Jaffa Gate, one of the main entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City, is a place of constant bustle. Yet just a few meters from the gate is an island of serenity, as lovely as it is unexpected. This is the compound of Christ Church, the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East, completed in 1849. It was built by what was then called The London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews.
I visited the compound last week after learning that it has a new addition—a nineteenth-century wooden model of the Temple Mount—about which more below.
Stonemasons were brought from Malta to build the church, which is striking in its simplicity. Even more striking, however, is the altarpiece, on which the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Credo appear in Hebrew. A seven-branch menorah rests on the altar.
According to the church’s Web site, the congregation today consists of expatriates and local believers, both Jews and Arabs, who appreciate the Jewish roots of Christianity and “celebrate both Jewish and Christian holidays, incorporate some Hebrew into our liturgy and preach in a way to emphasize a Hebraic understanding of the Gospels.”
No cross appears in the church, though the tree of life in the stained glass window above the altar is strongly suggestive of a cross.
A Messianic Hebrew congregation also uses the facilities, which include a guest house and cafeteria with seating in a delightful courtyard (open to all).
It took some negotiating to see the model, in a side room that is not yet open to the public. The model was built by Conrad Schick, a German architect, archaeologist, and missionary who also designed Mea She’arim, one of the first Jerusalem neighborhoods built outside the Old City walls and today the city’s most famous ultra-Orthodox quarter. Schick also designed the leper hospital Jesushilfe (near the Jerusalem Theater and just a couple of blocks from my house) which the city now plans to convert to an arts center.
Schick settled in Jerusalem at age 24 and built a house for his family, the still extant Tabor House, on the Street of the Prophets in the city center. He also conducted research on the Temple Mount and built two models of it for exhibit at the Vienna World Exposition in 1873. What is unusual about the models is that the top can be lifted off, exposing the structures underneath—which few visitors to the Temple Mount ever see. According to the daily Ha’aretz, Schick “had access to places where no Western scholar of his day was allowed.”
One of the models, built on a scale of 1:200, ended up in a mission in Switzerland, and recently Christ Church bought it and brought it to Jerusalem. Now it is displayed in a glass case alongside another model made by Schick, of Jerusalem in 70 CE. A church employee estimated that the models would be on view to the public in about two months, giving visitors yet another way to examine the site that has such a central place in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim belief and is so hotly contested by Israelis and Palestinians.
A new Israeli newspaper enters the fray
On February 14 the Times of Israel made its debut on-line. Editor-in-chief David Horovitz is a former editor of The Jerusalem Post. The paper, which appears on-line only, appears to have something for everyone, and I wish it luck.
Text and photos copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photos may be used without written permission of the author.