Christian pilgrimage sites
Starting with the Old Testament, there are a great number of Israelite period remains, beginning with Joshua’s conquest of the Holy Land over 3000 years ago and until the destruction of the first Jewish Temple in 586 BC.
Enjoy the sweeping views over the Jezreel Valley, site of great battles between Barak and Sisera at Mount Tabor, and Gideon and the Midianites on the More Hill, or ascend to Tel Azeka where you can look out over the Ela Valley, location of the famous showdown between David & Goliath. The most exciting remains from this period must be the excavations at the City of David, just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Here are the most ancient parts of Jerusalem, where it is possible to see the structure considered to be the palace of King David. See the burnt remains of the Babylonian destruction in 586 BC and, if you don’t mind getting a bit wet, walk through the ancient water tunnel built by King Hezekiah in the 8th century BC.
The City of David provides a nice segue into the Roman period, going back 2000 years ago. This period is particularly important for visitors on a Christian tour, as it is the time of Jesus and the New Testament of the Bible. Within the City of David lies the remains of the Siloam Pool, where Jesus sent a blind man to be miraculously healed. Heading into the Old City of Jerusalem, it is further possible to connect with Jesus’ presence in the city. Visitors to the Temple Mount can imagine the grandeur of the Second Jewish Temple which used to stand on this site, to which Jesus made his pilgrimage and where he remonstrated with the priests. At the Davidson Archaeological Centre you can walk up original steps leading to the Temple, the very same steps which it is almost certain that Jesus would have walked up to enter the Temple. Here you are quite literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
Walking the Via Dolorosa (the ‘Way of Pain’), you can experience the ancient pilgrimage route which marks Jesus’ path from being condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. The route culminates in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in Christendom, which contains both the crucifixion site (Golgotha/the Calvary) and the burial tomb. As you make your way down this ancient route, it is almost possible to see, hear and feel the millions of Christian pilgrims who have walked it in order to connect with God.
Just outside the Old City lies the Mount of Olives, where a series of significant events are marked with beautiful churches, many lying on the ruins of ancient churches originally built 1500 years ago. Perhaps the most beautiful of these is the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus spent his last moments as a free man among the ancient olive groves before being betrayed and arrested.
The ancient city of Bethlehem lies a short distance outside of Jerusalem. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem marks the birthplace of Jesus, and is always teeming with pilgrims. Also not far from Jerusalem is the Qasr el-Yahud Jordan River crossing, believed to be the location of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. At this serene site many Christians still choose to be baptised today.
No Christian tour to Israel is complete without some time in the Galilee. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, and its grand Basilica of the Annunciation marks the site where Mary received the news that she was pregnant; the small chapel next to it is believed to be where Jesus grew up with his family. A short ride away is Mount Tabor, site of the Transfiguration, and continuing east you reach the jaw-droppingly beautiful shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus conducted most of his teaching and performed the miracle of walking on water. Visit the ruins of Capernaum, where Jesus lived with Peter; see the ancient synagogue at Magdala, in which Jesus is believed to have preached, and visit the beautiful churches that mark the Sermon on the Mount and the miracle of the Feeding of the Multitude. Further North you can visit Caesarea Philipi, set against the flowing Banias river, and the place where Peter recognised Jesus, and Jesus proclaimed Peter the ‘rock’ upon which he would build his church.
The Holy Land is so replete with pilgrimage sites that it is not possible to list them all here, and a well tailored Holy Land tour includes careful consideration of which sites to visit. However, other important sites which we will briefly mention include Caesarea where Paul was imprisoned and where the Roman Centurion Cornelius became the first non-Jewish convert to Christianity; Beth Shean where Jesus cured people possessed by demons and suffering from paralysis and seizures; and Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.
The arrangements that were made were worth every penny that we spent. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking good care of us and in particular my daughter. It was a fascinating vacation an interesting pilgrimage and Samuel was an amazing tour guide with a wealth of knowledge.
Albert V, Canada
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