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Jesus’ Baptismal Christian Pilgrim Site of Qasr El-Yahud

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Qasr el Yahud is a baptism site in the Jordan River Valley region of the West Bank, claimed by the State of Palestine and under Israeli occupation. Because of this the more popular and easier access Yardenit Baptismal Site is where nearly all Christian pilgrims traveling to the region will visit during their Christian escorted tours to Israel.

The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (Mark 1: 2-11; Matthew 3: 1-17) is considered to be one of the most significant events in the life of Jesus and of great importance in the history of Christianity. This act was sanctified by Christian followers shortly after Jesus' death and resurrection and has become one of the two most important sacraments of the Christian Church.

The Jordan River had already gained special significance because of the acts of the prophets Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17: 3; 2 Kings 5: 14). It later became the focal point of the prophet John the Baptist, who called and preached to the people to be cleansed of their sins in the same river in which the Prophet Elisha told Na'aman to bathe and cure himself of his ills. When John baptized Jesus, a voice came down from Heaven proclaiming the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, mentioned in the Gospel according to Saint Mark, "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Mark 1: 11).

The baptismal holy site began seeing churches and monasteries as early as the Byzantine period. After during the Crusader period Qasr El-Yahud, and the area flourished once again and thousands of Christian pilgrims rushed to be baptized in the Jordan (According to one account in 1172, as many as 60,000 pilgrims visited the Jordan!).

When security conditions became fragile during the Mamluk period, many churches and monasteries in the area were slowly deserted. Conditions for pilgrimage became very difficult and pilgrims returned to Jerusalem being afraid to stay overnight by the Jordan. Only during the British Mandate period were new churches and monasteries built. Until 1967 the site hosted thousands on Christian pilgrim tours, members of various religious sects and communities, who came to be baptized in the Jordan and take home bottles of water from the river, water to which they attributed all kinds of healing powers. Since the 1967 war it has been necessary to get special permission from the Israeli military authorities to visit the site. Since the beginning of the peace process several plans have been drawn up to redevelop the area, and the Israeli authorities intend to allow pilgrims to visit the area more freely.

Today there are 5 monasteries that have been deserted since 1967, and two chapels that were built after 1930. The most important of them is the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. John the Baptist, which was built on the ruins of a church and a monastery from the Byzantine period. The monastery- restored in 1955 and looks like a fortified compound, also commemorates the place where, according to Christian tradition, the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan (hence its Arabic name, Qasr el-Yahud — the castle of the Jews). South of the Greek Orthodox monastery are a small chapel built by the Franciscans, a Syrian monastery, a Coptic monastery, a Russian chapel, an Ethiopian monastery and a Romanian monastery. The large number of monasteries and chapels on the banks of the Jordan indicates the importance of the holy site and its centrality in Christian tradition.

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