PILGRIMAGE  in  HOLY-LANDS

 

HEBRON

 

The Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron is an important religious site out of the several religious sites present in Hebron. The tomb is considered to be a religious center by the Muslims, the Christians and even the Jews. So while in Hebron the visitors must pay a visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron.
The Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron is also known as the Cave of Machpelah. The Temple Mount located in Jerusalem is the holiest place for the Jewish people followed by the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs which is the most ancient Jewish site in the world. The Christian, Islamic and the Jewish tradition believes that the religious compound of the tomb is the burial place of the four Biblical couples namely, Issac and Rebekah, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Leah and lastly Adam and Eve. The Jewish people considers Issac, Abraham, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah to be their patriarchs and matriarchs.

 

The massive, 1st-century BC Tombs of the Patriarchs dominates the ancient city of Hebron


The Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron was built by Herod, the King of Judea some two thousand years ago. The place was built to have a gathering ground and also for the Jewish people to offer prayers at the graves of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. The incredible building is the only one that is still existing, fully intact and is carrying on its original function for the past thousands of years. The foreign invaders utilized the place according to their own religious orientations like the Crusaders and Byzantines transformed it into a church and the Muslims into a mosque. The Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron is visited by over 300,000 people every year. The whole massive structure is divided into three rooms. They are Ohel Yitzhak, Ohel Ya'akov and Ohel Avraham. The place is definitely an important religious site where the tourists should pay a visit when in Hebron.

The Tombs of the Patriarchs in Hebron, West Bank, is a shrine complex built mainly under Herod (1st cent. BC) with additions by the Crusaders (12th century AD).

It centers around the Cave of Machpelah, an ancient double cave revered since at least 1000 BC as the burial site of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their wives.
 

The Tomb of Joseph (brother of Benjamin) on the southwest side of Herod's enclosure

 

This is the second holiest site in Judaism after the Western Wall in Jerusalem and has been a Jewish pilgrimage destination from earliest times to today. It is also highly sacred to Muslims, who revere Abraham highly as a true prophet of God, and to Christians for the same reason.
Nearly all of what is seen today was built by Herod the Great in the 1st century BC in the same style as his Temple of Jerusalem and enclosure at Mamre, neither of which survive. It is thus of inestimable historical value as well as great sacred significance.
Today, the Tombs of the Patriarchs is the center of ongoing conflicts between Palestinians and Jews in Hebron and is therefore carefully segregated and under tight security.
 

The al-Jawiliyya Mosque, built in 1320


"Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave on the plot of land at Machpelah to the east of Mamre, which is Hebron, in Canaan." (Genesis 23:19)
"His sons, Isaac and Ishmael, buried him in the cave at Machpelah... with his wife Sarah." (Genesis 25:9)
It is not known when this site was first revered as the burial place of Abraham, but recent excavations of the double cave revealed artifacts from the Early Israelite Period (some 30 centuries ago). The great wall that still surrounds the Cave of Machpelah was built by Herod the Great (31-4 BC).
 

12th-century Crusader ceilings in the mosque


The Herodian complex probably consisted of six cenotaphs laid out symmetrically in pairs in an open court. This arrangement has been generally preserved to the present day. The entrance to the enclosure and cave may have been at the lower level near the center of the southwest side, near the later Tomb of Joseph.
The shrine was visited by Christian pilgrims from at least the 4th century, when accounts described it as an open structure containing the six tombs. In 6th-century accounts, it had porticoes around the interior, a basilica, and a screen separating Christian and Jewish pilgrims. No trace has yet been found of a church from this period.
It is not known when a mosque was first built here, but it must have existed by 918, when an entrance was cut at the center of the northeast wall by the Fatimid caliph. At this time the mosque for Friday prayers extended across the enclosure at the southern end; the mihrab wasin the southeast wall.
 

A small baldachino (canopy), which was raised in the 12th century over the entrance to the caves discovered by the Crusaders. It must have been re-erected after the entrance was sealed.


