jesus would rise from death on the third day after His death. The chief priests knew this and therefore they ordered his tomb to be well guarded to prevent the disciples from stealing Christ’s body.


On the Sunday morning after the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, went to see the tomb. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord came from heaven to roll away the stone blocking the tomb. The guards were so afraid that they could not move. The angel spoke to the women: “He is not there; he has been raised, just as he said.”


Calendar of the Holy Week and Easter Celebrations:


Palm Sunday – 24th of March


  • 6:30 am – Jerusalem – Holy Sepulchre: Procession with Palms and Pontifical Mass at Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene
  • 2:30 pm – Bethphage – Palm Sunday procession over Mt. of Olives to St. Anne’s Church
  • 4 pm – Jerusalem - Holy Sepulchre: Daily Procession


Monday of Holy Week – 25th of March


  • 6 am – Jerusalem –  5th Station: Masses until 8 am
  • 6 am – Jerusalem – Holy Sepulchre (Calvary): Parish Mass (in Arabic)
  • 7 am – Jerusalem – Holy Sepulchre: Daily Solemn Mass
  • 4 pm – Jerusalem – Holy Sepulchre: Daily Procession


Tuesday of Holy Week – 26th of March


  • 7 am – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Solemn Mass with signing of the Passion
  • 7:30 am – Jerusalem –  Flagellation: Solemn Mass with signing of the Passion
  • 4 pm – Jerusalem – Holy Sepulchre: Daily Procession


Wednesday of Holy Week – 27th of March


  • 7 am – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Solemn Mass with signing of the Passion and daily procession
  • 7 am – Jerusalem – Gethsemane (Basilica of the Agony): Solemn Mass with signing of the Passion
  • 9 am – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Veneration of the Flagellation Colum throughout the day in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel
  • 3 pm – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Tabernacle Service


Holy Thursday – 28th of March


  • 7 am – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Pontifical Mass (Washing of the Feet). Procession of the Blessed Sacrament.
  • 1: 45 pm – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Notes: Basilica doors open, and close shortly afterwards. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Service. Notes: Exit after the Service (5 pm). The basilica remains closed for the rest of the day.
  • 3:30 pm – Jerusalem –  Mount Sion: Pilgrimage to the Cenactle and to the churches of St. James and St. Mark (Departure from St. Saviour’s at 3:10 pm)
  • 9 pm – Jerusalem –  Gethsemane: Holy Hour in the Basilica of Agony (No Photographs) Notes: 10pm – midnight: private prayers in silence


Holy Friday – 29th of March


  • 8 am – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Notes: Basilica doors open only for celebration, not for visits), and close shortly afterwards.
  • 8:15 am – Jerusalem – Calvary: Celebration of the Passion of the Lord
  • 11:30 am – Jerusalem – Via Dolorosa: Way of the Cross. Starting from the First Station with the Franciscan Friairs, followed by various groups.
  • 6 pm – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Service
  • 00:30 am – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: “Funeral” Procession


Holy Saturday – 30th of March


  • 7:30 am – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Easter Vigil
  • 3:15 pm – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Entrance and Solemn Procession
  • 6 pm – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Evening Prayer in front of the Edicule
  • 00:30 am – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Pontifical Celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours in front of the Edicule, with the Custos of the Holy Land officiating


Easter Sunday – 31st of March


  • 6:30am SonRise service -Garden Tomb
  • 9:30 am – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Entrance of the Latin Patriarch
  • 9:45 am – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Pontifical Mass and Solemn Procession
  • 1200 Resurrection service in Korean broadcast on short wave radio to 2000+ Korean churches planted in the Far East
  • 5 pm – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Daily Procession


Easter Monday– 1st of April


  • 8:30 am – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Daily Solemn Mass
  • 10 am – Emmaus (Qubeibeh) – Pontifical Mass and Blessing of bread by the Custos of the Holy Land
  • 2: 30 pm – Emmaus (Qubeibeh) – Solemn Eucharistic Exposition
  • 5 pm – Jerusalem –  Holy Sepulchre: Daily Procession


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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.

