Open House: two monasteries of the Custody opened to visitors

It happens once a year on a weekend that is busy with visits and events. Open House is a project that aims to open spaces that are normally closed to the public, so as to encourage people to come together and to learn about the area. The Custody of the Holy Land also participated the last time the event was held in Jerusalem, by opening the monasteries of St. Savior in the Old City and that of St. Francis on Mount Zion (referred to as the “Cenacolino”). The event took place from October 26 to 28 and involved more than one hundred buildings. Private villas, public buildings, squares, gardens, synagogues, monasteries and churches all opened their doors for two days so that they could be discovered by citizens and anyone who was curious.

The project began 11 years ago in Tel Aviv from an idea by a group of architects, inspired by similar initiatives in London and New York. It then made its way to Jerusalem as well.
“The places we opened were suggested by tour guides or by people who were interested in visiting them,” said Aviva Levinson, manager of Open House. In other cases, the property owners themselves had to write on our website to offer suggestions for sites that are rich in history.” This is also how it was for the Franciscans’ monasteries, which have sparked the curiosity of many, and therefore for years, have been part of the project they call in Hebrew Batim MiBifnim, or “homes from the inside,” Thanks to the work of Aviva Levinson, the architect Keren Kinberg, who is curator of Open House Jerusalem, and some volunteers, the initiative is so successful each year that the official website was overloaded with bookings during the last event.

Visitors at the Franciscan monasteries were numerous and the friars of the Custody of the Holy Land can attest to that. “We kept the doors of our monastery on Mount Zion opened for three hours,” said Br. Alberto Pari, director of the Magnificat Music Institute, who is also in charge of relations with Israeli society. “From 3 to 6 p.m., hundreds of Israelis and tourists came to see the garden, and the upper and lower chapel,” continued Br. Alberto. “They also asked questions about our history and the history of the monastery.”

On Saturday, October 28, it was the turn of St. Savior’s Monastery in Jerusalem, where starting at 11 a.m., two groups of visitors were allowed to enter. Br. Alberto guided them himself, assisted by Br. Joseph and a local guide. More than 120 people were able to see the refectory, the church and the terrace of the ancient Franciscan monastery. “Homes from the Inside is a project to give people the opportunity to see homes, but people are much more interested in those who live inside of them,” said Fr. Aberto. “Between one place and another, they would ask me how I came to my vocation and what a typical day was like for me.”

While touring the monastery, Israelis and tourists also asked questions about the brotherhood of the Custody of the Holy Land, the local Christian community, St. Francis, [the Custody’s] history and the 800th anniversary of the Franciscans in the Holy Land. They were people of all ages and different backgrounds, whom the Franciscans of the Custody welcomed with joy.

A good deal of positive feedback was received over the two days [of the event], said event manager Aviva Levinson. “Among all of the visits [I] made this year, the one at the monastery of Mount Zion was the most memorable,” said one young woman. “It seemed to be in a bubble, because the calm that could be felt there was in contrast to the chaos on Mount Zion. It is such a peaceful place…” Enthusiastic comments could also be heard at the exit of the Monastery of St. Savior. “Because of Br. Alberto Pari’s habit, people did not think that he could speak Hebrew well, but they were really surprised [that he actually could],” said Aviva Levinson. Many of those who have not been able to book a visit hope to be able to see the Franciscan monastery next year, a witness to the fact that there is a desire everywhere to meet and to know more about the religious people who have been part of the 800-year history of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

Beatrice Guarrera

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