By 985, domes had been built over the tombs of Abraham and Sarah; those of Isaac and Rebecca were in the mosque; and those of Jacob and Leah were in a building at the northwest end. The enclosure was carpeted, textiles covered the walls, and a multitude of lamps and lanterns illuminated the interior.
A charitable food kitchen was built along the northwest wall and rooms for Muslim pilgrims were provided above the prayer hall. The tomb of Joseph was added under a dome against the outer southwest face of the enclosure.
 

A 14th-century canopy next to the mosque entrance. This stands over a 600m-diameter shaft that became the only opening to the chamber leading to the double cave below.


Godfrey of Bouillon took the Herodian complex by assault in 1100 as part of the Crusades. Under Crusader rule, the shrine was called the Castle of St. Abraham. A chapter of Augustinian canons was established in the complex. The Crusader secular and military establishment was housed in a new annex on the southwest face. This annex was later used as a caravanserai, religious schools, and a barracks, before being demolished in the 1960s.
 

Cenotaph of Abraham in the the central room of the building. Abraham is on the west and Sarah is on the east; their cenotaphs were constructed in the 10th or 11th century and modified to their present polygonal, domed shape in the 14th century.


In 1119, the location of the burial cave under the cenotaphs was rediscovered by chance and entered by cutting through the Herodian paving of the enclosure to a passage beneath. The bones of the patriarchs were said to have been found in the cave, brought to the upper court and placed in reliquaries. Most of the bones were eventually put back beneath the court in labeled reliquaries, but some were sold to pilgrims as prized relics and taken to the West.
 

Cenotaph of Abraham in the the central room of the building. Abraham is on the west and Sarah is on the east; their cenotaphs were constructed in the 10th or 11th century and modified to their present polygonal, domed shape in the 14th century.


Around this time, perhaps as a result of the discovery, a new Crusader church was built at the south end of the enclosure on the site of the former mosque. The cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebecca were moved slightly to the west to accomodate the vaulting. The church became a cathedral, the seat of a bishop. Several accounts from this period exist of those who were able to visit the sacred caves below.
The Crusader kingdom fell in 1187 and Saladin converted the Crusader church into a mosque, which it has remained ever since. Jewish and Christian pilgrims were initially allowed to continue visiting the tombs, but they were expelled by Baybars in 1266.
 

Cenotaph of Sarah in the the central room of the building. Abraham is on the west and Sarah is on the east; their cenotaphs were constructed in the 10th or 11th century and modified to their present polygonal, domed shape in the 14th century.


In 1318-20, Sanjar al-Jawili constructed a second mosque on the northeast exterior of the enclosure called the al-Jawiliyya. The main mosque was decorated with mosaic and marble panelling in the 1330s. There are accounts of Muslims descending to the cave tombs in this period.
Major renovations undertaken in 1382-99 included cutting a door to the tomb of Joseph in the southwest enclosure wall, adding porticoes along the southwest side of the courtyard, rebuilding the dome over the tomb of Abraham and changing the cenotaphs of Abraham, Sarah, Jacob and Leah from their original rectangles into polygonal structures with domes.
 

Greek inscription in the northeast wall, near the Tomb of Abraham


Around the 1490s, access to the caves was closed and they remain closed today. Access to the site remained forbidden to Jews and Christians until the late 1800s, and then only by rare permission for a few prominent Europeans.
As of 1922, Hebron's population of 16,500 included 430 Jews, who still did not have access to the Tombs of the Patriarchs. Following riots and massacre in 1929, the Jewish community left.
After the 1967 war, Major-General Rabbi Shlomo Goren was the first Jew to enter the Tomb of the Patriarchs for perhaps 1,000 years. Israeli archaeologists explored the caves and found artifacts from the Iron Age and from the 12th-century Crusader period.
Jewish settlement in Hebron began after 1967, partly in the old western quarter and in new settlements to the east. Tensions continue to be high between the groups, especially after a Jewish settler massacred 29 Muslims in the mosque in 1994.
 

Cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebecca


Today, the site is still mostly a mosque and is under control of the Muslim Waqf, as with the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The complex has been strictly segregated between Jewish and Muslim areas ever since the 1994 incident, and there is heavy Israeli security throughout the city.
 

Cenotaph of Isaac


The Tombs of the Patriarchs consists of a great rectangular enclosure with two square minarets. Its four corners are oriented to the four points of the compass. On the northeast exterior is the al-Jawiliyya Mosque (added 1320) and on the northeast exterior is the Tomb of Joseph (added 900s).

 

Prayer at the cenotaph of Isaac

 
Nearly all of what is seen today was built by Herod the Great in the 1st century BC in the same style as his Temple of Jerusalem (of which only the Western Wall remains) and enclosure at Mamre. It is thus a remarkable and priceless survival, nearly as sacred to archaeologists as it is to Jewish, Christian and Muslim pilgrims.

 

Cenotaph of Isaac and minbar (pulpit) of the mosque

 
The complex is generally divided into three rooms, each with the cenotaphs of a patriarch and his wife. The cenotaphs of the patriarchs are interchangeably referred to as "tombs," but no one believes the relics of the patriarchs are enshrined in them. Cenotaphs are memorials of those buried nearby.

As described above, the actual bones of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are believed to be enshrined in the subterranean chambers below, with some relics having been taken to the West in the Crusader period.
 

Cenotaph of Isaac


The main, Muslim section of the enclosure is entered via a long flight of stairs along the northwest wall, from which there is a closeup view of the fine Herodian (1st cent. BC) stones that comprise the wall. The path turns east around the corner and leads past the al-Jawilliyaa before entering into the center of the complex.

In the center of the enclosure is a court, with a groin-vaulted porch (12-14th century) that leads to the central room containing the cenotaphs of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham is on the west and Sarah is on the east; their cenotaphs were constructed in the 10th or 11th century and modified to their present polygonal, domed shape in the 14th century.
 

Minbar (pulpit) of 1043 in the southeastern wall of the mosque


A wide door between the cenotaphs leads into the large southern room (Ohel Yitzhak in Hebrew), which contains the cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebecca, the main mosque, and remains of the Crusader church. The cenotaphs were rebuilt in the 12th century. The lovely mihrab (niche) and minbar (pulpit; from 1043) of the mosque are in the southeastern wall. The oculus above the mihrab and the marble panelling are 14th century. The vaulting, piers and capitals are survivals from the 12th-century Crusader church and the upper windows are from the 12th-century clerestory.
To the right of the minbar is a small baldachino (canopy), which was raised in the 12th century over the entrance to the caves discovered by the Crusaders. It must have been re-erected after the entrance was sealed. Across the room is a 14th-century canopy next to the mosque entrance. This stands over a 600m-diameter shaft that became the only opening to the chamber leading to the double cave below. There is currently no access to these caves.
The north end is the Jewish area; it is entered via new external steps at the northwest corner of the enclosure. This room contains the cenotaphs of Jacob and Leah and a synagogue. It also includes the former Women's Mosque on the bottom floor, the Mosque of Joseph on the upper level and access to the cenotaph of Joseph. Jews may not access the mosque area with the tombs of Isaac and Rebecca except on specified occasions.
 

Cenotaph of Jacob


Then Joseph took an oath of the sons of Israel, saying, "God will visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here." So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
(Genesis 50:25-26)
And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt ... And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him ...
(Exodus 13:18-19)

 

Cenotaph of Leah (behind of Jacob)


The bones of Joseph which the people of Israel brough up from Egypt were buried at Shechem, in the portion of ground which Jacob brought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money; it became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.
(Joshua 24:32)


Names: Tombs of the Patriarchs; Cave of Machpelah; Ma'arat HaMachpelah; Haram al-Khalil (Mosque of Hebron); Haram al-Ibrahimi (Mosque of Abraham); Castle of St. Abraham
Type of site: Biblical site; mosque; synagogue
Faith: Jewish, Christian and Muslim
Dates: Original date of reverence unknown; structure first built by Herod (31-4 BC); Crusader church built mid-12th century
Architecture: Herodian and Crusader
Location: Hebron, West Bank
Hours: Mosque: 7:30-11:30am, 1-2:30pm, 3:30-5pm; closed Fridays and Saturday morning
Cost: Free
Note: Hebron is a site of ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Jewish settlers and is under tight security. Seek local advice if you want to visit.

