Zev Radovan, courtesy Yizhar Hirschfeld

The Rock of the Crosses. An enormous, open-air rock-cut niche greets visitors to a remote area 6 miles southeast of Bethlehem. Measuring 27 feet wide, over 11 feet deep and with a back wall 10 feet high, the niche is an extremely rare example of an open-air Christian prayer site. Five Greek-type crosses (with arms of equal length gradually broadening from the center outward) have been carved into the back wall. The arms of the central and largest cross are nearly 3 feet long.

Three footpaths led from this open-air niche to Byzantine churches in Herodium and Bethlehem, to the nearby monastery of Chariton and to other monasteries in the area. Although we do not know what prompted the carving of this niche, it was almost certainly to commemorate an important religious event or experience.