Sancta Maria Alemannorum in Jerusalem
Walking through the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old Town of today in the direction of the Western Wall, which is also called the Wailing Wall, and descending into the Tyropoeon Valley, you suddenly find yourself in front of the ruins of a church, which has obviously been part of a larger complex. Across the valley, resting on the Western Wall, one can see the Temple Mount, accommodating today the unique Islamic shrines Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which float above it as heirs of the biblical temple. A church amidst the Jewish Quarter? What is its historical background and why does it still stand there today? But if you keep standing there near the church and - hoping for clarification - listening to the explanations of (Israeli) tourist guides, who react rather reluctantly to the astonished questions of the tourist group, you will most probably be disappointed.
If you step into the church, you will find yourself in a triple-naved pillar church. The apses point to the “Temple Mount”. The interior was subdivided into four sections by pillars, the ceiling of which was most probably formed by groined vaults each. In one of the side rooms there is the information that this is the Crusader Church Sancta Maria Alemannorum, in which the Teutonic Order has reputedly been established.
The city vignette of Jerusalem from the Madaba Map shows Byzantine Jerusalem. Where today you can find the ruins of the church Sancta Maria Alemannorum, we can see here St. Sophia church. The “Teutonic House” as this complex of building is called, was known from sources in literature: Already before the year 1127 an anonymous couple of benefactors founded a hospice and hospital for German pilgrims and later – with the patriarch’s consent – a church consecrated to Holy Mary. Jakob von Vitry, who used to be the bishop of Acre from 1216 to 1228, reported as follows:
“As the Holy City was inhabited by Christians after its liberation, and many Germans and Alemanni came to Jerusalem as pilgrims and were not able to communicate in the language of the city, the divine mercy made a rich and pious German, who was living in the city with his wife, build a hospice for accommodating poor and sick Germans with his own means. Since many poor and sick of his people were flocking to that place because of the band of language, next to said hospice he erected an oratory in honour of the blessed mother of God Mary with the consent and the will of the patriarch.”
This initially self-contained foundation was subjected to the Order of Saint John in 1143. In the year 1165, Johannes of Wuerzburg casually mentions our complex in his records:
“When descending the same street in the direction of the gate leading to the Temple, on the right hand side there is quasi a side road through a long corridor: Along this path there is a hospital with a church, newly built in honour of Holy Mary, which is called House of the Germans, whom hardly any other or no foreign-tongued does any good.”
In the outgoing 12th century the situation in the Holy Country changes fundamentally. Having smashed the army of crusaders at the Horns of Hattin near today’s Tiberias, the Kurd Saladin entered the capitulated city of Jerusalem on October 1, 1187. Jerusalem was thus again under Muslim reign.
In the Western world, this was the reason for the Third Crusade, the first decisive action in the Holy Country of which was the siege of Acre. The Christian army, in turn, was closed in by Saladin, who wanted to help Acre. In these times of epidemics, of famine and of sicknesses, the history of the Teutonic Order started in the year 1190 before Acre, in that citizens from Bremen and Lübeck built a hospital tent from the sails of their cog.
Nevertheless, it still took almost four decades until Jerusalem was regained. Only in 1229 did Frederick II succeed in regaining Jerusalem for ten years, along with Nazareth and Bethlehem, from the Egypt sultan Malik al Kamil without any bloodshed by strategic manoeuvring in form of the conclusion of a peace treaty. On March 17, the Staufer emperor Frederick II, who was banned by the Pope, and by his side the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Hermann von Salza, entered into the Holy City.
The situation for the Teutonic Order changed fundamentally by that. The closeness of the Grand Master and Frederick II showed impressive yield. The Teutonic Order was gifted among other things the St. Thomas Church and the “Teutonic House" in Jerusalem.
According to the current state of the scientific discussion, the Teutonic Order was thus not founded in Jerusalem, but in 1190 in the course of the Third Crusades in Acre as non-clerical hospital initiative.
