A Special House in Street of the Prophets

by Fr. Oscar M. Marzo OFM |  March 17, 2011

Tabor House, Jerusalem. [1/5]

A peaceful, inner courtyard.

Corners shaped like horns decorate the roof.

The main façade of Tabor House.

The chapel of the Swedish Theological Institute.

Street of the Prophets (Rehov Haneviim) and its surroundings are undoubtedly one of the loveliest and most fascinating parts of Jerusalem, with the magnificent Russian Compound, the Sergei building, the Probst building, the Ethiopian residences, the Italian Hospital, the Ethiopian church, the home of Eliezer Ben Yehuda (the father of modern Hebrew), the Ticho House museum, Beit David and others. One of the most popular places is Beit Tavor (Tabor House), at 58 Street of the Prophets...

Street of the Prophets (Rehov Haneviim) and its surroundings are undoubtedly one of the loveliest and most fascinating parts of Jerusalem, with the magnificent Russian Compound, the Sergei building, the Probst building, the Ethiopian residences, the Italian Hospital, the Ethiopian church, the home of Eliezer Ben Yehuda (the father of modern Hebrew), the Ticho House museum, Beit David and others, to mention only a few. At weekends, even on Shabbat, it is common to see Israeli pensioners in organized groups visiting the various homes in this part of Jerusalem.

One of the most popular places is Beit Tavor (Tabor House), at 58 Street of the Prophets. This house, erected at the end of the 19th century, is considered up to the present to be the finest ever built in Jerusalem. In 1882, the German architect Conrad Schick laid the first stone of his private home in what was then called Street of the Consuls because of the presence of many consulates of foreign powers. The Italian consulate (today the Franciscan house of St. Simeon and St. Anne) was also just a few steps away. In a word, it was the most elegant part of Jerusalem at that time.

Conrad Schick was a Protestant missionary and decided to place a stone at the entrance to his home with the word Tabor, a reference to Psalm 89,12 engraved on it: “You created the north and the south: Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name.” This was a very common habit in the houses in the German Colony in Jerusalem.

What impresses me every time I visit this place are the corners of the house. Yes, the corners! They  exactly reproduce the shape of the “horns” that were at the four corners of the altar of the Temple of Jerusalem. It is something really original. The house is a harmonious blend of styles: German Gothic and Middle Eastern architecture. It is built in Jerusalem stone. The entrance recalls that of medieval German fortresses, with a small watch tower. There are also typical elements of wealthier Arab houses, such as the walls that are more than a metre thick. Various elements of the house were inspired by archaeological motifs.

When the building was completed in 1889 it was considered the most luxurious and impressive in Jerusalem. Conrad lived there until his death in 1901.  During the First World War it was expropriated and transformed into a residence for Turkish officials. After the war, Beit Tavor passed into the hands of the Methodist Church and was used as a school. In 1948, Tsahal, the Israeli army, took possession of it and it was also used to house the refugees from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City that had been occupied by Jordan. In 1951, the Swedish Protestant Church bought it and established the Swedish Theological Institute in it. Many years ago, the famous Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, said: “If I could choose a house in Jerusalem to live in, it would be Beit Tavor”.

Beit Tavor is still a delightful place today. I personally have had the chance to visit it several times. In particular, the outside of the building is striking with its harmony and colours. Green, in different shades, is the colour most used, especially the bronze green of the door frames and railings. The Swedish Theological Institute (STI) which is now located there has as its primary aim work in the field of Jewish-Christian dialogue. The Institute is mainly for Scandinavian and German youngsters (who thanks to the Studium in Israel programme learn Hebrew and take courses at the Hebrew University and the STI). The courses held there are on Judaism, the Bible, Hebrew, archaeology and research on Eretz Israel. The library, specialized in Judaism, but also in other subjects, is particularly impressive. The facilities are beautiful, although slightly on the small side, with a number of computers available. It is very easy to consult books (especially in English, but also in other languages). I would even say too  simple as often books unfortunately “disappear”!

Beit Tavor is not only a place of study but also a place for exchange and dialogue. Some time ago, I went to a party for the end of the school year and I was pleased to note that there were several Israelis there, even religious ones wearing a kippah. It was a fine sight to see lots of German students speaking to their Jewish contemporaries in good Hebrew.

The atmosphere is very special. There is a certain chaos in the house, but it is an organized chaos! On the walls there are many pictures, sketches, watercolours and photos in black and white. On the tables there are many newspapers, but they are all in order. On the shelves there are books for sale. There are a lot of plants and archaeological finds here, there and everywhere. An observant eye will recognize the famous Swedish furniture from Ikea. There are many majolica plaques indicating the various rooms. Outside there is a lovely garden, a beautiful and simple stone fountain, wooden chairs and tables (again made in Sweden). There are other small annexes around the main building with access by small stone steps.

Lastly the chapel. The first time I went in I could hardly believe my eyes... an icon in a Protestant chapel! My amazement was also due to something else. The main icon behind the altar portrays the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Just a few metres away from this chapel, in the Franciscan house of St. Simeon and St. Anne, there is a very similar icon. I think that it is a lovely coincidence! In the chapel of the STI, the daily service is in English, considering the international presence of students and only in Swedish a couple of times a month. The songs are mainly in the Taizé style and so it is really possible to pray together very simply.

Jerusalem is not only the Old City or only its sanctuaries. Beit Tavor is a place I recommend visiting, especially for those who have already been to the Holy Land several times.

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