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The Church of John the Baptist

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Go Down Inside the Ancient Church of John the Baptist

Location - The Old City of Jerusalem

Map Coordinates - 31.777017, 35.229590

Close to some of the restaurants we eat at, the Church of Saint John the Baptist is a very interesting stop for our Octagon Tour groups, and it is the oldest existing church building in Jerusalem - probably the fourth oldest church built after Christianity was legalized.

During the years when the original Church of the Holy Sepulcher was standing, this church was part of the grand Holy Sepulcher compound.

Here is a model of the Byzantine Holy Sepulcher compound. The small dome in the lower center of the photo is the Church of Saint John the Baptist.

Why was this church built here? It is possible this church was constructed due to the presence here of the relics of John the Baptist, which were sent to various cities in the 4th century including Jerusalem. These fragments are still seen in a glass case in the nave of the church.

That’s my hand in this picture, showing you the skull fragments of John the Baptist which are on display in this church.

Until we arrived, photographs were entirely forbidden in the crypt of this newly excavated church. After trying for over four years, we were finally privileged to bring the first video cameras from the outside world to see this remarkable recently-discovered underground treasure.

History of the Church.

While the church was built in 450 AD, it was destroyed by the Persians in 614 AD, and restored by the Patriarch of Alexandria sometime afterwards. Then in the 11th century the church was extensively rebuilt over its original foundations. Aside from the modern facade with its two small bell towers, the Church of Saint John the Baptist has remained mostly unchanged for almost 1,000 years.

A Hospital in the Crypt.

This crypt of the church is about 21 feet lower than ground level, and is approached from the south where steps descend to its narthex. While there are some Byzantine ruins down there, it was reconstructed by the Crusaders to be used as a hospital for wounded Crusader soldiers.

Here I am in the crypt of the Church of Saint John the Baptist. This room used to be a hospital during the Crusades.

In 1099, many Christian knights who were wounded during the siege of Jerusalem were cared for in this church. After their recovery, some of the grateful knights dedicated themselves to helping the sick and protecting pilgrims to the Holy Land. Calling themselves the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John, they later developed into the military order of the Hospitallers, who played a key role in the defense of the Holy Land.

The remains of soldiers who died in this church were transported to the hill of Akeldama, where a charnel house was built. A charnel house is a structure that is used to store human remains.

The crypt of the church was apparently filled with debris and abandoned in 1187 AD, after which only the upper church (the present church) was in use exclusively by Greek Orthodox priests. The crypt was not fully excavated until around the year 2010 AD.

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