Travelling down the Jerusalem-Jericho road, a visitor is apt to take only casual note of the village of El-Azariyeh It looks like just another of those settlements in the Holy Land where houses climb tier-on-tier up the slopes of a hillside. Perhaps, he will glance to the left and see, prominent above other buildings, a bell-tower and the top of another structure now in ruins. A hundred metres further on, in from a curve in the road, he may catch sight of a pure white church with its quite austere lines.. Then, the road to the desert will sweep on, and he will scarcely be aware that he has passed close by Bethany. Thus, for ages, El-Azariye, Bethany, has always been "a certain village" (Luke 10,38), with nothing remarkable about it.
However, for people who can still shed earthly desires and listen to God's voice within, Bethany has a quite special charm. It has a choice place in the Gospel record. Here, in Bethany Christ knew true intimacy and friendship. In a word, the great wonder for which the village is forever famous is itself presented in the Gospels as an act of love.
The deep meaning of Bethany's great miracle has centred Christian devotion on the tomb of Lazarus, as is clear from accounts by pilgrims who visited this site. It overshadows the township itself, including the house of Jesus' friends, and the home of Simon the Leper, where Mary, Lazarus' sister, had anointed Jesus' feet.
In 1863, thanks to the intervention of Marchioness Pauline de Nicolay, the Custody of the Holy Land got title to a plot of ground close to the tomb of Lazarus. Other areas were acquired later. In 1889, the Custody bought a property to the west where a comparatively recent tradition had located the house of Simon.
The diggings directed by Fr. Sylvester J. SaIler, in 1949 to 1953, brought to light the several religious buildings which Christian faith had erected in the course of the centuries close by the tomb. They showed the location of at least part of the ancient village of Bethany.
The results of these undertakings were published in 1957 under the title Excavations at Bethany. This is the main source for this information. The few studies which have been published subsequently deal with special topics and throw no new light on the tomb or the village. Corresponding archaeological work done by Fr. Augustine Patacconi, not yet published, does however reveal some interesting details.