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Church of Bethphage

The Church of Bethphage, also spelled Beitphage, meaning "house of the early figs", is a Franciscan church located on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It contains a stone traditionally identified as the one which Jesus used to mount the donkey at the start of his procession into Jerusalem.

The modern church, built in 1883, rests on the foundations of a 12th century crusader chapel, which was located in the ancient village of Bethphage, which is now a part of Jerusalem, but two thousand years ago would have been a separate village between Bethany and Jerusalem. The crusader era chapel itself was built on the foundations of a 4th century Byzantine shrine commemorating the meeting between Lazarus' sister Martha and Jesus, after Lazarus had died.

"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)

In 1867, during construction of a Franciscan monastery on the grounds, a stone, cube shaped and covered in plaster, was discovered. This stone, now called the Stele of Bethphage, was an integral part of the 12th century crusader chapel and now lies near the northern wall of the church. The Crusaders had decorated the stone and inscribed upon it in Latin, descriptions of biblical events which occurred in the area of Jerusalem and Bethphage. In 1950 the decorations on the stone were restored and five years later, in 1955 frescos were drawn on the walls and ceiling of the sanctuary. Today, as in the 12th century, pilgrims hold a Palm Sunday procession, which begins at the Bethphage Church.

Foundations from the crusader chapel can easily be seen near the floor of the apse. Behind the altar is a fresco depicting Jesus riding a donkey to the Temple, accompanied by his disciples. The church ceiling features drawings of flowers and leaves. Colored in shades of brown, the wall frescos portray New Testament era people preparing for the procession. On one wall a group of rabbi's hold a scroll which contains the second part of the verse from (John 12:19).

Written in Latin around the windows are the words which Jesus spoke during the procession into the city. The main focus of the church is the Stele of Bethphage, which is set apart by wrought iron railings. There is a mirror behind the stone so that visitors can easily see the drawings on all four sides. The drawings depict the meeting between Jesus and Martha; two disciples bringing Jesus an ass and a colt, Lazarus rising from the dead, and on the side facing the altar, a drawing of a crowd of people holding palms.

Church of Bethphage

Church of Bethphage
Church of Bethphage
"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 away.' 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. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, 'Hosanna to the Son of David!' 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!' 'Hosanna in the highest!' When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, 'Who is this?' The crowds answered, 'This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.'" (Matthew 21:1-11)


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