Descending to Christ’s prison was one of the most gut wrenching experiences at our pilgrimage. Matched only with The Horrendous Golgotha (John 19, 17). Here we descended, there we ascended up to the place, called “The Place of the Skull” which in Hebrew is called “Golgotha” , where the mystery of divine economy was accomplished and where the New Testament was sealed with the blood of the Theanthropos (Godman) which cleansed humanity from the evils of sin and death.
Holy Monastery of Praetorion
It is near the Monastery of the lentils and it served as a court at the time of Christ, the Roman Headquarters and the Roman governor Pilatus’ house. In the courtyard of the Praetorium the ultimate sentence of Christ was passed by Pilate the Roman governor. According to the Holy Gospels, Christ was transferred here after he had been seen by Anna and Caiaphas to be judged (Matt. 27:1-31; John 18:28-40). Here began his martyrdom with the scourging, the scarlet robe, the reed, the mocking and the crown made of thorns (Matthew 27). In the Greek monastery there are ancient caves, one of which is believed to have been used as Christ’s temporary prison. The second one, which is underground, is believed to have been used as prison for Barabbas, the robber. There is also the pool of St. Helen where every Great Friday they have the service of the Great Hours. The present Praetorium was built during the 18th century and belongs to the Greek Orthodox. (The Patriarchate of Jerusalem)
I always visualised Christ as a prisoner like this, and a bit ‘abstract’:
But no! He must have been like this:
Look again, carefully at these two holes, where they must have placed His legs, and the icon above:
I was stunned! Suddenly it all be too real! Such violence and injustice and hubris! And those ancient rocks were so full of Life, exuding the fragrance of Holiness and Sanctity!
When you first catch a glimpse of the magical St. George’s Monastery (Choziba) in the Judean desert, the Desert Fathers’ Wisdom is brought to life in its uncompromising, breathtaking asceticism. This amazing cliff-hanging monastery, one of the world’s oldest and definitely one of the most inspiring churches in the Holy Land, is a must-see for the desert / archeological fans / devout Pilgrims.
St. George Orthodox Monastery, or Monastery of St. George of Choziba is a monastery located in Wadi Qelt, in the eastern West Bank, in the occupied territories. The sixth-century cliff-hanging complex, with its ancient chapel and gardens, is active and inhabited by Eastern Orthodox monks. It is reached by a pedestrian bridge across Wadi Qelt, which many believe to be Psalm 23’s Valley of the Shadow. The valley parallels the old Roman road to Jericho, the backdrop for the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).
Here’s some beautiful aerial video footage to give you a taste of the area around St. George’s Monastery…
St George’s Monastery can be reached via the main Jerusalem – Dead Sea highway (Road 1). Take a left at Mitzpeh Jericho (or a right if you’re coming from Jericho) and follow the brown signs for Wadi Kelt. You can hike the Wadi all the way to the monastery but it will take lots of hours of arduous trekking in the desert under the blazing sun! Up and down, for hours, a windy path! Not so easy for seniors or people with disabilities, but there are usually plenty of locals offering their donkeys for the ride (at a cost of course).
Check out the clip below for a real taste of the walk to St George’s Monastery … When I look at these photographs or watch the videos, I cannot believe I did all this walking!
St. George’s Monastery was originally started in the fourth century by a few monks who were looking to immerse themselves in the lifestyles and desert stories of John the Baptist and Jesus. The monks, and perhaps most notably the hermit John of Thebes, eventually settled on the spot around a cave where it is believed the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:5-6). The traditions attached to the monastery include a visit by Elijah en route to the Sinai Peninsula, and St. Joachim, whose wife Anne was infertile, weeping here when an angel announced to him the news of Mary’s conception.
The monastery became an important spiritual centre in the sixth century under Saint George of Choziba. Hermits living in caves in nearby cliffs would meet in the monastery for a weekly mass and communal meal.John of Thebes became a hermit and moved from Egypt to Syria Palaestina. The monastery was named St. George after the most famous monk who lived at the site. Destroyed in 614 A.D. by the Persians, the monastery was more or less abandoned after the Persians swept through the valley and massacred the fourteen monks who dwelt there. The bones and skulls of the martyred monks killed by the Persians in 614 A.D. can still be seen today in the monastery chapel. These 3000 and more martyrs’ relics are so alive that during their Supplication canon every week an exquisite fragrance and raw smell of fresh slaughtered blood are alternately exuded from them!
The Crusaders made some attempts at restoration in 1179. However, it fell into disuse after their expulsion. In 1878, a Greek monk, Kallinikos, settled here and restored the monastery, finishing it in 1901. Father Germanos, born Georgios Tsibouktzakis, who came from Thessaloniki, Greece, to St George’s in 1993 and lived there until he was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in 2001, was for many years the sole occupant of the monastery, he was named Abbot in 2000. Emulating the Wadi Qelt monks of late antiquity, Father Germanos offered hospitality to visitors, improved the stone path used by pilgrims to climb up to the monastery, repaired the aqueducts, and improved the gardens of shade and olive trees.
