Ottoman period (1517-1917)
On August 24, 1516, the Ottoman Sultan Selim I defeats the Mameluke army in the battle at the plain of Marj Dabiq (in the north of Syria). This victory allows the Turks to control the entire Middle East, including Palestine by the year 1517.
The Ottoman period in the history of Palestine is characterized by a greater stability and security compared to the previous, Mameluke period; it becomes less risky to travel across the Holy Land. Navigation between Italy, Greece and the Holy Land resumes. Ottomans introduce the millet system which recognizes and protects the administrative autonomy of various confessional communities. The economy of the Holy Land starts reviving. The number of pilgrims from Europe increases, leading to a renewed scientific interest in the Holy Land.
During this period, pilgrims, traveling from Jaffa to Jerusalem, resume using the southern road through Ramla, Latrun and Abu Ghosh. The Abu-Ghosh family controls the road to Jerusalem and charges travellers a fare (kafar).
The biblical meaning attributed to places along the road by pilgrim guides of the time often does not correspond to the historical truth. Thus, the Toron of the Knights fortress, whose name was transformed by Arabs into El-Latron (Latrun), starts to be venerated by pilgrims as the homeland of the Good Thief (in Latin: latro, latronis), who repented on the cross (Luke 23: 32-43). The tradition of the Maccabean graves in Latrun (see: The Crusader and the Mameluke periods) also persists, however this devotion is transferred to the church (or the mosque) north of Latrun, at Emmaus. This tradition gradually undergoes a change, and, instead of the graves of Judas the Maccabee and his brothers, pilgrims venerate here the burial place of seven brothers, martyrs of Antioch (2 Maccabees, 6:18-7: 42).
Other guides make pilgrims visit the graves of Judas the Maccabee and his brothers in Tzuba, which they declare to be ancient Modi’in. Qaryat al-'Inab (Abu Ghosh) is revered as Anatot, the birthplace of the prophet Jeremiah, while the commemoration of the appearance of Christ at Emmaus by Western pilgrims definitely moves to Qubeibeh. The annual Catholic pilgrimage commemorating the institution of the Eucharist is also transferred to Qubeibeh after the Turks expel Franciscans from the Cenacle in the 16th century (see here: A. Bassi, Emaus, città della Palestina, Torino, 1884, p. 84).
The first historical evidence of the tradition linking Latrun to the Good Thief comes from the 16th century French traveller Denis Possot, who arrived to Ramla with a group of pilgrims on July 1, 1532. The next day, the pilgrims set out on the way to Jerusalem:
“... For 10 miles we rode along a pretty good road to the Castle of the Good Thief, which [stands] on the first mound of the desert. It is large, but ruined, and yet it looks majestic. It is located 10 miles from Rama [Ramla] ...”
Le voyage de la Terre Sainte composé par maître Denis Possot , Ch. Schefer, ed., Paris, 1890, pp. 160-161, see here, the translation is ours.
Around 1555, the former Franciscan Custos (Guardian) of the Holy Land, Boniface of Ragusa (also known as Bonifacius Stephanus, Bishop of Ston) transmits the following in his manual for pilgrims:
“From Ramula or Arimathea [i.e. from Ramla] pilgrims head east, accompanied by a heavy guard consisting of Arabs and Turks. On their way, they meet the following: first, on the right side, a castle with a large church; it is called the castle of the Good Thief, who, hanging at Christ’s right side, asked Him to have a share in His Kingdom and said: Lord, remember me when you come to Thy Kingdom.
[...] Having come in the sight of the place where this good confessor was born […] as it is unsafe for you to get off your horse and enter this church for prayer, stay mounted upon your horse, or your donkey or your mule and entrust yourself to that Thief in prayer .[...] To the left [from that place], at the distance of an arrow’s flight, there is a place and a church called Maccabees, as they were born here and were buried here after their triumph. There are a lot of olive and fig trees in this place, and pilgrims going up to Jerusalem often rest here at a well of living water. O pious pilgrim, you can freely enter this church to pray to God and greet the holy martyrs ...”
Bonifacius Stephanus Ragusinus,
Liber de perenni cultu Terrae Sanctae et de fructuosa eius peregrinatione,
Venetiis, 1875, pp. 99-100, see the original text here, the translation is ours
A pilgrims’ caravan on the way to Jerusalem, late 16th c.
(Published by S. Schweigger, "Reyssbeschreibung aus Teutschland nach Jerusalem", Nürnberg, 1608)
Boniface of Ragusa’s manual for pilgrims influenced many subsequent travellers defining for a long period the interpretation of the monuments found at Latrun and ‘Amwas.
Thus, Jean Zuallart from the city of Ath (now in Belgium), who visited the Holy Land in 1586, reports the following in his pilgrimage account:
“... Having mounted our donkeys, we left Rama [i. e. Ramla] on the penultimate Saturday of August 1586, two or three hours before dawn. [...] Continuing on our way, at dawn, we saw at our left, somewhat below the road, a small church turned into a mosque, situated in the middle of a small and rather pleasant valley planted with olives trees, which church, according to Brother Boniface Stephani, Bishop of Ston, used to be dedicated to the seven Maccabee brothers, cruelly tortured together with their good mother by cruel Antiochus, the king of Syria, called Epiphanes. [...] According to a tradition, those seven Maccabee brothers were born in this place and later were buried here. One Franciscan brother, who had already made this journey in the past, showed us that church on the way, and together with him we venerated it by a prayer. He indicated to us one more place, situated at our right hand, upon an opposite hill, which, according to him, used to be the Church of the Good Thief, with an adjacent large and beautiful monastery in the form of a fortress built by order of Helen (mother of Emperor Constantine the Great) in honour of the Good Thief. [...] The thief was called Dismas, this was his native place, and it was consequently called Castello de Buon Ladro [i. e. the castle of the Good Thief] [...] There are ten miles or so from Ramma [i. e. Ramla] to this place...”
Le tres devot voyage de Ierusalem, faict et descript par Iean Zuallart, Anvers, 1608, book 3, ch. 4, pp. 15-16, see here, the translation is ours.
Another variant of the same account was published in Italian:
Il devotissimo viaggio di Gerusalemme fatto e descritto in sei libri dal Sig. Giouanni Zuallardo, Roma, 1587, Libro terzo, pp. 114- 117, see here
Jean Zuallart is the first to mention the transformation of the church at Emmaus into a mosque.
An engraving of Latrun, published with the account of Jean Zuallart.
A -The castle of the Good Thief
B- Arabs riding horses
C - Job's Well (Dir Ayub)
D - A building, standing apart
E- Pilgrims going to Jerusalem
F - Church of the seven Maccabee brothers
The Dutch traveller Jan van Cootwijk (in Latin: Johannes Cotovicus), who visited Latrun in October 1598, gives us similar information:
“...At the tenth stone from the city [of Ramla], we ascended a hill, planted with olive and fig trees, on the top of which there is an ancient castle, destroyed and without inhabitants. It was at our right side as we passed by. It is commonly called the castle of the Good Thief Dismas, as he is thought to have been born here. Once it was a splendid sanctuary, whose traces are still numerous, and whose ruins are very ample: to this day it is venerated by Catholic Christians. The passers-by greet it from afar, worshipping Christ who drew the Thief to himself, and humbly beseech Him, that He would draw them equally to Himself, and we made this prayer too. An indulgence of seven years is granted by the Sovereign Pontiff for this devotion. On the left, at the distance of a stone's cast, there is a Turkish mosque, which was formerly dedicated according to a Christian rite to the seven holy martyrs the Maccabees (whose bodies are thought to be buried in this place); beside it there is a well of excellent water.”
Cotovicus, Itinerarium Hierosolymitanum, Antverpiae, 1619, p. 143, see here, the translation is ours.
The indulgence granted to pilgrims praying at Latrun, mentioned by Jan van Cootwijk, was already mentioned in the mid-14th century by Br. Niccolò of Poggibonsi, see: The Mameluke period.
The manual for pilgrims by Boniface of Ragusa comes under scholarly criticism in the work of Br. Francesco Quaresmi (Franciscus Quaresmius), the Custos of the Holy Land in 1616-18, whose book dedicated to the biblical archaeology and history, and entitled Historica, theologica et moralis Terrae Sanctae elucidatio, was written between 1616 and 1626:
“The pilgrims going to Jerusalem, having spent the night in Rama [i. e. Ramla], direct their steps eastward, towards the Holy City. The distance between Rama and Jerusalem is about thirty miles; with the exception of eight or ten miles across the plain of Rama, which is beautiful, extensive, and fruitful, the rest of the way is quite difficult and almost entirely passes through mountains and hills. Having travelled for approximately ten miles, one can see a castle situated at a distance of circa half a mile, upon a hill at the right side of the road. The castle is rather dilapidated, there was formerly a large church in it, but today it is almost completely destroyed. The locals call it ‘The Castle of the Good Thief’ in memory of the robber who being hung on the cross next to Christ, told him: ‘Lord, remember me when you come to Your Kingdom’ (Luke 23: 42), and in return he deserved to hear: ‘Amen, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (verse 43). However, it is not clear for what reason [this place] is called so, whether because that robber was born here or for another similar reason. Boniface [of Ragusa], relying upon a tradition, claims that the church, whose ruins are visible today, was built in his [the thief's] honour [because he was born here]. But according to another opinion, [the Good Thief] was not born here, but in Egypt. [...] Leaving this dubious question, let us say that in this place there used to be a church built by pious Christians in his [i. e. the Good Thief’s] honour.
Not far from the Castle of the Good Thief, at a distance of two hundred steps to the left of the road, there is a place and a church called ‘Maccabees’ or ‘Church of the Maccabees’. We will try to understand the reason for this name.
Boniface writes the following in his description of the pilgrimage from Jaffa to Jerusalem: ‘To the left [from that place], at the distance of an arrow’s flight, there is a place and a church called ‘Maccabees’, as they were born here and were buried here after their triumph. There are a lot of olive and fig trees in this place, and pilgrims going up to Jerusalem often rest here at a well of living water...’ I think that Boniface, who often visited those parts, bases his account upon a local tradition and means here the seven brothers, the Maccabean Martyrs, for besides them the Church does not venerate any Maccabees. However, my attention is drawn to two things in the words of this author, which I consider to be false. First, that these Maccabean brothers were born in this place, and secondly, that their bodies were buried here after their martyrdom. As for the first thing, the seven holy Maccabean martyrs were not born here, but in the village of Susandre [i.e. Shefaram] , as Joseph the Hebrew writes in his treatise The Empire of Reason or the Maccabees: ‘The seven Maccabee brothers from the village of Susandre in Judea together with their mother, named Salomona, were taken to Antioch in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes...’
