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Jesus’ baptism site in Jordan, not Israel, Catholic archbishop clarifies

Bethany Beyond Jordan

I, Producer | CC BY-SA 3.0

J-P Mauro - published on 01/25/21

"Bethany Beyond Jordan" is the accepted place where Christ was baptised and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has reaffirmed the location of the baptism of Jesus Christ as on the eastern side of the Jordan River, in Jordan. The Catholic Church has identified “Bethany Beyond Jordan,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa made the statement to clear up confusion over the location of the important Christian site. In a recent news report, Israel announced the completion of a project to remove landmines from a “baptismal site” on the West side of the Jordan River. The site in Israel is located on the other side of the river of “Bethany Beyond Jordan.” 

Archbishop Pizzaballa told Catholic News Service:

“It is clear from the historical, archaeological, and indeed all the points of view that the actual site of Jesus Christ’s baptism (in the Jordan River) is on the Jordanian side. Traditionally, historically and according to the Bible, it is on this side.”

“Bethany Beyond Jordan” was excavated more than 25 years ago, revealing church foundations from the Romans and Byzantines. It is believed that these buildings were constructed to commemorate the site of Christ’s baptism. Since then “Bethany Beyond Jordan” has become a hotspot for pilgrims, welcoming over 100,000 visitors per year.

A boon to tourism

In the interview with CNS, Archbishop Pizzaballa went on to call the St. John the Baptist chapel, on the Israeli side, a tourist attraction. He suggested that while in the vicinity of “Bethany Beyond Jordan,” it is not the site of Jesus’s baptism. He said:

“There are millions of pilgrims on the other side (Israel and West Bank) and they want to explore the place. Their rationale is we have millions of pilgrims who cannot go to Jordan, so we give this side. Now, after the demining of the place, they saw the touristic, and I suppose, business potential.”

The debate over the location was largely put to rest in 2015, when UNESCO named “Bethany Beyond Jordan” as a Wolrd Heritage Site. UNESCO came to the decision after following the guidance of two popes. In 2000 St. John Paul II was present at “Bethany Beyond Jordan’s” opening, at which time the pontiff recognized the site as such. This sentiment was further supported by Pope Benedict XVI, when he visited the site in 2009.

On the Israeli side of the river scores of landmines placed in the mid-20th century have finally been removed. The St. John the Baptist chapel has recently returned to its previous Franciscan caretakers and Masses have resumed. The area, just across the river from the Jordanian baptism site, is expected to add several church buildings and become a popular tourist attraction.

Franciscan Chapel of St. John The Baptist at Qasr al-Yahud

Read more:
Mass to resume at West Bank church after clearing of landmine field

ArchaeologyChurch HistoryIsraelJordan
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