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A visit to Samaria
May 19th, 2005

El-Bireh




We do not know if el-Bireh was a Christian village during the Byzantine period because to this day no archaeological evidence has been discovered to show it was nor do we have any literary references to it. This despite the fact that the village dates from ancient times.
The Christian presence during the Crusader period is well attested to by documents and monuments. The villagers at that time were European immigrants in the Holy Land and natives. The place was called el-Bira or the Great Mahumeria. The designation “mahumeria” caused some scholars to suppose the existence of some Moslem sanctuary there; but none is known to this day. Rather, the term “mahumeria” was used, as in the medieval guidebook Les chemins et les pèlerinages (Michelant and Raynaud [eds.], Itinéraires, 192), to indicate that the place was inhabited by Moslems. The documents show that Arabs and Europeans lived at el-Bireh side by side, and their names are mentioned together without any distinction.
The church. The village was a dependence of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Abel, RB 35 [1926], 273-275) and included the parish church served by its own chaplain, a khan for pilgrims, and houses of the notables and the common folk. The church is to the north, on the hilltop; the khan is at the foot of the hill; the houses between the two. The church had three naves which were partially visible right up to modern times. Pilgrims often mentioned it, because at that time it was believed to have been erected in memory of the finding of the child Jesus by his parents after three days (Luke 2:41-51). It is titled St. Mary’s in Crusader documents. The pilgrim Theodoric in 1172 recalls a large village called the Mahumeria with a church dedicated to St. Mary (Ench., no. 159); and an anonymous pilgrim of the fourteenth century speaks of Albiera “where is the church of St. Mary the Virgin in which she became aware of having lost her little son Jesus” (Ench., no. 160). From that time on all the pilgrims felt bound to mention the church erected in memory of this event.

Church of St. Mary at El-Bireh
1937
1987-1991
1987-1991
2005
2005
2005



Y. Magen, "The Crusader Church of St. Mary in el-Bira", LA 51 (2001) 257-266; Pls. 1-6
Online edition (pdf)

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