Sunday, May 9, 2010


In February, 2008 I pilgrimaged in the Holy Land. Most of my trip was in Israel and Palestine, but I did go spend a few days trans-Jordan.

I traveled through Amman en route to Wadi Musa (وادي موسى) in the south, which is close to the ancient city of Petra (البتراء).

Carved from the living sandstone rock 27 centuries ago by the Nabataeans (الأنباط), Petra was the capital of the people in the region and served as a significant caravan spot and oasis because of the city's ingenious system of water management. The society entered into decline after the Romans conquered the people, and the location became ruins after a 4th century earthquake decimated the water management system.

Petra was unseen by westerners until Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt discovered it in 1812. His accounts of the beautiful ruins captured the imagination of Europeans, and in 1845 English poet John William Burgon penned these moving lines about it.
It seems no work of Man's creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;

But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!

Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;

Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;

But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;

The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,

match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.

The Treasury (الخزنة) at Petra

The Jordanian side of the Jordan River is also where St. John the Baptist baptized our Lord. The river is much reduced since those days, and the precise spot is empty of water except after a heavy rain. But you can still find the place today because Christians since the 1st century marked the location by building churches there.

I say the plural form -- churches -- because the region would flood from time to time, wiping out the latest structure. But out of reverence for our Lord, the Christians would always rebuild on the exact same spot.

Because of the loving devotion of 20 centuries of Christians, we know the precise place where all three persons of the Blessed Trinity were manifest on that sacred day, God the Son rising from the waters of John's baptism, God the Holy Ghost descending as a Dove, and God the Father speaking with a voice from Heaven (Mark 1:9-11).

Where Christ was Baptized by John the Baptist

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