Kiryat-Yearim: Where the Ark of the Covenant Rested

Jun 19, 2024

The Saxum Visitor Center is located in the surroundings of Kiryat Yearim (in Hebrew: קִרְיַת יְעָרִים), also currently known as Telz-Stone. Kiryat-Yearim (“village of forests”) is about 15 km from Jerusalem, among lush woods of conifers and Mediterranean pines, as its name suggests. The place, mentioned in the Bible as Kiriath-Jearim,” holds an important role in the history of the Jewish people, as it was here that the Ark of the Covenant rested for 20 years after being recovered from the Philistines.

Notre Dame, Ark of the Covenant, Abu Gosh

Notre Dame, Ark of the Covenant, Abu Gosh

A Place with History

Assigned to the tribe of Dan, Kiryat-Yearim stands on a mound that preserves traces of an ancient Iron Age settlement. Archaeological excavations, initiated in 2017 by I. Finkelstein (University of Tel Aviv) and T. Römer (Collège de France), have revealed the existence of an Tel or building site from the Iron Age of about 5 hectares.  The site is one of the best-preserved in existence because it was not rebuilt over.

The Arrival of the Ark of the Covenant

The event that forever marked Kiryat-Yearim was the arrival of the Ark of the Covenant. Subsequent to the Israelite defeat in the Battle of Ebenezer (1 Sam 4) and the capture of the Ark by the Philistines, the Ark, a symbol of the divine presence among the Jewish people, was returned to its land as a result of the calamities it brought to its captors.

After a brief stay in Beth Shemesh, where several men were struck down for touching it without reverence, the Ark found a temporary home in Kiryat-Yearim, in the house of Abinadab, where it remained for about 20 years (1 Sam 7:2), until King David brought it to Jerusalem. This event turned the village into an important religious and pilgrimage center.

A place of memory and devotion

Today, Kiryat-Yearim retains an aura of mysticism and devotion. At the top of the mound where it is believed the Ark once rested, stands the Church of Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant, maintained by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition who built the temple in 1924.

Our Lady Ark of the Covenant Convent, Abu Gosh

Our Lady Ark of the Covenant Convent, Abu Gosh

The 20 years the Ark spent in Kiryat-Yearim represent a period of transition between the time of the priesthood in Shiloh under Eli and his sons, which was not pleasing to God, and the establishment of the new faithful and obedient priesthood promised by God: “I will choose a faithful priest who shall do what I have in heart and mind. I will establish a lasting house for him, and he shall serve in the presence of my anointed forever.” (1 Samuel 2:35-36). In some way, Kiryat-Yearim symbolizes a space of purification and spiritual renewal. The presence of the Ark in the house of Abinadab marks a new beginning and an opportunity to reestablish the relationship with God. Because of the ark, “the whole house of Israel turned to the Lord” (1 Samuel 7:2).

Our Lady Ark of the Covenant

Our Lady Ark of the Covenant

Just as the Ark’s stay in Kiryat-Yearim was a symbol of God’s centrality in the life of the Israelite people, a catalyst for spiritual seeking, and a foreshadowing of the glory to arrive with the king anointed by God, the tour of the Saxum Visitor Center also helps its visitors in this regard.

By Rafael Sanz, priest.



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