On a recent trip to Jordan, we were heading to the Dead Sea when we passed the baptism site of Jesus. It was not on our itinerary, but I couldn’t pass it up. So we stopped. But, not without a fuss. Tim hates religious tourism, but I insisted we stop and I’m pleased we did!
The Jordanian side of the River Jordan has only recently been cleared of landmines. It has opening up access to the place where Jesus is believed to have been baptised by John the Baptist.
For fifty years, since around the time of the six-day war in 1967, the area has been an active war zone. However, the Halo Trust, a British anti-mine organisation is making good progress in clearing the estimated 6,500 mines and booby traps that surround the holy site.
On the Jordanian side of the river, where we were, tours depart every half-hour. A small rickety bus took us to the beginning of the walk where we meandered along a walking track past ancient steps down to the original the river. This is where it is believed Jesus was baptised. The Jordan River now flows just a few hundred metres from the baptismal site, as it has changed direction over time.
This is the site of the baptism of Jesus, on the River Jordan
Further along the walking track a golden-roofed Greek Orthodox church stands near a wooden platform leading to the murky Jordan River. The river is little more than a creek lined with reeds and was dirty and uninviting. Despite signs warning against getting baptised in the river or even getting close to it, you’ll see Christian pilgrims doing exactly that.
While I stood there several people immersed themselves, some in ordinary clothing, others wearing white robes. This is the only place where civilians can currently touch the Jordan River in Jordan, as the remainder runs through a military no-man’s land.
Across the river, just a few metres away on the West Bank is the Israeli-run complex of Qasr Al Yahud in the Palestinian Territories. They claim the baptism of Jesus took place on their side of the river. It was much busier than the Jordanian side and was seething with people. A priest was submerging people in the water and praying for them.
The West Bank is more popular as Israel has many more religious tourism attractions including Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jericho for pilgrims to visit. Jordan, on the other-hand has more historical and archaeological sites, including the famous Petra.
The West Bank of the River Jordan where people are also getting baptised
People enjoying the spiritual experience on the West Bank
Circa AD 25-30 Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.
400AD – Monasteries and churches to commemorate the site were first constructed.
When pilgrimage conditions became difficult, during the region’s turbulent past the churches became places of refuge and protection.
1930’s – The churches were rebuilt and services were often held next to the holy site.
1967 – Around the time of the Six Day War landmines were laid along the border with Jordan. For nearly fifty years, landmines prevented access to the land and sacred churches.
2000 – Preparations were made for the Pope’s visit with an area of the minefield cleared to allow access to the river. Yet mines remain only a few meters away behind a barbed wire fence.
2011 – A small part of the site was opened to the public for the first time, without the need for military approval, but with restricted access.
2014 – The HALO Trust started clearing landmines in the West Bank.
2016 – Global fundraising campaign launched to make the Baptism site mine free.
It is estimated that over 300,000 tourists visit annually
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.
— (LUKE 3:21-23)
Churches from several denominations sit on the horizon near the holy site
If you are interested in reading more about Jordan, click on the following links:
The challenges of travelling during Ramadan – Jordan
Reading the newspaper in the Dead Sea – Jordan
Jordan’s Roman Ruins in Jerash are the best outside of Italy