As for the second statement of Boniface, namely, that the Maccabees suffered martyrdom in this place, it is clearly wrong. [...] It is not in this place that the Saint Maccabees suffered martyrdom and were buried, as Boniface says, but in Antioch. [...]
If somebody says that the Maccabee heroes were born and buried in the city of Modi’in, to this we can only oppose the fact that this does not concern the Maccabean martyrs, but other Maccabees, who lived after them, and followed them in virtue and courage in their fight for the Lord, and for this reason were nicknamed ‘Maccabees’, which means ‘fighters’. I think, therefore, that this place received its name from the church, which was built here in honour of the Maccabean Martyrs by pious believers, and which now has been converted into a mosque. It is, however, also possible to assume that this church was built in memory of a large number [of warriors] from the army of Maccabees killed here by the enemy (1 Maccabees, 5: 12) ...”
Franciscus Quaresmius, Historica, theologica et moralis terrae sanctae elucidatio, Antverpiae, 1639, vol. 2, chapters 5-6, pp. 12-14,
see here, translated by us.
A French pilgrim Eugène Roger, who visited the Holy Land in 1632, situates the birthplace of the seven Maccabean martyrs at Sesambre-Shefaram, like Quaresmi (Eugène Roger, La Terre Saincte, Paris, 1646, pp. 46-47, see here; Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, p. 377, footnote 1, see here). His account does not mention the church of ‘Amwas:
“Three leagues from Anatot [i. e. Abu Ghosh] and six from Jerusalem, towards the West, on the road that leads to Jaffa, there is a village situated on a small hillock, one hundred steps south from the road. One can see the whole fence of a church there, of which a small part of the vault above the nave has been preserved. Moors, who are tributaries of the Pasha of Gaza, dwell under this vault and make Christians or Jews passing there pay two pieces of twenty sols. This Church is believed to stand upon the same place where Dimas, the good Thief, crucified together with our Redeemer, used to live. The Orientals call this place ‘Ladron’, a name given to it by Italians.”
Eugène Roger, La Terre Saincte, Paris, 1646, p. 153, see here, the translation is ours.
Jean Doubdan, the French pilgrim of 1652, describing his visit to Latrun does not mention the church of Maccabees, like Eugène Roger (Jean Doubdan, Le voyage de la Terre sainte, Paris, 1666, pp. 39-40). His compatriot and contemporary Jacques Goujon, like Quaresmi, expresses doubts about the relation of the Maccabee martyrs to the church next to “the home of the Good Thief” (Jacques Goujon, Histoire et voyage de la Terre Sainte, Lyon, 1670, pp. 109-111).
The Jesuit Father Michel Naud, who visited the Holy Land in 1674 in the retinue of the French ambassador, is the first modern traveller to mention the village of ‘Amwas near Latrun. He bears witness to the veneration of the place by local Christians, which they consider to be the Emmaus of the Gospel:
“We left Rame [i. e. Ramla] on Thursday before Palm Sunday. [...] At a distance of three leagues from Rame we encountered a village called Amoas, and in a neighbouring field an abandoned but a rather entire church. Some Christians of the country believe that this is Emmaus, and that this church is the place where the two disciples received the Saviour on the day of his Resurrection in the form of an unknown pilgrim, and where they recognized him in the breaking of bread. What induces them into this error is that listening to the Gospel in Arabic, where Emmaus is translated as Amoas, and seeing that this village is called the same, they think that this is the true place. But hearing in the same Gospel that the place where our Lord stopped with his two disciples is about sixty stades from Jerusalem, which can be walked in less than four hours, they should recognize their mistake. It is true that, ignoring what a stade or a ghalweh (غلوة) is, which means the distance of an arrow's flight, the Arabic equivalent of our stade, they can be excused for their ignorance. The truth is that this church was dedicated to Saint Maccabees, who are almost the only saints of the Old Testament to be revered by the Latin Church […], while Greeks and other Orientals solemnly celebrate many others. The Holy See has even granted permission to the priests of the order of St. Francis, who so honourably serve in the Holy Land, to celebrate prayer services dedicated to them […]. I know neither who the founder of this church is, nor the reason it was dedicated in the honour of these holy martyrs, except that they were zealous defenders of the glory of God in the Holy Land. One wanted to present them to the attention of Crusader Christians and pilgrims, in order to inspire them with such a fine example, and to animate them with an ardent desire to spare neither blood nor life for the Faith.
Jesus at Emmaus, from an Arabic manuscript of 1684, Walters Art museum
The peasants of Amoas assembled there in great numbers, muttering loudly because of Christians being so honoured on their lands; and as they perceived that we had respect for this church, and that we made some prayers there, I had the grief of hearing them conspire among themselves to profane it on the same day, and have their animals put there. About four or five hundred steps from there on the right is the village of the Good Thief, which the Arabs themselves call Latrun, a word they have received and retained from the Latin Christians. Once it was a small and a strong town, advantageously placed on the top of a rather steep hill. There is a church, dedicated to this holy Thief, which is still very high and grand, despite being damaged by the infidels and falling into ruin. [...] We met hungry Arabs in this village, who make pilgrims pay a passage tax, which is called gafar. [...] After a short way we arrived at the Judean Mountains, and to the valley, which is called Wadi Ali [i. e. Sha’ar Haguy]..."
Voyage nouveau de la Terre-Sainte par le R. P. Naud, de la Compagnie de Jésus, Paris, 1702, Book I, ch. VIII, pp 45-48,
see here, the translation is ours.
Cornelis de Bruijn
A few years after Fr. Michel Naud, the Dutch painter and traveller Corneille Le Brun (Cornelis de Bruijn), mentions “a ruined Church, where there is very good water” near Latrun (Corneille Le Brun, Voyage au Levant , Paris, 1714, p. 258, see here).
An engraving of Emmaus and Latrun, published by Olfert Dapper, “Naukeurige beschryving van gantsch Syrie, en Palestyn of Heilige Lant”, Amsterdam, 1677
On January 28, 1688, an indulgence of “seven years and seven times 40 days” is granted for the first time by Pope Innocent XI’s bull Unigeniti Filii Dei to those who pray in the church of “the Holy Maccabees between Jaffa and Jerusalem”. Similar indulgences are granted by the same bull to many other holy places in Palestine.
In 1819, Pope Pius VII confirms these indulgences (see the periodical La Terre Sainte, No. 77, September 15, 1873, pp. 818 and 822, see here).
Blessed Innocent XI
In 1714, the Dutch scholar Adriaan Reland publishes Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata, a work on Palestine geography based upon Roman-Byzantine and Jewish sources as well as the testimonies of the travellers of his time. This study marks the beginning of the rediscovery of Emmaus-Nicopolis. Reland is the first scholar to correct the centuries-old mistake which situated Emmaus-Nicopolis at Abu Ghosh or at Qubeibeh (see: The Crusader and the Mameluke periods). Reland places Emmaus-Nicopolis at its right place in the Ayalon valley, while being opposed to the identification of Nicopolis with the Emmaus of the Gospel. He puts forward the theory of two separate places named Emmaus in the area of Jerusalem: Emmaus of the Mountain, mentioned by the Gospel of Luke at the distance of 60 stades (7 miles) from Jerusalem, and Emmaus of the Plain, also known as Nicopolis, 10 miles from Ramla, mentioned in the books of the Maccabees. This theory has influenced many subsequent researchers, until our days:
“The question of Emmaus is very difficult. If Emmaus is only sixty stades away from Jerusalem, how can it be situated in the plain (1 Maccabees 3: 40)? The plain lies further west of Jerusalem. The written accounts of pilgrims, as well as stories heard by us from eyewitnesses unanimously assert this. At the distance of about ten Roman miles from the city of Rama [i.e. Ramla], through which passes the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem, the travellers leave the plain, go up the mountain and follow the mountain road until they arrive at Jerusalem. It is well known and undeniable. [...] Moreover, there are many testimonies on behalf of Emmaus, later called Nicopolis. However, Nicopolis is found twenty-two Roman miles away from Jerusalem, that is to say, one hundred and seventy-six stades, as it is written in the ancient description of the journey to Jerusalem [i.e. in the account of the Anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux - translator's note]. How different it is from sixty stades! It is also surprising that, without paying attention, ancient texts about Nicopolis tell us a lot of things which do not correspond to Emmaus, mentioned by Luke. I will explain the problem in few words. I would like to draw attention to the fact that Emmaus, mentioned by Luke, and Emmaus, called ‘Nicopolis’, are two very different places, situated far apart. Firstly, Emmaus, mentioned by Luke, was a village (κώμη) situated at the distance of sixty stades from Jerusalem [...], while Emmaus, equally called Nicopolis, was a city, twenty-four Roman miles away from Jerusalem, i. e. one hundred and seventy-six stades. Secondly, Emmaus (Nicopolis) was in the plain, where the Judean mountains start to rise. Jerome writes this in his commentary on Daniel, ch. 12. [...]
Can we say such a thing about a place situated at a distance of about sixty stades from Jerusalem? Is it there that the mountains of Judea start to rise? No, it is where Nicopolis was, twenty-two miles away from Jerusalem and ten miles from Lydda, at the place, where today we see the castle of the Good Thief, it is there that the mountains of Judaea start to rise. This is known to everyone who has travelled along this road or read the modern pilgrims’ accounts. This is equally consistent with the testimony of Talmudic writers: ‘From Beth-Horon to the sea there are three regions: from Bet-Horon to Emmaus, there is mountain; from Emmaus to Lydda, there is plain; and from Lydda to the sea, there is valley.’ [...] How everything becomes clear when Emmaus is situated at the place, were we put it, that is to say, ten Roman miles away from Lydda towards Bet-Horon!
In the Book of Antiquities, XIII, 1, it is said that the inhabitants of Judea fortified the city of Emmaus and built a tower there, see 1 Maccabees 9, 50 [In fact, The Jewish Antiquities XIII, 3 by Josephus Flavius as well as 1 Maccabees 9, 50 speak of the fortification of Emmaus by Greeks - translator's note]. [...] I suppose that it is the remains of these towers and fortifications, or others, built later by Romans, that are visible to the right of the main road coming from Jaffa, and which are generally called the castle of the Good Thief. In any case, the distance between these ruins and Diospolis [i. e. Lydda] equals the distance of ten Roman miles, mentioned [by ancient authors] between Nicopolis and Diospolis...”