July 24, 2012July 24, 2012  0 comments  Holy Sites

According to the tradition, the idyllic hillside of Mount of Beatitudes in the Galilee was the place where Jesus Christ gave a special teaching to His disciples and other gathered believers: “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain; and when he was set, his disciples come unto him. And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven…’” (Matt. 5:3) In total, the sermon consisted of 9 blessings gratifying humble and merciful behavior.


While climbing the hill, a pleasant wind from the Sea of Galilee was cooling our arms and faces. And when we reached the top of the mount, the seashore view and the red-flowered trees captured our attention. The contrast of the vivid colors and the black basalt stone created a great visual composition.


Mount of Beatitudes Red Flowers Travelujah


And just behind the corner, on the site of Jesus’ teachings, hidden among a beautiful tree garden, we saw a domed chapel; built from the basalt stone in 1937 A.D. The Roman Catholic Church was designed by the famous architect, Antonio Barluzzi, whose designs can be found in almost every corner of the Holy Land.


We had time for a short visit inside the chapel, since the Franciscan Sisters who care for the site, were closing for a midday break. The focal points of the interior are a small altar and windows of the church inscribed with the opening words of the beatitudes “blessed are” in the Latin language.


We were accompanied by a priest and therefore were able to hold a short mass in the chapel’s garden. During the ceremony, we read the biblical beatitudes of Jesus and prayed for blessings for the people who struggle in their lives, and we thanked God for the possibility of being in this holy place on the Mt. of Beatitudes.


Mount of Beatitudes Prayer Travelujah


We decided to stay a bit longer in the area to admire the lovely view of the Sea of Galilee and enjoy the serenity of he place. Also, close to the parking spot on the mount is a neat café-bar selling cold and warm beverages and ice creams. Cold orange juice was a good idea!

Church Opening Hours:


  • April – September: daily at 8 am – 12 am and 2:30 pm – 5pm;
  • October – March: daily at 8 am – 12 am and 2:30 pm – 4pm;




Call the Fr. Sisters of Mt. of Beatitudes:  00972 (0) 4 – 679 - 0978


Getting there:


There is no public transportation to the Mt. of Beatitudes, though there is a bus that will let you out on Highway 90, about a 15 minute walk to the site. Our group arrived with a private driver. The parking costs 5 NIS per vehicle. Groups seeking to visit the site can come with on a pre-arranged bus tour. Other individuals and private groups can include the Mt. of Beatitudes in a private tour with a private guide and vehicle.  If you are looking for a more complex tour in the whole Galilee region – click here.

One day tours to the Galilee including the Mt. of Beatitudes departing Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are available as well.




Did you know that the Mount of Beatitudes offers a spacious hospice managed by the Franciscan Sisters? The guesthouse primarily services the needs of pilgrim groups however, there are times when rooms can be rented out to independent tours as well.  For more information, click here.


Surrounding sites:




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Beata M. Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.


December 27, 2012December 27, 2012  0 comments  Holy Sites

One of the most Ancient Surviving Churches in the World

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke both discuss the birth of Jesus and each infer that Mary and Joseph were from Bethlehem. Matthew infers that Mary and Joseph only later moved to Nazareth because of Herod’s decree, while Luke indicates that Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth but only traveled to Bethlehem because of a special census. In both stories, however, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, possibly according to the Gospel of Luke, in a manger because there was no room at the inn.

Christianity was declared as a lawful religion of the Roman Empire by Constantine in 313 AD. After Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, the Emperor and his mother Queen Helena ordered construction of three churches honouring great events of Christ’s life. The Nativity Church in Bethlehem was one them, beside the churches which mark the sites of Resurrection in Jerusalem and Ascension on the Mount of Olives.

Nativity Church Bethlehem Travelujah

Temple of Adonis

The cave, where Jesus is believed to be born, was a sacred place for early Christians. In 135 AD, Emperor Hadrian converted the grotto into a worship place for Adonis - Greek pagan god of beauty and desire. It was likely done to make people forget about Christ. In 327, the pagan temple was destroyed and construction of the monumental Christian basilica began. The church consisted of three main parts: the octagonal sanctuary, built over the Nativity Grotto, a long atrium and forecourt.

