פורטרט, זאב ז'בוטינסקי במדים צבאיים, בזמן מלחמת העולם הראשונה.

Women who Built Jerusalem

Writen by: Community Writers

Written by: Akiva Segal

When one draws a timeline of the different historical periods of the land of Israel, a problem arise when trying to determine the starting date for the Byzantine era. Contrary to other eras, which began with the conquering of Jerusalem, the Byzantines did not arrive in Jerusalem and conquer it by force from the Romans. In fact, the Byzantines did not recognize themselves as such. Byzantine is a modern given name, describing the fact that the sons and daughters of the Roman Empire converted into Christianity. How does it happen, that the largest empire of the western world becomes monotheistic? How did it happen that a religious process happening in Rome, across the sea, influences the character of Jerusalem so quickly? The answer to both questions leads us to one stubborn woman.

It is not clear why Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, is so attracted to Christianity, which was a forbidden religion under the Roman Empire. However, inspired by his mother, the Emperor publishes the Edict of Milan (313 AD) allowing the Christian ritual for the first time and assembles the First Council of Nicaea (324 AD), which was the first openly Christian gathering. Moreover, when the Council ended, Helena travels for the Holy Land to discover and reveal places mentioned in the New Testament. The Romans themselves not only destroyed Jesus’s Jerusalem in the year 70 AD, but on its ruins, they built a new pagan city under the name Aelia Capitolina. Helena orders what only the mother of the Emperor could – destroying all the pagan temples and building churches in their stead. And so, the Church of the Holy Sepelchure is added to the main street of the ex-idolatrous city, and The Church of the Aeleone on the Mount of Olives. These are the mark of the beginning of a new era in Jerusalem.

תקופה ביזנטית

In the years following, many other pilgrim women come to Jerusalem in Helena’s footsteps, Roman women from the upper classes, and they slowly build the new, Christian, Jerusalem.  One of them, a Roman woman by the name of Melania, who buried two sons and her husband, decides to take after Helena and travels to the far away Jerusalem, there she establishes two monasteries (men and woman) on the Mount of Olives. She is known as “Melania the Elder” to distinguish her from her granddaughter how was named after her, who will also arrive in Jerusalem and build two monasteries on the Mount of Olives, all the while investing much of her wealth everywhere in the City. Orthodox pilgrims visit the grave of “Melania the Younger” in the Christian quarter to this day.

Some women arrived in the city only for a visit. Egeria, from the south of France or Spain, did not stay to live in Jerusalem and did not change the landscape of the city, but her travel Journal from 381-384 AD, is a source for much of our understanding and knowledge of the building and growth of Jerusalem at that time. Ten years after that, the Lady Pomenia found the footsteps of Jesus on a rock on the Mount of Olives, and she establishes the, still standing, Chapel of the Ascension around it. The highlight of all of them was the arrival in Jerusalem of – Eudocia, the wife of The Emperor Theodosius, who became a wondering poet. Alongside the churches she established (The Siloam Church and St. Stephen’s Church), Eudocia established a literary club in Jerusalem allowing some religious freedom in it, and more importantly, rebuilt a wall around the City. Eudocia died and buried in Jerusalem in the year 460 AD; the wall she built stood strong until an earthquake destroyed it in 1033.

Masa Tour Series – The People, Communities, and Places in Byzantine Jerusalem

Art from the permanent exhibition by Simon Dray, Oil on Glass

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