SAINT ANNE'S CHURCH

Catholic - White Fathers
Located just inside the gate variously called "Lions'", "St. Stephen's", and "St Mary's"
[#21 on the Old City map]


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"Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie--the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, 'Do you want to get well?'
'Sir,' the invalid replied, 'I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.' Then Jesus said to him, 'Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.' At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked..."

JOHN 5:2-9

Jerusalem residents utilized a number of rain-water reservoirs during the Second Temple period, including the double pool called Bethesda. People with a variety of disabilities would linger by the Bethesda pool, for its waters were believed to have magical powers of restoration. Indeed, it is said that an angel flew over the pools once every 24 hours; whoever happened to be inside the water at that time would be miraculously healed!
According to one Christian tradition, the Virgin Mary was born in a cave near the Bethesda pool where her son Jesus would one day perform miracles of faith. The Crusaders believed that a grotto they discovered next to the reservoir ruins was Mary's birthplace, the home of her parents Anne and Joachim. They incorporated the cave into a powerfully impressive church named for Jesus' grandmother and Mary's mother, Anne.
Unlike other Crusader churches, St. Anne's was not destroyed by the Mamelukes who captured the Holy Land in the twelfth century. Instead, Mameluke commander Saladin converted St. Anne's Church into an Islamic seminary and left it whole. If you read Arabic you will find the name Salahiya (of Saladin) in an inscription above the entrance. Today St. Anne's belongs to the French government and is run by the White Fathers, an order of the Catholic church named for the color of their robes.
What first strikes the visitor to St Anne's Church is its simplicity, both within the unadorned interior and on the clear clean lines of its facade. Yet there is also a sense of majesty, perhaps lent by the church's stark cross-vaulted ceilings and giant pillars. You may note that the building leans slightly to the side. Although I have never observed this architectural quirk, tour guides who have noticed it claim the tilt is symbolic of Jesus on the cross.
Stone steps descend to the crypt below the church, where an altar is dedicated to Mary and the ancient rock has been beautifully incorporated into the shrine. During the Moslem occupation of Israel, Christian pilgrims were permitted inside the grotto - for a price - and it is here that the Franciscans celebrated mass from the mid-sixteenth century on.
Probably the finest example of Crusader architecture in the Land of Israel, St. Anne's Church possesses amazing acoustics which make even a solitary melodic prayer pervade your being. And when a choir sings in the church the very heavens seem to ring!

Visiting hours: Monday-Saturday 8:00-12:00; 14:00-17:00 (Sunday closed)

Return to "Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem"