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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 solitude 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
heavenly inheritance, that we seemed in a peculiar sense to be standing on the confines of a better land above.
"Here the children of Israel, following the ark of God, passed over on dry ground. 'The waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap, and those that came down toward the sea of the plain (even the Salt Sea) failed and were cut off; and the people passed over right against Jericho.' Here Elijah and Elisha came and stood beside Jordan. 'And the prophet took his mantle and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.' And just beyond, Elijah was caught up with 'a chariot of fire and horses of fire, and ascended by a whirlwind unto heaven.' Here also came Jesus to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 'And Jesus when he was baptized went up straightway out of the water; and lo the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him, and lo a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.' As we stood thus on the banks of Jordan, at the hour of sunset, these scenes all .passed vividly before the mind, and we realized as never before their divine reality and power.
"Then two men came down to cross the river.