Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

The roots of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land most probably originate in the Jewish pilgrimage to the Temple of Jerusalem during the days of the Second Temple. As part of these pilgrimages Jesus arrived in Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover.

The Christian pilgrimage movement expanded following the rise of Emperor Constantine to power and the embracing of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century CE. The Emperor's mother, Helena, arrived in the Land of Israel in the year 326 for a pilgrimage considered to be the first of its kind, and many followed suit. A few accounts have remained of pilgrimages from the 4th century, such as the anonymous pilgrim from Bordeaux in France in the year 333. Another was Egeria and her entourage who most probably arrived from Spain around the year 385.

Accounts of pilgrimages have survived from the Byzantine and the Early Arabic periods, including: Antoninos of Placentia in Italy (570), the Bishop Arculf who came from France (670) and Willibald from England (754).

The pilgrimage movement continued under the Crusaders' rule and even during the Islamic rule. A prominent pilgrim was Felix Fabri who came from Bavaria in the 15th Century. After Napoleon's campaigns, which reopened the East to the peoples of Europe, and with improvement of security and travel conditions in the 19th century, the pilgrimage movement reached unprecedented peaks.

Researchers of the travel literature have counted over 3,500 travel accounts written since the beginning of pilgrimages in the 4th century and up until the end of the 19th century. The travel descriptions of pilgrimages, known as "Itineraria", constitute a unique form of literature, featuring repeated set formulae.

Pilgrimages encompassed people from all levels of society, from kings and noblemen to the poor and lowly, from priests, scholars, researchers and writers to the simplest of men. Pilgrims arrived on their own or in groups from all over Christendom - Orthodox, Catholic, Protestants. Of the 19th century pilgrims, prominent were those who came from Russia.

The motives for pilgrimage were the sense of adventure and cultural interest in the remains of ancient civilizations, but most of all religious belief and the desire to be as close as possible to the scenery and heroes of the Holy Scriptures. The pilgrimage would reinforce their religious belief, and they were subject to experiences of spiritual exaltation which they shared with the readers of their accounts. They arrived in the Holy Land after a treacherous journey, to visit the places mentioned in the Bible. Their major haunts were Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee and its sites, the river Jordan, the Dead Sea area, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and their surroundings.

The high point of the pilgrim's journey was at the Church-of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem – the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Most of the journey was on foot or on horseback, and accommodation was in monasteries and inns. At the various sites they were generally guided by monks from their home countries who lived in the Land. They would cite and read passages from the Holy Scriptures relating to the sites visited and, at times they would play scenes based on events from the scriptures. They would visit monasteries and burials of saints, baptized in the waters of the river Jordan and collected various souvenirs. This was a direct encounter with the ancient scenes of the Old and New Testaments accompanied by learning and introversion, spiritual uplifting and great excitement.

Travel literature is accompanied with illustrations, drawings, lithographs and copper etchings, and as of the 19th century – photographs. The most renowned of the artists who visited the Holy Land was Scottish painter David Roberts, who toured the country in 1839. Most paintings and etchings were adapted after the pilgrims returned home, based on sketches made in the Holy Land. They were sometimes done by professional artists, and sometimes contained additional details to create a dramatic effect in describing the landscapes and sites. Artists added details of flora, such as palm trees, or architectural fragments, such as pillar capitals and even figures in typical Eastern attire. These details contributed to the creation of a holy and romantic oriental ambiance, which were foreign and appealing to Christians from the West. The paintings provide a picture of the past scenery and of the sites, although they are not always realistic; they were designed to create a direct link between the landscapes of the Holy Land in the 19th century and those of biblical times.

Pilgrimages and pilgrims' travel accounts have contributed greatly to the study of the land of Israel and its history, the development of sites and a network of roads, and to the creation of ties between the land of Israel and its inhabitants and the countries of the world.

The stamp series illustrates three churches that represent the three major parts of Christianity – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.

The Church of the Visitation, Ein Kerem (shown on the previous entry with the Hebrew text) –
Ein Kerem, today a picturesque suburb in west Jerusalem, was known during the Byzantine period as The City of Judea as mentioned in the New Testament (Lucas 1, 39). This was the birth place of John the Baptist who heralded the coming of Jesus, and who baptized him in the Jordan River. The Church of Visitation is located on a mountain slope and belongs to the Catholic Franciscan Order. It was built on the site identified as the home of Elizabeth, mother of John, who was visited by her relative, Mary, the mother of Jesus (Lucas 1, 39-56). In and around the church are remnants dating back to the First Temple Period as well as the Roman and the Byzantine periods.

The identification of the site as the place of the visitation was consolidated during the Crusader period, and the first church was built at the same time. The place was purchased by the Franciscans during the 17th century, who restored it in 1862. The existing church was built In 1955, following archeological excavations on the site. The church, designed by prominent Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, is elaborately ornamented and contains ancient remnants. The church facade is decorated with a beautiful mosaic describing the visit of Mary and in the courtyard are porcelain plaques inscribed with the words of Mary's prayer – The Magnificant – "My soul magnifies the Lord..." (Luke 1; 46-56) in various languages.

St. Andrew's Church, Jerusalem –
The church is located west of the Old City, close to the railway station, on a hill that towers above the Valley of Hinnom. It is owned by the Scottish ‑ Presbyterians - one of the Calvinist fractions of the Protestant Church. The church is named in memory of Andrew, one of Jesus Apostles, and national saint of the Scots. The corner stone of the church was laid by Field Marshal Edmond Allenby in 1927, and is dedicated to the memory of the soldiers who fell during the British conquest of the country during the First World War. The church was designed by K. Holliday and combines eastern and western characteristics. The church is one of the more beautiful buildings built during the British mandate period.

The church decorations are minimalist and modest, some made of Armenian ceramic tiles. The banners of the military units who fought here during the First World War are kept inside the church. There is also, in the church, a metal plate in memory of Robert Bruce King of Scotland (1274-1326) who requested that his heart be buried In Jerusalem, but was not so rewarded. To the east, adjacent to the church, is the archaeological site of Katef-Hinnom, where burial caves from the time of the First Temple were uncovered. Two silver plaques, inscribed with Priestly Benedictions, or the Aaronic Blessings (Numbers, 6, 24-26), were discovered inside one of the caves. These are the earliest biblical verses known as yet, which were written in the seventh century BCE.

All Apostles Church, Capernaum –
Capernaum, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, was a center of Jesus’ activities in Galilee, and was even called "his own city" (Matthew 9,1). Capernaum was the home of Simon Ben Jonah, or St. Peter, brother of Andrew, who was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, and was appointed by Jesus "to shepherd his flock". The people of Capernaum rejected Jesus and his preaching and therefore he cursed the place saying that its fate would be worse than that of Sodom (Matthew 11, 23-24; Lucas 10, 15).

The All Apostles Church belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, successor of Christianity from the Byzantine period. The church is exceptional in its five domed structure, characteristic of Greek churches. It was built by Damianos, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, in 1932, and is dedicated to the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus in the region of Capernaum. Archaeological excavations were conducted near the church, which exposed the remnants of Capernaum from the period of the Second Temple until Crusader times. Due to the church's proximity to the armistice lines between Israel and Syria, It was deserted from the time of the War of Independence and until after the Six Day War, when it was restored.

Written by Dr. Gabriel Barkay.

The stamps were issued in 2000. Designer: Zina Reitman and Zvika Reitman. An earlier series about Pilgrimage to the Holy Land was issued in 1999, with three stamps showing old paintings of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Mary's Well in Nazareth and The Jordan River.