 

 

RACHEL'S TOMB

 

Rachel, favorite wife of Jacob, and mother of two of his twelve sons, Joseph and Benjamin.
Rachel's Tomb is first attested to by the Bordeaux Pilgrim who made a visit to the Holy Land in 333 AD and wrote: "Four miles from Jerusalem, on the right of the highway to Bethlehem, is the tomb in which was laid Jacob's wife Rachel." According to Genesis 35, Rachel "was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, 'Don't be afraid, for you have another son.' As she breathed her last for she was dying she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)." (Genesis 35:17-19).

 

Rachel's Tomb as it looked 1900s (on the way Bethlehem to Hebron). The brick cube with the dome was constructed around 1620 by the Ottomans; the white extension was added in 1860 by Sir Moses Montefiore.
 

A view across Hebron Road and over the top of the modern additions to the dome of Rachel's Tomb


The name Benjamin, incidentally, means "son of the right hand." This is the first mention of Bethlehem in the Bible and the account further says that "over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel's tomb" (Genesis 35:20). According to 1 Samuel 10:2, Rachel's Tomb was located "at Zelzah (unidentified) on the border of Benjamin," which would place it about 5 miles southwest of Jerusalem. This original tomb had stood about seven hundred years when Samuel mentioned it, and it was probably destroyed afterward. The present site, which is likely not correct, has seen a succession of memorials; the small domed building housing the tomb today was originally erected in the 1620's by the Ottoman Turks; a new security wall with guard towers at each end was built in 1997, so that it now looks more like a penitentiary for locking up violent criminals than a place for worship and prayer!
 

Women praying at Rachel's Tomb


Inside, you won't find Jacob's pillar. Instead there is a large cenotaph (dictionary definition: "a monument erected in honor of a person whose remains lie elsewhere") draped in velvet. As at Jerusalem's Western Wall, men and women are segregated in separate prayer areas (the women's area is shown here; the men's area is on the opposite side). Men must cover their heads with a kippah or yarmulke (skullcap). People come here to pray for health and fertility (Rachel was long-barren). Some pilgrims wind a red thread seven times around the cenotaph, then remove it and give snippets away as talismans to cure illnesses. A small vestibule containing a mihrab (a prayer niche oriented toward Mecca) indicates this is also a holy site to Islam.
 

A woman winds a red string around Rachel's Tomb

 

This site is believed to be the burial place of the biblical matriarch Rachel, wife of Jacob and mother of two of his twelve sons. She died giving birth to Benjamin and "Jacob set a pillar upon her grave" (Gen. 35:19).
 

Men praying at Rachel's Tomb

 

For Jews, Rachel's Tomb is the third holiest site after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. It has become an important place of Jewish pilgrimage, especially Jewish women unable to give birth.

 

Men praying at Rachel's Tomb

 

Jewish tradition has it that Rachel weeps for her children and that when the Jews were taken into exile, she wept as they passed by her grave on the way to Babylon (Jeremiah 31:11-16).

The structure on the site, a cube topped by a dome, was built around 1620 by the Ottoman Turks. It was lengthened in 1860 by Sir Moses Montefiore.

 

View of the security wall near Rachel's Tomb, which can be glimpsed on the right (with Israel flag)

 

In the 1990's, due to the deteriorating security situation, the original domed structure was fortified and enclosed inside a building with a hall from the entrance. Recently, the site has been surrounded by a barrier to separate it from Bethlehem.

 

 

GOD IS THE LORD WHO DOES MIRACLES

   

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