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A visit to Samaria
May 19th, 2005

Jacob's Well - Well of the Samaritan Woman




The Gospel. Jesus stopped at the traditional Jacob’s Well and, while the disciples went on in search of food, a Samaritan woman came to draw water. Whatever the woman had in mind in going to the well, she certainly did not expect to hear anything like Jesus’ words; and they left her convinced (John 4:5-42). She went to express her joy to the inhabitants of the nearby village who came themselves to speak with Jesus, with equally enthusiastic results. They invited the Master and his disciples to stay in the village which from that moment could be consider Christian and a foundation of the Lord himself.

Mt. Garizim
Mt. Ebal

The Village in question is called Sychar in the Gospel, and its identification is not certain. Some identify it with Sychem, the ancient ruined city now located north of the well; others with the village of ‘Askar situated to the northeast which has archeological remains of the period. The question has little importance because in any case it is a village not far from the well. Since the conversion of the villagers, the well began to be called after the Samaritan woman.
A few years after the Lord’s death, Philip the Deacon evangelized the city of Samaria-Sebaste; and the apostles Peter and John were sent by the Mother Church of Jerusalem to organize the new community. On their way back to Jerusalem the two apostles, who had accompanied Jesus in the journey that had brought him past Jacob’s well, “preached the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans,” as St. Luke says (Acts 8:25). Seemingly the apostles, once welcomed guests of the inhabitants of Sychar, had returned to their old acquaintances.
St. Justin, a native of nearby Flavia Neapolis, the present-day Nablus situated a few kilometers from the well, in speaking of the Christians mentions also the Samaritan-Christian communities which arose among the Samaritans and the Jews (Apologia I, 53, PG 6, 405-408), although he considers them less organized and less numerous than those of Gentile stock. Conceivably Sychar always remained Christian, because the well soon became a place for baptism. The anonymous pilgrim of Bordeaux expressly mentions it in 333: “balneus qui de eo puteo lavatur,” i.e. “a bath (in the pilgrim’s language, a baptistry) which takes its water from this well” (Itinerarium Burdigalense 588, 1, CCSL 175, 14).

The Jacob's well in the sixthies
From Mt. Garizim
Between Mounts
Garizim and Ebal
Towards Mt. Garizim

The First Church. At Flavia Neapolis in the fourth century there was a bishop of Gentile stock called Germanus who is praised by the Samaritan poet Marqah because he permitted circumcision despite the Roman laws forbidding it. Seemingly Germanus was in charge of Samaritan-Christian communities established in the neighborhood. He or his successors built a cruciform church over the well which is first mentioned by St. Ephrem (De virginitate, CSCO 224, 58-59), then again by St. Jerome in his version of the Onomasticon. In translating Eusebius’ entry which spoke only of the well, Jerome added: “Today a church has been built there” (On. 164-165). Since I have already written at length about this church, which anyway was not the village church, I refer the reader to the pertinent essay for further details (LA 16 [1966], 127-164)



At the entrance to the Greek property, which includes the traditional well, there is a quite singular sarcophagus. On its long side it is adorned with festoons enclosing the shield of the Amazons, and on the short side, by a cross in relief. Since the style of the shield brings us back to the second-third centuries, the whole sarcophagus and consequently the relief of the cross can be assigned to this date. It may attest to the Samaritan-Christian presence in the pre-Constantinian period.
Among the materials reused by the Crusaders in erecting a great church on the site of the cruciform building, there is a Samaritan inscription of the Decalogue. Today it is preserved in a little museum existing here, and may provide an additional testimony to this community. In formulating the hypothesis, we have before us the Samaritan inscriptions recovered at Mount Nebo (S. Yonick, LA 17 [1967], 162-221) in which were found phrases of Christian flavor, and an amulet with Samaritan inscription and the emblem of the cross, in which is a hint to the doctrine of regeneration (E. Testa, LA 23 [1973], 286-317).
Under Emperor Justinian some Samaritans converted to Christianity for the sake of expediency, but continued to practice the Samaritan cult in secret. Procopius of Caesarea refers to them in the Secret History (ch. XI).

The new Greek-Orthodox Church
External view
Fresco on the cupola
Fresco on the apse

The shrine. In the Middle Ages the well was held by a Latin community dependent on the Benedictine Abbey of Bethany, which rebuilt the already ruined primitive church; but once the Latin kingdom fell, also this second church fell into ruin. The Franciscan Niccolò da Poggibonsi, who saw it in 1347, stated that it was destroyed and the well “almost completely choked.” Father Quaresmi, who visited the place almost three centuries later, reported that the Greeks would come to the church ruins from time to time to celebrate the cult there, and that they kept the enclosure gate locked. In 1860 they succeeded in acquiring the site and are its owners to our day. In 1893 they managed to clear the well. A church begun before World War I is still unfinished.

Interior
The cupola
The main gate

The villages around the well have been Moslem for centuries. Father Mariano Morone, Custos of the Holy Land from 1652 to 1657, relates (Terra Santa I, 322) that the fields surrounding the well were very fertile and at his time the farmers used to convey their wheat to Jerusalem and sell it to the monks, “but then the tyranny of the Turks grew worse; the Pashas of Jerusalem forced the poor monks to buy corn from them at higher and heavier terms than the price demanded by the peasants.”



In the Madaba Mosaic Map

  

"
Here is Jacob's well" (external link)

Other links:

Shechem in BiblesPlaces.com (external link)


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Created/updated: Wednesday, May 27, 2005 by J. Abela / E. Alliata / A. Sobkowski
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