This is probably the most stunning discovery in the monastery: St. John Jacob (the Romanian) – a Hermit from the Holy Land with complete Incorruptible Relics! He was a great ascetic and a poet. He called himself “the child of zero” who “followed the One”. After his all night- vigils, he would briefly rest in the verandah of the monastery and write his so moving poetry, sadly not translated yet in English. In the next days I plan to translate and post here some of his most moving autobiographical poems. This Saint is famous for his miracles, from the discovery of his relics to nowadays.
This discovery was even more stunning for me personally because my spiritual father had introduced him to me the last day before flying from Lancaster to Greece and then to Tel Aviv. He also gave me a tiny piece of a secondary relic of him. What a ‘coincidence’! I knew nothing about him, other than his name, and then a brief google search, and here I found him most alive and incorruptible!
Let me close with Archimandrite Konstandinos, a holy Elder, very special in his hospitality and famous for his clairvoyance gifts.
Explore in 360 degrees the Sistine Chapel, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and many more – all online.
Christians have been making pilgrimages to holy sites and churches around the world for centuries. Can’t make a pilgrimage? Here’s the next best thing!
Some tours are embedded on this page, while others can be found with the link provided.
1) Sistine Chapel – Vatican City
Built in the 15th century and painted in the 16th century, the Sistine Chapel is one of the great artistic masterpieces in the world. Michelangelo painted the ceiling and the Last Judgement fresco, while the frescoes on the other walls were painted by a number of other artists. Among other things, the Sistine Chapel serves as the location for conclaves of Cardinals that elect new popes.
This one can only be viewed on the Vatican website, so click on the picture or on the link to check it out.
Located in Old Jerusalem, the Church of Holy Sepulchre is venerated by Christians for containing within its space what is believed to be the places of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection – which makes it pretty important! The original church was built in the 4th century under Constantine but has endured several rounds of extensive damage and restoration since.
Not to be confused with the Kremlin (which is nearby), St. Basil’s Cathedral was built in the 16th century on orders from Ivan the Terrible and served as a Russian Orthodox cathedral for centuries until it was confiscated and forcibly secularized in the late 1920s by the Soviet Union. It remains property of the Russian government today and is used as a museum.
Link: Start the tour! (Note: the virtual tour can take a little bit of time to load.)
This great wonder of the world was built in the 16th century in the midst of the Protestant reformation, replacing the aging church that had stood on that site since the 4th century. The largest church in the world, it is built on top of what is believed to be the grave of St. Peter, the first pope.
Church of the Nativity is located on the place that Christians have traditionally believed that Jesus was born. The first church was built in the 4th century under Constantine but was destroyed by fire and then rebuilt in the 6th century. Since then it has gone through numerous restorations, additions, etc. Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic representatives run and maintain the current church.
6) Cathedral of St. Paul, National Shrine of the Apostle Paul – St. Paul, MN
Atop the highest hill in the Twin Cities (with the Minnesota state capital just a bit lower down the street!), the St. Paul Cathedral is everything you’d expect of a beautiful European cathedral – except that it’s in the U.S.! It’s the third largest completed church in the U.S., and the fourth tallest. Built in the early 20th century, it is a co-cathedral with the Basilica of St. Mary (see #6) for the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.
Built in the early 20th century, the Basilica of St. Mary was the first church designated a basilica in the U.S., and serves as a co-cathedral with the Cathedral of St. Paul for the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.
When was Canterbury Cathedral built? That’s a hard question to answer, since different parts of the current structure were built, torn down, rebuilt, added on, etc over nine centuries, from the 10th to the 19th, with the site having been used as a cathedral since the 6th century. During the Protestant reformation in the 16th century, the Church of England took control of the church from the Roman Catholic Church.
Built from the 12th century to the 15th century, Exeter Cathedral serves as the seat of the Anglican bishop of Exeter. Among its large collection of relics, the church has what is supposedly the Burning Bush, as well as part of a candle used by an angel in Christ’s tomb. Like the Canterbury Cathedral, Exeter Cathedral was originally a Roman Catholic cathedral, but was acquired by the Church of England in the 16th century.
Directly across the street from Rockefeller Center in the middle of New York City, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was built in the 19th century when midtown wasn’t as populated, and its large size dominated the area. Construction began in 1858, paused during the Civil War, and was finished in 1878. Further work was done in the early 20th century, and it was named a National Historic Site in 1976. It is currently used as the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of New York.
11) Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Chartres – Chartres, France
Built mostly in the 13th century, Chartres Cathedral is the latest of at least five churches that have stood in its location. Amazingly, most of the stained glass in the church is original. Among its many boasts, the church claims to have the Sancta Camisa, the tunic worn by the Blessed Virgin Mary at the birth of Jesus. It is still the seat of the Catholic bishop of Chartres.
12) Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – Washington D.C.
Located on the campus of Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception “is the largest Catholic church in the United States, the largest church of any kind in the western hemisphere, the eighth largest church building in the world, and the tallest habitable building in Washington, D.C.” Construction began in 1920, but wasn’t completed until 1961 due to the Great Depression and WWII. Even so, significant additions have been made as recently as 2012. In addition to a beautiful array of images of the Blessed Virgin Mary from different cultures, the basilica houses the papal tiara of Pope Paul VI.