Mar Elias - Bethlehem
About 1 km before the entrance to Bethlehem is the silver-domed Greek monastery of Mar Elias, on the saddle of a hill which affords a panoramic view of the city, and the hills towards the Jordan Valley. The original date of the monastery is unknown but the building was restored by the Crusaders. The origin of the name is attributed by some to the Prophet Elijah, who is said to have slept there. Another story holds that a Greek Bishop of Bethlehem, Elias, was buried there in 1345. A third version places the sepulcher of St. Elias, an Egyptian monk who became Patriarch of Jerusalem in 494 AD, on the site. The monks who lived there upheld the virtue of labour, and have lived there since the 4th century AD as an agricultural community, cultivating olives and grapes.
Today, Mar Elias is a popular site for pilgrims before making their entry into Bethlehem on the Christmas Day procession. The Patriarchs traditionally pause here to be received by the notables of the area. Near Mar Elias is a field covered with millions of small pebbles called the Field of Grey Peas. Opposite the field is the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, originally a hospice built in 1876. The Institute, which houses a large and impressive library, was established in 1964 to promote understanding between the churches.