Saint Anne’s was built by the Crusaders at the Bethesda Pool near the historic site of the Jerusalem Temple in the 12th century. According to tradition, this was the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s birth and the home of her parents Saints Anne and Joachim.
The church functioned for less than 100 years. Already at the end of the 12th century, the role of the Church of Saint Anne had changed. In 1192, after the seizure of the Holy City by the Muslim leader Saladin, this church was not demolished but rather turned into the School of Islamic Law – ‘Madrasa Salahiyya.’ Above the entrance to the church, until today, there is a memorial stone with an inscription in Arabic, praising Saladin for the Muslim madrasa. In the following centuries of Muslim power, the building was eventually abandoned and left for destruction. Only in the 19th century did its history change.
After the Crimean War of 1853-1856, when the Turks and their allies (France, England and Sardinia) defeated Russia, the Ottoman Empire offered Napoleon III and France the church along with the adjoining terrain in gratitude for the help given in that war. Since then, France has been the official protector of the church and the ruins of Bethesda, discovered by the French architect C. Mauss during the renovation of the church.
Saint Anne’s is a magnificent Romanesque church built of light stone. There are no icons or decorations inside, which would be typical in an Eastern church, as it was built for prayer in the Latin rite. The church is characterized by austerity and simplicity and is famous for its acoustics.
It has a central nave and two aisles. Openwork windows do not allow much light to enter. The body of the church is supported by big pillars with capitals, each one decorated with different motifs. After entering the church, on the left-hand side, one can see a sculpture of Saint Anne with her little daughter – the Blessed Virgin Mary. Anne, holding a scroll of the Holy Scriptures, is teaching Mary some verses from the Book of Deuteronomy, so important in Judaism – Shema’ Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Dt 6:4-5)
In the middle of the sanctuary there is an altar from 1950 carved in white stone. It is decorated with scenes from the life of Mary on the sides, including a scene depicting the offering of Mary in the temple by her parents, and Mary as an adult woman with her mother, Saint Anne. In the central panel of the altar we see the Annunciation of Mary, the Nativity of Jesus and the descent of Jesus from the Cross. Over the sanctuary, a large dome stretches on beautiful Romanesque arches. On both sides of the altar, at the top under the dome, there are two sculptures symbolizing the two Evangelists who recall the childhood of Jesus and the presence of His Mother in the pages of their Gospels. The head of an ox symbolizes Saint Luke and the figure of an angel symbolizes Saint Matthew.
In the left aisle, there is the Tabernacle and in the right one, there is a statue of Mary the Queen, with her little Son Jesus. The church also has a crypt with a chapel in the centre and a chapel dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with two icons of the Russian school depicting the Nativity of Mary.
We invite you to visit the church of Saint Anne! On one hand, the old age, the simplicity, and the austerity of the church's style invite us to silence, reflection, and prayer. On the other, good acoustics and the echo of extended sound invite us to sing in praise of the Lord with our hearts.
Let's accept this invitation! We may honour Jesus through His Mother Mary and His grandmother, Anne. Here we can offer to God all those we carry in our hearts whom we love - our families and friends – but also all that is fragile and painful in our lives.
"Saint Anne, ask your Grandson that everyone has what they are looking for!"