Seasoned visitors to Jerusalem surely know the Church of St. Anne, a pristinely preserved 12th-century Crusader church in the Romanesque style, near the beginning of the Via Dolorosa. Tradition associates the church’s grotto with the birthplace of Jesus’s mother, Mary, securing its importance for Christian pilgrims. Archaeology aficionados will value the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda, reflecting Jewish, Roman, and Byzantine history, which are located on the same compound as the church. Music enthusiasts will appreciate the structure’s unequaled acoustics: If you stand in the center of the edifice and hum softly, the sound will carry toward the entryway.
Yet there is one thing the Church of St. Anne largely lacks: color. Some assume that the Crusaders who built the structure and worshiped in it were rather austere. But a better explanation relates to the building’s later history. The Church of St. Anne owes its preservation to Jerusalem’s medieval conqueror, Saladin, who transformed the building into a madrasa—an Islamic religious school. (The Arabic inscription over the entryway commemorates this.) The colorlessness of the current church likely results, more than anything else, from the aniconic sensitivity of its pious scholastic occupants.
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