Here are some stories for your enjoyment about not well known sights, which are part of our Christian (Catholic and Orthodox) tours. Our guides are fully trained and knowledgeable in all aspects of the tours and they love to lead groups to unknown sights (by the tourists).
The Burning Bush
St Catherine’s Monastery in (well, not exactly in Israel, but close) Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula is believed to enshrine the burning bush from which God first revealed himself to Moses. The holiest part of St
Catherine’s Monastery is the Chapel of the Burning Bush, a small chamber behind the altar of the basilica. It is often closed to the public and those who enter must remove their shoes, just as Moses did when he approached the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-5).
Well of Moses
St Catherine’s Monastery also encompasses the Well of Moses, also known as the Well of Jethro, where Moses is said to have met his future wife, Zipporah.
As recounted in Exodus (2:15-21), Moses was resting by the well when the seven daughters of Jethro came to draw water. Some shepherds drove them away and Moses came to their defense. In gratitude, Jethro invited Moses to his home and gave him his daughter Zipporah in marriage. The well is still one of the monastery’s main sources of water.
Burial place of infants killed by King Herod
The burial place is accessible via the Church of St Catherine. On the right hand side of the nave, steps lead down to a complex of subterranean chambers. At the end, on the right, are the rooms where St Jerome (who spent 30 years translating the Scriptures from Hebrew and Greek into Latin) lived and worked.
The adjacent caves have been identified as the burial places of Jerome (whose remains were later taken to Rome). The first cave on the left at the bottom of the stairs is identified as the Chapel of the Holy Innocents. This is said to be the burial place of infants killed by King Herod in his attempt to eliminate the newborn “King of the Jews”.
A community of hermits
St Berthold (a Frenchman who had gone to the Holy Land as a Crusader, had a vision of Christ denouncing the evil done by soldiers.) gathered a small community of hermits around him, living in caves on Mount Carmel, in imitation of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Later the community became known as the Hermit Brothers of St Mary of Mount Carmel. In 1206 the community received a written rule from St Albert of Jerusalem. In the same century, some members moved to Europe and established similar groups from Sicily to Oxford. Those who remained in the Holy Land were massacred by the Saracens in 1291.
Carmelites returned to Mount Carmel in 1631 and finally completed the Stella Maris Monastery in the 18th century. Its stout walls and small openings reflect the need for defense against hostilities during its establishment. Later a lighthouse was built, giving a further meaning to the title Stella Maris. Because of its commanding position, the lighthouse has been commandeered as a military establishment.
Oskar Schindler Grave
One of the most-visited graves in Jerusalem belongs to Oskar Schindler, the German factory-owner and Nazi Party member credited with saving the lives of 1098 Jews during the Second World War.
His grave in the Catholic cemetery on the southern slope of Mount Zion is visited by Jews, Christians and people of no religious faith.
A complex and conflicted man, Schindler was an unlikely candidate for heroism that involved risking his life to save others.
Born into a Catholic family in Moravia, he was unfaithful to his wife with a succession of mistresses. As a businessman he engaged in black-market dealings and bribery. An ethnic German but a Czech citizen, he worked as a counterintelligence agent for the Nazi armed forces (for which he was jailed by Czechoslovakia) and also collaborated in the German strategy for the invasion of Poland.
Ironically, Schindler’s less endearing character traits equipped him to ingratiate himself with Nazi officials for the sake of his Jewish employees. After Germany occupied Poland in 1939, the opportunistic Schindler moved to the Polish city of Krakow and took over a Jewish-owned enamelware factory.
Because the factory was close to the Jewish ghetto he was able to witness the brutal German oppression at firsthand. “And then a thinking man, who had overcome his inner cowardice, simply had to help. There was no other choice,” he said after the war. Schindler built up his workforce with Jewish forced labourers from the Plaszow labour camp, bribing officials to ensure their wellbeing. He and his wife Emilie especially cared for those who were old or weak.
Pool of Siloam
The Pool of Siloam, where Jesus ordered a blind man to go to wash mud out of his eyes, lay undiscovered until 2004.
Then a drainage repair crew, working on pipe maintenance south of the Old City of Jerusalem, uncovered large stone steps that had led to an ancient pool dating from the first century BC.
Until then, a much smaller pool 50 metres north-west, at the end of Hezekiah’s Tunnel, had been regarded as the Pool of Siloam.
The account of the healing of the man who had been blind since birth (John 9:1-41) is one of the longest Gospel narratives of any of the miracles of Jesus.
The disciples asked whose sin had caused the man’s blindness, his own or his parents? Neither, said Jesus; he was born blind “so that God’s works might be revealed in him”.
Then Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with his saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes. “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam,” he said. The man did as he was told, and he was able to see.
The pool rediscovered in 2004 had been destroyed by the Roman conquerors around AD 70 and gradually covered by debris.
In the 5th century the smaller pool, further up the southern slope of the City of David, was remodelled, apparently by the Byzantine Empress Eudocia. A church named “Our Saviour, the Illuminator” was built over the pool.
Massacre of the Innocents
Looking south-east from Bethlehem, the skyline is dominated by a volcano-shaped mountain on which Herod the Great built the fortress-palace he dedicated to himself.
Constructed within two huge concentric walls, the seven-story Herodium palace was “private, intimate, exotic and protected”, according to archaeologist Ehud Netzer — who in 2007 discovered Herod’s long-lost tomb on the mountain’s north-east slope.
But to the Bethlehem parents whose infant sons Herod had massacred in a desperate attempt to eliminate the newborn “King of the Jews”, the presence of Herodium less than 6 kilometres away would have been a daily reminder of the king’s brutality.
The “Massacre of the Innocents”, following the visit of Wise Men from the East to pay homage to the baby Jesus, is recorded only in Matthew’s Gospel.
Other sources record that the murderous Herod had two of his sons strangled, executed one of his 10 wives for treason, killed numerous in-laws and on his deathbed ordered his eldest son beheaded.
Herod, who ruled Judea on behalf of Rome from 37 to 4 BC, was also a man of great architectural vision. His projects included the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the desert fortress of Masadaand the city and massive harbour works at Caesarea.
He chose the site of Herodium because it was near the scene of a crucial battle victory against a bitter rival, Antigonus, the last Hasmonean king.