Hadriani Relandi Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata, Trajecti Batavorum (Utrecht), 1714, vol. I, pp. 426-429,
see the original text here, the translation is ours.
Throughout the Mameluke and the early Ottoman period, most western pilgrims visit Emmaus at Qubeibeh, northwest of Jerusalem, but starting in 1760, constant strife between local Arab clans makes the pilgrimage to Qubeibeh impossible. The church of Qubeibeh thus stands abandoned between 1760 and 1861 (See: V. Guérin, Description géographique, historique et archéologique de Palestine, vol. 1, Paris, 1868, p. 360).
In April 1767, Florentine academician Giovanni Mariti visits Emmaus with a caravan of Greeks and Armenians. He confirms what we have already learned from Fr. Michel Naud: the local Christians situate the apparition of the Risen Jesus here. Mariti does not agree with the local tradition, citing Reland’s theory, and repeats the old legend about the seven Maccabean brothers:
“Having travelled about ten miles through a very fertile plain, one arrives at a village called Amoas, where the Judean mountains begin. In this place caravans are assembled with the intention of going to Gaza and further to Cairo, other caravans rest here on their way from Damascus to the same parts of Egypt. The village, bearing today the Arabic name of Amoas, was once a city called ‘Ammaus’, or ‘Emmaus’, and later ‘Nicopolis’. [...] This Nicopolis, during the Christian epoch, was an episcopal see, suffragan of Caesarea of Palestine (William of Tyre, Book XIV, chapter 12). Many eastern Christians, deceived by the similarity of the name of Emmaus, consider [this place] to be the village of Emmaus, where our Lord went on the day of His Resurrection: but that one was only sixty stades away from Jerusalem (Luke 24:13), while Emmaus, of which I am speaking, is situated circa one hundred and seventy-six stades or twenty-two miles [from Jerusalem].
‘There are three places named ‘Emmaus’ in Palestine:
1. The city that was later called Nicopolis
2. The village, mentioned in the Gospel of Luke
3. A place near Tiberias, which presumably received this name because of the baths.’
(Hadrian Reland, Palaestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata, Book III)
Not far from the village of Amoas, in a field with some olive trees, one sees an almost entire church, formerly dedicated to the Holy Martyrs the Maccabees, martyred in Antioch under Antiochus Epiphanes. Later it became a mosque, and being finally abandoned, it is today only a shelter for vile animals. Returning to the highway, not far from the Maccabees Church, on the right side, we find the village of Latrun, which in Christian times was a castle called ‘Castrum Boni Latronis’, as it is named by authors writing in Latin...”
Viaggi per l'isola di Cipro e per la Soría e Palestina fatti da Giovanni Mariti accademico fiorentino dall anno 1760 al 1768,
Firenze, 1770, vol. III, pp. 18-21, see here, the translation is ours.
We understand from Giovanni Mariti’s account, that inhabitants of ‘Amwas, irritated by large numbers of Christian pilgrims coming to their place, executed the threat overheard already by Fr. Michel Naud and turned the church into a stable.
In 1831-32, the viceroy of Egypt Muhammad Ali takes control of the Ottoman provinces of Syria and Palestine. He undertakes reforms in order to strengthen the central power, disarm the Arab clans and introduce the general military conscription. This provokes an insurrection of fellahin against the Egyptian rule (1834). During the clashes with the Abu Ghosh clan, the Egyptian army completely destroys the Crusader fortress of Latrun and brings down the roof of the church at Emmaus (See: Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, p. 381, see here).
Starting in 1840, Palestine is again under Ottoman rule and travellers can now cross the country with a lesser risk to their lives.
A caravan at a well in Emmaus, engraving from the first half of the 19th century by William Henry Bartlett, published in: H. Stebbing, "The Christian in Palestine", London, 1847, p. 4 (the height of the mountains is exaggerated).
Rediscovery of Emmaus
Starting in the first half of the 19th c., the Holy Land undergoes significant changes related to the decline of the Ottoman Empire and growing presence of the European powers in the Middle East. The modern scientific study of Palestine begins during this period.
In 1842, the German orientalist Emil Rödiger is the first modern scientist to criticize Reland's theory about the two different places named “Emmaus” in the area of Jerusalem. Although not completely rejecting this theory, Rödiger recalls the Christian tradition which identifies Nicopolis as the Gospel’s Emmaus. He mentions also the manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke, containing the variant of one hundred and sixty stades (see Rödiger’s article in the periodical Allgemeine Litteratur-Zetung, year 1842, no. 72, p. 576, see here).
In 1852, the German geographer Carl Ritter, citing Rödiger’s remarks, does not exclude that Emmaus-Nicopolis could be the Emmaus of the Gospel:
“Since this Amwas near Latrun lies at a distance of 7 hours’ walk from Jerusalem, while Luke's Gospel mentions the distance of 60 stades between Emmaus and Jerusalem, i.e. only 3 hours’ walk, Amwas apparently cannot be identified with the New Testament Emmaus.
However, Rödiger notes that not all the codices agree with the usual version of 60 stades and that several manuscripts contain the version of 160 stades, perfectly corresponding to this Emmaus, called Nicopolis during the Middle Ages. This, without a doubt, confirms the ancient ecclesiastical tradition connected to this place. In fact, to this day, there is no other Emmaus known whose claim to be the place mentioned in the story of the Resurrection of the Saviour would have a better historical basis, and whose situation at a longer distance to the West [of Jerusalem] would not present a difficulty in itself.”
Carl Ritter, Vergleichende Erdkunde der Sinai-Halbinsel, von Palästina und Syrien, Berlin, 1852, vol. 3, part 1, pp. 545-546, see here, the translation is ours.
In 1856, the American explorer Edward Robinson publishes a second edition of his book Biblical Researches in Palestine, in which he gives an account of his journey to Palestine in 1852. In this book he is the first modern scholar to clearly identify ‘Amwas as the Gospel’s Emmaus:
“Tuesday, April 27th.-The morning opened with an appearance of rain, and a slight shower fell; but the clouds soon broke away, and the day became fine. We broke up from Yâlo at 6.55, with a guide for Sūr'a. At first, we returned on our road of last evening for ten minutes, and then kept still high along the declivity, about N. 65° W. At 7.25 we turned to the left around the shoulder of the ridge; and had ‘Amwâs and Lâtrôn before us in a line, S. 47° W.
Descending gradually, we came at 7.40 to the village of ‘Amwâs, lying on the gradual western declivity of a rocky hill, sufficiently high to have an extensive view of the great plain. It is now a poor hamlet consisting of a few mean houses. There are two fountains or wells of living water; one just by the village and the other a little down the shallow valley west. The former is probably the one mentioned by Sozomen in the fifth century, by Theophanes in the sixth, and again by Willibald in the eighth, as situated in a spot where three ways met (in trivio), and as possessing healing qualities. We noticed also fragments of two marble columns; and were told of sarcophagi nearby, which had recently been opened. But the chief relic of antiquity consists in the remains of an ancient church just south of the village, originally a fine structure, built of large hewn stones. The circular eastern end is still standing, as also the two western corners; but the intervening parts lie in ruins. Such is the present state of the ancient Nicopolis. That ‘Amwâs represents the ancient Emmaus or Nicopolis, situated at the foot of the mountains, and according to the Itinerarium Hierosolymitanum twenty-two Roman miles distant from Jerusalem, and ten from Lydda, I believe no one doubts. […] The village ‘Amwâs, though in sight from that road, would seem hitherto to have been actually visited by no traveller. […]
A question of a good deal of historical interest connects itself with this place; viz. whether it stands in any relation to the Emmaus of the New Testament, whither the two disciples were going from Jerusalem, as Jesus drew near and went with them, on the day of his resurrection? As the text of the New Testament now stands, the distance of the place from Jerusalem is said to have been sixty stadia; which, if correct, of course excludes all idea of any connection with the present ‘Amwâs; the latter being at least one hundred and sixty stadia distant from the Holy City. Yet there can be no doubt, that in the earliest period of which we have any record, after the apostolic age, the opinion prevailed in the church, that Nicopolis (as it was then called) was the scene of that narrative. Both Eusebius and Jerome, in the fourth century, are explicit on this point; the one a leading bishop and historian, the other a scholar and translator of the Scriptures. Indeed, they seem to have known of no other interpretation; nor is there a trace of any other in any ancient writer. […] The objections which lie against this view have been well presented by Reland and others […] The case then may be thus presented. On the one hand, the reading of good manuscripts gives the distance of Emmaus from Jerusalem at one hundred and sixty stadia; at which point there was a place called Emmaus, which still exists as the village ‘Amwâs; and all this is further supported by the critical judgment of learned men residing in the country near the time; as also by the unbroken tradition of the first thirteen centuries. On the other hand, there is the current reading of sixty stadia in most of the present manuscripts, written out of Palestine; supported only by a doubtful reading of Josephus (Jewish War 7,6,6); but with no place existing, either now or at the end of the third century, to which this specification can be referred. So far as it regards the New Testament, it is a question between two various readings; one, now the current one in manuscripts and editions, but with no other valid support; the other supported in like manner by manuscripts, as also by facts, by the judgment of early scholars, and by early and unbroken tradition. -After long and repeated consideration, I am disposed to acquiesce in the judgment of Eusebius and Jerome…”
Later Biblical Researches in Palestine and the Adjacent Regions: a journal of Travels in the Year 1852 by Edward Robinson, Eli Smith and others, London, 1856, pp. 146-150, see the full text here.
Following Robinson, many scholars of the late 19th - early 20th century identified Emmaus-Nicopolis as the Emmaus of the Gospel, which triggered an intensive exploration of the site.
Until the mid-19th c., the Holy Land was only visited by a few European pilgrims who had the means to accomplish such a journey. Beginning in the 1850s, group pilgrimages start to be organized, allowing a wider scope of European Christians to visit the country. Pilgrims arrive by boat to Jaffa and make their way to Jerusalem passing by Ramla and Latrun.
During the years 1852-1861, Franciscan monks renew the tradition of pilgrimage to Emmaus-Qubeibeh and buy the old church grounds from Muslims. A virulent controversy ensues between scholars situating Emmaus at Qubeibeh, and those locating it at Emmaus-Nicopolis.
Edward Robinson's view identifying Emmaus-Nicopolis as the Emmaus of the Gospel is confirmed by the research of the German scholar Constantin von Tischendorf who, in 1859, publishes Codex Sinaiticus, a Greek manuscript of very good quality, dating back to the 4th century, which contains books from both the Old and the New Testament. In the Gospel of Luke 24, verse 13, this manuscript has the variant of one hundred and sixty stades between Jerusalem and Emmaus, which corresponds to the location of Emmaus-Nicopolis.
