by Betty Bowersox
Saturday, February 22

It’s so lovely to sleep with the windows open and wake up to the sounds of horses, donkeys and camels making their morning noises!  Of course, that’s after having been awakened some time after 4:00 AM for the call to morning prayer.  We had an awesome time in Petra, but had to be up and ready to leave at 7:30 since Saturday was a day of many stops as well as many “slow downs” – there are speed bumps on most roads to assure adherence to reduced speed areas.  Our guide, Ali, says they’re called “sleeping policemen.” Camil, our driver, missed slowing for one and we all took to the air in our seats, interrupting our ‘reflections’!

We passed thru the town of Ash-Shawbak and stopped to gaze at fortifications of Montreal Castle, a Crusader castle built in 1115 by Baldwin I who became King of Jerusalem.  While this stop showed us what traditional surroundings of a Crusader castle may have looked like in, our destination was to Al-Karak to tour the ruins of the ancient Crusader stronghold there.  Karak Castle, which has a view of the Dead Sea, is the largest and most well preserved castles in the region and is now surrounded by a city of about 20,000 people. It started as a Moabite Temple in 850 BC, and was further expanded between 1142 to 1161. At one time there were ~250K Muslims/Christians there, but in 1880 there was a huge conflict that had 25K Christians leave for Madaba, which is currently the city in Jordan where most Christians live.  Hollywood is everywhere – Ali told us that some scenes from the movie ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ were filmed in Karak Castle.  The building also shows signs of Nabataean [the citizens of Petra] influences left over from a 1st century fortress that was used as a Caravan station prior to the Castle being built. The kitchen and dining room areas were pretty clear, complete with a kitchen sink. It must have been a lot of work for the women of the Castle!

All along the drive, especially in the Mediterranean regions and along the Desert Highway, the small Bedouin communities of tents and/or shepherds with flocks of sheep are passed by fast moving cars.  It’s a feature of this country, as well as in Israel, that gives you a small window into how it was back in Christ’s time.  Although the Bedouins have been encouraged to settle and take to agricultural and other more stable occupations – and to get their children schooled – it’s refreshing that those that prefer to keep to their nomadic heritage are supported by the government as well as the property owners on the lands that they set up their tents.

As we traveled from Karak to Nebo we went thru many small towns thronging with people since Saturday is the day for shopping before the work week begins on Sunday.  Very few of the women here wore western dress, though many men did.  While part of the congestion was due to all of the cars (and narrow streets), we noticed and commented on the number of people that were walking along the roads and across fields.  It was also a nice day so many families were picnicking in shaded areas.

We drove thru Wadi-Mujib and witnessed one of the many reasons for the shrinking of the Dead Sea: a huge damn holding water back for irrigation. The damn, built in 2004, provides a bridge over what Ali referred to as Jordan’s ‘Grand Canyon’.  The road down had tight switchbacks that not only had us gulping with the drop-off, but also had eardrums popping with the elevation changes.  No, we didn’t feel better when Fr. Todd exclaimed “Brakes, don’t fail us now”!  Our destination was Madaba, an area green and fertile, once a Moabite border city mentioned in the Bible in Numbers 21:30 and Joshua 13:9, and home to the Mountain of Nebo and the Sanctuary of Moses. This mount was purchases in 1933 by Franciscans. A Memorial of the Prophet Moses was dedicated in 2000 when Pope John Paul visited and declared this place as a Holy Site.  It was misty when we looked out over the Jordan at the countryside as Moses may have done, looking at the Promised Land but not permitted to enter.  It was mystical and spine tingling. The old Greek Orthodox Church being refurbished has exposed beautiful mosaic floors of skilled craftsmanship.  In fact, Madaba is known for their tile mosaics even today, and we stopped at a mosaic workshop and were shown how the art was produced, which is not unlike it would have been done centuries before.  The Greek Orthodox Basilica of St. George in Madaba is thought to be the first Christian church in Jordon.  There is an astonishing and beautiful “Madaba Mosaic Map” on the floor which contains over 2 million mosaic stones/tiles and is the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem, and dates back to the 6th century AD.

Our last stop of the day was at the out-of-the-way Church of Sts Lot and Procopius.  Imagine this – while preparing a meal in your family home, you dig down into the fire pit and notice the floor is decorated with Christian-like drawings.  That’s what happened to a Muslim family in 1932, and today the son of the woman who made this discovery guards this church from harm for the Franciscans.  The mosaic, which covers the entire floor of a church that was the original foundation for the house, is 560 years old – the family now lives in a house built for them right next to the church. We noticed many designs that were similar to other mosaics we’d seen during the day, and were grateful that our guide knew about this treasure and stopped so we could see it.

Two check points later, along with an ear-popping elevation drop to 416’ below sea level, and we are at the Holiday Inn Resort on the Dead Sea.  The day was long, but we’ve seen so many different parts and treasures of Jordon – from the Mountain of Nebo where Moses looked out over the Promised Land, to beautiful mosaics preserved for centuries on floors of churches.  We gathered for our final Eucharist together in Fr. Todd’s room before heading down for dinner.  Tomorrow will be our last day in this land – – for this trip, at least.

View our complete photo galleries:

Grace in the Holy Land

Fr. Todd’s photo gallery

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