The Pilgrimage Routes
The importance of the eastern side of Jordan in the Madaba mosaic map is apparent from the abundance of physical space dedicated to it and from the general composition of the map. We have to think how the map was situated inside the building. The mosaic panel was approximately 15.60 by 6 m, that is 94 square meters, of which only 25 are preserved, corresponding to about a quarter of the original. The panel covers the entire area from the south wall to the north wall of the church. The central portion of the map stood in front of the chancel of the sanctuary, where the mosaicist would place what was most important to him. The central part of the map is marked horizontally by the wavy course of the Jordan River and by the Dead Sea. In this way the central part of the map appears divided into two equal parts, west and east of the Jordan River. Unfortunately the eastern part is less well preserved than the western part (8 percent for the eastern part against 13 percent for the western part).
On the base of the representation of Charachmoba, we can reconstruct in front of the chancel screen a complete series of the main cities of the southern part of Provincia Arabia (corresponding to the ancient territories of Moab and Ammon). This series is well known from historical sources and also from the representations of cities found in the Church of Saint Stephen at Umm al-Rasas and in the Acropolis Church at Ma'in 1.
On the vertical axis, the geometrical center of the composition does not correspond with the famous representation of the Holy City of Jerusalem, but with a point a little north-east of it. The ideal center of the map was just where the representation of Madaba was, judging from the topographical details of the surroundings that are preserved. 2 The city was probably depicted with all the details of its churches and shrines. 3 In light of this fact we must start to regard the Madaba map in a more "eastern" way.
This must be kept in mind also when we speak of the aspect of pilgrimage, which is only one of the many important aspects concerning this masterpiece of art. Herbert Donner has written about the sense and purpose of the map: "One of the inferior purposes of the mosaic was the intention to offer information for Christian pilgrims, to show them how they were to go from one holy place to another. We have to think of pilgrims not from everywhere but from the countries east of the rift valley, probably in the main from Madaba itself and from its surroundings." 4 Thus we need to search first for evidence of pilgrimages to and from the region of Transjordan.
Visitors from outside left some notes of their journey, something that local people did not do, except for a little information contained in hagiographic and ascetic literature. Pilgrims from the country would probably visit many more places than pilgrims from outside actually did. Smaller places also would more often see local visitors.
The Onomasticon of Eusebius of Caesarea (written circa 330) is commonly recognized as a source for the mosaicist and is a pioneering work in sacred geography. 5
Out of 147 toponyms and inscriptions found in the entire Madaba Map only 15 (approximately 10%) appear in the eastern half of it. That is a small number, yet they represent more than double the percentage of names in the eastern part of the map from the total number of names found in the Onomasticon (circa 70 out of 1700, equivalent to 4%). Accordingly of the 15 toponyms found in the eastern part of the Madaba map only 6 (equivalent to 40%) have a match in this work. On the contrary for the 86 remaining toponyms (with the exclusion for obvious reasons of the Negev, Sinai and Egypt) 53 (62% of the total) find a match. This means that the artist was able to put in more direct information while laying down the topography of the eastern bank of the Jordan. In the missing part of the map Donner used the Onomasticon to restore the inscription referred to Petra based on a few letters: "Petra in the country of Edom, province of Arabia, also Joktheel, also Rekem, where slew Amaziah Edom in Gemela". 6 The Onomasticon can be used to imagine a lot of places and vignettes in the regions of Moab, Ammon and Gilead. We have some doubt left if our mosaicist would emulate the Onomasticon also in placing Elisaeus village in Beelmaus, eight miles south of Esbous (that is in Ma'in). 7 Eusebius sometimes make use of the word "deiknutai, it is shown" which is generally thought to be a technical expression referring to the presence of early pilgrimage guides in the holy places. 8 Eusebius makes use of this word in the case of Mount Nebo as a the place where Moses died (136,7); in the case of the Arnon gorge, the frontier of the ancient tribe of Ruben (10,17); in the case of the place of the Baptism of Christ in Bethabara "across the Jordan River" (58,18). 9 In this last case the word "deiknutai, it is shown" goes back to Origenes (died in 254 A.D.) with a little difference: "They say that the place of Bethabara where they relate John was baptizing is shown on the banks of the Jordan River ." Eusebius adds to this information that in this place "many brethren like to receive the bath (speaking of the baptism)". Elsewhere (Vita Constantini, IV 62,2) he says that the emperor Constantine himself had wanted to be baptized in the Jordan River. 10 Gestual tradition is less referred to, but certainly not weaker, than oral or written tradition.
