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‘Ain el-Mamoudiyeh (the Spring of Baptism)
submitted by This Week In Palestine

By Ahmed Rjoob

Located seven kilometres west of Hebron and one kilometre south-east of Taffuh town, the ‘Ain el-Mamoudiyeh was named after St. John the Baptist. According to Byzantine tradition, Elizabeth brought her infant son, John the Baptist, to a cave in ‘Ain Karem to save him from the murderous wrath of Herod, who was impelled by fear of losing his kingdom. Hence, it is believed that she travelled underground to Hebron, in the western wilderness, where St. John grew up and began his ministry. This tradition was centred on ‘Ain el-Mamoudiyeh, where a unique baptistery and monastery were built, protected by a small fort.

To date, this baptistery is the only example of its kind in Palestine, which is not associated with a church. It is a single-celled structure of large ashlar blocks that was built adjacent to the spring during the reign of Emperor Justinian (527-65). The building is quite small (6.5 x 3.2 metres). At ground level, in front of the apse, is a circular baptismal font with a flight of stairs that is fed by a spring at the far end of the eight-metre tunnel in the south wall. Even during Crusader times, it seems that the site was significant, since the baptistery and water-vaulted tunnels were reused and maintained by the Crusaders.

Moreover, the Crusaders reused the monastery, west of the baptistery, which had originally been built during the Byzantine era to serve the baptistery. It consists of two barrel chambers. A unique rosette window in the upper-ceiling floor of the first chamber recalls the baptistery font.

A small fort was built to protect these important holy places during the Justinian era. It is located on the top of the mountain, east of the baptistery, overlooking the baptistery and its monastery. Nowadays, the fort is locally known as Khirbet ed-Deir. It consists of a rectangular stone building with a magnificent single entrance that gives access to a corridor with rooms on either side. The entrance has a large lintel with a circled cross, which serves as a complex security system. For further protection, the doorway was equipped with a round stone mounted on a stone rail, which could be rolled to seal the doorway. This type of closure is a common feature of small forts constructed during the Byzantine era in the wilderness of Hebron.

Ahmed Rjoob is presently the director of site development at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

This Week in Palestine
July 2007

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