A page from the Codex Sinaiticus, containing chapters 23 and 24 of the Gospel of Luke (British library)
In 1859, Swiss explorer Titus Tobler is the first to publish a detailed description of the Southern basilica of ‘Amwas and to make an attempt at identifying the date of its construction:
“At 9:23 we arrived at Latrun which is 982 feet above the level of the Mediterranean [actually, 853 feet or 260 m - the translator's note]. The pilgrims’ lack of interest in this place, like mine before, is not at all justified. The ruins, scattered over a large area, whose exploration took me a quarter of an hour, exceeded my expectations. [...] Happy to have had a close look at these so important and yet so rarely visited ruins, we left the place at 9:45, reaching very soon the Ramla-Jerusalem road, which we crossed in the northern direction, and at 9:57 we arrived at the ruins of Amuâs, عمواس. These remains of the church of Nicopolis, as they are called by the inhabitants of the village themselves, deserve a lot of attention. Until now these ruins situated so close to the pilgrims’ road, like those of Latrun, which are even closer to it, have been little visited by travellers. [...]
The fact that they are so rarely noticed is due to the overall dark grey colour of these buildings. The Eastern apse-shaped wall of the church is still standing, as well as a vault at its southern side. The wall of the apse is solid and built of well-fitted stones, eight feet and ten inches long and two feet and ten inches high, curved to form the semi-circular shape of the apse. This church is very much alike the St. Anne Church near Bet-Jibrin [i. e. Bet-Guvrin] and, as far as I know, these ruins are those of the oldest church in Palestine. It can be dated back to the 4th century. The village is three minutes north of the church, and, between the village and the church, down towards the west, there is a well, of which a lot of water is drawn. The water is good, but not excellent. The village is pleasantly situated upon a gentle slope descending from east to west. The village however is not very big and its houses are ugly.”
Titus Toblers dritte Wanderung nach Palästina im Jahre 1857, Gotha, 1859, pp. 186-187,
see the original text here, the translation is ours.
French archaeologist and geographer Victor Guérin becomes interested by the Emmaus question in 1863, during his third trip to Palestine. Following Robinson, he is inclined to identify Emmaus-Nicopolis as the Emmaus of the Gospel. Like Titus Tobler, Guérin describes the basilica of ‘Amwas and proposes a date of its construction:
“At 3:35, I set off again in the direction of west-southwest. Having crossed a hill, I descend into a valley and at four o'clock I arrive at ‘Amouas, عمواس. It is a very small village of not more than two hundred inhabitants, situated partly in a valley and partly on the slopes of a mound. The houses are roughly built with small stones. Near the village there is an ancient well, whose water is abundant and inexhaustible. There are several burial caves in the slopes of neighbouring mountains. A little to the south from the edge of the village, upon a small hillock, there is a sanctuary with a dome (kubbeh), surrounded by a belt of cacti, where local inhabitants worship the memory of a Muslim saint.
Further south, and a four minutes’ walk from ‘Amouas, there are the remains of a Byzantine church, whose naves are entirely destroyed; one can only discern their former location. The three apses, facing east, have been at least partly preserved; they are built of rows of beautiful stones, very regularly cut, some of them with a bossage. These are the only remains of the ancient city of Emmaus, later called Nicopolis, which after the Arab conquest has recovered its original name, instead of the Greek one, imposed on it [by Romans]. The well and the burial caves probably come from the Judaic period, while the only remains of the Christian city are the ruins of the Byzantine basilica of which I have spoken. I attribute [the ruins] to the first centuries of the Church, because of their strong similarity to those of St. Anne church, found near Beit-Jibrin [i.e. Bet-Guvrin], which seems to go back to the period between Constantine and Justinian [4-6th c. AD].
V. Guérin, Description géographique, historique et archéologique de Palestine, vol. 1, Paris, 1868, pp. 293-294,
see the original text here, the translation is ours.
In the same year, 1863, Franciscan Father Alessandro Bassi visits ‘Amwas. He is the first to publish a sketch and a plan, although incomplete, of the Southern basilica:
“At El-Atrun, instead of going to Ramla, I took to the right and riding along a gentle slope in the northern direction, I found myself in a quarter of an hour at the foot of the Judean mountains, towering in front of me and at my side and forming a hollow. A large field of golden crops was in front of me (it was the end of May), in the middle of which there was an unsown space, which seemed to be a rectangular yard, stretching from east to west; in the east it was limited by a low semi-circular wall. I steered the horse there, and in two leaps I found myself at a perfectly traced area of a church, the aforementioned semi-circle corresponding to its apse or choir. To the left of the rectangular space, at the upper end of its southern side, one could see the remains of an annex to the church, which originally formed a single whole with it. This annex, looking like a kind of sacristy, had a form of a square room, also limited on the eastern side by an extant small and low apse [with a vault], while the rest of the wall surrounding the little room was no more than a row of stones one meter high. [...]
While I was talking to my companions, a pack of Arabs from the nearby village crowded in, asking for the usual baksheesh (tip), a word very familiar to travellers in this country. Turning to these dirty fellahin (peasants), I asked if there was a sheikh el-beled among them, a village chief, something like our mayor; they brought me a small old man in rags, with whom, having made the necessary greetings, with the help of my dragoman [i. e. guide], I started the following dialogue:
‘What is the name of your village?’ – ‘Emuas’. [...]
‘Are there water springs in the village?’ – The Arab spread his fingers as much as he could and said: ‘Hamsah (five). Three in the field and two in the village. Right here below.’ He pointed them out to me and continued: ‘From this one, the nearest, we draw water. The second one is holy. We make our ablutions in it.’
‘Tell me, what do you call this place where we are standing?’ – ‘Kenisseh (church). And there is another one there, Kebir (the big one).’
‘What do you think this little kenisseh was?’ – ‘HON WEN SAYEDNA ISSA FALAK EL AYSH’ (This is the place where our Lord Jesus shared the bread).
I exchanged a glance of surprise and joy with my companions. I ordered the dragoman to present the sheikh-cicerone with an inevitable baksheesh, and to the rest of them I distributed some smoking tobacco letting them return, satisfied, to their homes. Turning to my companions, I said: ‘This is truly the sanctuary of Emmaus. Let us enter the little chapel, marking the place where in the house of Cleopas, the Lord comforted his hospitable disciples with his presence. Here, no doubt, adorabimus in loco ubi steterunt pedes eius.’ [ Latin: We shall worship at the very place where His feet stood.]
Plan of the church of ‘Amwas drawn by Alessandro Bassi
Having finished the prayer, I wrote down immediately the above dialogue, in order to remember it. I quickly sketched the plan of the little church and a drawing of the small apse, the most important and the best-preserved part of the monument. The inner length of the church is 26.2 meters (including the depth of the apse, which is 4.5 meters), its maximum width is nine meters. The length of the sanctuary without the small apse is six meters, and its width is slightly less than three meters. Then I examined remains of the walls. The monumental size of the rectangular stones made me conclude that the monument was very old. All the stones were 0.93 meters high. In the centre of the apse, I discovered a stone 3.2 meters long, and in the small chapel, a stone 2.9 m long. [...] Before leaving, I would have liked to have visited also the other ruins scattered over the territory of Emuas, its miraculous spring, as well as the remains of the big church (Kenisseh el-Kebir), mentioned by the sheikh. [...] But as the day was heading towards evening, and I had to arrive at the Franciscan hospice in Ramla before dark, I had to hurry up. Nevertheless, I left the place satisfied and happy to have found the true and the main sanctuary of Emmaus, and kissed the floor of the house of Cleophas, where SAYEDNA ISSA FALAK EL AYSH, our Lord Jesus broke the bread ...”
Alessandro Bassi, , Emaus, città della Palestina, Torino, 1884, pp. 47-48, 51-53, written in January 1864, see here the original Italian text, the translation is ours.
Alessandro Bassi recognized the nave of the Crusader church of ‘Amwas, as well as the eastern wall of the Byzantine basilica with its central and southern apses. We do not know, however, the location of the “big church”, mentioned by the sheikh.
Starting in 1866, the Palestine explorers (Emmanuel Forner, Carl Sandreczki, Liévin de Hamme) no longer situate the historical Modi’in in Tzuba or in Latrun, but near the Arab village of El Midieh, north of Emmaus-Nicopolis. In 1870, Victor Guérin correctly identifies the graves of the Maccabees in a place called Hirbet El-Gherbawy (Hurvat Hagardi, near the current Mevo Modiin), see: Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during years 1873-74, London, 1899, vol. 2, p. 359ff.
These studies have helped scientists to understand the true historical significance of the monuments of Emmaus-Nicopolis and Latrun.
Tombs of Maccabees near Mevo Modiin
In 1868, German theologian Ernst Ranke first publishes the Fulda Codex, one of the most ancient manuscripts of the Vulgate, St. Jerome’s 4th c. translation of the New Testament into Latin. This manuscript contains the version of 160 stades between Jerusalem and Emmaus ( Codex Fuldensis Novum Testamentum Latine Interprete Hieronymo ex Manuscrito Victoris Capuani edidit Ernestus Ranke, Marburgi & Lipsiae, 1868, p. 160, see here ).
Crusader church of Abu-Ghosh
In 1871, the Ottoman authorities hand over the Catholic church of St. George in Lod to the Greeks. In 1873, as compensation for Catholics, the Turks give France the Crusader church in Abu-Ghosh, which was supposedly venerated in the 12th century as a place of Christ's appearance in Emmaus (see: The Crusader period). The Crusader church of Abu Ghosh becomes a place of pilgrimage at the beginning of the 20th century (see below).
In 1874, the French orientalist Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau conducts the first archaeological excavation inside the basilica of Emmaus-Nicopolis, in order to discover its mosaic floor. The excavation is carried out without permission from the Turkish authorities, and therefore is hasty and does not produce the desired results.
In his book, published in London in 1899, the researcher describes ancient objects and inscriptions he had received from the local population in 1874, as well as ancient tombs of ‘Amwas, and reports stories and legends he heard in this place. (Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during years 1873-74, London, 1899, vol. 1, p. 483-485ff, see here).
Sketch of a Roman-period tomb, made by Charles Clermont-Ganneau near ‘Amwas in 1874.
