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Church of St. John the Baptist
The New Testament tells us that Jesus’ predecessor, and one of those who predicted Christ’s coming, was John the Baptist, a Jewish preacher who led the baptismal movement on the banks of the Jordan River, and is revered as a prophet in several religious traditions, among them Islam.
John, who was a few years older than Jesus, was beheaded by King Herod Antipas at the behest of Herod’s stepdaughter, Salome. Over the years, many rumors cropped up as to the whereabouts of John’s remains, especially his head, which is a recurring theme in Christian art. One of the places that claim to house such a relic is the Church of St. John the Baptist in Jerusalem’s Old City (not to be confused with another church by the same name in Ein Kerem).
Nestled behind the market in the Christian Quarter, the church’s unassuming facade belies the great beauty of its rich, ornate interior, with its elaborate artwork and extensive iconostasis. One of the most prized of these icons is right beyond the entrance to the church, a depiction of St. John’s severed head that is attached to a jewel- and gold-rimmed relic believed to be a piece of the Baptist’s skull. It is a custom among worshippers to kiss the relic upon entering.
The church is built atop several earlier sanctuaries, one of them dating back to the fifth century. The current building was erected sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries by Italian merchants and renovated by the Crusaders in the 12th-century. The ancient church, located more than seven meters below street level, is still accessible via a staircase.
On the wall is an icon of Byzantine empress Eudocia, who, after becoming estranged from her husband, Theodosius II, was banished to the Holy Land, where she was active in the establishment of several 5th-century churches, among them the Church of St. John the Baptist.
|Address||The Christian Quarter, Jerusalem|
- Areas: Christian Quarter, Old City
- Type: Christian Sites
- Paid Parking
TUE: Open during worship, 06:30-08:30
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