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JORDAN AND THE DEAD SEA.
“We made our next excursion from Jerusalem to the Jordan and the Dead Sea. Passing out of the Jaffa gate, and crossing the aqueduct from Solomon's pools, we rode along the valley of Hinnom, and passed Aceldama, or the Field of Blood, filled with caves, sepulchres, and dead men's bones. This was long used as a burialplace for strangers, and is at present entirely neglected and despised. The brook Kidron now flows in from above, and winds through the valley. Our path stretches over the hillside, and we enjoy the beautiful views of Mount Zion in the distance, which the Psalmist describes, 'Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north. Viewed from this point in the morning sunlight, Zion rising majestically on the north, seemed worthy of the fullest praises of David's harp.
“The country around presents a pastoral scene, and reminds us of patriarchal days. Sheep and goats are feeding upon the hillsides, and the
CONVENT OF SABA.
shepherds' tents are pitched in the valleys. The road, however, is not entirely free from danger of attack. An armed Bedouin sheik accompanies us as guide and escort on our journey. In a short time we come to an encampment of black tents. Several armed men mount their horses as we approach, and much alarm is excited in our party. But they prove to be government soldiers in search of robbers, looking more like the robbers themselves, of whom they are in pursuit. They gallop around in Arab style, and make many warlike demonstrations, as they cross over the mountain.
“We now come to a vast gorge winding through the rock, several hundred feet deep, wild and grand beyond description. At the end of this natural chasm stands the rock-built convent of St. Saba, on the borders of the wilderness of Judea. Here a company of forty or fifty Greek monks spend their time in watching, fasting, and prayer. A more desolate and dreary spot could scarcely have been selected. The walls are built high and strong around to guard against the attacks of the Arabs; for the monastery is possessed of immense wealth, the gift of pious pilgrims. They let down a basket from an upper window to receive and examine our letters of introduction, and then admit us through a heavy iron door below. We visited the church, rich
MIRACLES OF ST. SABA.
with paintings, golden crowns, and gold and silver lamps, where vespers are chanted every evening by the monks. The principal then conducts us to a side chapel, in a cave, wherein are gathered 14,000 skulls of Christians, slain by the Moslems in the Holy Land. Afterwards he points out to us the primitive cave which St. Saba entered when he came here to found the convent. It was inhabited by a lion, but the saint ordered him to retire, which he did at once, and faithfully kept guard fourteen years at the entrance of the cave. The rough walls are covered over with the crosses of pilgrims who have travelled here from afar, and fully believe the story.
“He also opened for us the chapel tomb of the saint. This is hung around with pictures of his prayers and miracles. One of these represents a pillar of cloud showing him the place to found his convent, a gazelle directing him where to find water, and the lion pointing out a place of safety. There are several small gardens in the grounds of the monastery, and one tall palm tree, planted, it is said, by the hand of St. Saba. The rooms for the entertainment of visitors appeared neat and comfortable, and we would gladly have spent the night within the walls. But there was a lady in our party, and the monks resolutely refused to grant her admittance, saying, “if they did so, an
earthquake would shake down the monastery, and there would be a famine for a year throughout the land.'
We were accordingly obliged to remain in our tents; and there, commending ourselves to the protection of God, we slept peacefully through the night, awaked only by the ringing of the convent bell that summoned the monks to their midnight prayers.
"In the morning our friends of the monastery manifested their hospitality by bringing us bread, dates, and cheeses, as is the oriental custom, and we gave them of our stores, in return. Two Bedouin sheiks now join us as an escort on the journey, and we set out for the Dead Sea. Our path winds up the mountain side, and from the summit we have a commanding view over the Sand Mountains, even to the wilderness of Engedi, where David fled from the pursuit of Saul,
among the rocks of the wild goats.' The mountains rise around like Alpine summits, clothed down their side with verdure, where sheep, goats, and camels are feeding. The Arabs point out the tomb of Moses on our left, and yonder stretch the dark waters of the sea in front. Descending thence, and crossing a small plain covered with stinted shrubs, we came to the shores of the Dead Sea. Nothing can equal the aspect of desolation that reigns around, showing the terrible convul
sion of nature that manifested the wrath of God from heaven, in overthrowing the wicked cities of the plain. The mountains give evidence of volcanic irruption. No fish swim in the waters of the sea; no wild fowl float upon its surface; no living animal inhabits its shore. All is soli- . tude and death. The water is of a dark-green color, and exceedingly acrid and bitter to the taste. We tested its peculiar buoyant qualities by the experiment of a bath. It was well nigh impossible to sink. We found that we could stand, sit, or lie in any position without the least effort. Indeed, I was surprised to find that I could walk erect in the water without reaching the bottom. We experienced no particular inconvenience from bathing, except an adhesive oily deposit left upon the skin, and to those who were unfortunately submerged, a most disagreeable, irritating effect in the throat and head.
“But we must not remain long in this burning sun and heated air. We soon mounted our horses and rode across the barren, salt-crusted plain to the banks of the Jordan. In a half hour from the sea we arrived at the bathing place of the Pilgrims.
“ There is scarcely any spot in Palestine I had so longed to visit as this upon the river Jordan. It is so interwoven in our hymns and sacred poetry with the borders of the promised land, the