(Charles Clermont-Ganneau, "Archaelogical Researches in Palestine during the years 1873-1874", London, 1899, vol. 2, p. 94ff)
Clermont-Ganneau mentions, among other things, the villagers’ veneration of the graves of Mu‘adh ben Jabal and Abu ‘Ubaida:
“The most important, and most conspicuous Mussulman sanctuary in ‘Amwas is that which stands on the hill some 500 meters to the south of the village. It appears on the P. E. Fund Map under the name of Sheikh Mo‘alla, a name which is interpreted in the name lists by “lofty” [Arabic and English Name Lists Collected during the Survey by Lieutenants Conder and Kitchener, transliterated and explained by E. H. Palmer, London, 1881, p. 328]. I have heard the name pronounced Ma‘alleh, and also Mu‘al, or Mo‘al; but these are merely shorter or less accurate forms; the complete name, as I have on several occasions noted, is Sheikh Mu‘al iben Jabal.
Sheikh iben Jabal's mausoleum, Canada (Ayalon) Park
Although they do not know anything about its origin, the fellahin have an extraordinary reverence for this sanctuary; they declare that it is often the scene of a supernatural apparition; that of an old man, with a long white beard, mounted on a green mare, and holding in his right hand a pike (harbeh) wherewith he slays his enemies. This is the Sheikh, of whom they stand in holy awe. […] On the west side of the village, to the north of the church, there is another Mohammedan sanctuary, which also is greatly venerated. Here stands an ancient and very curious building, with cupolas and vaults. It is called simply Sheikh ‘Obeid. I have no doubt that this otherwise unknown Sheikh ‘Obeid is a sort of pendant to Mu‘adh ben Jabal, and that concealed under it lies the personality of another famous hero of the Mohammedan conquest, who also fell a victim to the Plague of ‘Amwas; I mean General Abu ‘Obeidah ben el Jarah, who commanded the invading army, and was succeeded in the command by Mu‘adh ben Jabal himself.”
Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Archeological Researches in Palestine during the Years 1873-1874, v.1, London, 1899, pp. 491-493, see here
See also: Early Arab period about the Muslim sanctuaries at 'Amwas.
The same year, 1874, French explorer Félicien de Saulcy publishes a research on numismatics of Palestine, where he describes several coins minted in Emmaus-Nicopolis during the Roman period: F. de Saulcy, Numismatique de la Terre Sainte, Paris, 1874, pp. 172-175, see here (See also: The Late Roman period).
Howard's hotel in Latrun ("La Palestine illustrée", Lausanne, 1888).
In 1876-1877 the Lebanese Iskander Awad (better known as Alexander Howard), the agent of the Thomas Cook company in Palestine, builds a small hotel for pilgrims in Latrun. Subsequently, the hotel becomes the property of Batato brothers from Jerusalem. A sign upon the building runs: Hotel of the Maccabees, and visitors are shown ancient Jewish graves in the garden as those of Mattathias the Hasmonean and his sons (see: Paul Tavardon, Trappistes en Terre Sainte, Domuni-Press, 2016, Vol. 1, p. 68, footnote 128, pp. 114-115).
In 1877, the Orthodox Archimandrite Benjamin Ioannides of Jerusalem publishes a guide for pilgrims, Proskunitarion, in which he proves that ‘Amwas is the Emmaus of the Maccabees and that of St. Luke. (Βενιαμίν Ιωαννίδης, Προσκυνητάριον της Αγίας Γης, Ιερουσαλήμ, 1877, Τευχος Ά, pp. 28-30, the original text is here; see also: M. J. Schiffers, Amwas, das Emmaus des hl. Lucas, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1890, pp. 221-222 , see here ; Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, p. 381, see here; Duvigneau, Emmaüs - le site, le mystère, Paris, 1937, p. 84, footnote 1 and pp. 111-112, see here).
During the 1870s, the Lieutenants of the British Army C. R. Conder and H. H. Kitchener carry out a systematic geographical survey of Palestine on behalf of the British Palestine Exploration Fund. As a part of this work, Lieutenant Kitchener (the future British Lord, military commander and minister of war) visits ‘Amwas in 1877:
“After examining the country round, I rode to Amwas to see the church. I entered the mosque and measured it up. On coming out I found a throng of people, who said it was a most sacred place, being the tomb of Sheik Obeid. I apologised for going in with my shoes on. The people were extremely civil and obliging, and though I had a Turkish soldier with me, they expressed their longing that England would take the country and give them the benefits of a just government. Nothing I could say would induce them to believe that England had no intention of doing anything of the sort. There had been a wedding that day, and as the bridegroom has to stand a certain amount of powder for fantasia on these occasions, the young men were sensibly determined to use it for firing at marks, instead of throwing it away uselessly. They made some very good practice. At a certain time, they all formed in line in front of the mosque, with the old sheikh in front, and went through their devotions together. They were very fervent in their prayers that God would give victory to the Sultan and confound the Muscovites [The author has in mind the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878]. I then visited the remains of the magnificent church. The stones are very large, and the church, in my opinion, is older than the Crusading times, very probably dating from the fifth century. I next visited the fine remains of the Crusading castle at Latron; it must have been an important place, and is still in very fair preservation...”
H. H. Kitchener, Journal of the Survey, PEF Quarterly Statement, London, 1878, p. 66, see here.
H. H. Kitchener
Latrun ca. 1880, Drawing by J. D. Woodward, published in: Picturesque Palestine, Ch. Wilson, ed., London, 1881-84, vol. I, p.195.
We see from Lieutenant Kitchener's text that he identifies the ruins at Latrun as a Crusader fortress. In 1878, in a report published by Lieutenant Conder about his work on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund, we find for the first time the correct etymology of the name of Latrun, tracing its origin to the Crusader fortress of Toron de los Caballeros, mentioned in the 12th century by the Jewish traveller Benjamin of Tudela, and not to the “Good Thief” as before, see: Claude Reignier Conder, Tent Work in Palestine, London, 1878, vol. 1, p. 14, see also: C. R. Conder, H. H. Kitchener, The Survey of Western Palestine , London 1883, vol. 3, p. 15. See also: The Crusader period.
The area of ‘Amwas and Latrun on the map of the Palestine Exploration Fund, composed by Conder and Kitchener
("Map of Western Palestine from Surveys conducted for the Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund by Lieutenants C. R. Conder and H. H. Kitchener during the Years 1872-1877", London, 1880)
In spring 1878, the Carmelite mystic of Bethlehem, Saint Mary of Jesus Crucified (legal name: Mariam Baouardy), receives a revelation about the church of Emmaus-Nicopolis, which triggers the acquisition of the land by the convent. She writes to her spiritual father on May 5, 1878:
“... The Lord showed me a place where there will be a big chapel to which all the pilgrimages will go. I was told that under the earth there is a church and, in this church, in the old days before the Crusaders came, there was a church in honour of the true place of Emmaus where Our Lord had blessed the bread that made his disciples recognize him. I was told that Turks had made a mosque there and that it stayed many years in their hands. Not a single Christian remained in the country, some were massacred, others escaped, others made themselves Turks [i. e. Muslims]. When Christians saw this persecution coming, they buried a little stone upon which these words had been written by the two disciples themselves: ‘This is the place where the Lord blessed the bread and made himself known to them.’ They also buried the stone table at which the Lord had blessed the bread. All this is unknown and hidden, and these are the only things remaining untouched in the Holy Land, just as in the time of Our Lord. I was told that seeing the place, I would recognize it. For a long time already, there were doubts [about the place] and I did not know.
St. Mary of Jesus Crucified
The [Latin] Patriarchate wants to find it in order to buy it, the Franciscans likewise, and the Schismatics too. And everyone still doubts. [...] I want to take action, and if God inspires me, we will buy [the place]; it will belong neither to those nor to the others. [...] If Jesus wants, he will send the money. [ ... ] Pray so that it will not become a cause of division. I’ve forgotten to say something. In the end, I was also told that the place which the Franciscan Fathers keep as being Emmaus [i. e. Qubeibeh] had once been a convent where many desert Fathers were massacred. It is a place well sanctified and very precious because of the blood of the martyrs which watered its ground. I informed the Reverend Father Guido that by digging they will find ruins of cells and remains of holy priests and bishops.”
Lettres de la Bienheureuse Marie de Jésus Сrucifié, éditions du Carmel, 2011, pp. 504-506, see here, the translation is ours.
On May 7 1878, St. Mary of Jesus Crucified accompanies the superior and the mistress of novices of her convent on a trip to Nazareth. The French historian Father Denis Buzy gives an account of this journey based upon the archives of the Carmel of Bethlehem:
“The travellers left [their convent] on May 7, passed through Saint John in Montana [i.e. Ein-Karem], Emmaus and Jaffa. They took a boat to Haifa and, from there, headed to Nazareth through Shefa-Amr. [...] The most remarkable event of the trip was the one at Emmaus. Several weeks before, Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified had said in ecstasy that God would show her the place where the risen Saviour had blessed the bread in the presence of the two disciples. On the spot, a sign would be given to let her recognize the place. [...] On the evening of May 8, their carriage stopped at a hotel near the small village of El Atrun. Without waiting for a guide, Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified, who had never passed by this place before, takes the lead, ravished in ecstasy, with her sisters far behind, hastening after her. She was almost running, recounts the mistress of the novices. In few minutes, she reaches a hillock with shapeless ruins hardly visible among the tall grass. She stops deeply moved, and, turning to the sisters who were approaching, she says aloud, ‘This is truly the place where Our Lord ate with His disciples.’...”
Denis Buzy, Vie de Sr. Marie de Jésus Crucifié, Bar-le-Duc – Paris, 1921, pp. 100-101, see here, the translation is ours.
According to the unpublished archives of the convent, St. Mary of Jesus Crucified said that it was at Abu Ghosh that Jesus met the two disciples on the way, and from there they took a shorter and a more direct road to Emmaus than the one which is in use today.
In May 1879, following St. Mary’s prophecy concerning Emmaus, a French lady, Berthe de Saint-Cricq d’Artigaux (Dartigaux), who had financed the founding of the Carmelite convent in Bethlehem, buys three hectares of land with the ruins of the church of Emmaus from the Arab villagers with twenty thousand francs. Miss Dartigaux donates the property to the Carmel of Bethlehem. At her request, Jean-Baptiste Guillemot, an architect and a former captain of the French army, supervises the clearing of the ruins (starting in 1880). The first house is built on the hill above the ruins for the architect. Next to the house, a small chapel is built (see: Paul Tavardon, Trappistes en Terre Sainte, vol.1, pp. 75-76 and 92).
