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Beit Jimal Monastery
Beit Jimal Monastery
|Location 31°43′30″N 34°58′35″E|
|Open to visitors yes|
|Need appointment no|
|Handicap accessibility no|
|Geographical Coordinates 31.72448,34.97628|
Beit Jimal (or Beit Jamal; Hebrew: בית ג'מאל; Arabic: بيت جمال / الحكمه) is a Catholic monastery, run by Salesian monks. The property was purchased in 1878 by Fr Antonio Belloni, who set up the Beit Gemal School of Agriculture for the benefit of poor youth, especially orphans. The Salesians took over the institution in 1892, after Fr Belloni joined them together with some other priests. The monastery is located in the Judean hills next to the city of Beit Shemesh. There are actually two separate monasteries, one for men and a second for women, as well as a small and well-appointed church, called St. Stephen, built in 1930 on the ruins of a 5th century Byzantine church discovered on the site. The monastery has a small shop that offers locally made olive oil and red wines. There is a small concert hall, where concerts are played on some weekends. The nuns do not belong to Salesian Sisters, but rather to the Sisters of Bethlehem, part of the Sisters of the Assumption of the Virgin and the Sisters of Saint Bruno. These nuns have taken a vow of silence.
In Arabic and Hebrew the site is known as Beit Jamal – the monastery is sometimes referenced as Beit Gemal or Beit Jimal. The name of the site is said to be from its local name (in years past), Kfar Gamla, purportedly so named for Rabban Gamliel I – president of the Sanhedrin. The Christian tradition believes that Rabban Gamliel I was buried here, as were St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and Nicodemus. In 415 their remains were discovered by the priest Lucian, and removed at the orders of John, Bishop of Jerusalem, for depositing in the Church of Hagia Maria on Mt. Zion, or Hagia Maria Sion Abbey or Dormition Abbey. Thanks to the excavations carried out by Andrzej Strus on site, it is now largely accepted that the remains of St Stephen, Gamaliel, Nicodemus and Abibos were buried there. In 2003, near a circular structure uncovered by Strus, was found a stone architrave or lintel with a tabula ansata. The writing on it was eventually deciphered by Emile Puech, expert in ancient writing from the Ecole Biblique. The writing ran: "DIAKONIKON STEPHANOU PROTOMARTYROS." Diakonikon means a place for conserving relics. This is therefore solid evidence for identifying Bet Gemal with the ancient Kfar Gamla, where St Stephen was buried.