Who’s the Hottie?
I’m not sure who this guy is, but come on. How can he NOT be famous! Look at the pose, the glasses, the stance, smoking a cigarette, edging his sunglasses ever so slightly down his nose to check us out (in a school bus, yikes) as we drive by en route to St. George’s. Although his sighting was not the reason for the trip, it was certainly a contender for second place. Did I mention that he weighs about 100 pounds?
Background Information on the Town of Madaba
We booked a trip to Madaba, about 30 km (you do the math) southwest of Amman to see Mt. Nebo and St. George’s church. Madaba is be known for the dozens of Byzantine mosaics preserved in churches and museums. Madaba was first mentioned in the Old Testament as having been conquered by the Israelites and parcelled to the tribe of Reuben. The city was won back by King Mesha, at which point the Israelite prophet Isaiah stepped in, prophesying doom: “Moab shall howl over Nebo and over Medeba: on all their heads shall be baldness and every beard cut off…everyone shall howl, weeping abundantly.” (I’ll let you know if this is still true.) After further turmoil, Madaba passed from Greek hands to Jewish, to the Nabatean’s, and by the 3rd century AD, Madaba was minting coins of their own.
Madaba was abandoned and in ruins for centuries. In 1879, conflict between Christian and Muslim tribes in Karnak led to ninety Catholic and Orthodox families going into voluntary exile here and they laid claim to the surrounding land and began to farm. In 1884, during clearance work for a new church, the map of the Holy land in St. George’s was discovered, followed by many more mosaics across the area. Christians still comprise the vast majority of inhabitants in the area ( estimates claim over 95% are Christian).
Mount Nebo is about ten minutes outside of the town of Madaba up a gradually sloping hill. It is said that this is the place that Moses finally saw the Holy Land that God had forbidden him to enter after spending forty years leading the Israelites through the wilderness. After Moses died on the mountain, his successor Joshua went on to lead the Israelites across the river into Canaan. According to the Christian and Jewish tradition, Moses is said to be buried someone up here, but no one, except the shepherd who God spoke to, knows where. Muslims believe that the body of Moses was carried across the river and placed in a tomb.
The Moses Memorial Church is undergoing construction at the moment, but it’s set to open up sometime next year. The first structure of the church may have dated from classical times, but by 394 AD it was converted into a triapsidal church floored with mosaics. It expanded during the sixth century and was the focus for a large and flourishing monastic community that was thriving in 1217, but by 1564, it was abandoned. In 1933, the ruined site was purchased by Franciscans who began restoring and excavating the church and the surrounding area. Today this remains a monastic refuge and the headquarters of the Franciscan Archeological Institute.
The Franciscan brother who led our tour felt badly that we couldn’t view the church due to the construction project, so he led us into the Brother’s private courtyard and living quarters, below the church site, giving us a rare glimpse into their small monastery. We were welcomed into a beautiful, terraced garden area with amazing views and we were invited to peek into their private chapel, complete with many tiny mosaics.
(No Bargain) SHOPPING!
We left Mt. Nebo, heading back towards the town of Madaba, with one stop for shopping. We were welcomed in to a small mosaic workshop where some of the artisans demonstrated (of course in anticipation that we would buy lots of stuff) the techniques. The pieces were beautiful, but pricey ($2,000 JD’s for table tops). I bought a four serving pieces (see picture)–no deals, but I love them and Raj got to work his haggling magic (he didn’t feel he had haggled enough). I told him I was very proud!
St. George’s (The Church of the Map)
This is Madaba’s main attraction. The map is estimated to have been laid in the second half of the sixth century. What makes the map unique is that it depicts the larger towns and cities with an oblique perspective, as if from a vantage point above to the west. In addition to glorifying God’s work in the lands of the Bible, it is said to have been used to better direct pilgrims to sites of biblical significance. The church was small and full of modern mosaics. The floor map was fragments, but interesting, nonetheless.