Basilica of Emmaus before the diggings of 1880s. In the background: ruins of the Crusader fortress of Latrun. “Picturesque Palestine”, Ch. Wilson, ed., London, 1881-84, Volume III, p. 152, drawing by Harry Fenn).
House built by Berthe Dartigaux above the ruins
(Photo published by Fr. Louis Heidet in: "Der letzte Einsiedler Palästinas", Köln,1913 (p. 89)
In 1882, Captain Guillemot publishes a report on his archaeological discoveries in the French Catholic weekly Les Missions Catholiques:
“The church of Amoas is not oriented [to the east]: its façade faces north-west, while its apses look southeast. Before the excavation, the whole structure was so buried that it was impossible to grasp its plan completely. Several beautiful stones of the central apse and a section of the arch of the southern lateral apse were the only parts visible above the ground. Excavations started near this southern apse. About a meter deep the apse was surrounded by Muslim graves, which looked pretty old, and a niche hollowed out at a late stage was discovered in the middle of the apse. It is in this place that I found a tomb of a [Muslim] saint, easily recognizable by a decoration in the form of a traditional dervish cap. All these details made me assume that this side of the church had been used as a mosque.
Tomb of a Muslim saint discovered by Guillemot
We discovered several Jewish tombs dug in the rock and a weird construction nearby, hastily built of stones of different size and origin. It contained, among heaps of human bones, more than a hundred vials, of which twenty were found unbroken. I did not find traces of Crusaders’ tools upon any of these stones; the building seems to me to belong to an earlier period. I am sure that it is neither a Jewish nor a Muslim construction, nevertheless, no cross was found there. A few steps from this curious ossuary an old furnace [was discovered], which revealed to me the way in which beautiful white marble decorations of the church had disappeared: around the furnace there lay scattered numerous carved and sculpted marble elements, often half-calcined. The marble used to be burnt to produce lime. The excavation around the church continued, slowly freeing it from the shroud of earth and debris. Numerous fragments of columns, their bases, capitals and entablatures, as well as ancient pottery and mosaic stones of all colours were uncovered. All we discovered is typically found in Palestine, particularly at the ancient sites, but still there was not a single inscription in view. We had a better chance at the northern apse, where certain signs made us redouble our attention.
The northern apse of the Southern Byzantine basilica, where the Ionic column capital with Samaritan and Greek inscriptions was discovered. (Illustration from: J.-B. Guillemot, "Emmaus-Amoas", "Les missions catholiques", No. 665, March 3, 1882, p. 106).
A - The connection of the Crusader Church to the Byzantine apse.
B - Byzantine masonry.
C - Wall enclosing the apse.
D - Column base embedded in the wall.
E- Column capital with Samaritan and Greek inscriptions.
We discovered here a curious Ionic capital bearing two inscriptions. [...] Mr. Clermont-Ganneau received a drawing of them, and, although the characters were imperfect, he deciphered them without hesitation. The more remarkable of these two inscriptions is the Hebrew-Samaritan one, it is situated inside a rectangle and is written in two lines separated by a horizontal line. The rectangle itself is set between two volutes and is connected to them on each side by a kind of dovetail shape, which proves that the inscription was a part of the capital from the very beginning.
To facilitate the translation, I place the Samaritan characters on a single line, and the corresponding Latin characters below them in a reverse order, Semitic inscriptions being read from right to left.
Situating the Latin letters in the right sense, from left to right, we get BRWK ŠMW LʿWLM. Each Semitic letter, not accompanied by an Alef, a Yod or a Vav, signifies a pair of sounds: consonant + vowel, so we read:
‘BARUKH SHEMO LE’OLAM’
‘Blessed be his name forever’ [ ...]
Now, whose name should be blessed? Obviously, the sentence is not complete: ‘Blessed be his name forever!’ We will find the second part of the phrase, turning over the capital, which has a second inscription on the opposite side. What a surprise for an archaeologist: between two volutes, instead of a rectangle, we find here a kind of shell, and inside it, a Greek inscription from the late Roman-early Byzantine period:
‘ΕΙΣ ΘΕΟΣ’ – ‘ONE GOD’.
Here is the complete meaning of the Hebrew-Samaritan inscription: one God, may his name be blessed forever! We are therefore in the presence of a sentence expressing a single thought, using two different languages, with the proper characters for each of them. The inscription, no doubt, goes back to a [relatively] late period. Mr. Clermont-Ganneau has evidence of this form used between the 3rd and the 6th centuries AD.
[...] I found it useful to draw up a protocol signed by witnesses, which specifies the exact location [...] of the column capital with the double inscription. In such a serious study one cannot be too cautious. [...] The most important parts of the church of Amoas have not yet been excavated, namely: all the space behind the three apses, inside the Crusader nave and inside the [central] Roman apse…”
J.-B. Guillemot, Emmaüs-Amoas, published in: Les missions catholiques, No. 665; March 3, 1882, pp. 103-106,
the translation is ours, see the original text here.
We understand from this text, that Captain Guillemot dates the basilica to the Roman period. The protocol mentioned by Guillemot is drawn up at Emmaus on June 26, 1881, in the presence of Fathers Alphonse-Marie Ratisbonne, Antonio Belloni, Felix Valerga and others (See the article Les deux Emmaüs published by Canon M.-Th. Alleau in Les missions catholiques, 1881, pp. 345-346, see here). The vice-consul of France in Jaffa and orientalist Charles Clermont-Ganneau, who had been the first to conduct an archaeological research at Emmaus as early as 1874 (see above), is present at ‘Amwas on the same occasion. He had been the one to decipher the Samaritan inscription upon the Ionic capital (see the Captain Guillemot's report above). In his account about his research in Palestine, Clermont-Ganneau provides an interesting analysis of the inscriptions discovered by Captain Guillemot (see: Ch. Clermont-Ganneau, Premiers rapports sur une mission en Palestine et en Phénicie, Paris, 1882, pp. 16-38, see here. An English translation of Clermont-Ganneau’s report can be found in: Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement, 1882, pp. 22-37, see here and also in: C. R. Conder, H. H. Kitchener, The Survey of Western Palestine, vol. 3, London, 1883, pp. 72-81, see here ). In this report Clermont-Ganneau affirms that the three-apsidal basilica of ‘Amwas goes back to the Byzantine period. Captain Guillemot’s mistake of dating the basilica to the Roman period has nevertheless persisted among researchers up to the mid-20th century.
(...) VETUS (...)
(legionis) V MAC(edonicae)
(Louvre Museum collection)
While exploring the region of ‘Amwas, Clermont-Ganneau discovers several more inscriptions which he publishes (Ch. Clermont-Ganneau, Mission en Palestine et en Phénicie, Paris, 1884, p. 60-63 and 105-106, see here). One of them, found near Latrun, is an epitaph for a Roman soldier of the V Macedonian Legion (see here: Ch. Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during the Years 1873-1874, London, 1899, Vol. 1, p. 468, see also here: Ephemeris Epigraphica, Vol. V, 1884, p. 620; CIIP, vol IV, part 1, Berlin/Boston. 2018, p. 472-473, see here ).
Clermont-Ganneau also mentions remains of Roman aqueducts between ‘Amwas and Latrun:
“I was told by the fellahin that there was in ancient times a great aqueduct which brought water to ‘Amwas from Bir et Tineh (near the present road, not far from Bir Ayub). This aqueduct is probably that whose ruins can still be traced to the south of ‘Amwas. Another very considerable aqueduct discharges its contents near ‘Amwas, after winding all round the hill upon which Latrun stands. All these very remarkable hydraulic arrangements must have been the work of the Romans, who made Emmaus-Nicopolis one of their chief military stations in Palestine.”
Ch. Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during the Years 1873-1874, London, 1899, Vol. 1, p. 488, see here.
The column capital with the double inscription, discovered by Captain Guillemot, as well as some other Samaritan inscriptions, found at ‘Amwas, do not go back further than the Byzantine period (see: M. de Vogüe, Nouvelle inscription samaritaine d’Amwas, RB 1896, p.433ff, see here ). The presence of this capital in the Byzantine church can be explained as follows: after the suppression of their revolt in 531 AD, Samaritans were forced to rebuild the churches they had destroyed in Palestine, and it can be assumed that they repaired the basilica of Emmaus using the stones from their synagogue (see here: Vincent, Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, pp. 264-266, see also: the Byzantine period). This column capital therefore cannot be the stone mentioned by St. Mary of Jesus Crucified in her prophecy (see above), contrary to Fr. Germer-Durand’s opinion, see: Revue Benedictine, 1890, vol. VII, pp. 433-436, see here.
British officers Conder and Kitchener, mentioned above, visit the diggings of ‘Amwas in 1882. They publish a report about the excavations based upon Captain Guillemot’s account (see above). They provide however, some new details including the discovery of a big quantity of human bones, as well as a cross intended to be worn round the neck, to the east of the Basilica. The authors suggest that there was a Christian cemetery here before the Muslim conquest. They also publish new plans of the church of ‘Amwas.
C. R. Conder, H. H. Kitchener, Survey of Western Palestine, London, 1883, vol. 3, p. 63ff, see here.
Plans of the basilica of Amwas, published by Conder and Kitchener in 1883
In 1883, while pursuing the excavations northeast of the church, Captain Guillemot discovers a cruciform basin with an adjacent cistern, as well as Byzantine mosaics, one of which mentions a bishop (of Nicopolis).
The excavation site is visited by German architect Conrad Schick, the most important archaeological authority in Jerusalem of that period. In his report about the excavation, C. Schick speaks about the church that “dates back to two different periods. The older building is apparently Byzantine and is noticeable thanks to its beautiful big stones; the more recent one was erected by the Crusaders and represents a small church with a single nave looking somewhat massive and occupying only the central part of the byzantine building.” (See: C. Schick, ZDPV, VII, 1884, pp. 15ff, as well as illustration No 1, see here, the translation is ours; see also: PEF Quarterly Statement, 1883, p. 118, see here ).
Plan of the Basilica and drawing of the baptistery, published by Conrad Schick
C. Schick identifies the basin as a cruciform baptistery of the 4th century. The drawing of the baptistery, published by C. Schick is not exact (see here: Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, p. 244, footnote 1).
