CHURCH OF BEITPHAGE|
Catholic - Franciscan Order
Located on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives
[#2 on the Mount of Olives map]
medium size image (67KB) - large image (148KB)
"As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of
Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to
them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a
donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them
and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the
Lord needs them, and he will send them right
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
"Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and
riding on a donkey, on a colt, the
foal of a donkey.'" The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed
them. They brought the donkey and the
colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them."
During construction of a Franciscan monastery in the year
1876, a wondrous stone was revealed. Shaped like a cube and
covered in plaster, the rock had been an integral part of a
twelfth-century Crusader church once located in the ancient
village of Beitphage. The Crusaders believed that Jesus used
this rock to mount the colt before taking that last fateful
journey to Jerusalem. It is called the Stele (stone monument)
Yet the site where the stone was discovered had been
considered holy for hundreds of years before the Crusaders
constructed their sanctuary. In fact, there was already a shrine
in Beitphage in the fourth century. That chapel commemorated the
encounter between Jesus, Lazarus, and Martha.
"Bethany was less
than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha
and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When
Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but
Mary stayed at home. 'Lord,' Martha said to Jesus, 'if you had
been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even
now God will give you whatever you ask.' Jesus said to her,
'Your brother will rise again' "(John 11: 18-23).
The Crusaders built their church on top of the Byzantine
remains and decorated the stone - which had probably become
detached from the rest of the rocky slope - that stood on the
site. Ancient Latin inscriptions on the rock relate to
biblical events which occurred in the area and specifically
mention Jerusalem and Beitphage.
In 1950 the once splendid paintings on the stele were
restored; five years later frescos were drawn on the walls of
the nineteenth-century sanctuary. Overwhelmingly desert-like
in their many shades of brown, the frescos portray New
Testament-era folk preparing for the procession. On one wall a
group of high priests holds a scroll. It contains the second
part of the phrase from John 12:19, in which the Pharisees
say to one another, "See this is getting us nowhere.. ." It
reads, in Hebrew, " Look how the whole world has gone after
him!" Around the windows are the words, in Latin, which Jesus
spoke on that momentous ride to the Holy City.
Of course the main focus of the church is the Stele of
Beitphage, set apart by decorative wrought iron railings and
illustrating events that occurred here and in nearby Bethany.
Behind the rock is a mirror, so that visitors can easily see the
drawings on all four sides.
On one side there is a drawing of the meeting between Jesus
and Martha; a second holds a picture of two disciples bringing
Jesus an ass and a colt. A third painting represents Lazarus
rising from the dead. And on the fourth side of the rock, facing
the altar, is an illustration in which the crowds hold palms much
like those which the people waved in front of Jesus.
day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus
was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went
out to meet him, shouting, 'Hosanna!' 'Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord!' 'Blessed is the King of Israel!' "
Like pilgrims of today, the Crusaders held a
Palm Sunday procession which began at the medieval Beitphage
Crusader foundations are easily visible near the floor of
the apse which contains the altar. Behind the altar, facing you
as you enter, is a picture which illustrates the biblical
account of Jesus riding a donkey to the Temple, accompanied by
the disciples. Interestingly, the altar is of a type no longer
common in Catholic churches, for modern-day priests face the
multitude. Indeed, it seems to be backwards: priests officiating
at mass must stand with their backs to the worshippers as they
did in previous centuries.
Beneath the altar are three arches, resembling an element
in the contemporary entrance. There, within a tall and slender
twentieth-century tower standing on exposed early foundations,
an arcade of three arches forms a miniature second-story
I was quite taken with the church ceiling, which features
scattered drawings of flowers and leaves. They are rather
whimsical, and reminiscent of rose petals that are strewn before
an important personage. Most likely, they symbolize the foliage
so evident in the biblical procession.
Visiting hours: Daily 8:00-11:30; 14:00-16:30
Extra information: to enter the gate, pull the rope. A guard will
let you in.
Return to "Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem"