JERUSALEM – On Wednesday, June 27, 2018, a new wing was opened in Terra Sancta museum, thus unveiling the archeological wonders of the Franciscan collections. A tribute paid to the Franciscan’s work in the field of heritage.
The third suite from J.S. Bach rises from the cellos and the violins and echoes in the shaded courtyard of the Church of Flagellation, the Second Station of the Cross on Via Dolorosa. Here, in the very heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Franciscans established Terra Sancta museum, a place to demonstrate the Christian nature of the Holy City and the historical continuity of the Christian presence, from the Apostles until nowadays – that is two millenniums. A place to conserve culture and memory? Indeed, but not only.
As Father Franscesco Patton, the Custos of the Holy Land, recalls, this museum is a real instrument of peace, thus designed by those who wish to follow in the footsteps of saint Francis of Assisi. Indeed, what better place for dialogue between the three Abrahamic traditions than the Holy City, what better place for believers and non-believers to meet than Jerusalem? Here is our mission, standing as Christians on this earth. His dream would be that “through this museum, Jerusalem, the Holy City, could really achieve its vocation as City of Peace”.
The museum, a pure wonder, is the fruit of the work led by the Franciscan friars since the nineteenth century to explore historic truth and to examine the Scriptures. They expose a hundred and fifty years of excavations and archeological treasures: frescoes, potteries, sculptures, pre-byzantine mosaics, coins, jewels, ossuaries, vase found in the tombs of Bronze Age, Cross-era capitals. If these items belong to a long historical period – from the Canaanites to the Crusaders –, a special focus on the neo-testamentary period was chosen. It aims at exploring the roots of Christianity and to show what was the daily life at the time of Christ: tableware, baths, crafts, burial, trade. For example, the powders and perfume bottles are illustrated by Mary Magdalene anointing Christ’s feet (Luke 7:37-38). Furthermore, a part of the museum is dedicated to the king Herod’s reign, honored by numerous artefacts, among them beautiful capitals from the ruins of the fortresses of Machaerus (Jordan) and Herodium (near Bethlehem).
Besides the splendor of the collection, the place itself resonates of centuries of history: from Jesus’ conviction to Suleiman the Magnificent through Constantine the Great and the Crusaders, without forgetting all the pilgrims coming to pray. This historical depth is reflected by the beauty of the building made of restored ruins of the shops of the Crusaders as well as tanks from Mamluk houses.
This opening is also a tribute to the work of Brother Virgilio Canio Carbo, a professor of archeology, who dug many sites, amidst which the Holy Sepulcher, the Shepherds’ field in Beit Sahour, the city of Magdala near the Tiberias lake, Mount Nebo in Jordan. We owe to his amazing work two-thirds of the museum collection.
After having thanked all the sponsors of the project, the Custos expressed his hope that his place would be more than a mere museum but a real “archeological pilgrimage”, in order to exalt the strong connection of Christians with this land, that of Christ.