Beforehand, the “Teutonic House” existed in Jerusalem. However, very soon the establishing Teutonic Order made a connection with this building complex in Jerusalem that maintained its title until today: “Teutonic Order, Teutonic Knights of St. Mary’s Teutonic House in Jerusalem”.
For a long time, the exact location of the “Teutonic House” with its church of St. Mary was unclear. This secret was disclosed in our century, after almost 700 years, and the partially speculative discussions have ended. In 1968, the Israeli archaeologists E. Netzer and A. Ovadiah have discovered the remains of "our" church. With a donation of Axel Springer and under the influence of Teddy Kollek, it was freed from its later obstructions, and the existing fittings were conserved.
As it is very often in the Holy Land, every single spot is full of history – particularly in Jerusalem, the Holy City of three religions. Every stone is witness not only of one tradition, but of a whole bunch of traditions.
This is particularly also true for the church Sancta Maria Alemannorum. There are some reasons to assume that the Byzantine “Praetorium Church” is to be sought under the remains of the church Sancta Maria Alemannorum.
The Israeli archaeologist M. Ben-Dov found a Byzantine mosaic from the 6th century beneath the complex. This could be part of the Byzantine “Praetorium Church”, the Hagia Sophia.
An interesting question suggests itself in this contest: Is this not only the conceptual mother house of the Teutonic Order in the form of the church Sancta Maria Alemannorum, but also the place, in which Jesus was sentenced by Pontius Pilate?
|Ruine St. Maria|
The sources of the New Testament report about a “Praetorium”, in which the Roman proconsul Pontius Pilate, who actually resided in Caesarea by the Sea, dispensed justice during his stay in Jerusalem. In scientific studies, three places were defined that could be considered as “Praetorium”. The first of these places is the Antonia Fortress in the North of the Temple Mount, which is worshiped as beginning of the “Via Dolorosa to date. The second place is Herod's Palace South of the Citadel, located at today's Jaffa Gate. The third place is the Hasmonian Palace, which has indeed not been found yet, however, which must without any doubt be somewhere in today’s Jewish Quarter of the Old Town. But which of these three places should be preferred?
If the explanations of Flavius Josephus are followed, the decision would be for Herod’s Palace. However, astonishingly the Christian tradition is different, since here the sentencing of Jesus is assumed to have taken place in the Jewish Quarter, most probably where today there are the remains of the church Sancta Maria Alemannorum.
|St. Maria Alemannorum|
It is remarkable that a local tradition postulates this place as place of sentencing Jesus already in the 4th century. At that time, the official theology was not yet interested in the sufferings of Jesus. Relatively late this local tradition gave way to the erection of a church. Probably after the Council of Chalcedon (451) in which the humaneness of Jesus Christ was stressed and thus the sufferings of Jesus were put in the focus, the Hagia Sophia church was built in this place. This church is known to us from almost all pilgrim reports and from the Madaba Map. This strong local tradition, which sustained its position for centuries against the interest of the then ecclesiastical authority, is a severe argument for the authenticity of our place. The church was probably destroyed in the 9th century.
An important indication for assuming that the church Sancta Maria Alemannorum is the heir of Hagia Sophia, is the above referenced report of bishop Johannes of Wuerzburg from the year 1165.
Therein, it reads: “a church that was newly built". The interesting thing about that is the use of the two words "de novo". They allow an interpretation pursuant to which for the erection of Sancta Maria Alemannorum in the 12th century a place was chosen, which was either clearly recognizable as remains of a church, or a place that was still known to contemporaries as place of a prior church.
In this manner, an impressive perspective for this place and the Teutonic Order evolved. On the one hand, the church Sancta Maria Alemannorum was newly discovered and conserved to us today in spite of adverse conditions, on the other hand, it is very likely that Jesus was sentenced exactly in this place. While streams of tourists and visitors are passing by indifferently, these two events are fused in the remains of Sancta Maria Alemannorum conserved for us today.