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 Mount Nebo - P.O.Box 2 Faysaliyah - 17196 Madaba - JORDAN - eMail:

The Memorial of Moses at Mount Nebo


  • Description
  • Bible - pilgrims
  • Explorers
  • First Sanctuary
  • Basilica
  • Today
  • Pictures
  • The Franciscan Monastery

    The friary was built in 1932 by the Custody of the Holy Land to house members of the archaeological expedition of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem while they undertook excavations at the Siyagha ruins, a project which got under way in the summer of 1933. Starting with a central nucleus, the convent has grown with the addition of service rooms of different types, all of a practical and functional nature. When conditions permit, the convent is used as a retreat house by the Franciscans. Also its adjacent gardens and facilities have been developed with a view to make use of them for days of recollection and prayer, especially for the Christian communities of the vicinity.

    It was Franciscan Fr Jerome Mihaic who founded the convent and who was chiefly responsible for the initial restoration of the sanctuary. He is buried in the interior courtyard of Ihe little friary atop Mount Nebo.

    The Sanctuary of Moses

    It need hardly be said that the prime purpose of both the archaeological excavations and monastic restorations at Siyagha (subsidised by the Custody of the Holy Land thanks to offerings of Christians throughout the world), has been and is to preserve for future generations this extraordinary monument of Faith and to bring new life to a sanctuary constructed in ancient times by the Christians of the region in honour of Moses, Prophet and Man of God.

    Since 1976 the annual liturgical feast of Moses is held on 4 September according to the ecclesastical calendar followed by the Church of Jerusalem. Local Christians, priests and laity, join with the Franciscans in the solemnity. Particularly noticeable is the representation from the city of Madaba upon whose Bishop the Nebo sanctuary depended juridically in ancient times.

    Giovanni Fantoni of Florence takes credit for the liturgical implements and decorations carried out in hammered metal in rhe sanctuary and the monument placed just outside the sanctuary, a symbolic reminder of the great prophet and his message of salvation as fulfilled in Christianity with Jesus offering his life on the cross for the salvation of the world.

    Working at Mount Nebo

    The arduous task of excavating and restoring on Mount Nebo has been carried on with tenacity and solid enthusiasm by a quasi community of mutual friends from Italy, Jordan, Malta, Spain, Syria, USA, Argentine, Zaire.... We form a group of more than twenty persons comprised of religious, layfolk, students, professionals and artists, who travel to Nebo each summer about mid-July. All come with the same spirit of enthusiasm. Working on an archaeological excavation can be an excellent occasion for experiencing common life in the desert full of "camaraderie" and fellowship, especially when it happens to be on a mountain so rich in sacred history and tradition.

    From this experience, apart from the solid scientific results hoped for on the archaeological plane, there are deeper and more important rewards on the human and spiritual level. Science is peculiarly efficacious in unravelling the past, but at the same time if it is approached merely as a research activity it has its limitations. In the confusion about value systems that is ravaging our times, two months in the desert far from certain artificially imposed routines of life provide a singular occasion for experimentation, for exploring a new way of life, a meeting between science and man, an occasion too priceless to be neglected or permitted to slip away unexploited.

    So we climb up Mount Nebo and return there year after year swept along by a stern resolution to give ourselves to work. A real renovation of life is possible by simple fidelity to the biblical injunction "you will earn your bread by the sweat of your brow" and to the Pauline equivalent "let him earn the bread he eats" and following the example of Saint Francis who, just after his conversion, and at the moment of initial uncertainty, went to work to rebuild a church. Our labor of love, a common dream, is Nebo again graced by trees, shrubs and flowers, a basilica-museum and sanctuary of fitting beauty, a Franciscan convent bestowing hospitality on all.

    Those who come to Mount Nebo do so without compulsion and there is a place for each and everyone, both for friars and others who wish to participate in our adventure, give a hand to our burdens and share our enthusiasm. Obviously physical space and other limitations make a certain choice and selection necessary, but from the beginning we have sought to work with others, to accept lay friends along with our friars. Because of the meeting between different mentalities and backgrounds a reciprocal process of enrichment ensues.

    Morning and evening our community of friends who wish to join us pray together, then the remainder of the day is given to work which on Mount Nebo very naturally becomes a form of contemplation. The place is uniquely fitted for the fusion of these two realities and this phenomenon is felt and lived by our "Neboites". In our decisions great importance is put on the principle of simplification. Our labor has to be one of genuine simplicity and economy with an end in view that is clearly social: In this land of poverty anything superfluous would not only be useless but might well be positively harmful. We have succeeded, in so far as our project is being used as an example by other restorations in the region, that a patrimony of art, faith and civilisation can be salvaged without astronomical expenditure and grandiose dcvelopment schemes.

    On Nebo we work, pray and contemplate while trying to tame and mould an environment and a nature nothing less than hostile. Already a whole generation of friars has been busy at this endeavour, one after another, since the days of Fr Jerome who began it all in 1932. On this mountain we are expressing ourselves, our ideas, bringing our dreams to realization and facing up to tasks that are challenging, difficult and immensely laborious. Every corner and angle will be utilised and stones will bend beneath the force of our shovels and our ideals - and with these latter are included the sacrifices and ideals of all those who have gone before us in this long and far from simple enterprise.

    And today Mount Nebo, after more than 60 years of work, serves also the springboard for a wider presence of the Franciscan Biblican Institute in Jordan's quest for the archaeological exploration of the country so rich in artistic treasures left buried under the sand of time! That is why the Nebo Expedition has been in the forefront at the nearby city of Madaba not only through the archaeological digs carried out there but also in the establisahment of the Madaba School of Mosaic, an experience being carried through the Aid of the Italina, Canadian and US governments. From Nebo the archaeological team has undertaken digs in the Wadis around the mountain, from Ain Mousa to Ain Kaniseh, and since 1986 it has also stretched its reach to 40km away in excavating the byzantine remains of Umm al Rasas (Maypha'ah)

    Not that we have been without our lighter moments and smiles of occasional triumph. For example in 1978 we saw "our aps" decorated with the rugs of Hajj Saleh and the flowers which constituted our inheritance. Many exhausting hours had been transformed and materialized into a humble wall, poor in its plaster of white cement, a far cry from the splendor of other sanctuaries that grace the world, yet rich in terms of the efforts we had expended upon it.

    If nothing else the presence of our community of friends on this mountain -- even if only for a few months each year--has given new life to a convent which, because of the frequent political and military tensions in the area, had been for many years virtually abandoned. The basilica on Nebo is at present the only sanctuary in Jordan and in the person of Moses there is a unity of feeling, as a symbol of hope, among Christians, Moslems and Jews. Therefore our constant preoccupation right from the very beginning of the work at Nebo has been to provide an assured and holy environment for those who come here looking for peace and contemplation the "better things", the intangible but real commodities that comprise the true wealth of Mount Nebo.



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    Created / Updated Friday, July 27, 2001 at 15:42:28 by John Abela ofm
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