St. Gerasimus of the Jordan was among the early monks who arrived in the Land of Israel sometime in the fifth century. According to Christian tradition, the saint once tamed a lion by removing a thorn from its paw. The lion rewarded St. Gerasimus with its obedience and lived with him through the rest of his days in the Judean Desert.
Gerasimus’ original monastery was built as a lavra – a cluster caves for hermits with a church at the center. This monastery was destroyed during the Sasanian invasion in 614 AD, and rebuilt in its current style in the 12th century during the Crusades.
Over the centuries the monastery was destroyed, abandoned or leveled by earthquakes several times, and each time it was built again. In 1890, the monastery was restored by Greek Orthodox monks, who preserved the Crusader era architecture.
The monastery features a square courtyard that is surrounded on four sides with arches and supporting pillars. A large water cistern sits in the middle of a central garden and plaza.
The central space of the church is separated from the holy area of the altar by the iconostasis, which is decorated with images of other monks from the era of Gerasiumus who lived and worked nearby, including Saint Euthymius, a pioneering monk who founded several monasteries in the region, and Saint Simeon Stylites, who is known to have sat on a column without stepping off of it for 37 years.
A crypt beneath the church houses the skeletal remains of monks who lived in the monastery as far back as the seventh century AD. Gerasimus’ skull can be seen near the entrance to the church.
The monastery is open to visitors throughout the week. Modest dress is required.
2. Monastery of the Temptation
“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matthew 4:8-10)
The Monastery of Temptation takes its name from the Mount of Temptation, where Jesus spent forty days and forty nights fasting and meditating during the temptation of Satan. It is one of the holy sites that was recognized by Queen Helena (Augusta Helena of Constantinople) during her pilgrimage in 326 AD. In the 6th century AD, Byzantine monks built a monastery using natural caves under the summit of the mountain.
In 1099, the Crusaders built two churches on the site – one in a cave believed to be the cave in which Jesus meditated, and one on the summit. The Crusaders called the mountain
“Mons Quarantana” (Quaranta meaning forty, the number of days Jesus fasted).
The modern monastery was built in 1895 on land purchased by the Orthodox Church.
Climbing the steep path up the mount is difficult but short – most adults can reach the summit in under 30 minutes. In 1998 a cable car was built to connect the monastery to Tel al-Sultan in nearby Jericho. At the entrance to the monastery there is a restaurant, cafe and souvenir shop.