The beautiful mosque catches the eye of anyone traveling on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, especially at night, with its four tall towers illuminated by green. Alongside the four minarets, the mosque is unique in its splendor and has several floors. On the inside of the dome are a hundred names of God. The prayer niche and the darshan hall are made of gold-plated marble, and the floor is covered with luxurious carpets.
What is the story behind the village of Abu Ghosh and its magnificent mosque, the second largest in the country after the Al-Aqsa Mosque? And why did the Chechen government decided to finance its construction?
The original inhabitants of the village, the Abu Ghosh family arrived to Palestine in the early XVI Century as soldiers in the Ottoman Sultan Selim I's army. They came originally from one of the neighboring Northern Caucasus areas - Ingushetia or Chechnya, whose people were always known for their great courage, physical strength and eagerness to fight.
For a very long period, the Abu Gosh people controlled the most important pilgrimage route from Jaffa Port to Jerusalem, and imposed tolls on all pilgrims passing through. They were given this privilege during the sultanate of Selim' I son, Suleiman the Magnificent, the great builder of Jerusalem walls, and kept it for hundreds years. The great pride and the wealth of the local people were well-known in the whole area.
Next to the mosque, in the ancient center of the village, is one of the most magnificent hidden treasures of the Holy Land. This is the Benedictine monastery with its beautiful ancient Church of the Spring. The spring water flowing under the church is pooled into a Roman pond in a crypt, where there is universal coolness - real refreshment on a hot day.
The Church of the Resurrection, built by the Knights Hospitaller in 1145, is considered to be one of the best preserved Crusader remains in the whole country. The monastery’s walls and columns feature unique frescos that were drawn during the thirteenth century. According to tradition, this is Emmaus, where Jesus revealed himself after he was resurrected, which is why the church was built here.
There is another church in Abu Gosh, at the top of the hill, which is considered to be one of the most impressive in the Holy Land.
This is the church of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant. From almost anywhere in the village you can see the roof-top sculpture of Mary carrying the infant Jesus in her arms. In Christian tradition, Mary carrying Jesus is compared to the Ark holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments. The Shrine of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant is believed to occupy the site which, is where he Ark of the Covenant rested for 20 years.
The site story of is based on Biblical history. In the Bible, this village is called Kiryat Ye’arim. The Bible tells that Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines at the battle of Even-ezer. The Philistines were afraid to keep it and sent it back the Ark to the Jews of Beit Shemesh. The people of Beit Shemesh were also afraid to keep it and sent it on to Kiryat Ye’arim to the house of Avinadav. The modern name of the site in Arabic is Deir el–Azar, perhaps indicative of Avinadav’s son’s name, Eleazar, who watched over the Ark, until King David took it to Jerusalem stands at the highest point of the village.
The present Catholic church and convent were built in 1924 on the ruins of the ancient Byzantine church. The nuns here are the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition Order. This order, founded in France, is the first women’s Catholic Order to come to The Holy Land in the modern times. The sisters work in schools, children’s nurseries and clinics.
To summarize, Abu Ghosh, standing a tiny distant away from the bustling Jerusalem Metropolitan, seems like being thousands miles (and years) away and is, possibly, one of the best kept secret places of the Promised Land.