Mapping the World – St George’s Church, Madaba
He cannot be older than about eight, yet his eyes hold the wisdom and struggles of someone who has lived a long, hard life. He is dirty and dishevelled, and his mantra of “Money! Money!” is uttered in a persistent, irritated, and impatient manner, as he trails behind me. In a country where I have only met gentle, friendly people, this encounter feels brusque and intrusive.
I am therefor grateful to escape this assault, when I step through the gates of St George’s Church, where Madaba’s most famous mosaic can be found. Accidentally discovered in 1896, when the present-day church was built on the remains of a Byzantine church, it has charmed scholars, archaeologists, and ordinary tourists alike.
It is the oldest map of the Holy Land in existence, even though a large part of the map has been lost, and the remaining part has suffered a lot of damage. Originally the map covered an area of 94 square metres, of which only 24 square metres remain. The map depicts the area from Lebanon to the Nile Delta, and from the Mediterranean to the Eastern Desert of Jordan, and dates from the late 6th Century. It is thought that the map was created not simply for decoration, but to assist pilgrims who were making their way from one holy site to another.
If one expects to be dazzled by the sight of this ancient and important map, disappointment will surely be the reward. It speaks in quiet tones, and faded colours. It reminds the visitor of the layers of history, religion, and humanity that have existed in this area. Stories of human suffering, happiness, faith, and conquest have surged, fluttered and sighed in cycles of time. Human beings have not changed much through the ages, and although the landscape of life filled with different rulers, fashions and technologies may have changed, the passions, desires, and vices of people have stayed pretty much unaltered.
Soothing religious music filters through invisible speakers, and fills every corner of the richly decorated church with an ambience suitable for worship. Various mosaics and murals depicting saints or highlighting different key moments from Jesus’ life decorate the walls. Their colours are deep and vibrant: crimson, green, blue, turquoise, gold. The interior is over-flowing with the symbols of faith and devotion.
Slender, honey-comb coloured candles flicker in the cool breeze, wafting in through the doorway, where the heavy wooden doors are flung wide open like arms anticipating an embrace. The prayers of the faithful drift upwards with the smell of melting wax.
The human voices fluttering in on the breeze are a harbinger of the tourists who will, hopefully, arrive later in the day. The dry leaves of the palm tree, towering into the blue sky, softly rustle in the breeze, obscuring the hum of cicadas announcing the day’s approaching heat.
I am mostly alone. Tourists saunter in, often in pairs, point their cameras at the map, lift their heads, whisper, smile, and move on. The faithful step inside with purpose, perhaps caught between daily errands, for a prayer, and a brief moment of quiet and respite. No one lingers, and their scraping footsteps leave a brief, ringing echo behind.
Fatigued by the repetitive and predictable conversations that await me outside, I am reluctant to leave a place that floods my soul with a torrent of peace. Places of religious significance are, more often than not, imbued with an energy of deep and constant belief. The prayers and yearnings of the faithful soak into the very structure, and like the heat of the day trapped in concrete walls, slowly radiate it back into the environment.
Visited: August 2015
Entrance Fee: JD1
# Click here for an excellent website filled with information about the Mosaic Map.
On the contrary, I am dazzled
Whoops, that posted too soon! I just want to say that the map is incredible and I would want to stand in front of it for an hour at least. Can you even imagine how exciting it must have been to find that? The detail is impressive too, considering the medium. I, too, would have lingered in that place.
Something to put on your bucket list then, Crystal. I love mosaics, and the incredible detail they convey, especially like you say, considering the medium.
I recall seeing some mosaics in Ephesus, originally the sidewalk, if I recall correctly. Yes – bucketlist! Great idea! I would love to go back for more.
wonderfully expressed visit
on this ancient adorned adventure
with you, Jolandi 🙂
So glad I could show you this lovely place. 🙂
Beautiful prose, excellent photos of a very special place. Thank-you Jolandi!
Thank you, Clare.
How beautifully this map has survived so much history! I can only imagine how thrilling it must have been to see it and know that thousands of pilgrims centuries ago had examined it and touched it, marking their way towards their destination.
I love standing in those places where so many have passed through before me. I cannot help, but be touched in moments like those.
Thank you, Lani.
Really pretty post – beautifully written and your pics are wonderful! Mine from the church were all dark and underexposed.
Thanks, Lynda. I do hope that you are enjoying your ‘second’ Jordan trip. 😉
I am! 😊
Nice post! I always find it refreshing to read interesting stories about the Middle East. I nominated you for the Liebster Award, so check it out.
How kind of you, Sabine. Thank you.
You are welcome!
The church is beautiful and I would like to feel the peaceful ambience you describe so very eloquently. I enjoyed your prose.
This is worth remembeing too: “Human beings have not changed much through the ages, and although the landscape of life filled with different rulers, fashions and technologies may have changed, the passions, desires, and vices of people have stayed pretty much unaltered.”
I am glad I could capture the peacefulness of the place for you. I love lingering in those places that are soothing to the soul, especially when travelling, as the physical act of moving through a foreign space can often be quite unsettling to me.
really interesting post, so nicely written, amazing pictures, thanks for sharing Jolandi ..
Thank you, Alisha.
Your description of the map and of St. George’s Church reads like a great historical novel ~ and I think the mood is set right at the beginning with “his mantra of “Money! Money!” is uttered in a persistent, irritated, and impatient manner, as he trails behind me” and then your escape into another world. It is sad to think only 25% of the map remains, but what an amazing 25% it is. I get a feeling that while this happened so long ago there is such a sense of yesterday.
It certainly is an amazing 25%. One thing I found in Jordan, Randall, was that the past felt far more immediate, despite history stretching back so far in time. It is interesting to see how societies live alongside their past and interact with it.