The remote ruins of the churches of Mar Elias hold sacred significance to followers of the Abrahamic faiths as the traditional birthplace of the Prophet Elijah. Elijah was a dramatic prophet, best known for defending monotheism, raising the dead and calling down fire from heaven in a showdown against the god Baal. In the Bible he is referred to as the one who precedes the coming of the Messiah and in the Qur’an he is listed among the ‘righteous ones’ with Zachariah, John the Baptist and Jesus and as one of the messengers of God.
While the churches lie in the ruins, the luminous mosaic floors remain along with the outline of the two Byzantine churches. The vantage point provides an expansive view into the fertile Jordan River Valley. Yet rather than the impressive mosaic details or the giant cornerstones of the church ruins, an oak tree grows in the central place of worship at Mar Elias. Located at the eastern end of the upper church, the tree is adorned by hundreds of ribbons and pieces of cloth, testimony to a living tradition among Christians and Muslims to pray at the tree for health and healing.
Though Mar Elias was named an official pilgrimage destination by the Vatican in the year 2000, visitors will often find Tel Mar Elias completely empty of tourists, giving the opportunity for reflection and introspection, and giving a more authentic and solitary experience.
Tradition assigns the birthplace of the prophet to Listib, a nearby ancient village and site of an Ayyubid-Mamluk period mosque (approximately 12th – 13th Century AD). A place of worship for at least 14 centuries, Mar Elias sits upon layer upon layer of Islamic, Byzantine and Roman remains. The small lower church, which is the older of the two, has an unusual cruciform shape, and although only the lower courses of some walls remain, the structure is still used as a place of worship. The upper church is one of the largest Byzantine churches discovered in Jordan and has likely been a significant place of pilgrimage over many centuries. This church contains an extraordinary wealth of Byzantine mosaic floors with varying geometric patterns and a dedication in Greek dated 622 AD, which mentions Prophet Elias.
Sites in the Ajloun Region:
From the few columns, stretches of stone pavement, and other remains which are visible in Pella today, it is hard to imagine the historical importance of this site or its once immense size. Pella has been inhabited for over 10,000 years, though, consistently from the Neolithic Period to the Ottoman rule of the area in the late 1800s.