Sacred Spaces: Church of St. John the Baptist (Jerusalem)

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Next to a Greek Orthodox monastery, within a small courtyard, is Jerusalem’s oldest church: the Church of St. John the Baptist.  It is distinctive for its prominent silver dome.

The church was built around 450-60 under the Empress Eudokia.  This location was most likely chosen due to the fact that the relics of St. John the Baptist were brought to Jerusalem in the 4th century.  Unfortunately, the original church was destroyed by the Persians in 614.  It was restored soon after, however, and underwent a second restoration in the 11th century where the Church of St. John the Baptist was rebuilt over its original foundations.   “Aside from the modern facade with its two small bell towers, the Church of St. John the Baptist has remained mostly unchanged for almost 1,000 years.”

church of st. john the baptist

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In the 11th century, the church was utilized as the center of the Knights Hospitallers.  “In 1099, many Christian knights who were wounded during the seige of Jerusalem were cared for in this church.”  After recovering, some of the wounded dedicated themselves to healing the infirm and protecting pilgrims to Jerusalem.  They named themselves the Knights of the Hospital of St. John (later developing into the Hospitallers) and became one of the most important military orders to defend Jerusalem.

At some point, likely during the Ottoman period, the Church of St. John the Baptist fell into the hands of the Greek Orthodox Church (which continues to operate the church and neighbor monastery today).

“Here above the entrance, there is a Relief of the head of John and also a sign with the word “Prodromos,” which means “the forerunner” – a reference to the words of John the Baptist, “I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him” (John 3:28).”  It worth noting that this Church of St. John the Baptist is dedicated in the memory of the beheading of the saint.  It is often confused with the Church of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karem, built in the place where the saint was born.

Inside, the church is home to many wonderful pictures depicting scenes from the Gospels as well as the beheading of St. John the Baptist.  It is said that buried within the church are bone fragments; bits of St. John the Baptist’s skull.

The Church of St. John the Baptist is not regularly open to visitors but it is worth seeking out during a visit to Jerusalem.

Tour the Church of St. John the Baptist

The video below offers a wonderful tour of and insight into the history of the Church of St. John the Baptist.   (Click here to view directly on YouTube).

Sacred Spaces Blog Series

Want to learn more about the world’s most unique and fascinating sacred spaces? Follow the links below to other pieces from our Sacred Spaces blog series!

Basilica di San Marco (Venice) | St. Issac’s Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Monastery of the Kiev Caves (Kiev) | St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | The Duomo (Florence) | The Hagia Sophia (Istanbul) | Cathedral of St. Sophia (Novgorod) | Church of Our Savior on  Spilled Blood (St. Petersburg) | The Church of the Ascension (Kolomenskoye) | St. Basil’s Cathedral (Moscow) |The Churches of Kizhi Pogost | Monastery of Panagia Elona | Smolny Cathedral (St. Petersburg) | Agios Stefanos (Syros Island) | Church of the Intercession on the Nerl | The Rock Churches of Matera | The Monastery of St. John the Theologian (Patmos) | Durham Cathedral | Church of the Sign (Dubrovitsy) | Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem) | Church of St. Mary Magdalene (Jerusalem)

Main image by Utilisateur:Djampa – User:Djampa, via Wikimedia Commons
Church of St. John the Baptist Jerusalem –
Church of St. John the Baptist, Jerusalem –
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