As published in Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2017
Jerusalem is full of fabulous sites. If you are lucky enough to have been there, you know this is a very visceral place. This new BAR feature is meant to highlight slightly out-of-the-way sites, however. These are places you may have missed on your first (or even your second) visit, but that may be worth your time when you are lucky enough to make it back.
The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem is one such site. If you’ve been to Jerusalem’s Old City, you’ve seen the building at least from a distance: Its bell tower dominates the Old City skyline. If you have ever walked the Via Dolorosa—the traditional 14 Stations of the Cross, starting from just inside St. Stephen’s Gate in the Muslim Quarter and ending with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter—you have walked right by the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. It was on your left as you made your way toward the Holy Sepulchre between Station 9 (Jesus’ third fall) and Station 10 (the dividing of Jesus’ garments). But it is quite likely that you walked right by; after making nine stops on the way to the Holy Sepulchre, who has time for a tenth? (Stations 10 through 14 are located within the compound of the Holy Sepulchre.)
If you haven’t been there, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer is indeed worth a stop.
First, the church is worth seeing for what it is: an impressive example of late 19th-century neo-Romanesque architecture. This church was completed for Kaiser Wilhelm’s famous 1898 pilgrimage to Jerusalem (the one for which the Ottoman ramparts were breached and opened near Jaffa Gate).
If you have little interest in 19th-century church architecture, you should visit the church for a second reason: the bell tower. If you are willing to pay a small fee and exert some serious effort climbing 178 spiral staircase steps, you can take in fabulous unobstructed views of Jerusalem. You can even look down on the domes of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But don’t worry—if climbing those stairs is not for you, there are more riches in store.
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Indeed, the primary reason BAR readers should not miss this site is for the archaeological remains visible throughout.
The modern structure was erected on the site of an earlier Crusader church, known as Santa Maria Latina. Various medieval elements have been worked into the newer building. Some ruins are visible from the outside on the north side of the building (along the traditional path of the Via Dolorosa), but the better part of these can be seen within the structure. In fact, the complex adjacent to the sanctuary of the church includes a full four-sided medieval cloister. Apparently, it’s the only complete cloister in the entire Old City (who knew?). And built into second-floor restored medieval rooms off the cloister is a small, but elegant, museum of archaeology, displaying a range of artifacts discovered during the construction of the church.
But the real highlight for BAR readers is down below. Before the church was constructed, excavations took place underneath.1 These are now accessible by walking down a staircase near the tower entrance. A short movie (available in German, English, Hebrew, Arabic and Russian—and soon in Spanish, French, etc.) provides a brief orientation to the site. There are remnants of walls from the Hadrianic period (117–138 C.E.), pavement from the fourth century, mosaics from the 12th century and more (but not too much more, because it’s a rather small space).
The complex is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. (Worship services are held in English, German and Arabic on Sundays and other times, as well.) There is a modest fee (15 NIS) for admission to the tower, museum and excavations. Travel services within the complex are minimal. Booklets about the church, postcards of the church and a guidebook of the excavations are for sale, and there is a clean bathroom. Cold drinks and other refreshments can easily be found right outside along Muristan Road or inside the adjacent Muristan Market. But don’t be in a rush to leave: True to its nature, the cloistered courtyard provides a quiet, shady place to rest after walking up (and down) all those steps.
Jonathan Klawans is Professor of Religion at Boston University. His most recent book is Josephus and the Theologies of Ancient Judaism (Oxford, 2012).
Site-Seeing: “Archaeological Remains in Holy Sepulchre’s Shadow” by Jonathan Klawans was originally published in Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2017.
1. For more information, see Marcel Serr and Dieter Vieweger, Archaeological Views: “Golgotha: Is the Holy Sepulchre Church Authentic?” BAR, May/June 2016.
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