JERUSALEM-the 50 sites you may overlook

In a historic and religious city like Jerusalem there is so much to see no matter how much you tour. When time is a limiting factor, even the most efficient tour guides have to compromise while deciding what to incorporate in the itinerary. Although it depends on the interest of the individual visitor as well, there is still a huge must-see-list in Jerusalem that cannot be avoided. At every stop so much information is thrown on a visitor that sometimes s/he tends to forget the details after leaving the place.

I remember when I first visited the Church of Holy Sepulcher, it appeared to me more like a small museum than a church. I was virtually clueless inside a dark and dull overcrowded massive complex of more than 25 chapels with several curious artifacts and antiques scattered under some dusky arches and dingy columns. It took me at least three visits with a proper map in hand to understand the Church complex. A normal visitor for instance would be satisfied with Golgotha, the ‘Stone of Unction’ and the ‘Holy Sepulcher’, but the oldest part of the complex, viz. the first century tombs inside the Syrian Orthodox Chapel could be easily missed.

In the upcoming posts I plan to upload 50 such sites from Jerusalem that I believe can be easily overlooked or go unnoticed by an average visitor. I am incorporating the following sites from my previous visits, again with no specific order of importance. I am sure that a serious traveler who loves history, traditions and the Bible has noticed or been to most of them.

Monday, April 5, 2010

THE GREEK ORTHODOX MONASTERY OF SAINT GEORGE OF KOZIBA -WADI QELT, JERICHO. A Monastery since 4th Century AD.

Carved out of rocks and lying deep in desert canyons, this magnificent cliff-hanging Greek Orthodox monastery began in the 4th century AD, when a few monks settled here around a cave where they believed Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5-6). Later, several tarditions were added to the site, the most important one is about Virgin Mary's birth. The site where Joachim wept over the sterility of his wife Anne and where an angel announced to him the news regarding the conception of Virgin Mary are now commemorated at the churches on the middle level of the monastery complex. The Elijah's cave is now credited to the 'Church of the Cave' at the upper level of the monastery.

However, it was a hermit, John of Thebes (c. 480 AD) who transformed the small oratory here into a monastery complex. The monastery takes its name from a monk named St: George of Koziba or St: Gorgias of Coziba. Born in Cyprus c.550 AD, St: Gorgias spent much of his life in the Judean Desert including the site of this monastery. In 614 AD, Persians invaded the site and murdered all the 14 monks who lived in the monastery; perhaps including St: George himself. The bones and skulls of the martyred monks killed by the Persian invasion are still displayed in the monastery chapel. The Crusaders made some attempts to restore the site in 1179. However, it fell into disuse after their expulsion.

In 1878, a Greek Orthodox monk, Kalinikos, settled here and re-established the monastery, finishing it in 1901. The monastery is still inhabited by a few Greek Orthodox monks and are open to public today. We could only make to the entrance of the monastery; due to shortage of time we decided to skip visiting the interiors.You have to be here to feel that eerily wild surroundings and absolutely breathtaking views into the desert. Climbing down the steep serpentine path to the rock-facing monastery is indeed like walking the 'Valley of the Shadow of Death' (Psalms 23:4)-a truly memorable  experience for us in Jericho.

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