The Pool of Bethesda (the name is a corruption of Beit-Hesda, which means “house of mercy” is mentioned in John 5:2. The pool lay near the Sheep Gate. The five porches, described by John, were probably from the Herodian period. The pagan temple of the god of healing Asclepius is from the time of Hadrian. Apses of a Byzantine church and ruins of a Crusader chapel are also here. Around 1130, St. Anne’s Church was built. In 1192, Saladin turned it into a Koranic school. After the Crimean War (1854-1856), the Ottomans gave it to Napoleon II. In 1873, the pool was discovered. In 1878, the White Fathers acquired the site. Upon the request of the Melkite bishop to train priests, Cardinal Lavigerie, founder of the Order of the White Fathers, built the Greek Catholic Seminary, which functioned until 1967. This place was filmed in Virtual Reality 360° by the team of 360HolyPlaces™.
Event: Jesus healed the paralyzed man and asked him to rise and take his pallet and walk (John 5:2-9).
Visit: Going through the Lions’ Gate, in the Via Dolorosa street. on the right, is a sign that reads: “Birthplace of Mary” over the gate of the Greek Orthodox Convent. Under this convent are caves dug in the rock. The Greeks say that here was the house of Anne and Joakim, the parents of Mary, after they came from Zippori in Galilee. In one of the caves, it is said that Mary was born. The third gate on the street leads to the Pool of Bethesda, St. Anne’s Church and the Greek Catholic Seminary. In the courtyard, where the Roman Catholic procession of Palm Sunday ends, is a statue for Cardinal Lavigerie. On the lintel of the door of St. Anne’s Church is an Arabic inscription stating that Saladin turned the church into a Koranic school. The Arabic name for the church is Salahiyah. This Crusader’s style church has three aisles separated by stone pillars, each aisle ends with an apse, the largest one is where the altar stands. Over the pillars, arches and crossed vaultings support the ceiling. A transept passes in front of these apses at the intersection of which rises a dome without a drum, but with windows in the base. This acoustic church with a Romanesque architecture, measures 34 meters long and 19.5 meters wide. In the crypt is an icon that depicts the birth of Mary. The Pool of Bethesda had two basins separated by a dyke. In the porches, sick people sat to wait for their turn to touch the water that was believed to have had a healing power. On a platform stood the pagan temple and the ruins of a Crusader chapel.
THE VALLEY OF BETHESDA
The two present pools lead us to suppose that, already in early times, water reservoirs existed in this valley. A simple dam would collect rainwater flowing down through the valley to form a natural lake. Later, this lake was transformed into an artificial reservoir of 40x50m, by means of a 6m. wide dam. The water was led to the Temple in an open-air canal. The Bible texts of Isaiah 7,3 and 2 King 18,17 could refer to this. Towards the end of the 3rd century B.C. a second pool was made probably in time of the High Priest Simon. (Sir 50:3) As it is located south of the dam, the open-air canal had to be covered and became a water tunnel. Between 150 B.C. and 70 AD. a popular healing center developed east of the pools. A water cistern, baths and grottoes were arranged for medicinal or religious purposes.
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(1) The largest became a water cistern and small channels
(2) and small channels
(3) brought the water to the baths.
(4) There, a crowd of invalids (who were barred from the Temple) would wait to be cured. It was there, near the Probatic (sheep) Gate that, according to John 5, Jesus met and healed a paralytic. In the 1st century A.D. the construction of a larger pool, Birket Israel, nearer to the Temple, put the pools of Bethesda out of service. A new city wall build to the North by Herod Agrippa in 44 A.D. prevented the water from flowing down. Before they filled in the pools, the Romans built a water Cistern
(5) Between 200 A.C. and 400 A.D., at the time of Aelia-Capitolina, fine buildings were constructed: a Temple of Asclepius or Serapis
(6) and vaulted rooms in front of some baths
(7) Some mosaic-floors, frescos ,votive offerings and coins date from this period. When Juvenal was Patriarch of Jerusalem (422-458), a large byzantine basilica (45x18m): was built. Its naves were built on the old dike and pools, supported by seven arches. Its choir covered and concealed the healing place. One can see today its apses, four column bases and the mosaic of its martyrion
The church was dedicated to “St-Mary of the Probatic”. It commemorated Jesus’ miracle and, at the same time, Mary’s birthplace traditionally located in this area. The Byzantine Basilica was damaged and partly burnt by Persians in 614. Restored by the monk Modestus, it flourished again with many priests and nuns in the time of King Charlemagne. Around 1010, the church was destroyed, probably by Caliph Hakim and in 1099 the Crusaders found only ruins. They built a small monastery dedicated to Jesus’ miracle. Around 1130, a large Romanesque Church, dedicated to St. Anne, Mary’s mother, was built above the caves where the memory of the Virgin’s birthplace was kept. It served as the chapel of a community of Benedictine nuns. Sultan Salad-Din recaptured the City and transformed St. Anne’s church into a Koranic law school in 1192. The conquest of Jerusalem by the Turks brought with it period of neglect for St. Anne’s. However, many pilgrims continued to visit the holy crypt discreetly. The Ottoman Turks offered the damaged church to France as a gesture of gratitude for its aid in the Crimean War (1854-1856). The architect Mauss restored it and made the first excavations. In 1 B7B the shrine was e trusted to Cardinal Lavigerie and his Missionaries of Africa. While training the Melkite Clergy, they continued the excavations. They revealed the dike and the pools. The Dominican Fathers of the “Ecole Biblique” brought to light the remains of the Byzantine Basilica and the baths of the healing place.
The Gospel site of Bethesda invites us to take time for meditation and prayer. Everyone is confronted by Jesus’s question: “Do you want to be well?” To all who experience illness, weariness, fears or remorse, he still says: “Stand up, take your mat and walk!” Since he has come for the sick and sinners, he asks us to draw close to our true Father and thus experience new wholeness and peace, our restored dignity as children of God. St. Anne’s Basilica is renowned for its sober lines and its special echo. One can sing there but also pray personally, attend mass or speak with a priest. The crypt of the sanctuary where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, is dedicated to Mary’s birth. For about seven centuries it has received the visit of generations of believers who came in difficult circumstances to entrust their needs to Mary the mother of Jesus.
After this there was a festival of the Jews and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, which has five porticoes. In these lay many Invalids: blind, lame and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him: ‘Do you want to be made well? ” The sick man answered him:” Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.