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The Friary at Flagellation

"The inward parts had the largeness and form of a palace, it being parted into all kinds of rooms and other conveniences, such as courts, and places for bathing, and broad spaces for camp; insomuch that, by having all conveniences that cities wanted, it might seem to be composed of several cities, but by its magnificence it seemed a palace; and as the entire structure resembled that of a tower, it contained also four other distinct towers at its four corners; whereof the others were but 50 cubits high; whereas that which lay upon the south-east corner was 70 cubits high that from thence the whole temple might be viewed; but on the corner where it joined to the two cloisters of the temple, it had passages down to them both, through which the guard (for there always lay in this tower a Roman legion) went several ways among the cloisters with their arms, on the Jewish festivals, in order to watch the peeple, that they might not there attempt to make any innovations"
(Josephus Flavius, Jewish Wars).

To the North of the Temple esplanade of Jerusalem, where today the Christians commence their Way of the Cross, there are various ruins amongst which the famous arch of the "Ecce Homo" (behold the man), the pavement popularly called the "Lithostrotos", an underground pool and various other minor structures. These ruins are to be found to the North of the Via Dolorosa Road, both in the Franciscan property where the two medieval chapels of Flagellation and Condemnation stand together with the imposing building of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum and mainly in the adjacent property of the Sisters of Sion. On the other hand, to the South of the same road there is a Moslem school where no excavations have been carried out yet.

As these ruins lie in the area where according to Josephus Flavius (Jewish Wars V, 238 and Jewish Antiquities) Herod the Great built the Antonia Tower, the scholars have asked two main questions: are there any structures in the said area which belonged to the Antonia Tower? The Praetorium where Jesus was judged, flogged and condemned to death is to be located in the Antonia Tower or elsewhere?

The Antonia Tower

Up to thirty years ago many scholars, following the authority of the Dominican Fr. Vincent, held that the stone-slabbed pavement preserved in the property of the Sisters of Sion and in that of the Franciscans, was the internal courtyard of the Antonia Tower and thus it was indicated as the famous Lithostrotos of Pilate where Jesus was condemned to death. Today this theory does not find any support from any archaeologist. Already in 1958 the Franciscan Fr. Bellarmino Bagatti tried to demonstrate that this pavement was more likely a square adjacent to the triumphal arch (popularly known as the Ecce Homo Arch). The said square is to be dated to the second Century AD and not to the times of Jesus. The Dominican Fr. Benoit propagated and diffused Fr. Bagatti's conclusions dismantling all the theories and conclusions of Fr. Vincent. Even the scholar Blomme, although presenting a disputable hypothesis that the Ecce Homo Arch was not a triumphal arch of the second century, but a gate of the first century, implicitly upsets more radically the reconstruction of Fr. Vincent because in the hypothesis of Blomme the area would have been spanned by a defensive wall of the city and so this would not be the place where to look for the remains of the Antonia Tower and particularly for its internal courtyard.

Without entering into much detail, the history of the area can be summed up thus:

1. The Antonia Tower, destroyed by Titus in the siege of 70 AD, is not to be identified with the ruins to the north of the Via Dolorosa (in the property of the Franciscans and the Sisters of Sion) but more to the south.

2. The beginning of the modern road, today called Via Dolorosa, follows most probably the artificial ditch with which Herod separated the northern side of the Antonia from the rest of the Bezeta hill. Similarly the spur on which the Antonia was built is to be found to the south of the same street, in the area of the Moslem school from where the Way of the Cross commences every Friday.

3. The big pool at the Sisters of Sion is to be identified with the pool of Struthion where the romans built the rampart in their preparations to attack the Antonia Tower to the South, in the direction of the Temple. This was initially an open-air pool and the rocky banks were flanked by a plastered stairway, at least on one side. In a second period this pool was divided, as it is seen today, by two lenghtwise arc-vaults supported by two big central pillars. For chronological purposes it is interesting to note how the water channel that went from the pool to the Temple was made unusable by the boundary wall of the Herodian temple.

4. In the second century AD, in reconstructing the completely destroyed city, Emperor Hadrian placed here a big public stone-paved road, more than seven metres wide. This he laid on the herodian vallum lay-out which now was no more necessary. This probably is the East-West road reproduced in the Madaba Map and whose stone slabs had been found in recent works both under the Via Dolorosa and in the Franciscan property.

5. The road built by emperor Hadrian was endowed with a triumphal arch (the so called Ecce Homo Arch) which opened into a stone-paved square which pavement has been preserved to this day (the so popular Lithostrotos). It is to be noted that this pavement partially surmounted also the underlying, now covered, pool of Struthion.

6. Remains of two small churches and various basins date to the middle-ages.

The Praetorium

Let us now face the second problem: where was the Praetorium of Pilate located? The Gospels do not help us to locate the Praetorium where Jesus was flogged and condemned to death. Luke is the most laconic and does not even mention the word Praetorium. He only says that the Jews "took him to Pilate" (Lk 23,1). The most detailed account is that of John who in chapters 18 and 19 repeatedly speaks of the Praetorium and adds also the terms Gabbatha and Lithostrotos (Jo 19,13). From the whole picture it seems that the term Praetorium indicates the palace where Pilate retired to interrogate Jesus. To the contrary, the Lithostrotos is an open-space located outside the Praetorium (note the continuous use of the verbs "enter" and "come out" in the account of John): it is there that Pilate pass his judgement and proclaims the death sentence.

Fr. Benoit, way back in the fifties, already showed that in roman practice the Praetorium was the residence of the "Praetor" and not an ordinary place where the "Praetor" (or the procurator) exercised justice. In a second moment he attained from the literary sources to affirm that the roman procurators, when they came to Jerusalem from Caesarea, used to reside at the royal palace which Herod the great had built on the western hill, thus a distinct palace from the Antonia tower which is located on the Eastern hill of the city. Benoit thus concluded that Jesus was flogged and condemned to death in the upper city, in the area of the big still visible Herodian tower, popularly known as David's Tower (next to Jaffa Gate) and not in the Antonia Tower. As corollary one has to say that according to this theory Jesus had to "go down" to Calvary and not "go up" because the Herodian Palace on the upper city was the high spot of the western hill.

The theory of Fr. Benoit has a defect: it does not keep in mind the tradition of the pilgrims who, starting from the fourth century localise the place of the judgement of Jesus not in the upper city, but at a spot in the central valley of Jerusalem, called Tyropeon. This point happens to be between the place where the Via Dolorosa starts and the Western Wall. The same pilgrims insist that from that spot, facing North, you had Calvary to your left (to the West) and from here one had to go up to the place of crucifixion. Fr. Bagatti, in reproducing the texts of these pilgrims, warns against the ease with which certain scholars discard these ancient traditions.

(©) text by Stanislao Loffreda ofm - SBF Jerusalem (tr. J. Abela)

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Created/updated: Thursday, December 6, 2001 by John Abela ofm
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