Saturday, 5 October 2013
Mary's resting place
We are living about half way between the centre of Jerusalem and the centre of Bethlehem on the main road which connects them. This neglected and deteriorating site is close by. Even the earliest pilgrims wanted to break the journey at this point and quickly imagined that it was where Mary and Joseph did so too. The rock in the centre of this picture is where they said she rested and began to go into labour. The three octagonal loops round it are the shape of a Byzantine church built around this rock.
The church is called Kathisma, which is Greek for seat, and the well near by is Bir (water) Kadisma (an arabisation of Kathisma). It is known from a sixth century 'Life of Theodosius' which dates it to 456 with the original dedication of Maria Theotokos (theo is God and tokos is bearer, so God-bearer or 'Mother of God' is the normative title for Mary in the eastern church today). This picture is of a fragment of marble surviving on the face of a step leading into the central apse.
It was lost and only rediscovered when the Hebron Road was being widened in the 1990s. There is material from later rebuilding, from later still Muslim use, and from Crusader destruction, and this capital from a pillar is an indication of this.
Most striking of all is where mosaic survives, in most cases covered with sand in an attempt to preserve an open site which may not be a state priority to secure or develop.
But some of this is clearly breaking up in the open at the moment. The Mar Elias (St Elijah) monastery close by is a refreshment stop for many tourist coaches, but they seem to miss out on a traditional devotional site almost next door. We would have missed its significance too if others with whom we are staying had not explained to us what is a short walk from our door.