Samaritan Revolt of 529 AD

Construction of the Basilica was finished after 333 AD, which means that the Queen Helena had never seen it in a completed form since she died in Rome in 330 AD. In 529 AD, the church was burnt during the Samaritan revolt against the Byzantine Empire.

Miracle of 614 AD

The basilica laid in ruins for more than thirty years. The existing church was built by the Emperor Justinian in 565 AD. But this time, the basilica was constructed on a plan of a cross with three apses, replacing the octagonal structure over the grotto. The altar was repositioned in a new eastern apse, following the belier that Christ will come from that direction on the Judgment Day.

Afew years later, in 614 AD, Sassanian army from Persia invaded the Holy Land and decided to destroy all the churches. The Nativity Church, miraculously survived intact. The legend says that Persians recognized images of their ancestors in one of the mosaics or paintings above the entrance to the basilica and that these images represented the Magi, who came from the East to celebrate Christ’s birth.

Nativity Church Bethlehem Travelujah

Crusader’s Kingdom

From 1099 AD and forward, during the Crusader period, the Nativity Church underwent multiple additions and repairs. The church also hosted the coronation ceremony of the first Latin King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, who took his title on the 25th of December 1100 AD. His successor, Baldwin II, followed did the same when he took the throne in 1122.

Disputes over the Church 

In 1347 the Franciscans were given authority over the Basilica. But during the 16th century bthe period of conflict between the Franciscans and the Greeks for the position of the sanctuary began. Consequently the church passed alternatively from one to the another according to the will of  the Ottoman government. In 1690 the Franciscans retook the possession of the Grotto, and in 1717 they replaced its silver star with a new one that is inscribed in Latin with “Hic de Virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est” meaning “Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary”.

In 1757, the Greeks took the possession over the Basilica once again. Between 1810 and 1829 the Armenians succeeded in establishing themselves in the church, getting the left arm of the transept.

In 1847, the silver star was gone. Its disappearance is cited by many to be possibly the direct cause for the French involvement in the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) against Russia. Later, the Franciscans designed another star to place it in the grotto but a replique of the previous star was put there by the Greeks in 1853.

Nativity Church Bethlehem Travelujah

Status Quo

The Holy Land came under the Ottoman rule in 1517 AD. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Greek Orthodox and Catholic Churches were still in continual struggle over a number of sanctuaries in the Holy Land including the Basilica of the. Other shrines in dispute at the time include the well in the Holy Sepulcher, the Tomb of the Virgin, Chapel of the Ascension and Deir al Sultan.

In 1852, Ottoman Sultan Abdul Mejid issued the "status quo" - an important document, which discusses the relations between the Christian communities of the Holy Land and describes their ownership and rights within the previously mentioned sanctuaries. It also decides on the times and durations of services, movements and their routes, and the method of implementation, whether by singing or by reading.

These days, the church is administered jointly by Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian authorities, however you will also see there a local presence taking care of the order. 

Unfortunately, nowadays, the church is in need of redevelopment and repair. In 2012, the church became the first site located in the area under the Palestinian Authority inscribed on the World Heritage List UNESCO. And hopefully, its presence on the list will encourage and speed up funding for its preservation. However, the common administration of the three denominations makes it harder to decide anything regarding the renovations as any redevelopment requires their common agreement.

The Door to the Basilica

The Orthodox Convent keeps the key of the main entrance to the Basilica of the Nativity. However, the door opees and closes ever day immediately after the Latin bells ring. The time varies according to the season of the year.

Nativity Church Bethlehem Travelujah

The Katholikon

Katholikon is the main church of the complex, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox. This means that a Catholic or Armenian monk should not enter this part of the church while wearing a sacerdotal dress at any time. However, there are assigned spaces and times when it is possible. For example, there is a daily (except Sundays) Franciscan procession to the Nativity Grotto. The monks can walk only along a narrow passage connecting the St. Catherine Church and the grotto.

The Nativity Grotto

The Grotto of the Nativity is accessed from the Katholikon by two stairways, one from the north (left) and one from the south (right).

The southern door is used exclusively by the Orthodox and no other clergy can enter the grotto from this side while wearing a sacerdotal dress. Privately, however, any person can use the staircase at any time. The curtains along the steps belong to the Orthodox as well and there are two lamps that are suspended above these - the one nearer to the door is Latin and the other Orthodox. There are also two ikons on the east wall - one Orthodox and the other Armenian.

The hanging canvas around the main walls are under the Latin property. There are also paintings hanging on the canvas- six Orthodox (on wood) and six Armenian (on canvas). Grotto’s floor is cleaned every Thursday after closing the church, once by the Orthodox and once by the Latins.

Nativity Church Bethlehem Travelujah

The northern entrance is used principally by the Latins and Armenians, so the steps leading down to the entrance are cleaned alternately by the Latins and the Armenians. The hangings along this staircase are Latin and the Latins clean this set of steps daily. Above this door are two ikons and two lamps, belonging one each to the Orthodox and Armenians.

Down in the Grotto, the actual shrine consists of two parts, the Altar of the Nativity with the previously mentioned silver star, belonging to the Orthodox and the Armenians, and at which the Copts and Syriac also officiate, and the Altar of the Manger which is exclusively in Latin use. In front of the Manger are three candlesticks belong one to each rite.

If you plan to visit the Church of the Nativity:

Holy Masses in the Nativity Grotto

The timing of the ceremonies in the Nativity Grotto follows the solar schedule. It is very useful to know the timing of the religious ceremonies held in and around the grotto before arranging a visit.


  • 3 am – Catholic prayer and cleaning
  • 4 am – Greek Orthodox Ceremonial incense
  • 4:30 am – Armenian prayer
  • 4:55 am – Catholic mass
5:30 am – Greek mass (opening of the small door)
  • 7:30 am – Catholic mass
  • 8:10 am – Armenian mass
  • 9 am   – cleaning of the grotto (only Catholics and Orthodox are allowed to clean the exact grotto, Armenians however take part of their property like paintings or icons)
  • 9:15 am – From that hour the grotto is available for the pilgrim groups
  • 9:15 – 11:30 am – There is a possibility of 2 Catholic masses for the visiting pilgrims, the grotto has to be previously reserved.
  • 12:00 pm – Catholic procession from the St. Catherine Church to the Nativity Grotto; Ceremonial incense of the grottos of the Nativity and of St. Heronimus. The Franciscan have the keys to the door in the passage connecting the two grottos.
  • 1:30 – Armenian Mass Next to the altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary (in the northern apse)
  • 2:30 – 3:30 –  Greek Orthodox Vespers

Sunday Masses:

On Sundays, the Catholic mass in the grotto takes place at 9:30 am and the Armenian one at 11:30 am, because of the main Greek Orthodox mass, up on the altar of the Nativity Church from 7:30 till 9:30 am, the grotto is available for the pilgrim groups only after 11:30 am.

There are also three Catholic masses in Arabic in the St. Catherine's Church at 7:30 am, 9 am and 11 am. 

Opening Hours:

Basilica of the Nativity: Summer (April – September) 6:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Winter (October – March) 5:30 a.m. –5:00p.m. Note: Grotto is closed on Sunday morning.

St. Catherine Church: Summer (April – September) 6:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m. 2:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Winter (October – March) 5:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m. 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Notes: Sunday morning, open for Holy Masses (7:30 am, 9 am, 11 am). Grotto opens in the afternoon.

Book a Mass:

To reserve a catholic mass in the Grotto of the Nativity or the St. Catherine Church for Catholic priests Pilgrims’ Certificates and Catholic groups, contact the Franciscan Pilgrim Office: Tel. +970-2-6272697 Fax: +970-2-6286417 E-mail: fpo@cicts.org . Office hours: Monday - Friday 8.30 a.m. - 5.30 p.m. / Saturday 8.30 a.m.- 12.30 p.m. / Sunday closed.