Nevertheless, the construction of a new church on the more accessible western bank of the river succeeded in attracting the toponym as appears also in the Madaba map. 11 The new church of the "Prodromos" was built by the Emperor Anastasius (A.D. 491-518) as the pilgrim and archdeacon Theodosius reports (n. 22). 12 Starting from the sixth century a major festival took place there on the feast of Epiphany (January 6). It is well described by the pilgrim of Piacenza (n. 11) 13 and, without a doubt, many people also from the eastern side of the Jordan took part in this annual event. In the old place across the Jordan, the memory of the "cave of the Forerunner" was kept alive at least until the eighth century, as the pilgrim Epiphanius reports (IX,19-20). 14 A cave, and a fountain is represented in the Madaba map, on the east bank of the Jordan river, at the site of Saphsaphas, recently rediscovered. 15 Pilgrims attest that in the same place there was a memory concerning the hiding place of the Prophet Elijah, in the valley of Cherith. 16
Most of our information concerning the holy places of Transjordan comes from pilgrims reports: especially those of Egeria (end of the fourth century), archdeacon Theodosius (beginning of the sixth century), the Pilgrim of Piacenza (second half of the sixth century) and the Greek Monk Epiphanius (eighth century).
Egeria 17 wrote about the numerous memories of the crossing of the Israelites through the region of Transjordan before entering Canaan 18 but she does not say a word about the place of the baptism of Christ. Then Egeria describes the ascent to Mount Nebo, from where she is shown "the lands of the Sodomites and namely Segor." Christian literature regarding the fate of Sodom and related cities goes back to different books of the New Testament and to the vivid description of the desolated land around the Dead Sea that is found in the Passio Pionii (third century). 19 There is some disagreement between the pilgrims concerning the situation of those cities to the north or to the south of the Dead Sea. 20 The recent discovery of the Byzantine and Umayyad Sanctuary of Lot (tou agiou Lot in the Madaba Map) at Deir 'Ain Abata (Ghor es-Safi) 21 shows that there are still many places waiting to be discovered.
In another trip along the Jordan Valley Egeria visited an alternative place for the place where John was baptizing ("Enon, nearby Salim") 22 which also appears in the Madaba map, and the home-town of the Prophet Elijah (Thesbe of Galaad, Listib of today) 23 together with an alternative cave in another valley of Cherith, well distant from the first one in the lower Jordan valley. In the same town there was also the tomb of the Judge Jephte. 24 All these places must have fond some place in the Madaba map in order to fill up the region of Gilead. Egeria's trip endsedin the Hauran in the Arabian city of Carneas, where the tomb of Job was kept as a holy place and a church was eventually built above it.
It is worth noting that most of the Holy Places visited by the first Christian pilgrims are of Jewish origin and also, probably, of shared attendance. The same happened again with the rise of Islam, when the new religion took over from the Christians some of their Holy Places.
Alongside holy places connected with biblical memories or sanctified by the resting place of a martyr or just by the deposit of relics, there are places visited because of the presence of holy men (or women) still in their lifetimes. Egeria herself went on long-distance trips to visit the holy fathers living in the monasteries of Thebaide or Mesopotamia 25 and we may remember what she says about the ascetes living at the source of Moses. 26 According to the pilgrim of Piacenza the region around Mount Nebo was full of monasteries. 27 But the Madaba map does not seem to give special importance to monasteries. The Piacenza pilgrim relates a curious episode where the desert across the Jordan played an important part as a remote refuge for penitents. He starts with the account, told him by the bishop of Elusa in the Negev, about a girl called Mary. When she was married, her husband died on the very night of the wedding. She bore it with courage and within a week she had set all his slaves free, and given away all his property to the poor and to monasteries. After the seventh day she was nowhere to be found. The pilgrim continues: "It is said that she is in the desert across the Jordan, and moves about in the region of Segor by the Salt Sea among the reedy places and the palm groves." The miracles of "this Mary traveling in the desert" were confirmed to him in a visit to a convent of women in those parts, where he saw a lion and a little ass going together to pasture. With the assistance of these nuns and help from a Christian of Jerusalem he succeeded in bringing her some food but not to see her. 28 It is a story similar to that about Saint Mary the Egyptian who was told in a vision in Jerusalem: "If you go across the Jordan. There, you will find rest." 29 In the Mosaic map, reeds and palm groves are typical plants that are represented in the plain across the Jordan, but the lion does not go to pasture, rather it runs after a gazelle.
Another characteristic of the region across the Jordan that the Piacenza pilgrim points out is the presence of thermal sources. He relates about two such sources, one in the north, near Gadara30 and one in the south near Livias, that is called the Bath of Moses. 31 Lepers sought relief for their illness in both of them, and sometimes they were cleansed, as the pilgrim says The northern part of the Jordan valley is now missing in the Madaba map, instead on the east bank of the Dead Sea there is indication of two famous thermal installations: Baaru and Callirhoe, but none of them corresponds to the Bath of Moses which must be sought, once again, in the missing portion of the map, to the east of the vignette representing Livias. Nevertheless it is clear that there is a common interest in presenting thermal sources as a characteristic feature of the region across the Jordan. Truly, we can say that the mosaic map looks like a cartographic illustration of the pilgrim reports from the sixth century.
While literary texts concerning Transjordan are scarce and the Madaba mosaic map is so incomplete, archeology will possibly be able to give us a more complete picture about the presence of pilgrimage sites in our region. The most important site, without any doubt, is the Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo, first pointed out (in the Onomasticon) and then also visited (by Egeria) starting from the sixth mile on the road linking Esbous to Livias. On Mount Nebo a widespread monastery developed from the end of the fourth century around a small memorial. 32 In the sixth century a very large basilica was built to accommodate the crowds of pilgrims. In the southern nave a strange structure lasted until the collapse of the building to commemorate what Egeria saw for the first time: a place slightly raised as graves (memoriae) used to be. Inside the basilica, this structure was clearly the center of some form of popular worship on the part of the visitors.
In Madaba the Church of the Prophet Elijah, has a crypt entered by means of a double ramp of steps: a feature that is clearly intended to facilitate a long line of worshippers to pass through the crypt. An inscription in the mosaic relates possibly the place to a martyr (Elianus). Another church was dedicated to the martyrs according to the inscription recently found in the narthex of the church formerly known as the Church of al-Khadir. 33
In Umm al-Rasas, the huge and well developed St Stephen Complex appears to have had its focal point in the north chapel of the church of Saint Stephen. It is easy to think that this small chapel was built to accommodate some relics of the Protomartyr. 34
Other discoveries in Abila (the crypt in the Theater church), 35 in Gadara (the octagonal church), 36 in Pella (the western complex) 37 are better understandable in light of the visit of pilgrims. All these discoveries attest that the phenomenon of pilgrimage is not limited to the journeys of western pilgrims but is, first of all, a very widespread local practice.
Archaeology can also provide some information about travels of pilgrims from the eastern side of the Jordan Valley to the western bank. I am referring to the eulogiae from the Holy Places of Jerusalem found in Jordan. In a Christian tomb near the west church at Ma'in four decorated glass vessels were found, identified by Dan Barag in 1985 as eulogiai of oil from Jerusalem dating from the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century. 38 They have an hexagonal body with representations of the Golgotha cross in different ways. The well-known Byzantine lamp inscribed with Greek letters (Phos Christou Phainei Pasin) is now recognised as a typical product of the Jerusalem area. 39 In Jordan examples have been found in Abila, Jerash, Amman, Hesban, Madaba, Mount Nebo the most southern place beeing Qorayat, at the extreme southern border of the Madaba region. 40 These lamps must be considered to be eulogiai or souvenirs that the pilgrims took back from Jerusalem to their home.
The mosaic pavement decoration of the central part of chapels and churches usually represents the daily life of the people. A lot of daily life is present in the Madaba mosaic map. But we are not constrained to view such daily life only in a secular way. Religious belief is an important part of the daily life of most people - whatever their religion. The Christian people of Madaba knew well that their land was an integral part of the biblical region. In this land, according to their faith, were accomplished events of salvation beneficial to all humankind. The events were equally those related in the Old Testament as well as those belonging to the New Testament. As Christians they were well conscious to be, by the grace of God, the legitimate heirs of all the promises made first to the Jewish people. This splendid mosaic map fully witnesses the pride that the Christian people of ancient Madaba took in being the fortunate inhabitants of this small, yet very glorious patch of land.
1 In Umm al-Rasas we have in the intercolumnar panels a complete series in aproximate geographical order from North to South: Philadelphia, Madaba, Esbounta, Belemounta, Areopolis, Charachmouba (M. Piccirillo, "Le iscrizioni di Kastron Mefa'a", in E. Alliata, Umm al-Rasas Mayfa'ah I. Gli scavi del complesso di Santo Stefano, Jerusalem 1994, p. 252-253). In Ma'in we have an incomplete series in the border frame in the following order: (Cherach Mo)uba, Areopolis, Gadoron, Esbun, Belemunim (M. Piccirillo, "Le antichità Bizantine di Ma'in e dintorni", LA 35, 1985, p. 345).
2 We have to look for example at the position of the wadi Zerqa Ma'in, which is to be found just a little south-west of Madaba.
3 Many of the ancient churches of Madaba could exhibit holy relics, images, or memoirs to the veneration of the pilgrims. The prophet Elias or, better, the martyr Elianus was remembered in the crypt of the Prophet Elias Church (M. Piccirillo, Chiese e Mosaici di Madaba, Jerusalem 1989, p. 74); relics of unknown martyrs were preserved in the al-Khader Church as reveals an inscription recently found in the narthex by G. Bisheh (M. Piccirillo - B. Denton, "Archaeological Remains", in M. B. Patricia - T. A. Dailey (Eds.), Madaba Cultural Heritage , Amman 1996, p. 30); an icon of the Mother of God was shown in the Church of the Virgin (M. Piccirillo, "La chiesa della Vergine a Madaba", LA 32 (1982) pp. 373-408).
4 H. Donner, The mosaic map of Madaba. An introductory guide (Palaestina antiqua 7), Kampen 1992, 30.
5 Eusebii Onomasticon. Ed. E. Klostermann. Leipzig 1904.
6 Donner, The mosaic map of Madaba, p. 42.
7 Onomasticon 46,2; against 34,21 where Elisaeus is said to have been from Abelmaelai (Bethmaela), near Scythopolis.
8 P. Maraval, Lieux Saints et pèlerinages d'orient. Histoire et géographie. Des origines à la conquête arabe. Dictionnaire des lieux saints, Paris 1985, p. 64.
9 In the Madaba map the toponym Bethabara is placed on the west bank of the Jordan, contrary to the identification by Origen (In Joh comm. VI, 40, 204-205) and Eusebius (Onomasticon 58,18) of Bethabara with "Bethany, across the Jordan" (John 1,28).
10 Vita Constantini, IV 62 (J.-P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca, Paris 1857, T. 20, p. 1215).
11 The change is reflected in the uncertain tradition on the exact spot of the baptism of Christ. On this debate see: M. Avi-Yonah, The Madaba Mosaic Map with Introduction and Commentary, Jerusalem 1954, p. 39; Maraval, Lieux Saints, p. 281; and E. Alliata, "Le lieu du Baptême dans la tradition", Le Monde de la Bible 89, 1994, p. 30.
12 J. Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades, Jerusalem 1977, p. 69.
13 Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims, p. 82; This festival (called Theophaneia or megas hagiasmos) had a big influence into the oriental liturgy: G. Garitte, Le Calendrier Palestino-Géorgien du Sinaiticus 34 (Xe siècle) (Subsidia Hagiographica 30), Bruxelles 1958, p. 125-126.
14 Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims, p. 120. This cave is also referred to in the first chapter of the 7th century booklet The spiritual meadows, by John Moscus (Migne, PG, 87, 2853).
15 The Holy sites of Jordan, [Amman] 1995, p. 102-103.
16 The Piacenza Pilgrim, 9: Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims, p. 81.
17 J. Wilkinson, Egeria's Travel to the Holy Land, Jerusalem - Warminster 1981.
18 The crossing of the Jordan by the children of Israel (10,3), the altar made by the tranjordanian tribes (10,3), the encampements (10,4-5), the place where Moses drove water from the rock (10,8-11,2), the place where Moses saw the Promised Land and died (12,1-5), the cities of the Sodomites (12,6-7), Heshbon and Peor (12,8), the place where stood Balaam to curse the children of Israel (12,10). Wilkinson, Egeria's Travel, pp. 105-108.
19 Passio Pionii IV: in Actas de los martires. Texto bilingue. Introducciones, notas y versión española por D. Ruiz Bueno, Madrid 1968, p. 617.
20 See Maraval, Lieux saints, p. 283-284.
21 K. D. Politis, "Excavations at Deir 'Ain 'Abata", ADAJ 34 (1990) 377-385; K. D. Politis, "Excavations at the Monastery of Agios Lot at Deir 'Ain 'Abata", LA 40 (1990) p. 475.
22 Itinerarium 15,1-5: Wilkinson, Egeria's Travel, p. 110-111.
23 Itinerarium 16,1-3: Wilkinson, Egeria's Travel, p. 111-112.
24 Itinerarium 16,1: Wilkinson, Egeria's Travel, p. 111.
25 Itinerarium 9,6; 17,1: Wilkinson, Egeria's Travel, p. 103, 113.
26 "A great many monks lived there, truly holy men of the kind known here as ascetics." Itinerarium 10,9: Wilkinson, Egeria's Travel, p. 106.
27 Piacenza Pilgrim 9: Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims, p. 81.
28 Piacenza Pilgrim 34: Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims, p. 85.
29 Sophronius Hierosymitanus,Vita S. Mariae Aegyptiae, 25: Migne, PG 87, 3716.
30 Piacenza Pilgrim 7: Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims, p. 81.
31 Piacenza Pilgrim 10: Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims, p. 82.
32 E. Alliata - S. Bianchi, "The architectural phases of the Memorial of Moses", in: M. Piccirillo - E. Alliata, Mount Nebo. New Archaeological Excavations 1967-1997, Jerusalem 1998locus 41, p. 175, 179.
33 See above, note 3.
34 M. Piccirillo, "Gli scavi del complesso di Santo Stefano", in M.Piccirillo - E.Alliata, Umm al-Rasas-Mayfa'ah I. Gli scavi del complesso di Santo Stefano (SBF Collectio Maior 28), Jerusalem 1994, p. 89-90.
35 W. H. Mare, "The 1990 Sixth Campaign at Abila of the Decapolis", LA 40 (1990) 473.
36 U. Lux - K. Vriezen, "Vorläufiger Bericht über die Ausgrabungen in Gadara (Umm Qes) in Jordanien in den Jahren 1976-1978", Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins 96 (1980) pp. 48-58.
37 R. H. Smith, Pella of the Decapolis. Volume 1: The 1967 Season of the College of Wooster Expedition to Pella, pp. 146-147.
38 D. Barag, "Finds from a Tomb of the Byzantine Period at Ma'în", LA 35 (1985) 365-374.
39 S. Loffreda, Lucerne bizantine in Terra Santa con iscrizioni in greco, Jerusalem 1989, p. 225; J. Magness, Jerusalem ceramic chronology circa 200-800 C.E., Sheffield 1993, p. 176.
40 A fragment of an inscribed lamp of this type came to light recently in the Lissan peninsula (communication K. Politis), this is now the most southern discovering site.
|This contribution was first published in: The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem 1999, 121-124.|