Bethany (Al-Eizariya)

The ancient Bethany is the present day Arab village of Al-Eizariya, situated on the Eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, not far from Jerusalem. The present Arab place name sounds to derive from that of a Christian settlement of the Byzantine age: Lazarion. The historic name of “Bethany”, by which the place is called in the Gospel according to St. John while recounting the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus and other events that happened there while Jesus (pbuh) was going from Jericho to Jerusalem – seems, on the other hand, to derive from Beit Hanania. It looks, in fact, that this was the name of the place at time when it belongs to tribe of Benjamin. The Church of St. Lazarus, built over a grotto where visitors may see a chamber commonly known as the “Tomb of Lazarus”, is a modern construction from the early fifties of our century. Completed according to the design of the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, it is built in the form of a Greek Cross, crowned by a low dome supported on a polygonal tambour and flanked by a graceful bell tower. This church is located in a quarter where other interesting buildings may be seen, such as a mosque crowned by a slim minaret, the ruins of a Benedictine monastery from the twelfth century and the new Greek Orthodox church. The present Church of Lazarus stands of the site once occupied by the ancient religious buildings which rose and fell there over the centuries. It is known that two oratories existed there during the Byzantine period, in the second half of the fifth century. Later, at the time of the Crusades, a new church rose, and the previous chapels eventually became part of it. Patches of mosaic paving are visible in the courtyard which belonged to previous buildings. The interior of the church resembles a mausoleum. The decorations in the lunettes, by G. Vagarini, represent The Conversation of Martha and Mary with Jesus, the Feast of Bethany in the House of Simon the Leper and Jesus Resuscitating Lazarus. A stairway cut in the live limestone rock leads to an underground chamber; this is the so-called Tomb of Lazarus, the scene of one of the most acclaimed miracles performed by Jesus (pbuh) in the Holy Land.

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