An enclosed garden

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A few miles southeast of Bethlehem, Palestine, is the village of Artas (or Urtas). It is famous for its springs and watersystems (the so-called Solomon’s Pools) and has a garden-like appearance (see our post to the Wadi Urtas/Artas here). It is a splendid place to escape the heat of a Jerusalem summer.

Just opposite Artas, on wadi slopes, is a convent known by the name al-Banat (“the maidens”). Inside the complex is the Chapel of Hortus conclusus, Latin for “enclosed garden.” The phrase is drawn from the Latin Vulgate’s expressive presentation of the female lover in the Song of Songs.

“You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain” (4:12, NIV).

Christian allegorical interpretations of the Song have linked Mary, the mother of Jesus, to this female character. By miracle, she conceived without having her virginity disturbed. Hence, this notion of a cloister, or the phrase hortus conclusus, has been applied to Mary.

The Convent of al-Banat was founded in 1894 by the Italian Order of the Sisters of Mary of the Garden. Local tradition links the site with a garden of King Solomon.


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A few seats have opened up on our Johnson University Study-Tour to Israel-Palestine slated for March 12-23, 2019. If you are interested in being a part of this high-energy student trip, contact me immediately at markziese@gmail.com. Don’t hesitate. Our roster must be finalized by mid-December. Academic credit is available.