Travelujah Tips: - Travelujah-organized private group tours accompanied by a parish priest  have private mass arrangements made at venues around the Holy Land, including the Nativity Church in Bethlehem, depending on the group itinerary.

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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.

May 10, 2013May 10, 2013  0 comments  Holy Sites

“After the Lord Jesus had talked with them [apostles], he was taken up to heaven and sat at the right side of God.” (Mark 16:19)


After his resurrection, Christ appeared to his disciples many times. However, after 40 days since he was brought back to live, Jesus rose up to heaven. According to Evangelist Luke, it happened close to Jerusalem, in the area of Mount of Olives, on the way to Bethany.


When the apostles saw Jesus suddenly disappearing behind a cloud, they were disoriented and shocked. Two angels, however, made them calm down, predicting Christ’s return: “Galileans, why are you standing there looking up at the sky? This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way that you saw him go to heaven.” (Acts 1:11)


The Chapel of the Ascension


In the early days of Christianity, still before the Emperor’s Constantine conversion in 312 AD, early believers honoured Christ’s Ascension in a concealed cave on the Mount of Olives. This kind of secret worship was quite common, as it was much safer to congregate in hidden places in the time of the Roman persecution. Egeria, who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem around 381 - 384 AD, in her writings describes her participation in a celebration of Ascension that took place on the present open site, uphill from the cave.


Chapel of the Ascension


The spot on the Mount of Olives for building the chapel commemorating Christ’s Ascension was pointed out by Constantine’s mother Queen Helena, who was a pious Christian. She also defined the sites for erecting the Basilica of the Nativity and the Holy Sepulcher.


The first shrine was built with help of Poimenia, a member of an imperial family, in the 4th century (around 378 – 384 AD). The great rotunda open to the sky was erected and called Imbomon, which means "above the hill".


The Byzantine structure had originally two concentric ambulatories (6 m and 2 m in perimeter) that surrounded the principal round space with the spot from which Christ is believed to ascended to heaven located in its center. The church had no proper apse,  just an altar located east of the rock. The archaeological investigations of C. Schick in 1887 and Fr. Corbo between 1959 and 1964 confirmed the round design.


Furthermore, in the 5th century the Chapel of Ascension went through a phase of architectural shifts, when around 438 Melania the Younger installed a shrine in it, eukterion which means ‘a place of prayer’ for St. Stephen. The inauguration ceremony was held during the first imperial visit to the Holy Land of Empress Eudocia, wife of Theodosius II (around 438).


It is not certain if the the church was destructed during the Persian invasion in 614 as the pilgrim Arculf describes the round church open to the sky in 670. However if it was destroyed, the Imbomon might have been restored by Patriarch Modestos around 626.


While the church still existed in 870, it seems to have vanish before Crusaders’s arrival. It was probably destroyed by Fatimid caliph Hakim in 1009.


The Crusaders built on its place an octagonal church which could have been reached by taking 20 steps up. Under the altar was shown a stone from which the Lord rose to heaven, and in which the legend and strong belief sees Christ’s footprint. The chapel was surrounded by still clearly visible columns and arches. The church was encircled by a fortified Crusader monastery.


Chapel of the Ascension


In 1187, the Church of the Ascension came under the Muslim possession and it was transformed into a mosque in 1200, which preserved much of the Crusader design but added a roof and a mihrab. Though not mentioned in Quran, Muslims believe that Jesus ascended into heaven. As the chapel was mainly used by Christians, in 1620 the mosque was relocated to a new structure of Zawiyat al-Adawiyya Mosque built just next to it.


In 1835 the Crusader structure became an enclosed room – the walls were added between the columns and a small dome was built over the roof.


Feast of Ascension


The Ascension Day that commemorates the bodily Ascension of Jesus into heaven is observed on Thursday, on the fortieth day of Easter. It is a movable feast since Easter is as well. The Catholic and Protestant Churches will celebrate the Feast of Ascension this year on the 9th of May 2013 and the Eastern Orthodox Churches on 13th of June 2013.


