The Terra Sancta Museum in Jerusalem opens new wings
The Terra Sancta Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City sits on the Via Dolorosa (“Way of Sorrow”), the path, according to tradition, that Jesus walked before his crucifixion. The Via Dolorosa begins at the Antonia Fortress just inside the Lion’s Gate and ends at Golgotha, located within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For centuries, Christian pilgrims have walked this path (or similar pathways since the current route was established only in the 18th century) and stopped at the various Stations of the Cross.
Now the Terra Sancta Museum offers a new stop on this old way. The museum is situated inside the Monastery of the Flagellation, which is associated with the Antonia Fortress (a military tower) and Pontius Pilate’s residence (the Praetorium),1 where Jesus was tried, flogged and sentenced to death. Some quarters of the Monastery are being renovated and unveiled to the public for the first time—as part of three new wings in the museum.
The first wing to open is a multimedia experience that invites visitors to explore the history of Jerusalem. Lights, images and a series of narrators guide visitors through the exhibit—highlighting the various artifacts and architectural remains on display. The narrative focuses on Jerusalem during the Roman period and on the roots of Christianity, but it addresses earlier and later times in Jerusalem’s history as well. Currently, this multimedia experience is available in eight languages—Arabic, Hebrew, French, English, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish—and the curators hope to add more languages to the list soon.
Two additional new wings—an archaeological wing and historical wing—will open at the Terra Sancta Museum in the near future. The archaeological wing will feature artifacts from Jerusalem and from all over the ancient Near East, and the historical wing will tell the story of the Franciscans’ involvement in the Holy Land.
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Father Alliata of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum explains to Bible History Daily the inspiration behind the museum’s archaeological wing:
The upcoming archaeological wing of the Terra Sancta Museum will be a museum of archaeological collections in order to show the findings of the excavations in the sanctuaries of the Holy Land. It will serve as an educational tool in teaching Biblical science; therefore, it is connected to our faculty, the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. By separating the different collections (the archaeological one and the historical), this wing will be more specific and more useful for our future visitors.
Father Alliata hopes that every visitor to the new archaeology wing will leave with a new appreciation of the archaeology of the Holy Land:
The visitor will be able to better understand the archaeological-Biblical context thanks to the ability to see the precious items found during the excavations or collected by the Fathers in the past years. Compared to the old museum of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, the new presentation is in a line of continuity, but it is more modern and incisive. The choice of the items are more coherent than in the past and it will better describe the whole history of the Holy Land, from the Israelite to the Crusader period, passing through the time of Jesus and the first centuries of Christianity.
The three new wings aim to foster intercultural and interreligious dialogue and will be accessible to all. They commemorate the 800th anniversary of the Franciscan presence in Jerusalem—a worthy cause of celebration.
Strata: Exhibit Watch: “A New Stop on the Via Dolorosa” originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
1. The location of the Praetorium is debated. Recent excavations have exposed part of King Herod’s palace in northern Jerusalem, which many scholars consider as a strong candidate for the Praetorium. It seems likely that Pilate would have preferred this large compound for his residence rather than the smaller Antonia Fortress. See Robin Ngo, “Tour Showcases Remains of Herod’s Jerusalem Palace—Possible Site of the Trial of Jesus,” Bible History Daily (blog), originally published on January 8, 2015.
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