Inscriptions discovered at this stage of the excavations were published by Fr. Germer-Durand (Revue biblique, 1894, pp. 253-257, see here). Captain Guillemot's report about this stage of excavations was published by M.-J. Schiffers, Amwas, das Emmaus des hl. Lucas, Freiburg im Breisgau, 1890, pp. 229-233, see here. In this report, Guillemot continues to date the church of ‘Amwas to the Roman period and attributes its construction to Julius Sextus Africanus (3rd c. AD, see: The Late Roman period). A short summary of this stage of the excavations can also be found in: Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during the Years 1873-1874, London, 1899, vol. 1, p. 484-485, see here.
Plan of the basilica, published by M.-J. Schiffers, "Amwas, das Emmaus des hl. Lucas", Freiburg im Breisgau, 1890, based on the research of Captain Guillemot. The plan of the baptistery is not exact, see here: Vincent & Abel, "Emmaüs", p. 244, footnote 1.
Map of the Byzantine city of Nicopolis and its region, published by Guillemot.
The city is surrounded by a wall. The basilica is located outside the city at the junction of three roads.
In the same brochure, we find the first photo of the excavations. The photo is not dated, but Vincent and Abel consider it to have been taken in 1885 (Vincent & Abel, "Emmaüs", Paris, 1932, p.27, see here).
Berthe Dartigaux dies in March 1887. Captain Guillemot continues to clear the church of Amwas until 1888. At the end of the excavations, the mosaics are covered with earth, and the baptistery is protected by a shade. The discovered objects are placed in the building on the hill above the excavations, but they disappear over the time. The column capital with the double inscription is transferred to the Carmelite convent of Bethlehem ( see: Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, p.5, see here).
Excavations carried out by J.-B. Guillemot were later criticized for their lack of scientific method:
“During these works the researchers became so enthusiastic about their discoveries that they preferred to learn as quickly as possible about the nature, the character and the date of the ruins, rather than keeping to a rigorous archaeological method. Sometimes they just moved the rubble, covering again the parts of the monument that had already been studied [...]. The side aisles were examined all along a significant distance from the apses, but the researchers did not unravel immediately the terrible entanglement of the remnants, concentrating their efforts instead upon the closed nave corresponding to the central apse. At the first stage of this hurried research, the excavated stones were simply thrown over the walls, so that old heaps of stones were covered with new ones, which further complicated the situation. Around 1887-88, the nave was cleared to make visible the foundations of the [Crusader] walls and, before continuing the exploration of the [church] floor, it would have been necessary to remove the heaps of debris, whose summits were rising above the walls of the [Crusader] church. Instead of performing the removal of the rubble and the definitive exploration [of the site], the excavations were suddenly interrupted ...”
Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, p. 4, see here, the translation is ours.
The diggings performed by Captain Guillemot thus caused an almost total destruction of the archaeological strata from the Crusader period all around the church ( D. Pringle, The Churches of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem , Cambridge, 1993, vol. 1, p. 59, see here).
In 1887-90, a former officer of the French army, Fr. Louis Viallet, who took the name of Fr. Cleophas, lives as a hermit in the house above the archaeological site in ‘Amwas (Louis Heidet, Der letzte Einsiedler Palästinas, Köln, 1913; P. Tavardon, Trappistes en Terre Sainte, Domuni-Press, 2016, vol. 1, p. 75ff.). The French weekly Les missions catholiques publishes the following reports about the first Easter Monday pilgrimages organized by Fr. Viallet to Emmaus-Nicopolis:
“From our correspondent in Jerusalem, April 21, 1889: [...] [Emmaus-Nicopolis] seems to have the sympathies of all the French communities established in the Holy Land, since it is to Amouâs that they send their delegates on Easter Monday to celebrate the risen Jesus’ appearing to the two disciples. Thus, last Monday, fifteen priests or religious celebrated this feast in Amwas with some pilgrims and faithful who had joined them. The old church has been cleared and will be rebuilt very soon; in the meantime, a small temporary residence with a chapel has been built, where every day the miracle of transubstantiation performed by Jesus Christ for the two disciples in Emmaus is renewed. This place is located on the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem, not far from Latrun ...”
Les missions catholiques, 1889, p. 221, see here, our translation.
Fr. Cleophas (Louis Viallet)
“From our correspondent in Jerusalem:
This Easter Monday has been marked by a double pilgrimage to the two Emmaus. [...] The Franciscans situate Emmaus at a village called Qubeibeh, located three leagues [i. e. 7.5 miles] north-west of Jerusalem. [...] Others find Emmaus in the village that still bears the name of Ammoas. This village is much further from Jerusalem, it takes about six hours to reach it. [...] Fr. Cleophas, relying on the ancient tradition and modern Palestinian scholars, such as Clermont-Ganneau, Guérin and Vigouroux, asserts that Emmaus of the Gospel is at Ammoas, and it is there that he has gathered this year, on April 7, about forty pilgrims, priests and religious from Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jaffa. He has celebrated the Holy Mass for this pious group in the basilica covered with shades. For the first time since the Crusades, Our Lord has been worshiped under the sacramental species in this place where the happy disciples had recognized him at the breaking of the bread. On the occasion of this pilgrimage, two priests of the Patriarchate have walked from Jerusalem to Ammoas and back and so have confirmed Fr. Cleophas’ assertion that it had taken him only five and a half hours to walk from Ammoas to Jerusalem. The opponents of this excellent Father had claimed that it was impossible to accomplish a return journey between Jerusalem and Ammoas in one day. It took the priests of the Patriarchate five and a half hours to walk down [to Ammoas] and six hours to walk up [to Jerusalem], and yet these two priests did not have the advantages of the two disciples of Jesus: one of them is 52 years old; they have led a sedentary life for many years and especially they had not been so happy as to take their supper with Jesus, to listen to his words, and to receive him miraculously in their hearts.”
Les missions catholiques, 1890, pp. 316-317, see here, the translation is ours.
In 1890, at the invitation of Fr. Cleophas, the Trappist monks from Sept-Fons in France acquire Howard’s hotel in Latrun together with the adjacent territory in order to establish a monastery. Fr. Cleophas becomes its first superior:
“Jerusalem. An energetic and devoted religious, a former student of Saint-Cyr [military Academy] and an officer of our army, Fr. Viallet, in religion the Right Reverend Marie-Cleophas, is currently founding a Trappist monastery in the Holy Land. The convent will rise among the ruins of the ancient Emmaus (today Amoas, between Ramla and Jerusalem) in the shadow of the sanctuary where Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to the disciples on the evening of His Resurrection. The Trappist monastery will help the revival of Palestine. The country is still fertile, and were it cultivated, it would be covered with crops".
Les missions catholiques, 1891, p. 137, see here, our translation;
see also: Paul Tavardon, Trappistes en Terre Sainte, Domuni-Press, 2016, vol. 1, p. 85ff.
FF. L.-H. Vincent and F.-M. Abel
In 1890 an important stage in the scientific study of the Holy Land began when the French Biblical and Archaeological School (Ecole Biblique) was created in Jerusalem by the Dominican friars led by Fr. Marie-Joseph Lagrange. This foundation, as well as the encyclical Providentissimus Deus by Pope Leo XIII which followed it, introduced historical critical methods of Biblical research in the Catholic Church.
Dominican Fathers L.-H. Vincent and F.-M. Abel were going to contribute considerably to the research of Emmaus in the first half of the 20th century. Many articles about Emmaus were published in Revue Biblique, the periodical of the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem.
Father Vincent first visited Latrun in 1891:
“It was before cars and the railway came to Palestine, one evening in the early days of August 1891. On the morning of that day, we had disembarked from a ship at Jaffa. Enchanted by the light, the noise and exotics, we savoured colours and smells of the bazaars, visited the pilgrimage sites, stared at the antiquities of an amiable collector, and finally, took places at the benches of an unpretentious stagecoach, which was displaying the pretention of reaching Jerusalem before too late a night. Through bumps and dust our vehicle was approaching the first slopes of the mountain when a turn of the road brought us to a modest building, standing apart from a small group of similar houses in the midst of new plantations. All this was dominated by a small bell tower with a cross: it was the Trappist monastery of Latrun at its beginnings. During the short time of this stop we experienced the hospitality of the monks, which ever since has been an answer to our worst importunity. Satisfying our curiosity, the most obliging monk explained to us the unfamiliar words that we had heard. Then he led us to a neighbouring empty mound called the Roman Camp, from which some huts, a few hundred meters away, were visible. It was the village of ‘Amwas (as Emmaus is called in the Middle East), and in front of it there was a silhouette of a church, emerging from a heap of debris. ‘Excavations started there, but they are currently interrupted’, - said our guide concisely. It was the moment when the sun, before disappearing in the West, gilds and glorifies rags, stones and ruins. The majestic ragged church silhouette was fascinating. [...] But already the stagecoach was swinging with effort up the road to the Holy City. Very soon we were going to learn about the [scientific] problem related to Emmaus ...”
Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, pp. VII-VIII, see here, the translation is ours.
View of ‘Amwas from the hill of the Roman camp (today's Yad Le-Shiryon museum), early 20th c..
Photo by Ecole Biblique
Women at a well at ‘Amwas, late 19th century
In 1892, a railway line starts to operate between Jaffa and Jerusalem, reducing the number of pilgrims passing through Latrun and ‘Amwas.
In 1897, the French explorer Fr. J. Germer-Durand publishes an article about Emmaus, here is an excerpt from it:
“The city of Nicopolis occupied the hill opposite the basilica, to the west. The church was in a suburb connected to the city by a bridge. The modern village of Amouas covers only a very small part of the ancient city. By digging one meter deep into the ground, one finds ruins of houses built with beautiful and well-laid stones over a large territory [around the village]. When the villagers plan to build something, they have no need to look far away: they find good materials at hand and even make a trade of them on occasion.”
Echos de Notre-Dame, January 1897, pp. 2-19, the original text is here, the translation is ours.
Fr. J. Germer-Durand
Photo of the archaeological site, published by Fr. Germer-Durand
In October of 1890, a second stone with a Samaritan inscription is found in ‘Amwas (see the article by M.-J. Lagrange in Revue Biblque 1893, p. 114ff, see here, see also: The Byzantine period about the Samaritan presence at Emmaus). In April 1896, a third stone with a Samaritan inscription is discovered here (Revue biblique, 1896, p. 433-434, see here ). See also: CIIP, vol IV, part 1, Berlin/Boston, 2018, pp. 453-456.
