In a list of Holy Land ‘musts’ should be a visit to Nablus, biblical Shechem, about one hour’s drive north of Jerusalem. Nablus sits in a narrow valley between Mount Gerizim, important to the Samaritan community and Mount Ebal.
In the middle of the bustling city is the Bir Yarqub Greek Orthodox Monastery and the church of Jacob’s Well; a very beautiful church, rebuilt by the Greek Orthodox priest who still serves the church and its visitors today. The church contains some very beautiful icons all painted by the priest and which covers the walls.
The importance of the church is because it contains a wonderful, special and yet a very simple gem, important to the three monotheistic faiths; a well – Jacob’s Well!
An Authentic Location
Jewish, Samaritan, Christian and Muslim traditions all associate this well with Jacob who in the Book Of Genesis returned to Shechem and “camped before the city and bought the land on which he pitched his tent and erected an altar.” Jacob dug a well on his own land to ensure an undisputed water supply for his family and his large herds of cattle and sheep. Biblical scholars all agree that the plot of land is the same one in which the Church of Jacob’s Well now stands.
The Woman at the Well
Jacob’s Well is mentioned just once in the New Testament when in John’s Gospel 4:5-14 we hear the story of a Samaritan woman from the town who went to the well to draw water. Here she met Jesus who surprised her by asking her to give Him a drink of water from the well. Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans. Jesus surprises the woman when he started to tell her about her life and when he offered her a different kind of water in return – living water that would fill the spiritual emptiness in her life.
A Spiritual Experience
The well gives us of the most assuredly authentic sites in the Holy land. Wells do not move, so we can be very confident that this is the actual well where Jesus sat with the Samaritan woman!
Walking down the few steps to the well is one of the most moving and emotional moments of a Holy Land pilgrimage as you are truly stepping on holy ground to re-create the event we now commemorate on that spot.
The Samaritan woman told Jesus that ‘the well is deep’ (John 4:11) and indeed it is as it goes down over 70 feet (20 metres) and is still producing clear, chilled water for drinking which pilgrims are encouraged to drink and to take water back home with them.
Spending time in quiet reflection and to read the story can be an unforgettable experience and no matter how many times I’ve been, and I’ve been many times, I still get tingles up my spine and the hairs on the back of my next stand up. I’ve seen the hardened of pilgrims crumble with emotion as they stand by the well and drink its water.
Photographs are not allowed to be taken at the well to preserve its sanctity but somehow that does not matter because it’s the experience imprinted in minds and hearts which we take home and which lasts forever.
If there is one place that must be on your Holy Land experience then you must make it Jacob’s Well and to be filled with an incredible emotion as you walk in the footsteps and sit by the very well of the One who gives us all life-giving water.
By Canon Mark Madden