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Ghost churches on the western bank of the Jordan River, near where Jesus is believed to have been baptised, could be reopened to pilgrims as part of a project to remove booby-traps and land mines.

The river banks were once a war zone between Israel and Jordan, and were littered with thousands of mines and unexploded ordnance. The two neighbours made peace in 1994 but it took many years before some mine clearing began.

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Both claim that the site where John the Baptist and Jesus met is on their side of the river. The Gospel of John refers to “Bethany beyond the Jordan” without further details.

In 2002, Jordan opened its site, showing remains of ancient churches and writings of pilgrims down the centuries to bolster its claim. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 2015.

The site in the Israeli-occupied West Bank opened in 2011 and has stairs for pilgrims to descend into the muddy river. It has more visitors than the Jordanian site but its churches, mostly built in the 1930s, has remained strictly off-limits.

The Halo Trust, a Scottish-based charity that has cleared minefields worldwide and was once sponsored by the late Princess Diana, is looking to raise $4 million to make western site safe.

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