Samaritan inscription discovered at Emmaus in 1896:
"ופסח ה' על הפתח ולא יתן המשחית לבא"
“The Lord will pass over the doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter”. (Exodus 12:23)
“Talisman. To Shamrael. Let God and all His holy princes (angels?) abolish every spell from his eyes, from his intelligence and from his tendons. Healing in the name…”
In the same year 1896, a Jewish amulet (a thin sheet of silver with drawings and an Aramaic inscription) is extracted from a tomb at ‘Amwas. Fr. Vincent attributes it to the 3d century AD ( L.-H. Vincent, Amulette judéo-araméenne, RB 1908, p. 382 ff., see here, see also: J. Naveh - S. Shaked, Amulets and Magic Bowls, 1985, pp. 60-63, see here ).
(The first inscription of this kind had been found by Clermont-Ganneau in the early 1880s, see above).
According to the author of the report, published in the Revue Biblique, 1897, p. 131 (see here) the finding confirms that it was in Emmaus-Nicopolis that Vespasian established his camp in 68-70 AD (as reported by Flavius Josephus in Jewish War 4, 8, 1 and 5, 1, 6, see: The Early Roman period). This tombstone is currently found in the museum of the Franciscan monastery of Flagellazione in the Old City of Jerusalem.
“Caius Vibius Firmus, soldier of the Vth Macedonian Legion, from the Pollio’s centuria, beneficiarius, served 18 years, lived 40 years, is buried here. Saccia Primiginia made (the sepulchre) for her spouse.”
C VIBIUS FIRMUS MILE(es) LEG(ionis) V MAC(edonicae)
> (= Centuria) POLLIONIS BENEFICIARIUS MILITA(vit)
ANNIS XIIX VIXIT ANNIS XXXX I H(ic) S(itus) E(st)
SACCIA PRIMIGINIA CONIUGI SUO F(aciendum) C(uravit)
Photo: Garo Nalbandian
In 1898, a third stone of the kind is found ( see: Revue biblique, 1898, p. 269, see here, the stone is currently stored in the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem):
"Lucius Sabinius from Amaseia, soldier of the Vth Macedonian Legion, from the Stiminus’ centuria, served 25 years..."
MIL(es) LEG(ionis) V MAC (edonicae),
> (= Centuria) STIMINI
AN(norum) XXV MIL(itavit)
In 1897, a 6th century mosaic map of the Holy Land is discovered in Madaba in Jordan, which pictures the byzantine city of Nicopolis ( M. Avi-Yona, The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem, 1954, p. 64 ; H. Donner, The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen, 1992, p.58; N. Duval, Essai sur la signification des vignettes topographiques, in: The Madaba Map Centenary, M. Picirillo, E. Alliata, ed., Jerusalem, 1999, pp. 139-140, see here). See: The Byzantine period.
In 1899, Fr. Louis Heidet provides a detailed description of the village of ‘Amwas:
“Today’s ‘Amo’âs is a village of about five hundred inhabitants, all of them Muslims. Houses are built of coarse materials, and the village does not look different from most poor villages of Palestine. Here and there, however, a visitor can notice some carefully hewn, beautiful and large stones inserted in the walls of the houses; these stones were picked up in the ruins covering the top and the slopes of the hill on which the village stands. Working with a hoe, one stumbles everywhere upon well-cut stones between sixty and eighty centimetres wide or even larger, scattered on the ground. One also finds column shafts, marble capitals, foundations of spacious buildings and many water cisterns filled with debris. Ruins of Roman thermae have been discovered by the villagers. Greek, Latin and Samaritan inscriptions were also found; some of them were published in Revue Biblique. [...] The perimeter of the ruins is larger than two kilometres; the village barely occupies the sixth part of this territory, the rest of the space is covered with plantations of fig trees, pomegranates and cacti. A retired French officer, Captain Guillemot, claims to have found traces of a city wall. Five hundred steps to the south of these ruins, at the foot of the mountain, ruins of a Roman basilica are visible. [... follows the description of the basilica ...]
Fr. Louis Heidet
‘Amwas in the late 19th - early 20th century,
photo published by Fr. Louis Heidet in: "Der letzte Einsiedler Palästinas", Köln,1913 (p. 81)
Behind the apses of the church several tombs carved in the rock have recently been discovered. Some of them contained ossuaries in the form of small sarcophagi, which is characteristic of the Jewish tombs of the beginning of the Christian era. On the slope of the hill, at whose foot the basilica is found, a lot of man-hewn stones are scattered around; one can also find foundations of buildings here and, in the vicinity, oil and wine presses. All this testifies to the fact that a village existed in this place, beyond doubt, the contemporary of the aforementioned tombs.
At the trivium formed in front of the church by the junction of three ancient roads, those of Eleutheropolis, Gazer and Jerusalem through Qaryat-Yearim, the end point of an aqueduct is situated, which is three thousand seven hundred meters long, beginning at the southern foot of Ras-’el-‘Aqed hill, near the Jerusalem road, and going around Latrun. The source that used to supply it with water does not exist anymore. […]
At the distance of two hundred fifty steps in front of the church, to the south of the village, there are two large wells, fifty steps apart, whose living water is inexhaustible and very abundant. By the end of the summer, when water is lacking almost everywhere, shepherds still come from different places to water here numerous flocks of goats, sheep, oxen and cows.
A little lower along the hill, not far away [from these wells], the inhabitants show a third completely buried well; they call it ‘Bir ’et-Ta‘un’, ‘the plague well’. According to a local legend, a plague once started from here and devastated the country. To the north, part of the ruins of the city are found in a valley, on both sides of which there are two clear springs of water; their waters come together to form a stream which gets lost far away in the countryside.
One of these sources is called ‘Ein ’al-Hammam’, ‘bath source’, possibly, because it once supplied water to the city baths. An aqueduct passes nearby without taking in the waters from this source, but continues further eastwards. Was it supplied by water from the abundant source of ‘Ain ’al-‘Aqed, found at the foot of the hill of the same name, at the distance of one kilometre from Ein ’al-Hammam, or from another source, which today is dry? This aqueduct no longer leads us to its beginning.
‘Amwas, view from the east, early 20th century (Matson collection)
Five hundred meters to the south of the church there is a marsh, where high grasses grow throughout the year, indicating that one or more water sources lie there, buried by the earth which slid from the nearby hills. A little further on to the south there are two norias, one of them stands upon an old well. All day long, both norias pour torrents of water, with which Trappists, settled at the foot of the Latrun hill, irrigate their vast vegetable garden, their banana plantations and other fruit trees. To the east of Latrun, the wells of Bir ’al-Helu, Bir ’al-Qasab and Bir-’Ayub, three or four hundred steps apart, form a chain along the modern road, offering their waters to travellers and countless camel caravans coming from the Philistine plain. According to some historical evidence, as well as the villagers’ accounts, many [ancient] water sources of ‘Amo’âs have disappeared. Nevertheless, the village remains a unique one within the whole territory of ancient Judea and even Samaria for the number of its fountains and for the abundance of its water.”
Article published in: F. Vigouroux, Dictionnaire de la Bible, Paris, 1899, v. 2, columns 1735-1748, see here, our translation.
The year 1899 sees the restoration of the Crusaders’ church at Abu Ghosh, whose property had been transferred to France by the Ottoman government in 1873 (see above). Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Pierre-qui-Vire in France come to settle here (see: Abu-Gosh, Editions du Gulf Stream, 1995, p. 12.). Thus, a third place of commemoration of the Gospel story of Emmaus appears in the Holy Land.
Fr. Barnabé Meistermann
In 1902, the Franciscan Father Barnabé Meistermann (Barnabé d'Alsace) publishes research on Emmaus-Nicopolis, in which he follows the opinion of J.-B. Guillemot, according to whom the basilica of ‘Amwas goes back to the Roman period. Fr. Meistermann claims that no three-apsidal churches were built before the 5th century, and thus attempts to prove that the basilica of ‘Amwas was originally a Roman bathhouse, converted into a church during the Byzantine period (B. Meistermann, Deux questions d'archéologie palestinienne, Jerusalem, 1902, see here, see also the review of this book by Immanuel Benzinger, ZDPV, 1902, pp. 195-203, see here ).
Plan of the archaeological site, published by Fr. Meistermann in 1902
Plan of the baptistery, published by Fr. Meistermann
Drawing of mosaics with geometric patterns, found in the courtyard of the baptistery, published by Fr. Meistermann
Fr. Meistermann’s theory undergoes severe criticism by Fr. L.-H. Vincent in his article Les ruines d’Amwas (Revue biblique, 1903, pp. 571-599, see here ). Fr. Vincent provides a detailed description of the ruins and attempts to prove that Fr. Meisterman’s interpretation of the archaeological data is mistaken. Fr. Vincent refrains from identifying the precise date of the building looking forward for further research. He expresses however the opinion that the ruins of ‘Amwas belong to a “Byzantine Christian Basilica, restored by the Franks during the Crusader times.”
Photos, published by Fr. Vincent in “Revue biblique” in 1903
In 1906-07, the Trappists build a mill in Latrun and develop the agriculture, which improves the life of the inhabitants of ‘Amwas (P. Tavardon, Trappistes en Terre Sainte, Domuni-Press, 2016, Vol. 1, pp. 244-245).
In 1913 a stone with a fragment of a Byzantine Greek inscription is found in a field to the west of the village. Fr. Paul Couvreur from the Latrun Abbey finds a relationship between this stone and another fragment, discovered in the same area 30 years earlier. As a result, an inscription is reconstructed, running: In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the city of Christians is beautiful! ( see: Revue Biblique, 1894, p. 255, see here and Revue Biblique, 1913, p. 100, see here ).
During the First World War (1914-1917) units of the Ottoman army camp in the Latrun Monastery as well as in the ruins of the basilica at Emmaus-Nicopolis. German monks of Latrun are conscripted, while the French ones are expelled from the country (P. Tavardon, Trappistes en Terre Sainte, Domuni-Press, 2016, vol. 1, pp. 285-298). The Turks cause considerable material damage both to the monastery and to the basilica of ‘Amwas. Soldiers completely destroy the upper part of the baptistery, as well as the Crusader chancel barrier inside the church. Fires lit by soldiers inside the ruins cover the Byzantine apse and the Crusader walls with soot (Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, pp. 114, 142, see here).
In January 1917, the British launch a military campaign in order to capture Palestine. On November 19, 1917, advancing towards Jerusalem, the 232nd brigade of the 75th division of the British Army occupies Latrun and ‘Amwas (P. Tavardon, Trappistes en Terre Sainte, Domuni-Press, 2016, vol. 1, p. 316, see also: http://alh-research.tripod.com/Light_Horse/index.blog/2066944/the-battle-of-amwas-palestine-18-november-1917-outline/)
Photos of ‘Amwas, taken by a German spy plane during WWI. Source: Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv