Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land - 06/03/2000 info: custodia@netvision.net.il
The Memorial of Moses on Mount Nebo

Mount Nebo east of the city of Madaba in Jordan, as a natural balcony overlooking the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley in front of Jericho and Jerusalem, was chosen by God to show to Moses the Promised Land, as we read in the Deutoronomy 34: "The Moses went up from the lowlands of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, eastwards from Jericho. And the Lord showed him the whole land...There in the land of Moab Moses the servant of the Lord died, as the Lord had said. He was buried in a valley in Moab opposite Beth-Peor, but to this day no one knows his burial — place".

Mount Nebo, as a Christian sanctuary dedicated to Holy Moses, was known and visited by the Byzantine pilgrims. Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, in the Onomasticon of the biblical places (fourth century A.D.) writes: "Nabau, which in Hebrew is called Nebo, until this day it is indicated at the VIth milestone of the city of Esbous (which lies) to the east".

The pilgrim Egeria (end of the fourth century A.D.) and Peter the Iberian bishop of Maiumas of Gaza Peter (fifth century A.D.) relate in great detail their visits to the Memorial church of Moses on Mount Nebo in Arabia. Egeria, after having crossed the Jordan on her way from Jerusalem, had stayed at Livias (tell er-Rameh) and then taken the road to Esbous. At the Sixth Mile she took a deviation to the Springs of Moses and from there climbed to the summit of Mount Nebo. Peter the Iberian took the same road in search of a cure for his afflictions. After bathing in the hot springs of Moses, with a little benefit, because the springs were not very hot, the party continued his way to the hot springs of Baaru (Hammamat Ma‘in), where the waters were much hotter and more curative. The journey offered bishop Peter and his companion, the opportunity to stop at the sanctuary of Moses where he had been as a youth before his conversion to monasticism (Life, 82-85).

The pilgrim Theodosius (first half of the sixth century A.D.) relates that not far from the city of Livias, east of the Jordan river, pilgrims could visit "the water made to flow from the rock (The Springs of Moses), the place of Moses's death and the hot springs of Moses where lepers come to be cured". The Pilgrim from Piacenza (second half of the sixth century A.D.), adds: "From the Jordan to the place where Moses died, it is eight miles".

Only in 1864 the French explorer Le Duke de Luynes visited and described the important ruins covering the spur of Siyagha 9 kms west of Madaba, overlooking the Jordan Valley. The discovery in Arezzo (Italy) of the Egerias' memoirs, published by Professor F. Gamurrini of the University of Rome in 1886, and the subsequent discovery of the Syriac biography of Peter the Iberian in 1895, were decisive in the historical identification of the Memorial of Moses visited by the pilgrims with the ruins of Siyagha.

It was the decision of the Franciscan archaeologists of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum after a visit in 1931 to excavate the ruins of Mount Nebo, which decided the Superiors of the Custody of Terra Santa to purchase the spur of Siyagha with the ruins of the Memorial Church dedicated to Moses Prophet and Man of God, and that of al-Mukhayyat, identified with the Moabite Iron Age fortress of Nebo. An enterprise which became possible thanks to the energy of Brother Jerome Mihaic friend of the Beduins and of the Emir Abdullah whose good offices brought the difficult business to a successful conclusion.

On the 13th of 1933 the Franciscan archaeologists began the archaeological exploration of the site. Three long archaeological campaigns directed by Fr. Sylvester Saller in 1933, 1935 and 1937 respectively resulted in the discovery of the Basilica and of a large monastery which, in Byzantine times, had grown up around the sanctuary. At the same time, three churches were excavated at Kh. el-Mukhayyat.

The restoration work carried out in 1976, resulted in the discovery of the old baptistry of the sanctuary decorated with a masterpiece of the mosaicists of Madaba. The eastern part of the chapel was occupied by the baptistry basin fashioned in the form of a cross. The floor had been beautified by three mosaicists, Soel Kaioum and Elias, in the month of August of the year 530, at the time of bishop Elias and the abbott Elias, at the time of the Roman Consuls Lampadius and Orestes, with the offerings of three advocates of the Byzantine administration.

In the middle of the sixth century the three nave basilica was built. The primitive church visited by Egeria and Peter the Iberian became the presbytery of the new sanctuary. The basilica had a long service chapel on the north side covering the old baptistry. A new baptistry chapel was built on the southern side, which was finished in the year 597 A.D., as stated in the inscriptions of the mosaici floor.

At the beginning of the seventh century, at the time of Bishop Leontios of Madaba, and the abbot Theodore, the chapel of the Theotocos, or Mother of God, was added on the southern wall covering two rooms of the monastery.

At the southern end of the southern nave of the basilica, was added a kind of altar or platform, possibly a memorial to remind pilgrims of the prophet Moses in whose honour the church had originally been built.

A team of architects is planning the restoration of the basilica to replace the temporary shelter built in 1963. The study of the project has been funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and by the Custody of Terra Santa. The restoration of the Memorial of Moses, venerated by Christians, Muslims and Jews, will become a symbol of the new period of peace which the region is living. The message of peace and reconciliation stressed by the stone monument 5.50 m high erected at the entrance of the sanctuary on the occasion of the opening of the 2000 Holy Year.

While the sanctuary was undergoing its various stages of architectural development, the adjacent monastery gradually expanded. Dayr Siyagha reached its maximum extension during the VIth century. The archaeological research extended to the ecclesiastical edifices in the valleys around Mount Nebo, has already given the historical conclusion that the abbott of the main monastery had jurisdiction also over the monks living in the valleys near the water springs where the monastery might have had its orchards and vegetables gardens. The monastery was completely abandoned possibly in the ninth century A.D.

A place of cure both for the souls and for the bodies

"All the inhabitants of that region together hurriedly brought building material. This temple was built in the name of the great Prophet and Lawgiver, and he proclaims publicly to every man, and so that no doubt is possible, his goodness and power by means of signs and wonders and cures, which since that time have occurred at this place without interruption.

For it is a place of cure both for the souls and for the bodies, and a place of refuge for all those, who come here from all places and are afflicted in soul and affected with many kinds of sufferings of the body"

from"The Life of Peter the Iberian" by John Rufus (Vth Cent. A.D.)

Michele Piccirillo
(Studium Biblicum Franciscanum)

Created / Updated Monday, March 06, 2000 at 11:45:35