17 July 2019

A museum at the service of education and peace

by MAÿLIS WOILLEZ-DE SAINT SAVIN

A few days ago, the Terra Sancta Museum celebrated its first anniversary since its reopening in June 2018! This museum, which presents the fruits of the archaeological excavations carried out by the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, is located within the Franciscan Monastery of the Flagellation in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem. It offers visitors the chance to discover archaeological objects from the 1st century AD according to three themes:

 

 

  • The treasures of the Herodian palace (dating to the time of Herod the Great)
  • The way of life of regional communities during the time of Christ and the coexistence of Jewish and Hellenistic cultures
  • Discoveries of the first experiences of monasticism in the Judean desert.

Modernized by a clear and accessible narrative made interactive thanks to new communication media, the Terra Sancta Museum has already welcomed thousands of visitors of all nationalities and faiths. The museum makes it a point of honor to educate local communities about the ancient cultures regardless of whether they are Christian, Muslim or Jewish. Indeed, the Terra Sancta Museum showcases archaeological discoveries made in Israel, Jordan and southern Syria, and its contents belong to the local population, whether they come from Israel or the Palestinian territories.

We would like to call attention to the role that the Terra Sancta Museum plays among the Palestinian populations and its mission to transmit Palestinian history to the young people of the region. Dimah Msallam, 28 years old, from Bethlehem and multilingual, is employed at the museum. She discovered the history of her region by working for the museum. “In the schools of Palestine, there are very few history classes, we are not told very much about our origins,” she confides. For this young woman who has rarely visited Jerusalem because of the difficulties associated with traveling and passing through checkpoints, working for the Terra Sancta Museum is a valuable way of sharing knowledge. “We must not forget that the museum is above all Christian, but the objects it contains come from the entire Holy Land. They are for everyone. The museum has a Christian theme, but its discourse is directed towards everyone, Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. I have learned a lot and I enjoy working there.”

In addition to welcoming visitors and maintaining the site, Dimah’s job also consists of giving tours to groups of young people who come to visit the museum. During the school year, the museum regularly hosts schools and summer camps from the Palestinian territories. Between the ages of 7 and 14, these children are accompanied by their teachers, and their visit to the museum is part of a cultural program. The classes are often mixed between Christians and Muslims. Last June, the schoolchildren were asked to draw an object that caught their eye after a guided tour of the museum in Arabic directed by Dimah. Here are some of the results:

The students describe the reasons behind their choices: “I chose the ossuary because it was beautiful. I was touched by the fact that the decorations are more and more elaborate as the person gets richer! But on the contrary more and more coarse when the person is poor…” Another says, “Because this object is old and original,” and a third student says, “[I chose this object] because it moved me and that by drawing it, I would remember it better!” The choice was not limited to the museum: the teenagers could draw any object within the Flagellation site. One young man chose a religious subject by drawing the image of Christ carrying his cross depicted in the chapel because it reminded him of the Salvation of mankind.

During this day, the class discovered part of its roots at the Terra Sancta Museum. This is the true purpose of the museum: not only to be a research laboratory in archaeology, but also to reveal common roots and identities, a knowledge that contributes to peace.