Christian sites in Jordan: must-visit places

For any traveler, the abundance of Christian sites in Jordan may come as a surprise. However, for a knowledgeable believer, not so much. Jordan is home to numerous sacred spaces of this religion, and the country, in a demonstration of tolerance towards other faiths (and aware of their tourism potential), has preserved and highlighted them for visitors from all over the world to experience.

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Christianity in Jordan: History and Context

“The Holy Land” is a somewhat generic concept used by Christianity to refer to the places where the events described in the Bible, both in the New and Old Testament, took place. But what is certain is that Jordan is part of that Holy Land, as some of the most significant events recounted in the scriptures took place here.

This is due to Jordan’s proximity to other key locations for this religion, especially Jerusalem (from some points in the Jordanian Highlands, on a clear day, it can be seen in the distance with the naked eye, without the need for binoculars).

The territory that Jordan occupies today was, millennia ago, a highly advanced land where significant social, economic, and cultural changes of mankind took place. In that context, where writing, agriculture, and other revolutions were already part of everyday life, the beliefs that shaped the three major monotheistic religions emerged: Judaism first, Christianity later, and finally, Islam.

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Pre-Christian Holy Sites Shared with Judaism in Jordan

Given that Judaism and Christianity share a significant portion of their sacred narrative, both religions venerate certain places in Jordan that are related to the prophets of the Torah and the Old Testament, up to the birth of Jesus Christ.

In particular, the following sites can be highlighted in chronological order of the events:

  • Sodom and Gomorrah: believed to have been located on the southern shore of the Dead Sea.
  • Lot’s Cave: where Abraham’s nephew Lot is said to have sought refuge after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, near the Dead Sea.
  • Moses’ Springs: there are two possible locations for the rock from which the prophet Moses struck water with his staff to provide for the Israelites traveling with him from Egypt.
  • Mount Nebo, from where Moses caught a glimpse of the Promised Land that he was denied, and where he died.
  • Birthplace of the Prophet Elijah in Ajloun.
  • Place of the Prophet Elijah’s ascension to heaven in Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

We provide in-depth information about these sites on the page dedicated to Judaism in Jordan.

Christian Sites in Jordan, from the Birth of Jesus Onward

With the advent of Jesus, the course of events changes. The paths of Judaism and Christianity diverge, and the latter religion takes a direction that often leads to Jordan.

The first time Jesus could have been in the lands of present-day Jordan dates back to the second escape that the Holy Family had to make. After returning from Egypt, where they took refuge from King Herod the Great, they had to flee again, this time from his successor Archelaus, and head towards Galilee. Along their way, they may have stayed for a while in a cave, possibly located in the city of Anjara in the north of the country, near Ajloun. Today, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Mountain commemorates that event.

It was also in Jordan where the circle around Christ began to realize the implications of his arrival, also known as Jesus of Nazareth or simply Jesus. Specifically, it was John the Baptist (or St. John the Baptist) who acted as a prophet by baptizing his nephew in a special way. John, who was a Jewish preacher, performed the sacrament of baptism in streams (wadis) near the Jordan River, but for Jesus, he chose a wider spot in the actual course of the Jordan River. At that moment, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove from heaven to emphasize the presence of God, and a celestial voice was heard saying, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 and John 1:32).

The exact location of the baptism and its surroundings are preserved to this day and are visited by pilgrims. It is called Bethany Beyond the Jordan. It was not only the site of Jesus’ baptism, but also another encounter after Jesus had spent 40 days in the desert, tempted by Satan. In this new encounter, John would have reaffirmed his prophecy, saying to his followers, including Peter, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Another important Christian site in Jordan also features John the Baptist. This time, it is associated with his tragic death. After denouncing the marriage between King Herod Antipas and Herodias (daughter of his half-brother Aristobulus), he was imprisoned in the royal palace-fortress and, at the instigation of Salome, was beheaded. That palace-fortress is likely to be Machaerus, located in the town of Mukawir, atop a hill overlooking the Dead Sea.

Romans and Byzantines Keep the Memory Alive

These would be the most prominent episodes on Jordanian soil during the years when Jesus lived in the Holy Land. After that, the relentless persecution of his followers, including the Apostles, by the Roman authorities is a well-known story. But Christianity eventually becomes accepted and official in the Roman Empire in the 3rd century. Since then, Romans first and their ‘heirs,’ the Byzantines, later on, have been responsible for perpetuating the memory of these and other biblical events through temples and monuments.

As a result, many of Jordan’s Christian sites are Byzantine churches, built between the 5th and 8th centuries, primarily. These churches were often adorned with spectacular mosaics, especially as pavements, which reflect the wealth and prosperity of Christian society in those centuries. The best example of this is the Madaba mosaic map, the oldest known geographic representation of the Holy Land.

In the 8th century, the Arab conquest spread throughout Jordanian territory, and the construction of new temples ceased, although there was initially coexistence between believers of both religions.

The Crusaders: A Last Attempt to Conquer the Holy Land

The 12th century is also a pivotal century related to the Christian sites of Jordan and Israel. Until the previous century, what is now known as the Holy Land was under Fatimid Muslim rule, with a certain tolerance towards the sacred sites of Christianity. However, in 1072, the Fatimids lost control of Palestine to the Seljuk Empire, which had a different policy in this regard. Soon after, the first Crusades were promoted, with the aim of conquering Jerusalem for the Christian authorities.