In Jerusalem, the feast is annually celebrated with a solemn mass at the site of the Chapel of the Ascension.


Chapel of the Ascension


If you go:


The Chapel of the Ascension and the Zawiyat al-Adawiyya Mosque are located in the suburb of At-Tur on the Mount of Olives. It is easy to reach it on foot from Jerusalem’s Old City. It is also possible to take bus #75 from the Bus Station next to the Damascus Gate, which will take you there. Entrance fee: 5 NIS ($ 1.50)


Visit as well:




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Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010. 

November 20, 2013November 20, 2013  0 comments  Holy Sites


Who was St. Catherine of Alexandria?


One belief states that St. Catherine was born in the 4th century to a noble family in Alexandria, Egypt. She became Christian as a teenager and was martyred by a pagan emperor Maxentius. At first, he ordered her to be tortured on a wheel, however the wheel immediately broke when she touched it. She was beheaded instead.


According to another belief, St. Catherine’s body was carried by angels to Mount Sinai, and a church and monastery were constructed in her memory in the 6th century.

The Church dedicated to St. Catherine in Bethlehem


A church dedicated to St. Catherine was also built in Bethlehem. It is a Catholic church and Franciscan monastery located in the complex of the Nativity Church, over the area of the grotto where Jesus Christ was born.


According to local tradition, the church stands on the spot of Christ’s appearance to St. Catherine of Alexandria around 310 AD.


Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem


Crusaders also built a cloister and a monastery which they gave to the Canons of St. Augustine and which in 1347 became a Franciscan convent.


The present building consists of a nave and two aisles. It incorporates remains of the 5th-century sanctuary related to the St. Jerome and the parts of 12th-century Crusader church, which are clearly visible particularly in the courtyard.


In 1882, the monastery was rebuilt with financial help of the Emperor of Austria. In 1948, the Church of St. Catherine was restored again by the famous architect Antonio Barluzzi, who also designed many other churches of the Holy Land including the Church of the visitation in Ein Karem. His magnificent reconstructive work can be mainly seen in the 12th-century Cloister of St. Jerome surrounding the entrance to the Latin church. Its design is in keeping with the original medieval architecture.


Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem


A beautiful stained glass window featuring a Nativity scene was installed above the main altar in 2000. And just recently, in the summer of 2013, the main altar of the church was shifted backward to create more space for believers. This change gives a chance for more pilgrims to be present on the Christmas Eve Mass on the night of 24th of December, which is broadcasted annually around the world.


What’s under the church?


There are stairs on the right side of the main nave that lead down to the grotto which is divided on a number of chapels. Those include the Chapel of St. Jerome, who devoted his life to translating the Bible into Latin language – Vulgate; Chapel of the Holy Innocents, which commemorates the children killed by Herod the Great and the Chapel of St. Joseph that reminds us of his dream in which an angel warned him to escape to Egypt. 


Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem


There is also a passage leading to the Nativity Grotto, tho it is usually closed. But the grotto can be viewed by a keyhole in the door.


Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandra in Bethlehem


Every year around 25th of November there are planned special liturgical events for the Feast of the St. Catherine which will take place in Bethlehem, in the church dedicated to her:


Saturday, 23rd November 2013, Eve of the feast:



  • 11.30 am - Entry of the Custos
  • 01.45 pm - Vespers and procession
  • 03.30 pm - Office and procession



Sunday, 24th November 2013, Feast day:



  • 10.00 am - Solemn mass celebrated by the Custos of the Holy Land


When to visit?


Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem


Summer (April – September): 6:30 am – 7:30 pm / Sun. morning: grotto is closed

Winter (October – March): 5 am – 5 pm / Sun. morning: grotto is closed


The Sunday masses at 7:30 am, 9 am, and 11 am in the St. Catherine Church are usually held in Arabic.


The Latin Parish in Bethlehem can be contacted by calling on (02) 274 24 40 or writing on pscbet@palnet.com or pastorvioice@hotmail.com


Beata Andonia blogs regularly for Travelujah. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.

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