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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:




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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.


March 19, 2013March 19, 2013  0 comments  Religious ceremonies


“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 1:18)


The news about Mary’s pregnancy made Joseph very upset. However, as a man of honor and faithful to the law, he decided to divorce her quietly to avoid a scandal. Then suddenly, during his sleep, angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and encouraged him to take Mary as his wife. The child she was bearing was conceived through the Holy Spirit.


Since that day, Joseph always accompanied Mary as a husband and after Jesus’ birth he became his guardian and terrestrial father. Joseph spent a lot of time with the young Jesus and taught him the profession of handicraft and carpentry. The boy probably followed Joseph to many places of his work.


Joseph was from Bethlehem and he belonged to the house of David. “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife”. (Matt. 1:20) Since Joseph, was not the genetic father of Jesus, we can come to the thought that Mary was from the Davidic origin as well. We can spot that when reading angel’s message which he revealed on the Day of Annunciation: “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.” (Luke 1:32) Thus we can deduct that Mary and Joseph’s families might have been related to each other.


Statue of Virgin Mary Nazareth Travelujah


The gospels indicate that after Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the Holy Family spent some months in the town before escaping from King Herod’s soldiers to Egypt. “Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt” (Matt. 2:13) The Chapel of St. Joseph, located inside of the Nativity Church, commemorates the place where the angel appeared to Joseph and commanded him to flee to Egypt. According to another local tradition, the family stayed in the place currently called Milk Grotto, which might have been on the land that belonged to Joseph’s ancestors from Bethlehem.


After the death of Herod the Great, who ruled Judea from Jerusalem, the angel again appeared to Joseph and let him know that the time of their return has come. Joseph, however, after hearing that Herod Archelaus took over the rule in Judea, decided to take his family to Nazareth in the Galilee.


At the time of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, the gospels do not mention Joseph anymore. This leads us to the assumption that Christ’s earthy guardian probably already passed away by that time.


Feasts of St. Joseph


In the tradition of the Catholic Church, the 19th of March is the day dedicated to St. Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The feast has been observed since the 10th century, however Pope St. Pius V established the holiday as a church custom in 1479. The holiday honors Joseph as the man who was privileged to become the spouse of the Mother of God and the foster-father of Jesus Christ. Additionally, Joseph is the patron of the Universal Church.


Church of St. Joseph in Nazareth


According to tradition, the Church of St. Joseph in Nazareth is located over Joseph’s carpentry workshop. The monastery stands next to the famous Church of the Annunciation and is often included within a pilgrim’s itinerary.


St. Joseph Church Nazareth Travelujah


The Church of St. Joseph in Nazareth was built in 1914 on the ruins of the Crusader church and over multiple caves. Three paintings on the monastery’s apse depict the Holy Family, The Dream of Joseph and The Death of Joseph in the Arms of Jesus and Mary. Joseph is believed to die in Nazareth.


In the crypt under the church is a pit, which is believed to be a baptistery dating to the 1st century A.D.


If you go: The church of St. Joseph in Nazareth is open daily from 7 am till 6 pm. From Monday till Saturday there is a mass at 7:15 am in Arabic and on every Wednesday at 6:30 am in Italian. The Sunday mass (in Arabic) is celebrated in the Church of St. Joseph at 8:30 am. When this article was written, the monastery was under renovation. Please check Catholic Parish of Nazareth’s website for updates: www.basilicanazareth.org. In its proximity is the Basilica of the Annunciation open from 8 am till 6 pm and the Archaeological Museum open from 8 am – 12 am and 2 pm – 6 pm (5 pm winter).


Church of St. Joseph in Bethlehem


St. Joseph Church Bethlehem Travelujah


The small Syriac Catholic Church of St. Joseph is located on Manger Street in Bethlehem. Its construction began in 1925 and the building was consecrated in 1930. The church serves the local Syriac Catholic community of Bethlehem. They are the descendants of the ethnic group of Assyrians that came from the Syrian desert in the 14th century B.C.


In both Orthodox and Catholic Syriac churches, the liturgy is in Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ. Aramaic is the spoken language only, the written form is called Syriac.


Feast of the St. Joseph: The community celebrates the feast of their church’s patron St. Joseph on Sunday the 17th of March at 4 pm.


If you go: The Sunday mass is celebrated in the Church of St. Joseph at 8:30 am. Since some period of time, the chapel is rarely open on the week days. If lucky, the person who keeps the keys would be around and when asked he would open it for the visitors. It is better to arrange a visit by contacting Fr. Frais at yacoob1991@hotmail.com or calling at 00972 (0) 50 295 94 18. To learn more about the Syriac Catholic Church in the Holy Land visit their website: www.syriaccatholic.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.



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