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The Post-Crusader period

(by Teresa Petrozzi - translated by Raphael Bonanno ofm)

On the other hand, Tabor was not forgotten: the tradition of the gospel incident continued to attract the pilgrims. In the section "the Cult on Tabor" we reported the chronicles relevant to the devotions; now we will give general information on the surviving ruins.

Burchard, who climbed Tabor twenty years after Baibars, saw the ruins of three tabernacles or cloisters, palaces, towers and buildings that had become shelters for wild beasts. Ricoldo of Monte Croce in 1294 read the gospel and wept over such desolation.

Some visitors, trusting in inexperienced guides or gathering ancient beliefs that had become so fantastic as to be unrecognizable, placed the most disparate events on Tabor.

Maundeville and Boldensel[1], in the Holy Land in 1322 and 1332 respectively, both speak of the school of the Lord, the Schola Domini, where Jesus taught his disciples the secrets of heaven. The Grotto of the Teachings, also called the grotto of the Our Father, is found on the Mt of Olives. Maundeville adds:

"On that mount and on the place of the Transfiguration, on the day of judgment, four angels will sound their trumpets and will raise up to new life all the people who have died since the creation. And they will come in body and soul to the judgment in the presence of the face of God , in the Valley of Josaphat. And it will be on Easter day, the day of the Resurrection of our Lord." The spaniard Oliver (1464) saw from the Mt of Olives "the road to Mt Tabor which is the place where Adam was created and where Abraham and Sarah are buried"[2]. Von Harff, at the end of the 15th c., also says: "The Christians who live in the region and are Syrians, Jacobites, Georgians, Abyssinians and others, maintain that Adam the first man disobeyed God on this Mt Tabor and that at the end of time four angels will announce the day of judgment from this mountain top"

The first pilgrim to give some solid information about the ruins was Niccol´o of Poggibonsi in 1345. Sources contemporary to the constructions which have come down to us unfortunately do not describe the structures or the decorations. The recent finds of archaeology are based only on the foundations and floors that remain. The pilgrim chronicles that mention the buidlings have a special importance inasmuch as they put us in contact with the reality and vicissitudes of the past.

We read in Poggibonsi: "This mountain is very high and large, and almost round; and on top there is a flat surface, which once was a farmland but now is a wasteland; and in the middle there is a church, and, in the middle of said church, there is a tomb (round-shaped), elevated inside the whole building. And there, our Lord Jesus Christ, wanting to show his glory to his apostles, there where the tomb is, he was transfigured, and appeared suddenly with Moses and Elijah, and they spoke with him; and the voice was heard from heaven, and thus was written in golden letters on the said tomb, and they read thus: Hic est filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi bene complacui, ipsum audite (This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased, hear him). And on the earth there are forms, like the confused St Peter, St James and St John, fallen on the ground before the divine glory; and where St Peter fell, there is the inscription: Domine, bonum est nobis hic esse, etc. (Lord, it is good for us to be here). The church is almost destroyed except for the tomb." There remained the crypt then, with paintings and relevant graffiti on a wall and on the floor, whereas the upper part of the edifice was destroyed.

The ruins of the buildings still survived for a century and a half. In 1485 Suriano adds some architectural detail: "On Zebel Tubar [...} a church was built with three tribunes, with three tents pitched together. And where Christ was transfigured there was a stairway of fine marble, of eight steps, four yards wide, and at the top of this staircase there was a stone placed to serve as an altar."

What so many past pilgrims had experienced here and elsewhere also happened to Suriano:"And once the Mass was over, we were attacked by thieves who were hidden in those carob trees, because they had seen the new chalice and chasuble of chremisin damascus material. Tamen (Latin for however), it was not a disaster because we were well-accompanied: but we did eat bread and salt together."

Sixty-seven years passed by without any important information and then Boniface of Ragusa (1552) wrote: "On the summit of the mountan [...] there is a church with three chapels. On the spot where the Christ was seen in glory there is the largest chapel, with a chapel on the right to Moses and another on the left to Elijah [...} In the main chapel, by the grace of God, there is kept a statue of the Transfigured Savior [...] which is very elegant. Moses, the bearer of the Law, is painted on the right wall and Elijah on the left."

Zuallart explains why the rigors of the climate did not complete the destruction begun by Baibars: "Nothing else remains except the three chapels which the infidel occupy, and as mosques they keep a roof to preserve them from the rain and rough weather." But while the roof protected the walls, the infidel had ruined the "very ancient paintings" of the central chapel. Zuallart saw only the remains. He wrote in 1586; Castela, who sixteen years later visited Tabor confirms the change of the three chapels into mosques[3]. Levaillant noted also the edgings of the decorations left in 1613[4].

The Roman traveler Della Valle in 1616 found: "many ruins of a great church and a monastery, for as I imagine, they were constructed in the place, where our Lord was transfigured ", and he was surprised by the hay cultivated on top of the mountain. "But I saw later, that the mountain was inhabited on top; and that among the ruins of the ancient churches, there lived some few, very poor families, segregated from the rest of the world, some of which did the planting, which I certainly had compassion to see them in such a place; especially the half-nude young women and the little 4-5 year old children, whom I saw running among the trees, like wild cats." Della Valle is the only chronicler who, as far as we know, mentions a permanent settlement on the mountain.

The situation worsened in the immediately following years. Quaresmi, in his monumental work on the Holy Land (1626), dedicates only a few lines to Tabor:" Currently almost everything has been destroyed: one sees many ruins of buildings and gates in the walls; from these it is easy to conclude that there used to be a strong fortress and other noble buildings. On the summit, on the side, besides the foundations of the buildings, one sees some underground rooms."


[1] Guilielmus de Boldensel, cf ELS--518.

[2] Guillem Oliver, Romiatge de la casa sancta de Jherusalem, fet per mestre G.O., cuitad'a de Barcelona (1464), Barcelona 1900).

[3] H. Castela, Le sainct voyage de Hierusalem et Mont Sinay, faict en l'an du grand Iubil'e,1600, Bordeaux 1603.

[4] Levaillant, Le pèlerin véritable, Paris 1613, 407.

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