This pool dates back to the time of Herod the Great (37-4 BCE) and was built in the form of two basins (northern and southern), in a natural valley collecting rainwater. The two basins, surrounded by five porticos, were separated by a dam. The northern pool was used to collect fresh rainwater and the southern pool was used for religious ablutions or for bathing sick people who were seeking healing.
It was here that Jesus healed the paralytic man who had been sick for 38 years. The event was described by the Evangelist, Saint John:
‘Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Hebrew called Beth-za′tha, which has five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked.’ (Jn 5:2-9)
The history of Jerusalem and Bethesda over the centuries has been very tumultuous. In the first centuries, the northern pool was gradually covered up. During Roman times, the southern pool continued to function as a place for ritual bathing and healing. This is evidenced by the discovery of ex-votos in honor of the Roman god Serapis.
In Christian times, the story of the healing of the paralytic handed down in the Gospels did not die out. In the 5th century, under Bishop Juvenal of Jerusalem (442-458 AD), a large Byzantine church was built here. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the Persian invasion (614 AD) of Jerusalem. Not much remains of it except for a few walls and arches, some parts of the columns and their heads, and in the northern part, a large fragment of a beautiful mosaic in what may have been a chapel for keeping the relics of the saints (‘martyrium’).
In the 7th century, Christians tried to rebuild the site, but there could only be a small chapel there. During the Muslim era, the chapel and the southern pool were abandoned and destroyed. When Jerusalem was taken over by the Christians in 1099, on the site of the ruins of the chapel, the Crusaders build a small monastery, and, next to it, a large church dedicated to Saint Anne, the mother of Mary. On this site, according to tradition, there was once a house where the Blessed Virgin Mary's parents lived and where Mary was born.