Rather than follow the chronology of our trip for the next few posts, I've decided to follow the chronology of Christ's life, at least the part that was in Jerusalem. I've already covered the healing of the blind man at the Pool of Siloam. Another one of Christ's healings also occurs at a pool--the Pool of Bethesda.
But I'm jumping ahead.
The Pool of Bethesda is located in what is now the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, just inside the Sheep Gate, also known as the Lion's Gate. It was through this gate that lions and sheep were brought to the Temple for sacrifice. Later, it would be this gate that Jesus--the sacrificial Lamb--would enter on his way to his crucifixion.
|Our friends Geneil and Terry listening to the lecture|
Beyond the tranquil gardens sits St. Anne's Church, a Roman Catholic Romanesque edifice completed in 1138 by the Crusaders. The church is built over the grotto thought by the Crusaders to be the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus. According to tradition, Mary's mother's name was Anne or Anna, and her father was Joachim.
A side door of the church shows the way to the birthplace:
Once we were inside, we tried to be very quiet. Apparently tourists who speak English are frequent offenders:
The main altar depicts the birth of Jesus on the left, the deposition of Christ's body from the cross in the center (covered by the purple tulle), and the Annunciation on the right:
I noticed these stairs and took photos, but I didn't go down them. There was no sign indicating what was below, and we had limited time. Too bad. At the bottom of the stairs are the supposed remains of Anna and Joachim's home, where it is believed Anna gave birth to Mary.
|Picture from seetheholyland.net|
Doorways, along with small windows, let in a soft, filtered light:
We didn't know it as we walked around the church, but St. Anne's is known for its phenomenal acoustics. The priest who was in charge approached us and asked if we wanted to sing. We quickly pulled together a group of ten or twelve singers and started to sing the LDS children's song, "I Am a Child of God," a song we knew all the verses to. Wow.
|Chris, Judy, Julia--getting ready to sing|
To provide a sample of the acoustics, here is a video of the BYU Jerusalem Center students singing at St. Anne's. I sure we sounded this good (at least in our own ears):
The third, oldest, and most important (to me) part of the Bethesda complex is the famous pool. In Jesus's day, these were pagan medicinal baths. It was believed that an angel flew overhead "in a certain season" and "troubled the waters," and that those with disabilities who could get into the pool at just the right moment would be miraculously cured.
Jesus had come to Jerusalem for one of the feasts. It was the Sabbath, and he must have passed by this pool on his way to the Temple. When Jesus saw the man who had been waiting thirty-eight years to be healed, he asked him if he "would be made whole." The man told him that he could never make it to the pool in time to be cured, that someone else always beat him to the water. Then Jesus replied with the simplest of sentences: "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk." The response was just as simple: "And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked." Jesus did not need to wait for the troubling of the waters. He did not need the magic water to cure the paralytic. He was "living water."
The story, told in the Gospel of John, became part of Christian lore, and various pools in and around Jerusalem were considered possible sites, although there were many experts who believed the story to be metaphorical. John mentioned five porches where the invalids would sit to wait their turn to step into the water, but no such pool was known to exist, and some thought the five porches were John's reference to the five books of Moses, which Jesus had come to fulfill. Then in 1888 these pools were discovered by German archaeologist Conrad Schick. Further excavations in 1956 revealed that the pools had four colonnaded porches around the sides and one over the central dike. In every way, they matched John's description of them.
|Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (1883) by Carl Heinrich Bloch|
This enormous painting (10.5' x 9.25') hangs in the BYU Museum of Art, Provo, Utah
The depth of the pool can be seen in the photo below. The wall/bridge on the right separated the water into two pools. During the Byzantine era, a church was built over the pools, with the arch in the center of the photo being one of the supports for that church.
Some places lend themselves to visualizing the familiar stories from the Gospels. This was one of those for me, and it was the spirit of the place as much as the scenery.