the holy site of
"And they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread" (Lk 24). The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, they eyes opening after a day of the hidden Lord explaining to them the Scriptures...what an amazing mystery to ponder on site day after day!
The Jewish village of Emmaus was founded in the second century, BC, by the followers of the Maccabees, who were natives of nearby Modi’in (or “Modi'in”, cf. 1 Macc 1,2,9,13...) in the on a hill overlooking the Valley of Ayalon, where the sun stood still for Joshua’s battle (Js 10:12-14). Jewish tombs have been excavated from around or before the time of Christ!
Cleophas was one of the two disciples named in Luke's Gospel. According to Byzantine tradition, Luke was the other disciple. Another tradition says it was his wife, Mary's cousin who stood with her at the foot of the Cross, named "Mary the wife of Clopas." Cleophas is said to have been martyred later on in his very house, which would have stood where the center altar was located in the basilica. The couple's son, Simeon, became the second bishop of Jerusalem and there he was martyred in his old age, according to the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Archdiocese of Jerusalem.
Emmaus means springs of water, and the Romans took advantage of that running water to built aqueducts and baths and established an outpost here, as this is where the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem enters the hills and mountains. The Romans re-named it Nicopolis to commemorate their victory over Jerusalem.
In the Byzantine Christian era, 4th-7th centuries, Nicopolis developed into a city with, at its heart, a basilica built upon the site of Cleopas’ house, with a spring that Jesus washed in at its entrance, flowing into the separate Baptistry church. When the Muslims took over the Holy Land in the late 7th century, they chose Emmaus as their capital. After two years, dying of a plague that the blamed on the springs of water, they buried the springs and the city, and abandoned the site to found a new city on the plain, called Ramle.
Due to a discrepancy in different Biblical manuscripts regarding Emmaus’ distance from Jerusalem, the Crusaders built Emmaus churches in several sites 60 stades from Jerusalem. The deserted Emmaus-Nicopolis, 160 stades away, was only visited over the ages by Eastern Christians. Catholics rediscovered the site in the late 19th century through a vision of the local Carmelite saint, Mariam of Bethlehem. The Carmel bought the land, and the excavating and historical research ensued.
The chaplains of the Carmel of Bethlehem built a summer house here for their seminarians, but later gave the house over to the use of archeologists. For many years, artifacts like the Dead See Scrolls were studied and catalogued here before being sent to museums or storage. In 1993, the Community of the Beatitudes were invited to develop a place of prayer and hospitality. They maintain and manage the professional Holy Site, which is recognized as such by the local Catholic and Orthodox Churches and by the Israeli Board of Tourism.
Community members and volunteers work regular hours at the reception and gift shop, the sacristy for groups that celebrate Mass or prayer times each day, site tours and talks for tourists of all faiths, and even restaurant-quality meals for pilgrimage groups hosted in the small museum. The Community also maintains its own life of prayer, Christian life, in-house hospitality, and many other ministries (leading pilgrimages, catechesis for Europeans, prison ministry, Biblical research, Ecumenical dialogue, Jewish friendships, etc.).