St Anne's Church, Jerusalem
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|Church of St. Anne|
The Church of St. Anne is a Roman Catholic church, located at the start of the Via Dolorosa, near the Lions' Gate and churches of the Flagellation and Condemnation, in the Muslim Quarter of the old city of Jerusalem.
During the Roman Period a pagan shrine to either the Egyptian god Serapis or the Greek god Asclepius, both gods of healing, stood on the grounds next to the two Pools of Bethesda. A Byzantine basilica was built over the remains of the shrine in the 5th century. Baldwin I, the first titled Crusader king of Jerusalem, banished his wife Arda to the old convent which still existed here in 1104. A small Crusader church, the so-called Moustier, was then erected over an extension of the northern Pool of Bethesda. The actual Church of St Anne followed sometime between 1131 and 1138, during the reign of Queen Melisende. It was erected near the remains of the Byzantine basilica, over the site of a grotto believed by the Crusaders to be the birthplace of Saint Mary mother of Jesus. It is dedicated to Anna and Joachim, the parents of Saint Mary, who according to tradition lived here.
Unlike many other Crusader churches, St. Anne's was not destroyed after Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn's 1187 conquest of Jerusalem. In 1192 Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn, known in the West as Saladin, converted the building into an Islamic seminary or madrasa, known as al-Madrasa as-Salahiyya (of Saladin), as is still written in the Arabic inscription above the entrance. In the 15th century it was considered as the most prestigious college in the city, counting among its more prominent students the Islamic jurist and city historian Mujir al-Din (1456–1522).
During the renewed Muslim rule of Palestine, Christian pilgrims were only permitted inside the grotto after paying a fee. Eventually the madrasa was abandoned and the former church building fell into disrepair. In 1856, in gratitude for French support during the Crimean War, the Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid I presented it to Napoleon III. It was subsequently restored, but the majority of what remains today is original. Currently St. Anne's belongs to the French government and is administered by the White Fathers, an order of the Catholic Church named for the colour of their robes.
Design and construction
Built between 1131 and 1138 to replace a previous Byzantine church, and shortly thereafter enlarged by several meters, the church is an excellent example of Romanesque architecture. The three-aisled basilica incorporates cross-vaulted ceilings and pillars, clear clean lines and a somewhat unadorned interior. The nave is separated from the lower lateral aisles by arcades of pointed arches. The high altar, designed by the French sculptor Philippe Kaeppelin incorporates many different scenes. On the front of the altar are depicted the Nativity (left), the Descent from the Cross (center) and the Annunciation (right); on the left-hand end is the teaching of Mary by her mother, on the right-hand end her presentation in the Temple. In the south aisle is a flight of steps leading down to the crypt, in a grotto believed by the Crusaders to be Mary's birthplace. An altar dedicated to Mary is located there. The Byzantine basilica was partly stretched over two water basins, collectively known as the Pools of Bethesda, and built upon a series of piers, one of which still stands today in its entirety.
The church possesses amazing acoustics perfect for Gregorian chant, with sounds moving across the open space and up from the grotto. This makes the church a pilgrimage site for soloists and choirs, especially sopranos and tenors.
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