One of the world’s oldest church buildings sits in small city within the West Bank

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Feb 2, 2021

Some 5 kilometers (three miles) west of Jenin, within the northern West Bank, lies the village of Burqin. St. George Church, regionally generally known as the Church of the Ten Lepers, is nestled in town’s mountainside. It is constructed over the cave the place Jesus is alleged to have miraculously healed 10 lepers, giving it its identify.

The Burqin church is distinguished by its patriarch’s sedilia (chair), constructed of stones and courting again greater than 1,500 years. It is among the solely two sedilias on the planet, the opposite is positioned within the Church of John the Baptist in Syria, the place a crucifix sits on high of the stone construction and an image of Christ within the middle. St. George Church’s baptismal font additionally dates again to the Byzantine period and is a few 900 years previous.

Moein Jabbour, the pastor of the church, advised Al-Monitor, “St. George Church is the fourth-oldest church in the world. [It was named the Church of the Ten Lepers] in reference to 10 people suffering from leprosy who were confined inside the cave beneath the church to prevent the spread of the disease.”

He stated, “Jesus is said to have performed a miracle while passing through the village of Burqin on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, and healed the sick who then went about their normal lives, as stated in the Gospel of Luke.”

The pastor defined that the “church belongs to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and was built in two stages. First, the small church was built during the first century over the cave where the lepers were isolated. The second church is said to have been built by Saint Helena in the fourth century. It is home to the patriarchal chair/sedilia, dating back to the year 336, which is made out of stones unlike other sedilias that are made of wood. The church also includes the baptismal font and an iconostasis, which separates worshippers from the priests during the church service.”

According to Jabbour, the whole space of the church together with its courtyard and backyard is estimated at 1,000 sq. meters (0.25 acres). He famous that in the course of the complete restoration works of the church carried out in 2007 by the Higher Presidential Committee of Church Affairs in Palestine, affiliated with the Palestinian Authority, the stays of three monks and a toddler have been found buried within the cave sq..

“The remains date back about 500 years. Wells used as hideouts during the period of Roman rule were also discovered,” Jabbour stated. “Between 2015 and 2019, tourists from around the world used to visit the church, in addition to domestic tourists, including school and university students and Palestinians from the lands along the 1948 border.”

He added, “But in 2020, tourism was hit hard and became limited only to local tourists as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on tourism around the world,” noting that the church opens its door to guests on daily basis of the week.

Muhammed Sabah, the mayor of Burqin, advised Al-Monitor, “St. George Church holds religious and historical significance to Christians, given the miraculous healing of the 10 lepers at the hands of Jesus Christ.”

He famous that the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism formally requested UNESCO to incorporate the church on its World Heritage List in 2018, and the problem remains to be being mentioned.

“Burqin stretches over an area estimated at 40,000 dunams [9,900 acres] including the Araba plain all the way to the borders of the occupied Palestinian territories in 1948, and has a population of 74,000 people, including 70 Christians,” Sabah stated.

He famous that in 2019, the variety of international guests to the church ranged from 200 to 300 vacationers a month, in comparison with 200 native vacationers.

“The town’s municipality — in partnership with several institutions — worked to develop tourism in Jenin in general and in Burqin in particular, by [converting some prominent touristic landmarks] into guesthouses, such as Khokah Palace,” he added.

Sabah defined that the “palace dates back to the Ottoman period and is seen as a tourist attraction and historical landmark and [has been restored] to receive tourists from around the world. In addition treks for tourists are organized from the center of Burqin town to the Khokah Palace and then all the way to St. George Church.”

In November 2020, the backyard of Sheikh al-Sabea Shrine was additionally inaugurated to function an outlet for Burqin’s residents.

Sabah added, “The municipality of Burqin — in cooperation with the municipalities of Zababdeh and Marj Ibin Amer in Jenin, and with the support of Caritas Jerusalem — is preparing to establish a website named the Jenin Tourism Gate, which is expected to be launched in the coming months and is designed to introduce all the historical and archaeological areas in Jenin, and encourage tourists around the world to visit it.”

Moreover, the municipality is engaged on establishing a number of actions to stimulate tourism in Jenin, such because the holding of the four-day Khawabi heritage competition. The first and second editions of the competition have been held in 2018 and 2019, in response to Sabah.

“The festival includes a market for agricultural and heritage products, handicrafts, in addition to the organization of treks into nature. In addition, artistic teams perform traditional and folk songs and dances, including the popular dabke dance,” the mayor stated.

Jeires Qumsieh, spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, advised Al-Monitor, “The dwindling number of Christians in Burqin in particular — and the Palestinian territories in general — is mainly due to the poor economic and living conditions caused by the Israeli occupation, which has affected all Palestinians. This has in turn reduced the Christian presence in Palestine and caused Christians to emigrate to foreign countries.”

He stated, “Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, Christians in Palestine accounted for 25% of the population. Today their numbers do not exceed 1% of the total population and they continue to decrease gradually.”

St. George Church is positioned in Area A, which is underneath Palestinian administrative and police management. Commenting on whether or not or not this might forestall it from being topic to assaults by the Israeli military or settlers, Qumsieh stated, “Israel’s attacks are indiscriminate regardless of the areas in the West Bank.”

He added, “But since the church is located in Area A, it might have some kind of protection since it is under Palestinian administrative and security control.”

According to the 1993 Oslo Accord between the PLO and Israel, the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B and C. Area A is underneath Palestinian administrative safety management; Area B is underneath Palestinian administrative management however shares safety with Israeli authorities. The majority of the Palestinians within the West Bank dwell in Areas A and B. Area C, which covers over 60% of the West Bank, is underneath full Israeli management.