Petra was very tiring but it was also really fantastic. We arrived back at Amman around 5:30 in the afternoon – too early for Dinner. Our guide asked us to take some rest or do some walking nearby. As soon as I got inside the hotel room, I immediately started packing my stuff for the third day, which includes checking out from the hotel, border crossing and saying hello to Israel.
We started the third day with a visit to Saint George Church at Madaba district. The Church is an important pilgrim destination because of the Madaba Map, a floor mosaic, depicting part of the Middle East and contains the oldest surviving original cartographic illustration of the Holy Land. The map was rediscovered between 1884 and 1896, after a new Greek Orthodox Church of St George had been built over it. According to our Guide, the mosaic map is the inspiration of all modern cartographic maps of the Holy Land, which include modern day Jordan, Palestine, Israel, and Egypt.
What I found more interesting in the district are the archaeological sites that are sporadically everywhere. Because of these archaeological sites, Madaba is considered an important tourist district. Walking from the bus parking to the church, these archaeological parks greeted us and because we were part of a tour, we snubbed these parks. Honestly, I wished I had more time in Madaba. I know the church is an important site in the cultural history of Christianity, but these sites are also dedicated to Christian figures such as the Virgin Mary. Right after 20 minutes of photo opportunities, we had to rush back to the bus because we had to cross the border and travel to Palestine and Israel.
I am aware that Bethany and the Baptism Site of Jesus are very near Jordan-Israeli border. Nonetheless, these sites were not part of the itinerary for reasons I really did not understand. I was told that our agency wanted us to experience the Baptism over Israel. After doing some google search, I think I understood why: Israel has several “baptism” sites where tourists may renew their baptismal vows. A lot of pilgrims would want some activity similar to the experience of Jesus being baptized at the River Jordan. The Baptism Site in Jordan does not have that kind of activity, although it is not prohibited to experience the waters of the river per se.
I remember our guide telling us that the Baptism Site is also considered a no man’s land. No army, no police, no border patrol on site. Across the river is the Palestine side and occasionally, reunions of families and friends separated by political and territorial feuds meet-up in Bethany or the Baptism Site. I think many of the pilgrims would want to do a vicarious experience with Jesus’s baptism on the Jordan River. And many of these pilgrims did not mind even if the site of the renewal of baptismal vows was not the site of Jesus’s baptism. As long as the water poured over their heads was the water of the River Jordan.
I am not complaining. St. George is also a very, very charming site. Nonetheless, skipping it to make a room for Bethany or the Baptism site of Jesus could have been more significant in the pilgrimage and could have been more politically contextual for Jordan’s location in the macro-picture of the Holy Land.