The only successful Crusade was the first one, which resulted in the creation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It extended over much of the territory of present-day Jordan: it did not penetrate too far into the eastern desert, but the Crusaders (mainly from France) came to dominate a vast strip of territory from north to south, from the Sea of Galilee to the Gulf of Aqaba, especially during the reign of Baldwin I.

As a result, castles were built or rebuilt by the Crusaders, often with churches inside, some of which had Byzantine origins. The fortresses of Ajloun, Karak, or Shobak are good examples of this. At the end of the same century, Muslim victories by the Ayyubid troops of Saladin reversed the situation and dashed the hope that the Kingdom of Jerusalem would persist over time, although many other Crusades were later organized.

20th Century: A New Period of Opening and Tolerance

The history of Christianity in Jordan does not have significant events in the subsequent centuries, as there were hardly any concessions thereafter, especially from the 16th century, when the territory came under Ottoman rule.

But in the 20th century, there was a certain change: the fall of the Ottomans after the Arab Revolt, the establishment of British mandate in Palestine, and growing international interest in archaeological discoveries in the Near East favored projects for the recovery of mosaics and Christian temples, such as in Madaba and Mount Nebo.

Currently, the collaboration between the Jordanian authorities and Christian spiritual leaders is evident, especially since the signing of the peace treaty with Israel in 1994. This climate of stability has facilitated visits to the country by popes (John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Francis I) and Orthodox patriarchs, as well as the improved preservation of Christian sites in Jordan.

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Christian Places to Visit in Jordan

Today, almost all tourist destinations in Jordan have churches among their list of attractions, indicating that Christianity was fully established in these centuries. Here is a list of cities and places where important churches are located, and where Christianity is vibrant in Jordan:

  • Madaba: It is probably the most Christian city in Jordan. It has a significant number of current churches and preserved Byzantine churches in its archaeological parks. The mosaic map of the Church of St. George, which shows the sacred places of the Holy Land, has special symbolism. It is estimated that around 30% of the population of Madaba is Christian today, which reflects the strong presence of this religion here.
  • Mount Nebo: Although this mountain is also sacred to Jews, it exudes a clear Christian ambiance, with a reconstructed Byzantine basilica built in the 1930s by the Franciscan order.
  • Bethany Beyond the Jordan: This site located at the very place where Jesus was baptized by St. John is now one of the major Christian sites in Jordan, absolutely essential to visit. It not only has an archaeological site along the river, but also other historical spaces related to Christianity (such as the Hill of the Prophet Elijah or the House of Mary of Egypt), as well as newly constructed spaces, such as Orthodox churches and monasteries.
  • Petra: When this city was already under Roman rule, and when Christianity was official in the Empire, significant religious constructions were promoted. Notable among them is the Monastery Al Deir, one of the jewels of Nabataean architecture, which is in no way inferior to the Treasury.
  • Jerash: Gerasa is one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the entire Middle East, and its large archaeological park includes churches. It even had its own cathedral at the foot of the Cardo Maximus, the main street of ancient Gerasa. Umm Qais: Another Roman city in northern Jordan that, like
  • Gerasa, had churches, recognizable among its archaeological ruins today. Anjara: A small town on the outskirts of Ajloun where it is believed that the Holy Family took refuge on their way to Galilee. A sanctuary commemorates this event.
  • Ajloun: Its main monument is the Ajloun Castle, one of the main fortresses for the defense of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
  • Amman: Despite being part of the Roman Decapolis, historical references to the Christian religion in the capital are not abundant. The Cave of the Seven Sleepers on the outskirts of the city is perhaps noteworthy.
  • Karak Castle: It was one of the most important castles for the Crusaders on the eastern border of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
  • Shobak Castle: Another castle from which the Crusaders sought to control the eastern flank of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
  • Aqaba: Among the Christian places in Jordan, the southernmost one is located in this coastal city. And not just any place: it is a church from ancient Ayla (the name by which this prosperous city was known in Antiquity) that has been dated to the 3rd century, making it one of the oldest in all of Christianity. The Aqaba Fortress, one of the city’s main monuments, also has Crusader origins, although it was expanded in the 16th century.

How to visit Christian sites in Jordan

The Christian sites in Jordan are a great attraction for many travelers interested in religion. They are also significant for devout pilgrims who want to experience the emotion of standing at the exact spots where the most important characters of the Bible, such as Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, and of course, Jesus, once visited.

For this reason, there are various circuit tours of different durations that take visitors to these sites. The shortest, simplest, and most common circuit connects Madaba with Mount Nebo and Bethany Beyond the Jordan: not only are these places beautiful and moving, but they are also located close to each other.

However, those who wish to dedicate more time to their religious journey in Jordan can add any of the aforementioned sites, which will provide a broader insight into the development of Christianity in Jordan, including churches located in Roman sites, Crusader castles that exemplify the attempt to reclaim Jerusalem for Christian authorities, and more.

And of course, it is also possible to combine the Christian sites in Jordan with those in Israel, where the level of emotion and devotion increases even more: Nazareth, Haifa, Mount Tabor, Bethlehem, and most importantly, Jerusalem.

Trust a specialized agency for your trip

If you wish to explore the Holy Land in its entirety, including the Christian sites in Jordan and Israel, we recommend entrusting your journey to a specialized agency that offers this type of travel, such as Jordan Exclusive. We offer comprehensive tour packages with circuits that encompass the most representative sacred sites.

But if you prefer, we can also tailor a program to your specific needs, with longer or shorter durations than usual, and a personalized itinerary to discover the Holy Land just as you have always imagined.

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