by Gil Gertel and Noam Even
In the western part of Abu Gosh the highest peak can be seen, 2,270 feet (756 meters) above sea level. It is hard to see this peak from the surrounding areas due to the density of tall pine trees. These are ‘Jerusalem Pines’ that grow naturally (they are not planted). They are unique due to their huge trunk and dense treetop, hiding the homes beneath them.
The road to the peak is a narrow and winding, it ends at a huge iron gate. A small bell to the left of the gate will call your hostess, a nun, who will accompany you during your tour. The length and content of your tour will depend upon your ability to strike up an active conversation and ask questions.
There are two main buildings. The large one the left serves as the nuns’ living quarters and the church is on the right. The yard is exceptionally clean and orderly, shaded by tall pines. Next to the church, there are some benches where you can sit and enjoy an exceptional view of Jerusalem.
Every year, during the holiday of Succot, there is a vocal music festival here (see the December 1999 issue of Gems). Thousands of music lovers fill the area surrounding the church where groups of men and women sit and sing. The performances are held in the hall of the church, which is known for its acoustic quality.
The hill at the top of Abu Gosh Village, is identified by locating Kiryat Yearim, which is mentioned in religious contexts a number of times. During the battles between the Tribes of Israel and the Philistines to gain control of Judah, the Philistines finally succeeded and captured the Ark of the Covenant taking it to Ashdod (Samuel 1, chapter 4, and verse 22). After seven months of troubles and epidemics, the Philistines decided to return the Holy Ark to Israel. The Ark was taken to the house of Avinadav and his son Eliezer “on the hill” at Kiryat Yearim (Samuel 1, chap.7, verse 1). Avinadav’s family guarded the Ark for about fifty years and their house became a Holy Jewish Center in the Land of Israel. Finally, King David relocated the Ark to the Temple that he built in Jerusalem (Samuel 2, chap.6, verse 2).
According to Christian tradition, the Hill of Kiryat Yearim was sanctified and during the Byzantine period a church was built there, and destroyed during the Persian occupation in 614. Visitors to the site can see the remains of the church. In 1924, the present church and convent were rebuilt under Catholic jurisdiction and are called – Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition.
Emily de Villar established the Order, in 1843 in France, and it commemorates Joseph’s apparition of the angel. (Matthew, Chap 2, verse 13). In 1848, the Order came to Israel at the invitation of the Patriarch so that he could take the first school of the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem under his patronage. This was the first women’s Catholic Order that came to The Holy Land in present times. The Order has 15 convents all over Israel and its sisters work in schools, children’s nurseries and clinics.
To get to the convent, go along the main road in Abu Gosh, 800 yards (meters) towards the east from the gas station and Elvis Presley statues, passing the Jewish neighborhood, Kiryat Yearim. Continue on the road for 400 yards (meters) and on the right you will see (eastwards) an old British Police station. Turn left (westwards) according to the sign toward the church.
The church is open to visitors Mondays through Saturdays between 8:30 AM -11:30 AM and 14:30 PM -17:00 PM